Gentlemen Cordite, Lieutenant Commander Warwick
edited by Nicholas Bracegirdle
HMAS SHROPSHIRE - CPO Cooper remembers
Chief Gunner's Mate Arthur Cooper Remembers
Arthur Cooper, The Chief Gunner's Mate of HMAS Shropshire, has always had a good story to tell.....
Despite our losses the War still went on. We were down but by no means out.
Fifteen months later H.M.A.S. Shropshire joined up with the Australian Fleet at Brisbane under Rear Admiral VAC Crutchley V.C., RN., with his flag on board HMAS. Australia and the squadron proceeded to Milne Bay in New Guinea to join up with our Allies, the Americans.
The previous 15 months was an epic in its own right.
When hearing of the loss of HMAS Canberra, the British Admiralty decided to give the Australian Navy an equivalent type replacement. H.M.S. Shropshire, being the next County Class Cruiser due for a refit, was the vessel.
In Australia a crew was being organised - an advance party of mostly "key" personnel were dispatched to England - a large troop ship (ex Pleasure Ship Washington) took them from Sydney to San Francisco, then by train to Brooklyn on the East Coast and from there across the Atlantic to England and to Chatham Barracks and the dockyard.
In the selection of the crew those survivors from "Canberra" who were then fit and able were selected to join "Shropshire".
In refitting "Shropshire", the powers that were gave us everything that was available in the way of modern appliances - our radar was superb, gun controls new and modern, communications up-to-date, etc.
On the personnel side were the most keen and eager to make use of every facility. The senior members and officers were veterans of and from the Middle East war and everywhere and we spared no pains to have all the personnel trained thoroughly in there various phases of theory and application in their own particular science.
As a result of this H.M.A.S. Shropshire, as she now was, became the most efficient ship of her class that ever was. Somehow a spirit of comradeship developed among everyone on board to put all else aside and concentrate on every effort being put into the War to squash the invaders and avenge all the wrongs which had been forced on us by the enemy.
What gave us further inspiration was the vital fact that we were not fighting the War alone but had a mighty ally, the American nation, and that we were fighting alongside and with the U.S. Navy.
We more than proved our worth on "Shropshire". The story could go on - we remember Arawe, Cape Gloster, The Admiralties, Humbolt Bay, Wadki Sarme and Biak, then Aitape, Cape Sandsaper, later Morotai. The foregoing were pretty tame bombardments and mostly followed by American landings but as our Gunnery Officer would always say we went into "Tiger Country" and at Leyte Gulf we came to grips with the enemy.
On Saturday, 21 October 1944, HMAS Australia was so damaged by Kamikaze that in company with USS Honolulu, who was hit by a torpedo, was forced to retire for repairs, as were many other vessels in the space of a few months.
During this time "Shropshire" became the most valuable asset as our radar did 92% of the radar spotting and reporting of approaching.
Whilst we were consolidating the Leyte landing a large force of Japanese ships came down the western side of the Philippines and were proceeding through the Surigao Straits to approach Leyte and attack our Naval force which was the 7th American Fleet under Rear Admiral Oldendorf, USN.
The fighting ships of the R.A.N. which took part in that Naval action were HMAS Shropshire and our Tribal Class destroyer, HMAS. Arunta. "Australia" was away being repaired and "Warramunga" was accompanying her.
The epic story of "Arunta's" part in the battle of Surigao Straits is another saga of bravery - written in the Annuals of Naval History. For our part, it was the combination of many things and the apex of our hard work - training and applied intelligence.
The story of the Battle of Surigao Straits has been told in parts elsewhere but the personal side remains with us who were there and afterwards felt the selfish feeling of a certain amount of satisfaction for many things.
Revenge for "Canberra" and her gallant allies Hospital Ship Centaur, etc., etc.
The following letter was written 3 years ago by our ex Gunnery Officer, Commander W.S. Bracegirdle RAN retired to ex Petty Officer George Cheadle. Extracts are as follows:
16 October 1978
We have many things to be proud of in regard to that night sea Naval action. It is recorded that "The Australian ships "Shropshire" and "Arunta" inflicted so much damage to "Yamashiro" that it contributed in no small way to its final sinking.
There were close to 100 Kamikaze attacks on the Naval ships formations and serious damage done to some American ships.
A short spell ensured after that back to our base in Manus in the Admiralty Islands and then we were part of the mighty force bound for Lingayen Gulf in the N.W. Philippines.
HMAS Australia again was the target for the Kamikaze and in a short period about 44 ships in all were damaged.
The bombardments landings and final recapture through the Lingayen Action were an epic on its own. Manilla was recaptured.
"Shropshire" then had a short spell back in Sydney but by June 1945 was back in action at Brunei and Balikpatan.
All preparations were then proceeding for the final assault on Japan - but the devastating atom bombs curtailed that and finally "Shropshire" arrived in Tokyo Bay for the surrender in August 1945.
The victory contingent travelled to England on H.M.A.S. Shropshire for the Victory March in May 1946. Returning in August 1945.
Sadly, on 9th October 1953, our gallant old ship was towed out of Sydney en route to England, from whence she came, and to the scrap yards.
If she had a soul, may it rest in peace, for her old team of flesh and blood will always remember her with a feeling of pride and of deeds very well done.