H.M.A.S. Australia 1928-1955
by Alan Payne
The Naval Historical Society of Australia, 1975, 204 pages
The heavy cruiser Australia got hit more times by kamikaze aircraft in the
Philippines than any other Allied warship. Japanese special (suicide) attack
squadrons attacked Allied ships in the Philippines from October 1944 to January
1945, and H.M.A.S. (Her Majesty's Australian Ship) Australia was hit five times
between January 5 and 9, 1945. Some sources claim that Australia also was
damaged on October 21, 1945, in Leyte Gulf by a kamikaze aircraft in the first
Japanese suicide attack on the Allied fleet, but Japanese sources do not support
the claim that this was an attack by an organized suicide squadron.
Australia, built in the United Kingdom due to financial considerations,
served from 1928 to 1955. This ship history was published by the Naval
Historical Society of Australia in a limited printing of 1,000 copies. The
book's 34 chapters cover in chronological order the highlights of the 625,000
miles that Australia steamed during her service. About half of the book's pages
describe Australia's participation in WWII, including the Battle of the Coral
Sea, landings on Guadalcanal, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the invasion of
Lingayen Gulf. After Australia's damage by five kamikaze aircraft hits over a
period of five days ending with the invasion of Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945, the
heavy cruiser never returned to the war with initial repairs carried out in
Sydney and then a major refit in the United Kingdom.
This book provides an encyclopedic history of H.M.A.S. Australia but does not
include hardly any personal accounts other than a few short quotations. The
recitation of many names of obscure places without any maps and the mention of
numerous other ship names make reading a chore in most places. The inside front
cover has an interesting sketch of this Kent class cruiser with four twin 8-inch
guns and with a Walrus aircraft on a catapult, but the book does not give much
background on the heavy cruiser's role in relation to other warships and does
not present any information on the crew's life aboard ship. The
book's center also contains 12 pages of historical photos.
On January 5, 1945, Australia suffered her first of five kamikaze attacks
during the Lingayen Gulf Operation. Six enemy planes attacked the rear force,
and one aircraft carrying a bomb executed a vertical dive and hit Australia
on the upper deck amidships causing heavy casualties of 25 killed and 30
wounded. The next day a Val dive bomber carrying a bomb dove on the ship from
the starboard side, flattened out, and hit the upper deck resulting again in
heavy losses with 14 killed and 26 wounded. Commander
A.S. Storey recorded the following about the bomb that exploded (pp. 153-4):
This Kamikaze had loaded himself up with a 15" or 16" shell from our own
Naval Armament Depot at Singapore, and had fitted an impact fuse on the
nose. It was annoying to say the least to be hit by one of our own bricks,
and to be able to read the identification lettering in English on the
base-plate of the shell.
Despite the casualties and damage from the first two kamikaze hits, Australia
kept on fighting. On January 8, the third kamikaze attack was a twin-engined
Dinah that disintegrated when hit by Australia's guns, but a large piece of the
incoming plane's engine hit the ship's side opening a hole about three feet square, but there
were no casualties. Soon after another Dinah approached, flying ten feet above
the water. The ship's guns hit the aircraft, but the explosion opened a hole about
14 feet by 12 feet right at the waterline. This fourth kamikaze hit
significantly reduced Australia's speed, but luckily there were no casualties.
The fifth and final kamikaze aircraft hit Australia on January 9 on the day of
troop landings at Lingayen Gulf. The suicide plane only damaged the top of the
foremost funnel and went over the side without causing any casualties. After
hits from five kamikaze attacks, Australia was ordered to return south since she
had several wounded on board and her battle efficiency had been considerably
In Leyte Gulf on October 21, 1944, Australia took a hit for the first time
from a Japanese aircraft, but some controversy exists regarding whether or not
this should be considered a kamikaze attack. Accounts about the number of
aircraft, their type, and what exactly happened have inconsistencies. Although
this book surprisingly does not mention the number of casualties in the
attack, 30 men including Captain Dechaineux lost their lives and 64 men were
wounded (Warner and Warner 1982, 92). The author
provides a somewhat confusing explanation regarding whether or not it was a
kamikaze attack (p. 146):
It was in fact the first Kamikaze "Heavenly Wind" sacrificial crashing on an
Allied warship, although there were previous isolated deliberate crashing. It is
not however a co-ordinated Kamikaze attack, these commenced four days later.
Opinions vary regarding whether or not this was a kamikaze attack. Many
sources refer to the attack on Australia on October 21, 1944, as the first
kamikaze attack. Hoyt (1983, 65) states, "the first suicide diver had struck."
The Australian War Memorial web site  gives the
following entry for October 21, 1944: "HMAS Australia damaged by Kamikaze
aircraft. The Japanese first used suicide attacks on warships in the Allied
fleet supporting the American landings on Leyte in the Philippines." The
Wikipedia article on the heavy cruiser Australia 
explains, "On 21 October 1944, in the lead-up to the Battle of Leyte Gulf,
Australia was hit by a Japanese plane carrying a 200-kilogram (440 lb) bomb, in
the first-ever kamikaze attack."
On the other hand, overwhelming evidence exists that the attack on Australia
was not the first kamikaze attack. Richard L. Dunn examines the controversy in great detail in the fine
article "First Kamikaze? Attack on HMAS Australia - October 21st, 1944, or Crash
at Biak - May 27th, 1944" . He concludes that "HMAS
Australia was not the first Allied ship to fall victim to an organized Kamikaze
attack, as has been officially and repeatedly stated." The Conclusion
section of his article starts
with the following two paragraphs:
On October 21st, 1944 the Japanese army and navy air forces in the
Philippines had only a limited number of aircraft to strike Allied shipping.
HMAS Australia was the only large Allied ship damaged that day. These
circumstances simplify identifying the attacker of a specific ship compared
to the frenzied events of a few days later when hundreds of aircraft
attacked dozens of ships.
The post-war Japanese monograph covering these operations and the various
books published since identify only one Japanese navy anti-shipping strike
on the 21st. This is the Kuno Kamikaze mission which, due to timing and
other factors, clearly was not the attack carried out on Australia.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Kofu Kuno, the Navy's first Kamikaze Special Attack
Corps member to not return from his suicide mission, did not take off on his
final flight until 1625 on October 21, 1944 (Osuo 2005a, 158), but a Japanese
aircraft crashed into Australia at 0605 on the same date (p. 145). The Japanese
Army formed the first suicide squadron, the Banda Squadron, on October 21, 1944,
but this took place on the Japanese mainland at Hokota Air Base, and the first
Army suicide squadron members did not die until November 5, 1944 (Osuo 2005b, 8, 189). Dunn
concludes that Army Type 99 assault bombers (Ki 51s) of the 6th Flying Brigade (FB)
"were almost certainly Australia's attackers," and "it can be said with equal
certainty that these attacks were not part of an official and organized policy
of suicide attacks. . . . The aircraft that crashed into HMAS Australia on
October 21st either did so by accident or was an example of 'Jibaku' a
spontaneous suicide attack probably resulting from damage to the aircraft or
injury to the pilot." O'Neill (1981, 127) comes to a similar conclusion in his
1981 book Suicide Squads.
This ship history, which in places reads like the ship's log, probably holds
little interest for the general reader. A few incidents such as the kamikaze
attacks and the rescue of a crewman swept overboard (p. 4) offer some
interesting reading but not enough to get through this history of more than 200
pages without some skimming.
http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/thismonth/oct/ (February 27, 2010)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMAS_Australia_(1927) (February 27, 2010)
Hoyt, Edwin P. 1983. The Kamikazes. Short Hills, NJ:
O'Neill, Richard. 1981. Suicide Squads: Axis and Allied Special
Attack Weapons of World War II: their Development and their Missions.
Originally published in 1981. New York:
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005a. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (kaigun
hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.
________. 2005b. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen)
(Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.
Warner, Denis, Peggy
Warner, with Commander Sadao Seno. 1982. The Sacred Warriors: Japan's Suicide
Legions. New York: Van Nostrand
Battle damage to cruiser Australia at Lingayen Gulf