Flers-Courcelette 15 Sept 1916

IWM-Q 5574 THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME 1 JULY - 18 NOVEMBER 1916 MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION PRODUCTION DATE: 15 September 1916 MAKER: Brooke, J W (Lt) DESCRIPTION: The Battle of Flers Courcelette 15 - 22 September: A 'C' Company Mark I (C19 Clan Leslie) in Chimpanzee Valley preparing for action. Haig had 49 tanks available but due to mechanical problems only 18 went forward in small groups with the advance. Other Description: A 'C' Company Mark I tank (C. 19 "Clan Leslie") Chimpanzee Valley, 15 September 1916. Tanks first went into action on this day.

flers0001

On 1 July 1916 the British began a massive offensive against German positions along the Somme. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig unleashed this offensive prematurely, in large part to respond to a desperate appeal by the French for a diversion to draw off German forces from Verdun. The Battle of the Somme developed into the deadliest engagement of the entire war. In fighting from July to November it claimed some 1.2 million men on both sides.

Despite the horrific casualties of the first day on the Somme, Haig continued the offensive in the belief that his men could indeed break through the German lines and end the war. Desperate for anything that might tip the balance, Haig called on the tanks, even though but few were available. Swinton opposed their deployment before they were available in sufficient numbers and the crews could be properly trained. But he was promptly overruled and replaced, not the last of the tank pioneers to be thus treated.

The men of the new force operated under the cover of the Armored Car Section of the Motor Machine-Gun Service. Many of those who were recruited to operate the new machines had little knowledge of soldiering. Training in driving (first with Little Willie), gunnery, and rudimentary tactics went forward, but one tank commander who took part in the subsequent attack on the Somme later wrote:

I and my crew did not have a tank of our own the whole time we were in England. Ours went wrong the day it arrived. We had no recon naissance or map reading . . . no practices or lectures on the compass . . . we had no signalling . . . and no practice in considering orders. We had no knowledge of where to look for information that would be necessary for us as Tank Commanders, nor did we know what information we should be likely to require.

Some of the men and their machines were then shipped to France. As a consequence of the feverish efforts to prepare for action, many of the crewmen were completely exhausted before they even got into battle. On the night of 13 September, the drivers, guided by white tape on the ground, with the tanks creating considerable amazement for those who watched them, moved into their assembly areas.

Shortly after first light on 15 September 1916, a new chapter in warfare opened when the tanks went into action. Of 150 Mark I tanks, only 59 were in France when Haig made the decision to employ them, and of these only 49 actually reached the front. Plagued by mechanical problems abetted by nervous crewmen, only 35 tanks reached the line of departure; 31 crossed the German trenches, and only nine surmounted all problems and pushed on ahead of the infantry.

The Tanks on the Somme. 15th September 1916.

przekroj_mark_I_tank

D Company, 2 section, with NZ Division, XV Corps, 3rd Army

D Company, 2 section intended to get 8 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

2 Section, Capt Nixon G

D8, 720, 2Lt Bown, HGF

D10, 535, 2Lt Darby H

D11, 547, 2Lt Pearsall HG

D12, 719, Capt Nixon G

Notes:

2 section also had two other tanks which were detached and operated with other units on the 15th September 1916.

Orders

2 Section was to support the New Zealand Division

Zero was 06:20. The tanks were to reach Switch Trench five minutes before the infantry and thus enable their advance. En route 535 and 547 were to turn right along Crest trench and help clear it of the enemy; 719 would turn right upon reaching Switch trench and clear the lower half of it of opposition, these three tanks would then rendezvous at the southern end of Fish Alley. Meanwhile 720 was to move right, cross Switch Trench and cover the infantry who would be consolidating in front of it.

The advance was to halt at Switch Trench until 7:20am, partially to allow the tanks to assist with mopping up.

Account of operations

The tanks arrived late and followed the infantry over the German front line, which had already been captured, the infantry making use of the lane left in the barrage to push forward.

The advance resumed, and despite enfilading fire dorm each flank the infantry swiftly capturing their second objective, Fat Trench and the upper part of Fish Alley. A further advance was now halted in front of the heavily wired and well defended Flers Line which lay in between the second and third objectives. 535 continued northwards in an attempt to support this attack but was hit and Knocked out at M36c.2.6.

547 and 720 advanced either side and probably a little to the rear of 535. At 10:30 547 advanced into the centre of the Flers Line and enfiladed the twin trenches with MG fire, the infantry rapidly advanced over the crushed wire and captured the position. 720 meanwhile, may have done much the same on the extreme left of the Division, all the while probably firing on the Germans on the Division left who had not been silenced by the unsuccessful attack of the 47th Division.

719 advanced on the extreme right of the division, catching the infantry up at the second Objective, where Fat Trench abutted Flers trench. At 9:15am, at the request of the infantry, the tank moved into the depression to the south west of Flers and silenced enemy Mgs ensconced in a farmhouse there. The tank then moved towards Flers, its steering was damaged by shell fire and then tank then ditched, at M36d.9.9, whilst attempting to withdraw. More shells hit the tank, it caught fire and was burnt out.

The New Zealanders, possibly with the assistance of 547 and two other tanks, were able to capture Grove Trench, and two field guns therein. The trench could not be held due to the failure of the attacks on either flank and the infantry withdrew and consolidated on the Blue Line, 547 ignored the general order for all tanks to withdraw and remained behind to cover the consolidation, eventually withdrawing into Flers after dark.

Summary

Intended: 4

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 4

Ditched / Broke Down: 0

Hit and Knocked out: 2

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

 

C Company, 1 section, with 2nd Canadian Division, Canadian Corps, 3rd Army

C Company, 1 section, intended to get 6 tanks into action on 15th September 1916

C Company, 1 section, Capt Inglis AM

C1, 709, “Champagne”, Lt Wheeler AGC

C2, 522, “Cognac”, Lt Bluemel FW

C3, 701, “Chartreuse”, 2Lt Clark SDH

C4, 503, “Chablis”, 2Lt Campbell GOL

C5, 721, “Creme de menthe”, Capt Inlis AM

C6, 504, “Cordon Rouge”, 2Lt Allan J

Notes:

Trevor Pidgeon gives C1 the number 721, this must be a Typo. Inglis’ report (in the Canadian Divisions War Diary) states it was number 709.

Orders

Northern Group, 709, 522, 504, were to cross the Canadian front line about R35a.0.3. and then follow sugar trench to R30c.5.3, immediately north of the factory. They were to help cover the left flank of the advancing infantry, assist in mopping up and, once at the Sugar factory, deal with any MGs therein or in Courcelette

Southern group 721, 701, 503, to start from near Pozieres Windmill, advance down the road to the sugar factory, one tank on the road and one 30 yards either side of it. The tanks were to proceed to R36a.5.5 where, at z + 43 mins a male tank was to detach itself and assit the infantry in capturing the ruins. The other two tanks, a male and a female, were meanwhile to continue down the road to Candy trench at R36a.8.7 then follow the trench down towards Martinpuich. Once the infantry had gained their final objectives the tanks were to return and rally.

Account of operations

522 and 709 both started on time, at Zero, and advanced along routes close to one another. 522 was faster and ditched at R35a.3.9 ten minutes before 709 ditched at roughly the same location. 522 was unditched but ditched again permanently at R29b.5.1. Both crews attempted to unditch their machines whilst under fire, 709’s crew gave up after four fruitless hours and abandoned the tank, the driver being killed in the unditching attempt. 522’s crew worked all day but were also unable to save the tank which was abandoned.

504 meanwhile entered no mans land and, under heavy fire, advanced along Sugar trench silencing several Mgs therein thus enabling the infantries advance. The tank reached R30c.5.3, north of the Sugar factory and joined in the latter part of the attack on the factory blocking the Germans escape route.

701 ditched and 503 threw a track, both thus failed to reach the start point.

721 reached the start point at 2am and started forward at Zero, having been joined by 2Lt Campbell but having lost one of its tail wheels to an enemy shell.

The tank was possibly photographed and filmed whilst advancing: IWM FLM 2044, X1.p129

The infantry advanced well ahead, the tank eventually catching them up in the Sugar Factory where it helped subdue the defenders with 6pdr and MG fire. The Germans in the factory surrendered, 721 and 504 returned down the Albert Road, 721 laying 400 yds of cable en route, both tanks rallied.

The infantry launched a further attack in the afternoon and captured Courcelette village.

Summary

Intended: 6

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 0

Engaged enemy: 2

Ditched / Broke Down: 2

Hit and Knocked out: 0

Rallied: 2

Penetrated by AP bullets: 0

The tanks were thus far from impressive in their debut, mostly because they were too widely dispersed and not used according to any plan. Their crews were also not well trained, and there was the spate of breakdowns. Regardless, the few tanks that did get into action had a profound impact on Haig; five days after the attack he urgently requested 1,000 more. Haig also demanded the establishment of a new central office charged with improving their fighting ability. Even before the end of the Battle of the Somme, Haig had created the Tank Corps Headquarters.

75 SQUADRON – RAAF

7sqn23

milnebay

No. 75 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter unit based at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory. The squadron was formed in 1942 and saw extensive action in the South West Pacific theatre of World War II, operating P-40 Kittyhawks.

Port Moresby and Milne Bay

In February and March 1942 the Allied position in New Guinea was under pressure and Japanese aircraft had been sighted over the Torres Strait Islands and Cape York in northern Australia. As a result, priority was given to basing a fighter squadron at Port Moresby in New Guinea to defend the town’s important airfields and port facilities. The RAAF received an allocation of 25 P-40 Kittyhawk fighters in late February that were flown to Townsville, Queensland and used to form No. 75 Squadron on 4 March 1942. The need to reinforce Port Moresby’s defences was so pressing that the squadron was allowed only nine days to train with the aircraft before it deployed. Commanded initially by Squadron Leader Peter Jeffrey, No. 75 Squadron’s advance party arrived in Port Moresby on 17 March and its aircraft followed between the 19th (when Squadron Leader John Jackson assumed command) and 21st of the month. At this time only four of the squadron’s 21 pilots, including its commander, had previously seen combat.

No. 75 Squadron took part in the Battle of Port Moresby between March and April 1942. The squadron scored its first “kill” on the afternoon of 21 March when two Kittyhawks shot down a Japanese bomber which was conducting a reconnaissance of the town. On 22 March nine Kittyhawks attacked the Japanese airstrip at Lae, destroying 14 aircraft (including two during a dogfight) and damaging another five; two Australian aircraft were lost in this operation though another three crashed in separate accidents on 22 March. The Japanese launched a retaliatory raid on Port Moresby the next day. No. 75 Squadron was in action over Port Moresby or Lae almost every day during late March and April, and was generally outnumbered by Japanese aircraft. As well as mounting their own attacks on Japanese positions, the Kittyhawks also frequently escorted a squadron of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) A-24 Banshee dive bombers, which were stationed at Port Moresby. No. 75 Squadron’s casualties quickly mounted and were exacerbated by high rates of disease. Squadron Leader Jackson was shot down and killed on 28 April, shortly after he had destroyed a Japanese fighter. His younger brother Squadron Leader Les Jackson assumed command the next day. By the time two USAAF squadrons arrived to reinforce it on 30 April, No. 75 Squadron had been reduced to just three serviceable aircraft and a further seven Kittyhawks in need of repair. The squadron was withdrawn from operations on 3 May after losing two aircraft the day before. During its period at Port Moresby No. 75 Squadron was confirmed to have destroyed 35 Japanese aircraft, probably destroyed another four and damaged 44. The squadron suffered twelve fatalities and lost 22 Kittyhawks, including six in accidents.

The squadron departed Port Moresby to return to Australia on 7 May 1942. It was first located at Townsville and later moved to Kingaroy followed by Lowood to be re-equipped. During this period it also received a number of pilots who had served in Supermarine Spitfire-equipped squadrons in Europe. In late July the unit departed Queensland and returned to New Guinea.

A No. 75 Squadron Kittyhawk at Milne Bay in September 1942

No. 75 Squadron arrived at Milne Bay on 31 July 1942 where it joined No. 76 Squadron, which was also equipped with Kittyhawks. At the time an Allied base was being developed at Milne Bay to both protect Port Moresby and mount attacks against Japanese positions in New Guinea and nearby islands. Japanese aircraft made their first major raid on Milne Bay on 11 August, which was intercepted by Kittyhawks from both No. 75 and No. 76 Squadrons. In mid-August the Milne Bay defenders were warned that they might be the target of a Japanese landing, and on 24 August Japanese barges were sighted heading for the area. These vessels were destroyed the next day on Goodenough Island by nine No. 75 Squadron Kittyhawks. However, on the night of 25/26 August another Japanese convoy landed an invasion force at Milne Bay. During the resulting Battle of Milne Bay the two Kittyhawk squadrons provided important support to the Allied defenders by heavily attacking Japanese positions and intercepting Japanese air raids on the area. On 28 August the Kittyhawks were withdrawn to Port Moresby when the Japanese troops came close to their airstrips, but they returned to Milne Bay the next day. No. 75 and No. 76 Squadrons later supported the Allied counter-offensive at Milne Bay which ended with the remaining Japanese troops being evacuated in early September. Following the battle Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell, the commander of New Guinea Force, stated that the attacks made by the two squadrons on the day of the Japanese landing were “the decisive factor” in the Allied victory. From 21 to 23 September No. 75 Squadron flew sorties in support of the 2/12th Battalion during the Battle of Goodenough Island.

In late September the two Australian squadrons at Milne Bay were relieved by two USAAF squadrons, and No. 75 Squadron was redeployed to Horn Island. It subsequently moved again to Cairns for a period of rest before returning to Milne Bay in February 1943, under the command of Squadron Leader Wilfred Arthur. During this deployment the squadron operated alongside No. 77 Squadron. No. 75 Squadron flew patrols over Milne Bay and Goodenough Island, and on 14 May a mixed force of 17 Kittyhawks from it and No. 77 Squadrons inflicted heavy casualties on a force of 65 Japanese aircraft bound for Milne Bay while only a single Australian aircraft was lost. This was No. 75 Squadron’s last major air battle of the war. From August to December the squadron was issued with two F-4 Lightning aircraft for photo reconnaissance tasks. No. 75 Squadron moved to Goodenough Island in October 1943 to support the Allied offensive in the Louisiade Archipelago and New Britain.

Offensive operations

In December 1943 No. 75 Squadron became part of No. 78 Wing, which in turn formed part of the newly established No. 10 Operational Group. This group had been formed to provide a mobile organisation capable of supporting the offensives in and around New Guinea which were planned for 1944.During the first half of 1944 the squadron frequently moved between air bases to support Allied operations and was based at Nadzab from January to March, Cape Gloucester from March to May, Tadji in May, Hollandia from May to June and Biak from June to July. During this period its role was to provide close air support for Australian and US ground troops and protect Allied shipping from air attack. No. 75 Squadron was stationed at Noemfoor from July to November 1944 where it conducted long-range attacks on Japanese airstrips and shipping in the eastern islands of the Netherlands East Indies. No. 10 Operational Group was renamed the First Tactical Air Force (1TAF) on 25 October 1944; at this time No. 75 Squadron continued to form part of No. 78 Wing alongside No. 78 and No. 80 Squadrons. The squadron was ordered back to Biak by 1TAF on 2 November to provide air defence for the island, to the displeasure of the pilots who considered that they were “being taken out of the war”. Only 149 sorties were flown from Biak before No. 75 Squadron returned to Noemfoor on 11 December.

No. 75 Squadron and the rest of No. 78 Wing moved to Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies in late December 1944. The squadron arrived at Morotai on 21 December and flew 147 operational sorties that month during attacks on Japanese positions in the nearby Halmahera islands. Attacks on Halmahera and other islands in the NEI continued in early 1945, and No. 75 Squadron also flew sorties in support of US troops who were attacking the remaining Japanese on Morotai. These and similar operations were seen as wasteful by many of 1TAF’s fighter pilots and their leaders. On 20 April, eight officers including Wilf Arthur, now a Group Captain and No. 78 Wing’s commander, attempted to resign in protest during the “Morotai Mutiny”.

From May 1945 No. 75 Squadron participated in the Borneo Campaign. While the squadron’s ground crew landed on Tarakan with the invasion force in early May 1945, delays in bringing the island’s airstrip into operation meant that its aircraft could not be deployed there until mid-July rather than 3 May as had been originally planned. During this period No. 75 Squadron’s pilots remained at Morotai but conducted little flying, causing their morale to decline. Once established at Tarakan the Kittyhawks attacked targets near Sandakan and supported Australian forces during the Battle of Balikpapan in the war’s last weeks.

Following the Japanese surrender No. 75 Squadron flew reconnaissance patrols over prisoner of war camps and continued general flying. The Kittyhawks were later flown to Oakey, Queensland and the ground crew returned to Australia in December 1945 on board the British aircraft carrier HMS Glory. The squadron suffered 42 fatalities during World War II.

LINK

HMAS Australia I

The damage to Australia’s bridge and foremast following the aerial attack of 21 October 1944.

Left: Captain EFV Dechaineux who, along with 29 officers and sailors, was killed in the Japanese dive bomber attack of 21 October 1944. Right: Lieutenant DJ Hamer, RAN was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry, skill and devotion to duty while serving in HMAS Australia during the successful assault operations in the Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island.

Douglas MacArthur’s next move was towards Luzon, the Philippines’ biggest island and home to the capital, Manila. This was still firmly in Japanese hands. Invasion day was set for 9 January 1945 at Lingayen Gulf, in the island’s north-west corner, an almost rectangular expanse of water about 30 kilometres wide and 50 kilometres long, fringed by sandy beaches ideal for putting troops ashore.

This would be the biggest amphibious operation yet mounted in the Pacific. After a massive naval bombardment, the US 6th Army would land about 68,000 GIs on S-Day alone, building up to more than 200,000 in the following few days. The planners did not expect Lingayen to be heavily defended on land and nor did they anticipate any significant attempt by the enemy to meet the invasion at sea, although they were prepared for it. Danger would come from the sky, from a possible 800 or so land-based fighters and bombers estimated to be in the Philippines. More, perhaps, could be sent from Formosa or the Netherlands East Indies.

Vice Admiral Kincaid’s 7th Fleet would run the naval side of things – yet another armada of transports and the battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers to support them: warships by the hundred. As he had done at Leyte, Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf would command a significant part of this fleet, the Bombardment and Fire Support Group – Task Group 77.2 – of six battleships, 12 escort carriers, eight cruisers and 46 destroyers, including Australia, Shropshire, Arunta and Warramunga. The route to Lingayen would be from an assembly point at Leyte Gulf, then south-west down the Surigao Strait of recent memory, with a turn to the north-west for a more or less direct course through the Sulu Sea along the western perimeter of the Philippines islands, a journey of three days.

First away was a Minesweeping and Hydrographic Group, some 85 ships in all, including the Australian frigate Gascoyne and the sloop Warrego, which left the gulf on Tuesday 2 January at a dogged ten knots, the usual drudgery of keeping pace with the slow-movers. Oldendorf sailed the Bombardment Group before dawn on Wednesday 3 January, the sun rising on the port quarter to bring on a bright blue day with the odd bank of cumulus cloud and a light breeze that ruffled the water into small white feathers.

The calm was too good to be true, and so it turned out. It was Tiger Country again. At 7.30 am, about ten bogeys appeared, all from different directions, three of them aiming fast and low for Gascoyne. Two bombs fell well clear of her starboard quarter, but a third whistled alarmingly across her fo’c’sle and splashed into the sea just a few metres abreast of her bridge, also on the starboard side, although without exploding. If it had gone up, it may well have holed her and sunk her. Four of those aircraft were shot down, but it was by no means the end of the affair. The enemy was gathering.

Soon after 5 pm the next day, about halfway into the trip, a dive bomber flashed into sight at about 15,000 feet, peeled off into an almost vertical dive and crashed into the flight deck of the escort carrier Ommaney Bay in a blinding explosion that killed 93 men. The crew abandoned the burning hulk and she had to be sunk by a destroyer. Nerves were fraying, and that evening some of the ships – including Shropshire – began firing at a strange light in the sky, which, to wry grins all round, turned out to be the planet Venus.

Friday began quietly enough, again in weather so gloriously calm and clear that it seemed to mock the dangers and the fears. In the Australian ships, as the morning wore on, men munched on a bully-beef sandwich at their action stations, those on deck constantly scanning the skies for the hated enemy – or the flies, as they had begun to call them, the murderous, pestilential flies.

They came shortly after 4 pm, when the convoy was about 140 kilometres west of Subic Bay to the north-west of Manila, and there were waves of them both high and low, as many as 50 or 60 bombers and fighters. The air was filled with the roar of engines, the chatter and bark and crash of gunfire, the mushroom puffs of smoke from the exploding anti-aircraft shells, and the crump of bombs erupting in columns of water. Nothing should have been able to survive such a barrage, but some flies did.

Arunta was struck first. She was out on the destroyer screen when two planes came heading straight for her at 5.30 pm. Commander Buchanan ordered 25 knots and opened fire, which sent one of the aircraft sheering off, but the other – a Zero with a bomb slung beneath it – headed straight for the bridge, growing bigger with every second. Buchanan flung his helm hard over for an emergency turn to starboard and the destroyer answered it handsomely, the plane missing by a couple of metres and plunging into the sea to port. But the bomb blew a hole in her side, killing one able seaman instantly and wounding a petty officer, who died the next day. Her steering gear jammed and it took long into the night to fix it, all the while guarded by a slowly circling American destroyer.

In Australia, at the rear of the Bombardment Group, David Hamer, the Air Defence Officer, was calling the action from the air defence position, directly behind and above the compass platform, his voice crackling through the ship’s loudspeakers:

Group of Bogies bearing 265, 50 miles, closing. Friendly fighters bearing 260, closing Bogies. All AA positions stand by to close up …

Friendlies have intercepted but some bogies have broken through. Range now only 20 miles. Close up tight! All positions look out bearing red 90. Keep a good lookout on the disengaged side …

Zombies Red 80, low on the water …

Alarm port, Red 80, low on the water, six aircraft …

It was 5.35 pm. Australia opened up with everything she had, her 8-inch main armament, the 4-inch high angle, the pom-poms and finally the closer range Oerlikons, in hellish symphony. Three aircraft made it through, three Zeros. The first was hit, bursting into flames and diving vertically into the sea. The second had its tail blown off, sending it smashing across the flight deck of the nearby carrier Manila Bay, with 14 killed. David Hamer had his eye on the third Zero:

This last fellow’s coming right for us. He’s crossing ahead. Starboard side stand by. Starboard side open fire!

He’s turning towards us. Now he’s turning right over the top of us. Look out, he’s coming in!

John Clarke, a 20-year-old able seaman from Preston in Melbourne, was on the starboard pom-pom as that third plane shot across Australia’s bow:

I turned the gun onto him when he was about 150 yards on our starboard beam. Then he did an amazing thing.

He climbed straight up into the air until he reached about 200 feet, then rolled over onto his back. As he went up he seemed to stop right in the centre of my sights. The red spot on his side vanished as the pom pom hit him.

He rolled over and screamed back at us with wings at right angles to the water. As he came in we poured everything at him. About 100 feet from the ship’s side he was a flaming ball with two wings. Then I realised that nothing would stop him and with a great crash and a flash of flaming petrol he hit us.

I was thrown right off the gun to find myself in the cover of the whaler which was stowed abaft our mounting. Then there was the job of getting back to the gun, which was pointing straight up in the air and still firing away by itself. On reaching the gun I turned her off, then the remainder of the crew having returned we set about reloading and filling her up with water to get ready for another attack.

Clarke was lucky. The plane had rocketed past him between the second and third funnels, to crash on top of one of the aircraft cranes and the P2 4-inch mounting, the rearmost 4-inch gun on the port side. Every man in that gun crew was killed. So, too, were eight men at the P1 gun, and still more at the pom-poms and in the ammunition supply parties. A total of 25 men died in just those few terrifying minutes of carnage and the fire that followed, with 30 wounded. More might have been killed but for the daring of Stoker Petty Officer Merv Evans, of North-cote in Melbourne, who struggled to get a hose into the seat of the fire and stopped it spreading to a nearby ready-use ammunition locker. John Clarke, shaken to the marrow but still alive, did what he could for his shipmates at the P2 gun, but it was precious little:

Sailors had died right on the job; one man had his hand still on the interceptors and he had died in the act of closing them. The crew were lying around the gun, some with shells in their hands, and the thing that struck me most was that every man was still at his station.

Along the upper deck we could see more dead and wounded and our gun had not escaped. The captain of the gun had been very badly wounded in the legs and there were one or two shock cases … we were nauseated and completely at a loss to know what would next go on. We didn’t talk much that night, and we didn’t feel like having anything to eat.

We had a short sleep, knowing that next morning was to take us into the mouth of the Gulf …

Strangely, and for all the human loss, the damage to the ship herself was relatively slight. She could carry on, and she did, and so did her men with her, anguished and grieving though they were. On the way to Leyte, Jack Langrell had been chatting with a mate, Henry O’Neill, a 34-year-old leading seaman who’d joined the navy in 1928 and was the gun captain on P2. O’Neills were always nicknamed ‘Peggy’ in the navy. Both men had been through the fatal attack the year before, and they were tossing up their chances. ‘We’ll be all right, Peggy,’ Jack told him.

That evening, as the sun went down, Jack was one of the working party helping to retrieve the bodies, to carry what was left of them and to lay them out for the sailmaker on the fo’c’sle by the breakwater. He found Peggy with his face blown off.

Other men were also shockingly burnt and maimed. Some were naked or nearly so, their battledress stripped away. They were sewn into their hammocks that night, each one of the 25 sad bundles weighted at the feet to sink it, and the next day they went over the side. There was nothing else to do. Bodies could not be stored in the heat. Australia had no chaplain at this time, and the ship was at action stations, in Tiger Country. There was no funeral service for them, no rite of farewell and burial, no fine words, no soaring requiem, no rifle fired, no bugler sounding a plangent ‘Last Post’ – only a final drop into the cruel sea. ‘You might have given a mate a bit of a quiet blessing, but that was it,’ Jack said.

The captain carried them and the ship. As the plane attacked, he remained standing on the for’ard end of the bridge, unflinching, while – as the navigator, Commander Jack Mesley, recalled – ‘most of the rest of us tried to dig holes in the deck with our bare hands, from a prone position’. Armstrong got the damage reports as they arrived, and it was clear to him, and to Commodore Farncomb, that Australia should persevere. What was left of the crane was shoved over the side. The terrible problem would be replacing the gun crews, asking new men to step up to take the places of their dead shipmates. This they did, with some hurried training on the spot.

Though she was in the thick of it, Shropshire went unscathed, and the armada swept on through the night for its entry into Lingayen, where it would begin softening up the defences for the invasion proper three days later.

Saturday 6 January brought good weather again, ideal for air attacks. Shropshire’s action cooks threw together a breakfast scathingly described as ‘one bottle of tomato sauce to four gallons of hot water … swimming in this messy concoction were a few thin “streaks” of spaghetti’. Arthur Cooper, the Chief Gunner’s Mate, with memories of the Mediterranean, cracked that if that’s what the Italian Navy had lived on, ‘it’s no wonder they turned and ran away’.

By 10.45 am, both Shropshire and Australia were in their assigned positions to bombard Poro Point, at the eastern mouth of the gulf, and their 8-inch guns opened up.

The flies started to arrive just before noon, beginning a wave of Kamikaze attacks that brought frightening death and destruction for the rest of the daylight hours and into the evening. Again, the skies were rent by the sights and sounds of air combat. The first to be hit was the battleship New Mexico, struck by a plane that flew past Shropshire’s starboard side at masthead height, had its tail shot off and caught fire. It stayed in the air long enough to crash on the battleship’s bridge, killing, among others, her captain and a British observer, Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden, who was Winston Churchill’s personal envoy to MacArthur’s headquarters. Another Briton, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, although standing nearby, escaped unscratched.

And on it went, in rising fury. Within a few hours, all before sunset, a minesweeper was sunk and another battleship – California – along with three destroyers and two cruisers were crashed into and badly damaged, including the heavy cruiser Louisville, which lost 41 dead, including a rear admiral.

Then it was Australia’s turn again. At 5.34 pm, her lookouts and gunners saw a Val dive bomber out to starboard, coming at them straight out of the lowering sun, across the water at a height of maybe 15 metres. The 4-inch opened up first, but the plane kept coming. John Clarke, still at his pom-pom, got him in the crosshairs of the gun sight and opened fire:

As he came on, the plane was almost obliterated by the bursting shells pouring out at 1000 a minute. Still he came, but now he was starting to go down in a shallow dive towards the water. For a moment it looked as if he would hit the sea, but he jerked himself up just before his tail unit dropped into the water. Then, about 50 yards from the ship, his port wing dropped off and immediately he swung off course and with a terrible rending crash he hit the upper deck. Had it not been for his wing coming off I would not be telling this story, for he was coming right at the gun and I would have got him right between the eyes. All the way in he had been firing his guns, and one cannon shell passed between our heads and burst in the ready use magazine where we had over 2000 rounds already laid out on the deck for loading. Had it struck them the magazine would have been blown to pieces and all the gun’s crew with it.

Another 14 men died, including the whole of the S2 gun crew and most of the men at the S1, with another 26 wounded. And there was an insult added to death and injury in this attack: the Val had been carrying a bomb made from a British 15- or 16-inch naval shell with an impact fuse fitted on its nose, possibly one obtained at the naval base in Singapore. They could tell because they found identification and lettering in English on the remains of the shell’s base plate. Yet, again, the damage to the ship was not as bad as it might have been. Although the impact had gouged another hole in the teak decking, the blast of the bomb went upward and the fires were quickly put out. Parts of the pilot’s body were found in the blackened debris and were swept unceremoniously over the side.

HMAS Australia II

HMAS Shropshire carrying out a shore bombardment, circa 1944.

Left: Captain JM Armstrong, RAN in conversation with Mr SM Bruce, the Australian High Commissioner to England, in July 1945 following the ship’s arrival at Plymouth. Visible in the foreground is the propeller of one of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft that struck Australia during the bitter fighting in the seas surrounding the Philippines. Right: One of the aircraft relics now preserved and on display at the RAN Heritage Centre, Sydney.

Luck continued to ride with Shropshire. She was attacked by several aircraft during the afternoon, one of them crossing from port to starboard over the bridge and very nearly giving a haircut to Stan Nicholls, a 19-year-old from Woodville in South Australia, the navigator’s yeoman. At his action station on the compass platform, Stan was so close he could see the white scarf wrapped around the pilot’s forehead. He dived to the deck and found out only later that he’d wet his pants in fear. That aircraft smashed into the sea. Later, at 6.30 that evening, a dive bomber came at them almost vertically, just off the port quarter. Mac Gregory was Officer of the Watch:

Looking into the sun I saw an aircraft at about 1,000 feet diving straight for the bridge. We cleared the bridge, and flattened out on the deck of the wing of the bridge. There was a tremendous explosion. I believed we were hit by this Kamikaze, as liquid splashed all around me I thought it was petrol and expected it to burst into flames at any moment. I reached out my hand to run it across the splash, and licked my fingers, salt water, not petrol after all.

What a relief, Roy Cazaly had quickly seen this attack, swung his Pom Pom around and onto the target, with a devastating burst of fire, he shot this Japanese aircraft in two, half falling close to our starboard side, where a bomb on board exploded. The bridge is 60 feet above sea level, and the force of the impact and explosion threw a wave of sea water up onto the bridge. The other half of this plane crashed close to our port side, adjacent to the bridge.

I was still in one piece, but it left me shaken but very grateful to the skill of Leading Seaman Roy Cazaly, who was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts. It was indeed, a close run thing, and but for the Captain of the Port Pom Pom, I would not be alive today.

Some men on the upper deck saw a small figure parachute from that aircraft before it came apart, and there were cries to Cazaly to ‘shoot the bastard’, but he refrained, and seconds later the man slipped from the harness and plummeted into the sea.

There was one more attack on Shropshire that evening, and in this she was saved by the nearby Gascoyne, who marvellously scored a direct hit with her after 4-inch gun at a long range of about 4000 metres. Debris splattered onto the cruiser’s quarter-deck, prompting a cheerful signal from Captain Nichols asking Gascoyne to be more careful about where she dropped her rubbish next time. The Australians were looking out for each other.

Afterwards, the Bombardment Group stood out to sea again, for a mercifully quiet night in which, once more, Australia disposed of her dead. Now there were only enough people to man one 4-inch gun on either side, but, battered and bruised, she carried on.

The next day, 7 January, was quieter in the gulf, as if the enemy was also regathering, and there were no flies to be bothered with. Both cruisers carried out some routine shore bombardments, retired again for the night and were back early on the morning of 8 January.

Impossible as it seems, Australia was hit again. And again once more. The sun was still low in the east, still rising over the land mass of Luzon as she moved into line in Lingayen at the rear of the Bombardment Group. On this fourth day at action stations, the ship’s company by now was operating on adrenalin alone, somehow finding the reserves of strength and will to carry on when every nerve and muscle cried out for rest and respite, for a place of safety.

They did not have long to wait for the action to begin again. It was 7.20 am when the first zombie came in on the port quarter, the enemy’s preferred position for an attack. They recognised a Dinah, a twin-engined Mitsubishi Ki-46 normally used as an army reconnaissance plane, swooping in with four Wildcats from the Combat Air Patrol hot on its tail. Ordnance Artificer Cluny McPherson, a 23-year-old from Glen Iris in Melbourne, saw it coming:

All guns opened fire but he still came on. When only 50 feet from our port quarter the plane disintegrated under the heavy fire from the port pom-pom and short range weapons aft. A large piece of the engine hit the ship’s side, making a hole three feet square in the captain’s day cabin and glanced off into the water. The gun crews on X-turret and the quarterdeck were drenched with high octane petrol, which fortunately did not ignite.

Surprisingly, no one was killed or even scratched. But the damage control parties were still cleaning up when a second Dinah appeared, this time amidships on the port beam and barely skimming the water, its intentions very clear. Every gun that could be brought to bear poured a heavy fire into it and, at about ten metres away, the propeller of its starboard engine flew off and cartwheeled onto the ship, slicing into a Carley float lashed to the galley bulkhead. The gunfire beat the aircraft down into the sea but its bomb exploded right at the ship’s side, tearing her plates open into a hole on the waterline of around five metres by four metres, opening her up to the sea. Fairly quickly, Australia took on a list of some five degrees to port, which was slowly corrected by shoring up bulkheads and pumping and flooding. Again, no one was injured, although the impact had been very close to the transmitting station, where it could have wreaked havoc.

Still she carried on. And so did her men. In this new and terrible form of warfare, it was the people on the upper decks who were now in the firing line, and they knew it all too well. Once, it had been the men below who felt themselves to be in the most danger, from a torpedo fired by some unseen submarine, or shell fire from an enemy on the surface, and they would joke morbidly about their slender chances of survival, of getting out. In this Kamikaze onslaught, though, they were relatively protected, for the suicide planes did not have the power or the momentum to penetrate into a ship’s vitals. It was their shipmates up top who got it now, and there was something utterly alien, even obscene, in the thought that a man was willing to kill himself in an effort to kill you. Part of the Kamikaze weaponry was psychological, the sheer terror these planes aroused as you could see them coming straight for you, and it began to tell, pressing even strong men to the edge and more.

The ship’s doctors, already occupied with the burnt, wounded and maimed, now had to surmount their own fears and turn to what they called neurotic casualties, sailors broken in mind and spirit but just as certainly victims of war. Curiously, they noted that many of those most severely affected were men also recognised as some of the best, most loyal and competent in the ship. And, more often than not, they were older men, too, with wives and children at home. The symptoms were obvious, distressingly so. These men were pale and grey, often weeping and trembling, with convulsive attacks, vomiting, and sometimes confusion and loss of memory:

The men felt that their ship was singled out for special attack – a counter-attack on Australia in a double sense. Even if an enemy plane were 50 miles away, they were convinced that, among dozens of ships, it was coming straight for their own. After these assaults many exhaustion states were seen: men lost their grip, and cried out that they could stand no more. In such circumstances it was difficult to treat large numbers of serious injuries and mental casualties as well.

‘Guts’ Flattery, the Surgeon Commander, prescribed injections of morphine to calm them, and later they were given bromides as well, along with a constant and very deliberate assurance that they were not cowards, that their fears were normal and understood. Some responded well and recovered quickly, but there were others who could not.

It was true that some men, a handful, left their posts as lookouts and the like and ran for cover when a plane was coming. In theory, it was desertion in the face of the enemy, but it was also the desperate urge to survive, and it mattered not a jot in the scheme of things. If you were not working a gun, there was no point, none at all, in simply standing nakedly exposed for the sake of it. And other men found in themselves a store of courage that perhaps they never knew they had. David Hamer wrote in his memoirs:

during the second Dinah attack I was leaning over the side of the ADP, looking at the Bofors gun crew below and hoping that they would shoot it down (for the aircraft always seemed to be coming straight at you) … many of the crews were undertrained replacements, and one 17yr old I was watching was loading the clips of ammunition into a Bofors. It was certainly his first action, and he had only loaded a Bofors gun once before. The aircraft must have seemed to be coming straight at him, he must have been terribly scared, but he wouldn’t look up, just concentrated on loading the gun accurately. It was beautiful.

The rest of that day passed without an attack, and Australia limped into position at a cautious 15 knots to carry out her assigned bombardment. Soon, they found that firing her for’ard 8-inch guns out to port was straining nearby bulkheads, so they fired only to starboard. The Japanese had shifted their attention to the invasion convoy coming up from Leyte, a force that included the Australian transports Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia, and they were jumped at about 7 pm. Westralia shot down a Zeke that was aiming for her bridge, sending it crashing into the water astern.

In Australia, the fear that they were being singled out was becoming widespread. The enemy seemed hell-bent on destroying the Australian flagship above all, for no other ship had taken four hits at Lingayen. Certainly, the Japanese knew she was there, for she had been threatened several times by the propaganda broadcaster Tokyo Rose, and in some detail, even down to naming the captain. And Australia’s distinctive three funnels were easy enough to pick from the air. Shropshire, although looking almost identical, had not been hit once. Perhaps it was Commodore Farncomb’s red-and-white broad pennant that made the flagship stand out, some people thought, but that was a long bow to draw, for it would have been nigh impossible for a pilot to see it as he flew and jinked at speed through the smoky puffs of anti-aircraft fire.

The invasion began well before dawn the next day – S-Day, 9 January – the troopships and transports and landing craft sweeping into Lingayen under starlit skies with almost choreographed precision. The Americans were well practised now, with the lessons of Guadalcanal and Leyte and the Gilbert Islands and so many more taken and learnt. As the sun rose, a new bombardment began. So, too, did a new Kamikaze attack, with the light cruiser Columbia taking her second hit, killing 24 men.

At 9.30 am, the bombardment halted and the landings began, wave after wave of landing craft ploughing in towards the beaches for the rest of the morning. There was little opposition from the enemy on land, and by the afternoon the beach head was secure enough for Douglas MacArthur himself to go ashore from the cruiser Boise. His landing craft took him close by Shropshire. ‘G’day, Doug!’ they shouted.

But Australia was struck once more. It was early in the afternoon, at 1.11 pm. Four Vals turned up out of the blue. Two were shot down by the Combat Air Patrol, and one aimed for the battleship Mississippi, scraping across her fo’c’sle and plunging into the water nearby, where its bomb detonated and took 22 lives. The fourth plane aimed for Australia in a long, curving dive. Des Shinkfield was standing on the deck outside the fore director, getting some sun and fresh air, when he saw it coming off the port bow. The Oerlikons on top of B-turret began firing and Des raced back inside to take what little shelter there was:

I thought there would be a big explosion and I really thought this would be it. I kept my eyes on this aircraft to the very last minute. It came so close that I felt I could have touched the wing with my outstretched arm …

Nearby, in the air defence position, David Hamer also saw it. By this time, the young lieutenant had taken enough, more than enough. His blood rose. Impulsively, he jumped up onto the plotting table as the plane headed for him, standing there in the open air. The men who watched him do this said he shook his fist at the oncoming Val, like the Greek god Ajax defying the lightning, although Hamer later had no memory of doing so. The aircraft roared over the top of him, about two metres above his head. One wing scraped the 8-inch director and then clipped one of the tripod legs of the foremast, which sent the plane smashing into the for’ard funnel, which was cut almost in half. Some of the debris went down the remains of the funnel – the pilot’s torso was found there a day later – but the rest of the plane went over the side and its bomb did not explode. Hamer, a little embarrassed, climbed back down from his table. No one was hurt, not even scratched.

This was the final attack on Australia. She was like a punch-drunk boxer now, battered and bloodied but still on her feet, still at her duty. Her men were at their emotional end, mentally and physically exhausted, wracked by uncertainty, haunted by fear, driven beyond endurance and yet with no choice but to endure, which somehow most of them did. They moved like automatons, unthinking, unquestioning.

Happily, the rest of the afternoon was quiet, with Australia able to transfer 12 of her more severely wounded men to Manoora, which carried better medical facilities. That evening, at the danger hour, all the ships were told to make smoke to conceal them from the air; a choking blanket lay over Lingayen, and no suicide plane got through.

Then Australia was told that she had done enough, that she could go. Her long agony was over. A wave of relief ran through the cruiser. That night, with Arunta and some of the damaged American ships, she was ordered out of Lingayen and south in a convoy back to Leyte. She went with the acclaim of her comrades in arms, a spontaneous outpouring of admiration and affection from around the fleet. Admiral Oldendorf signalled personally: ‘Your gallant conduct and that of your ship has been an inspiration to all of us.’ From the battleship New Mexico, the British observer, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, sent a long message. ‘I feel very proud of the RAN,’ he said. ‘I thought the Australia, which seemed to be singled out for attack, dealt with every situation with great courage and determination, and this fact speaks for itself for, after all the damage she sustained, she carried out her duties until the landings had been completed and the task accomplished.’ Fraser knew what he was talking about: he had been in command at the stirring Battle of North Cape off Norway on Boxing Day 1943, where the German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk.

Shropshire stayed on at Lingayen, and luck stayed with her. She and the rest of the fleet were roughed up in a storm off the gulf that pounded them with ten-metre waves, but no Kamikaze ever touched her. Yet it had been a costly exercise for the Allied navies in those first two weeks of January, with 24 ships sunk by Kamikazes and another 67 damaged.

Australia arrived at Leyte on Friday 12 January, out of harm’s way at last, her men relieved but subdued after their torment and the death of so many of their shipmates. The silence was strange, almost eerie, a return to another world without the deafening scream of aircraft and the crash of gunfire. For a while, men spoke to each other almost in whispers, as if talking too loudly might bring the horrors down upon them again. A temporary patch was put on the cruiser’s damaged side, and slowly life began to return to something approaching normal. Spirits soared when they learnt that they would be going home, via Manus. Nobody knew it or even suspected it, but Australia had fired the last shots of her war.

Australians at D-Day

d-day-60-anniversary

On the night of 5/6 June Bomber Command conducted precision attacks on ten German coastal artillery batteries near the beaches where Allied troops were to land. Each battery was targeted by approximately 100 heavy bombers, and all four Australian heavy bomber squadrons took part in the operation. No. 460 Squadron dispatched 26 aircraft, which were evenly split between attacking the batteries at Fontenay-Crisbecq and St Martin de Varreville. No. 466 Squadron provided 13 aircraft to the raid on batteries at Merville-Franceville Maisy, 14 aircraft from No. 463 Squadron struck Pointe du Hoe and No. 467 Squadron dispatched 14 against batteries at Ouistreham. The RAAF squadrons did not suffer any losses. Many Australian aircrew posted to British units also participated in this attack, and 14.8 percent of the 1,136 Bomber Command aircraft despatched were either part of RAAF squadrons or were flown by Australians.

Australians posted to RAF units also landed paratroopers in Normandy and took part in diversionary operations. On the night of 5/6 June several Australian airmen served in heavy bombers that dropped “window” chaff in patterns that, on German radar, simulated the appearance of convoys headed for the Pas de Calais region of France. Other Australians served in aircraft that dropped dummy paratroopers and jammed German radar. One Australian pilot posted to No. 139 Squadron RAF took part in “intruder” bombing raids against targets in western Germany and the Low Countries that sought to divert German aircraft away from Normandy. Australian aircrew also served aboard the transport aircraft of No. 38 Group RAF and No. 46 Group RAF, which flew the British 6th Airborne Division from the UK to Normandy on the night of 5/6 June. About 14 percent of the transport aircraft in No. 38 Group were piloted by Australians, though the proportion of Australians in No. 46 Group was much lower. There were no completely Australian aircrews in either group.

Australian aircrew supported the fighting on 6 June. No. 453 Squadron was one of 36 Allied squadrons that provided low-altitude air defence for the invasion fleet and landing force. Many of the squadron’s pilots flew several sorties during the day, though they did not encounter any German aircraft. No. 456 Squadron also formed part of the force that provided air defence for the invasion area at night. In addition, about 200 Australian pilots were spread across the dozens of RAF fighter and fighter-bomber units that supported the landings. A small number of Australian aircrew also served in RAF reconnaissance units and 2TAF’s light bomber squadrons, which also saw combat over France on D-Day. The three Australian squadrons assigned to Coastal Command flew only a small number of sorties on 6 June as few German submarines or E-boats put to sea.

About 500 RAN personnel served on board RN ships involved in the operation. While most formed part of the crew of RN warships, several Australian officers led flotillas of landing craft and others commanded individual craft. For instance, Sub-Lieutenant Dean Murray commanded a force of six RN Landing Craft Assault that landed soldiers of the British 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach. Hudspeth also took X20 across the channel to mark the edge of Juno Beach during the landings there; he received his third DSC for completing this mission. Some of the warships with Australian crew members that supported the landings were HMS Ajax (which had three RANVR officers on board), Ashanti, Enterprise, Eskimo, Glasgow, Mackay and Scylla. Australian members of the Merchant Navy also participated in the D-Day landings, though the number of sailors involved is not known.

Few of the Australian Army officers attached to British units landed on D-Day. Major Jo Gullett, who was the second in command of an infantry company in the 7th Battalion, Green Howards, came ashore on Gold Beach as part of the invasion force. In his memoirs, Gullett described the landing as “easily the most impressive occasion of my life”. He subsequently led a company of the Royal Scots until he was wounded by German machine gun fire on 17 July. Most of the other Australian officers served in staff positions; for instance Lieutenant Colonel Bill Robertson was the chief of staff of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division when that unit arrived in Normandy and was later posted to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division where he served in the same role. Vincent came ashore on 7 June and served with XXX Corps, 7th Armoured and 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Divisions during the campaign.

Due to the lack of a nominal roll or other records listing the Australians who took part in the D-Day landings, it is not possible to determine the exact number involved. However, it has been estimated that about 3,000 Australian military personnel and merchant seamen participated in the operation. The total number of Australians killed on 6 June was 14, of whom 12 were RAAF airmen and two were members of the RAN.

Book: The Cross in the Sky

Featured

The Life and Adventures of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton
Soldier – Pioneer Aviator – Pathfinder for Global Peacekeeping.

by Charles Stuart Eaton

Foreword by Dick Smith AO
In Retrospect Air Commodore Dr Mark Lax OAM, CSM

The Cross in the Sky is the remarkable story of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton. As a soldier, pioneer aviator and pathfinder for global peacekeeping, Charles emerges as a trail-blazer in many realms. His story is intertwined with tectonic world events and a 65-year romance with Beatrice Rose Godfrey.

Eaton served every day of both world wars, starting with the Royal West Surreys and finishing with the Royal Australian Air Force. He was a prisoner of war and twice court-martialled by the German Army. After the Armistice, he ferried delegates to the Paris Peace Conference. In 1920 he flew in the first aerial survey of India, after which he lived amongst the Khond people of Orissa.

In Central Australia, following the disappearances of Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross and Lasseter’s Golden Quest, he led rescue missions into the Tanami and Great Sandy deserts before establishing and then participating in the air defences of north-west Australia and West Papua during World War Two. As the Australian Consul in East Timor, he assisted the post-war reconstruction of that war-torn land.

In the midst of the Indonesian War of Independence, his life-long experience culminated in initiatives that led to the first United Nations venture to monitor conflict resolution. As Australia’s first diplomatic representative to the new nation of Indonesia, Charles Eaton laid the foundations of Australian–Indonesian bi-lateral relations.

The Cross in the Sky is the story of an extraordinary man, told by his younger son—and witness to some of these events—Charles Stuart Eaton.

Buy LINK

Buy LINK

Buy LINK

The Sudan Campaign: Troup Convoy

The P & O liner Iberia was requisitioned to carry troops to the Sudan

The first Australian troops to go overseas left Sydney in March 1885, when, following the murder of General Charles Gordon in Khartoum, the colony of New South Wales raised a small contingent to assist British forces fighting an outbreak of hostilities in Sudan. This first deployment of Australian troops overseas was rapidly arranged, in response to the public outcry over the death of Gordon, who was the most famous British general of his time. Although Gordon was killed on 26 January 1885, news of his death did not reach Australia until 11 February. Two days later, William Dalley, Acting Premier of New South Wales, sent a message to the British government offering the service of a contingent of soldiers from the colony to assist British soldiers already fighting in Sudan. It was decided the New South Wales force would comprise an infantry battalion of 522 men, with 24 horses for officers, and two artillery batteries numbering 212 men and 172 horses, to be dispatched as soon as possible.

Once the decision to raise this force had been taken, there were some doubts that it could be achieved, given the short time available to select and equip the contingent, but so many men volunteered the major difficulty was in choosing the right men for the job. Those selected were immediately sent to Victoria Barracks, in the Sydney suburb of Paddington, for training.

Meanwhile, two passenger vessels then berthed in Sydney, Iberia and Australasian, were requisitioned to transport the contingent to the Sudan. Iberia was the larger and older, having been built in 1874 for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company. Initially used on their service from Britain to South America, Iberia joined the Australian trade in 1883, and had already been used to transport British troops to Egypt for the Sudanese war. The single-funnelled Australasian, owned by the Aberdeen Line, was quite new, having entered service in 1884, and was one of the first steamships in the world fitted with triple expansion machinery, but as with Iberia, having a hull built from iron. The black hulls of both ships were quickly repainted white for their trooping duty, and they looked very smart. Also, as befitted their temporary status as troop transports, they were given official numbers, with Iberia having 1 NSW painted on its sides, while Australasian was 2 NSW.

On Saturday, 28 February, with 50,000 people watching, the entire contingent paraded in an official review in Moore Park, while the following day, special church services were held in honour of the troops, and 2 March saw many of the men making their final farewells.

Tuesday, 3 March 1885, was to become one of the most important days in the history of New South Wales, for, as the Sydney Mail stated that day, ‘our men have the proud pre-eminence — in the matter of which every good and true man in the other colonies will envy them — of being the first selected to strike a blow for the old country in her hour of need in Africa.’ In the morning, the troops gathered in the grounds of Victoria Barracks, where they had a final chance to enjoy the company of family and friends. At midday, a bugle sounded for the troops to fall in, and they prepared to march to Circular Quay, where the Australasian and Iberia awaited them. A newspaper recorded how, following the bugle call, there were ‘hurried squeezes of the hand, a last kiss to sweethearts, wives or sisters, and the men seizing their rifles rush off amidst numerous goodbyes to their position. There occurs a brief interval during which the roll of each company is called. The men amidst loud cheering, waving of handkerchiefs, and the tap of the drum, the movement from New South Wales to Egypt had commenced. The band played one of the liveliest marches and the men trooped out, their bearing, their physique, and the smartness of their dress, at once challenged and won general admiration.’

Along the route from Victoria Barracks to Circular Quay the marching men passed down streets thronged with an estimated 200,000 cheering spectators, about two-thirds of the population of Sydney. On reaching the wharf, all the infantrymen and some members of the artillery boarded the Iberia, on which the officers were allocated berths in cabins while the other ranks had to make do with hammocks strung up in the ’tween decks. The majority of the artillerymen went on board the Australasian, where the officers were again allowed to use cabins while the other ranks were allocated the accommodation used by emigrants on the voyage from Britain to Australia. Also going on board the Australasian were the 218 horses, which were put into specially constructed stalls in the holds.

As the ships prepared for departure, the troops were addressed by Lord Loftus, the Governor of New South Wales, who told them: ‘Soldiers of New South Wales, for the first time in the great history of the British Empire, a distant colony is sending, at her own cost, a completely equipped contingent of troops who have volunteered with enthusiasm of which only we who have witnessed it can judge.’ As departure time neared, an armada of vessels of all shapes and sizes began to throng the harbour. Despite the seriousness of the occasion, the day assumed more of a festive air, though before it was over there would also be tragedy.

Iberia was the first of the troopships to leave the wharf, shortly after 3 pm, followed minutes later by Australasian. As the pair proceeded slowly down harbour, they were surrounded by steamers carrying wellwishers, while every vantage point ashore was packed. As the two ships rounded Bradleys Head, Australasian moved ahead of Iberia, while bands aboard surrounding boats played merrily such patriotic tunes as ‘Rule Britannia.’

One of the larger vessels escorting the troopships that day was the coastal steamer Nemesis, owned by Huddart Parker Limited, which was carrying a large number of relatives and friends of departing soldiers. Among them was Elizabeth Sessle, waving farewell to her husband, Private F. Sessle, who was on board Iberia. Elizabeth was carrying their fifteen-month-old child, and with them on the Nemesis was a friend and neighbour, Ann Capel. Elizabeth located her husband standing at the railings of Iberia, and to get a better view moved forward on the starboard side towards the bow of Nemesis, then held her child up for her husband to see.

By now, Australasian had passed through Sydney Heads and was heading off down the coast, while Iberia was off South Head, still moving very slowly. Suddenly Iberia began to surge ahead as power was increased, and in doing so the order was given to turn to starboard. In performing this manoeuvre, the port quarter of Iberia smashed into the starboard bow of Nemesis, with a crash that could be heard by those on shore. The impact caused minor damage to one of the lifeboats on Iberia, but the forward section of Nemesis was devastated by the accommodation ladder still hanging down the side of the troopship. In an instant, Ann Capel was killed, while Elizabeth Sessle was severely injured, and the infant she was holding suffered a fractured thigh.

Despite the collision, Iberia continued on course and was soon out at sea, joining up with Australasian. The two ships were accompanied by some of the vessels that had escorted them down the harbour, until off Bondi the last escort vessel turned around, and the pair of troopships disappeared to the south at the start of their long journey, raising sail on their masts to increase their speed. On board Iberia, Private Sessle, who had seen the collision, could only wonder what had happened to his wife and child. Immediately after the collision, Nemesis steamed at top speed back to her berth. Elizabeth Sessle was rushed to hospital, but so severely had she been injured, she died the same night.

Such was the nationalistic fervour generated by the departure of the first Australian troops overseas, the next day the Sydney Mail trumpeted: ‘Tuesday the 3rd March 1885, will be forever a red-letter day on which this colony, not yet a hundred years old, put forth its claims to be recognised as an integral portion of the British Empire … This day marks an entirely new departure as regards the relations between the Old Country and her colonies. Hitherto the colonies have been regarded by many politicians as a drag upon the home country, and statesmen have been heard to say that the colonies of England were a source of weakness to her, not strength. The fallacy of such statements was demonstrated beyond dispute by the events of yesterday. If ever there was in the history of the world an occasion where everything that had been arranged was performed to the letter, if ever there was a day when a programme literally arranged was carried out satisfactorily it was yesterday, when the chosen troops of New South Wales, the picked men of the colony, embarked for the purpose of assisting the British arms in the Sudan.’

As the troopships headed south from Sydney they ran into bad weather and heavy seas, which resulted in many men succumbing to seasickness. One trooper wrote in his diary how ‘the ’tween deck was so crowded and the stench was horrible.’ After passing through Bass Strait, the two ships headed west, but Iberia took a more northerly course and on the evening of 6 March stopped for two hours off Kangaroo Island, where it was soon surrounded by numerous pleasure craft packed with residents of Adelaide. During the brief stop, troopers were able to send off final letters to loved ones, and Private Sessle left the ship to return to Sydney. A large quantity of fruit was taken on board, while two men and a young boy who came on board Iberia tried to stay as stowaways, but were found and sent off in a boat before the Iberia continued its voyage. The last sight of Australia for the troops on board was on 10 March, as Iberia passed Cape Leeuwin.

More bad weather was encountered as the two ships crossed the Great Australian Bight. This caused the captain of the Australasian to order a reduction in speed, primarily to avoid an injury to the horses in their stalls. Instead of slowing to stay with her companion, Iberia steamed on ahead at her normal speed.

On board, a daily routine was quickly established. Breakfast was at 8 am, lunch at 1 pm and supper at 5 pm, and on the whole the food supplied was good and in adequate quantity. During the day, fruit was issued at 11 am, and at 1.30 pm there was an issue of beer and lime juice. In between meals, the troops went through exercises and training routines, except on Saturday, when sports contests were held, and Sunday, when religious services were held, led by the Anglican and Roman Catholic chaplains on board.

As the ships steamed across the Indian Ocean towards the Sudan, back in Sydney parliament convened on 17 March to actually give their approval to the dispatch of the troops. So swiftly had the contingent been organised and sent away that parliament had not had an opportunity to meet and debate the matter, but there were only a few dissenting voices when the members did get down to discussions. One notable voice of dissent was Sir Henry Parkes, who was a persistent critic of Dalley and the contingent. As Dalley said, ‘We have undoubtedly strained the law … It is for parliament to determine whether we are to be censured or supported.’ In the end the motion to support the dispatch of the contingent was passed without a division on the evening of 19 March.

By then, Australasian and Iberia were well into the Indian Ocean, following a north-westerly course that soon took them into the tropics, Iberia crossing the equator on 22 March. Of course, the ships were totally out of touch with events happening in the Sudan, so as the voyage progressed some of the officers from the contingent pressed the ship’s captain to increase speed, as they were fearful the conflict might be over before they arrived. Their first port of call was to be Aden, at the southern end of the Red Sea. As Iberia neared Aden, she passed another Orient Line vessel, Lusitania, bound for Australia, and the troops lined the rails to wave to the passing ship, whose passengers waved back.The next day, 26 March, Iberia dropped anchor off Aden, and those on board finally received news of what was happening in the Sudan. Orders were received that the contingent was to proceed to Suakin, and the troops would be sent to the front right away. This news filled all on board with pride and excitement. Prior to leaving Aden, two men were sent ashore, one with a broken ankle, the other with spinal damage, to be returned to Australia on the first available ship. As Iberia steamed up the Red Sea, live ammunition was distributed to all troops, who busily cleaned their rifles and other weapons.

Iberia dropped anchor off Suakin at noon on Sunday, 29 March, and the Australian troops marched ashore to begin an association with Africa that would encompass four wars. Australasian arrived the next day and immediately disembarked her troops and horses. Despite the promise of being sent to the front straight away, the New South Wales force saw very little action, their only time under enemy fire being the attack on 3 April 1885 on the rebel stronghold at Tamai, during which three men were slightly wounded. In fact, the soldiers were in far more danger from disease and the first Australian soldier to die overseas, Private Robert Weir, succumbed to dysenteric fever while on board the British hospital ship Ganges, berthed in Suakin, while two others died from typhoid fever.

After little more than a year overseas, the troops returned to Australia, with very little fanfare or recognition. On 17 May 1886 they marched back to the harbour at Suakin and boarded the troopship Arab. The horses they had taken did not make the return trip, but were handed over to the British troops. Arab left Suakin on 18 May 1886, but many of the troops were sick with typhoid and dysentery. Arab was smaller than either of the ships that had carried the contingent to the Sudan, but the men were allowed to sleep on deck to ease the crowded conditions below. When the ship stopped at Colombo on 29 May, twelve of the sickest men were taken to hospital ashore, where three of them later died. From Colombo to Albany, at least one in ten of the men reported for the daily sick parade, and on 9 June the veterinary surgeon, Captain Anthony Willows, died, being buried at sea. After a brief stop at Albany to take on coal, during which no-one was allowed ashore, the Arab reached Sydney on the night of Friday, 19 June. Instead of going to a berth, the vessel anchored and all the troops were put into the quarantine station at North Head, where one more man died.

On the morning of Tuesday, 23 June, the survivors were released from quarantine and taken back to the Arab, which then proceeded up the harbour and berthed at Sydney Cove. The Governor of New South Wales along with the Premier and ministers were waiting to accord the men an official welcome, but the rain was pouring down and the original plan of a march through the city to Moore Park for an official review was cancelled. Instead, the troops marched to Victoria Barracks, where the official speeches of welcome were delivered. A few days later another trooper died, the result of a cold he caught while taking part in the march. As Colonel A J. Bennett, a member of the contingent, later summed up the Sudan campaign, ‘a few skirmishes and many weary marches provided much sweat but little glory.’

Despite the fervour with which they were dispatched to the war zone, the first departure of Australian troops for overseas service is not well remembered today. In fact it is almost forgotten.

Douglas MacArthur’s “Strategic Withdrawal”

By February 17, effective resistance to the Japanese invasion on Sumatra ceased. Two days later, Japanese troops from the Celebes came ashore on Bali. That same date, the 19th, Japanese began landings in Portuguese Timor, and Nagumo launched his massive strike toward Port Darwin, Australia. One hundred fifty aircraft, including shore-based bombers stationed in the Celebes, struck their targets on the north coast of the continent during midmorning with devastating effectiveness.

With the Australians reeling from the attack, the Japanese returned their attention to finishing off Java, the last hope the Allies had in halting the Japanese juggernaut. It was to Java via Australia that many of the aircraft originally promised to MacArthur were destined.

The Philippine defenders who were privy to the incoming news about the fate of the P-40s aboard the Langley and the Sea Witch knew with little doubt they were on their own.

By the end of February, MacArthur no longer sent hopeful messages to the front. He was no longer in denial. The promises made by Washington would not come to fruition. But MacArthur continued to send them a flurry of cables. A total of 142 communiqués sent by the general pleaded for help and recounted the success he was having in holding out. Of those, 109 mentioned only one soldier, Douglas MacArthur. In reality, given the gloom all over the region, the general had to consider the worsening strategic situation in all of the South Pacific as hopeless. He now looked to the future, his own, by browbeating sickly President Quezon into agreeing to rehire him as Philippine field marshal after the war at the same inflated pay and allowances he was currently receiving.

In March, the U.S. Navy sortied again. Vice Admiral Halsey took the Enterprise to sea, and on March 4 struck the Marcus Islands, 650 miles west of Wake and only 1,000 miles from Tokyo. Meanwhile, not a single ship was making its way west to support the Philippines.

Somehow, through all of this chagrin, MacArthur’s men were making a better stand of it than had the British in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Sumatra, and now Java. Both Percival in Singapore and MacArthur in the Philippines had the advantage of manpower over the Japanese, but MacArthur had fewer aircraft, and his munitions and arms were inferior as was the level of training and experience of his men. Percival’s warehouses had been full of food, and reinforcements had arrived. The Americans and Filipinos on Bataan, however, were putting up a gallant effort while on starvation rations and without military reinforcements. Several steamers, the Legaspi among them, did bring four days of rations to Corregidor,4 but additional food reserves intended for the starving infantry fighting on Bataan were diverted by MacArthur to Corregidor, where no time was wasted consuming them.

The U.S. Navy was still unwilling to risk sending a convoy, opting only to send in a meager supply of munitions via submarine. Part of the reason the troops were holding out on the peninsula was due to the confidence they had that help was coming according to the directions that emanated from Lateral No. 3. Now, that confidence was beginning to falter.

Three times MacArthur refused to evacuate Corregidor, electing to remain in command on the Rock. Roosevelt and the Washington general staff knew they could abandon the Filipinos, but to have MacArthur, a national hero, go down with them would not sit well with the public. As for MacArthur, he had no illusions about his own chances of surviving in defeat. He was 62 years old, the war was just beginning, and the Allies were losing on all fronts. It would be many, many years before he might be released from captivity. To remain to the end on Corregidor and surrender to the Japanese augured a likely death sentence for MacArthur. But his stock purchase, acceptance of the $500,000 bonus (which he kept secret at the time), and his request to Quezon that he be rehired at the end of the war indicate that at least somewhere in MacArthur’s thoughts was the idea that he had no intention of going down in glory with his troops.

General Marshall radioed from Washington that a submarine would be sent for Jean and little Arthur along with the Quezons. Upon hearing of the plan, Jean rejected it. Speaking about her relationship with Douglas, Jean remarked to Mrs. Quezon, “We have drunk from the same cup.” Then indicating her son, Arthur IV, she added, “We three shall stay together.” When she made her wishes known to Douglas, he radioed Marshall that his family would share “the rigors of war.” Then he asked his advisor Huff to find some ammunition for a small derringer MacArthur had inherited from his father. Somehow Huff soon came up with two of the odd-sized rounds needed. Though MacArthur might flee, he was prepared to avoid capture.

During the third week of February, the Quezons and High Commissioner Sayre departed Corregidor via submarine. MacArthur sent along a footlocker filled with personal family items, some stocks and bonds, photographs, and several magazine articles about himself which Jean had saved. The locker was addressed to the Riggs National Bank of Washington, where it was to be held until the general or his heirs claimed it.

It was one thing to lose a heroic leader in a lost cause, but by adding his family to it, MacArthur had upped the political ante. General Marshall in Washington now pushed for the evacuation of MacArthur, no matter what the method. The legendary general had to be saved

On February 23, a cable was received ordering the general to proceed to Mindanao, where he was to investigate the feasibility of defending that island, then depart for Melbourne to assume command of all U.S. troops in the South Pacific. MacArthur debated his response, then replied that he would agree to his withdrawal, but asked for a delay to choose the right “psychological time.” Washington concurred. Four days passed while MacArthur considered his exit. If he left by submarine, there would be room for precious few aboard, namely he, his wife and son, and possibly a few others could be squeezed aboard. But whom would he choose? In the end, he would be saving his own skin. To slip a B-17 onto the island or one of the Bataan fields would have an even worse effect, a highly visible departure. If nothing else, MacArthur was a great tactician, and a plan began to jell in his mind.

On March 1, he ordered his entire remaining P-40 force at Kindley Field on Corregidor, four aircraft, to fly top cover over Manila Bay while he tried out his theory. He then had his remaining Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three commander sail the three miles to Corregidor in one of his PT-boats from the small fishing dock where they were moored at Sisiman Bay, Bataan. At the North Dock of the Rock, bearded lieutenant commander John D. Bulkeley arrived, looking for all the world like a swashbuckling privateer. He and his crew picked up MacArthur and Jean. Together they made a quick circuit of the relatively calm waters of the bay, while the general determined how Jean might deal with a long voyage in the boat. Though she got queasy, she insisted she could make it. That sealed the deal. MacArthur forbade future sorties by any of Bulkeley’s PT squadron.

There were four PT-boats available. If all were utilized, they would be a force to be reckoned with should they encounter surface resistance in the form of Japanese warships, and more importantly, they could carry a large contingent of personnel. If MacArthur showed up in Australia, virtually alone, he would assume command of a staff of strangers, many of whom would likely consider him a leader who had deserted his troops, regardless of his having been ordered to do so. On the other hand, if he brought his key staff with him, two things would result. First he would be able to insert loyal subordinates into key positions within his new staff, men who had also cut and run from the Philippines. Second, every single one of them would take over knowing MacArthur had saved each from a brutal future. What better way to ensure loyalty, empathy, and unquestioning subservience in his new power base?

Eight days passed, during which time Java capitulated on March 8. There was virtually nothing of consequence left to defend beyond Australia except the Philippines and New Guinea, the latter being an Australian concern. On March 9, Roosevelt raised the departure issue again, and MacArthur set the date for March 15. However, back came a vexing message that a submarine was on its way, arriving on the 13th. Determined to leave on his own terms, MacArthur chose to be on his way before the submarine appeared. He and his entourage would depart on the 11th via torpedo boat, go by sea to Cagayan, Mindanao, then board B-17s at nearby Del Monte airport for Australia. Based on how many of the PT-boats got through, MacArthur would be able to demand a suitable number of planes for the effort. He radioed Lieutenant General George H. Brett, commander of U.S. Army Air Force assets in Australia, requesting three B-17s be readied for a ferry flight to Del Monte Field.12 No one in Washington was informed of this new plan in any detail.

Early on March 11, MacArthur’s chief of staff, Richard Sutherland, sent an order to General George requesting a reconnaissance flight of the waterways south of Corregidor as far as the Cuyo Islands, 250 miles south of the Rock. No explanation was given. Lieutenant Wilson Glover was selected to fly the mission, during which he spotted one Japanese cruiser southwest of Ambulong Island, as well as a destroyer off the northwest coast of Mindoro.13 The cruiser was well east of MacArthur’s intended route, but the destroyer could present a problem.

MacArthur summoned General Wainwright from Bataan the afternoon of the 11th. He arrived by boat, all skin and bones. MacArthur explained that he was leaving under protest, following orders from the president. He wanted Wainwright to make that known to the troops. Though MacArthur had sent a message to Washington that he intended to remain in overall command of the Philippines even after his departure, someone senior in authority had to stay on Corregidor, and someone else needed to run things over on the peninsula. He placed Wainwright in command on the Rock, allowing the 58-year-old lieutenant general to endure what otherwise would have been his own fate. Major General Edward King, also 58, was left in charge of the Bataan defense. Their wives and families had been evacuated the previous year along with military families stationed throughout the Philippines. If it came to it, these two flag officers were expendable.

Though Roosevelt had authorized the departure of MacArthur and no one else, General Marshall sent a follow-up communication adding the general’s wife and son. MacArthur ignored both messages. Instead, he assembled his entourage, planning to set sail at dusk. Included in the party were Jean, little Arthur, his nanny, and 16 members of his military staff, including Admiral Rockwell and generals Sutherland and George. None of the hospital nurses were permitted aboard any of the four PT-boats led by Bulkeley. Even MacArthur’s Filipino aide-de-camp, Colonel Carlos P. Rómulo, was denied an early exit. Just as had occurred at every Allied bastion, the more-senior leaders (with the notable exception of General Percival in Singapore) were abandoning the troops.

The account of what took place in the Philippines next would become the stuff of legend. The four PT-boats gathered just outside the small bay, then went single file through Corregidor’s minefield. Once clear, the squadron of skippers opened the throttles on all three Packard engines. Four thousand horsepower was unleashed on each of the boat’s three screws. Rooster tails rose behind the craft as they swept into rough seas and took up a diamond formation. MacArthur’s boat, PT-41, was sequestered at the rear, protected by the other three. Via prior agreement approved by MacArthur, the three “escorts” would engage any enemy that came at them while MacArthur’s PT-boat fled the scene. His staff knew they were all expendable if it meant ensuring the general’s survival.

The night was moonless, the swells high and whitecapped. The Packard engines, roaring in and out of synchronization, caused teeth-chattering vibrations. The boats bulled their way through swells, hulls slamming against whitecaps. Below decks, almost everyone became ill, the general included. Jean, who oddly seemed least affected, knelt beside MacArthur, rubbing his hands as his dry heaves continued unabated.

As the four craft approached Cabra and the Apo Islands, their engines were heard by the occupying Japanese. Bonfires sprang up along the coasts to signal that an attempt to break the blockade was underway. The formation turned westward until the islands were over the horizon, then swung south again, the seas more brutal than before. Salt spray billowed over the bow. Everyone above deck was soaked from head to toe. Soon the boats got separated. Hours were spent trying to regroup, such that reaching their first intended stop at Tagauayan was no longer possible before daylight. MacArthur’s boat and two others eventually anchored at an alternate island after dawn, three hours short of Tagauayan. The fourth had broken down with fouled fuel strainers. One of the boats barely made the inlet and was no longer fit for travel. The skippers discussed the situation with MacArthur and decided to depart in the afternoon rather than wait until dark.

Down to two boats, they were 15 minutes out when they encountered a Japanese cruiser, most likely the one observed earlier near Ambulong Island by the reconnaissance flight. But the Japanese Navy had not fitted their capital ships with radar. Due to high whitecapped seas, Japanese lookouts did not spot the small boats as they wheeled away and increased separation. Later, a destroyer came into view and it, too, was avoided. MacArthur may well have owed his life to Yamamoto, who did not push for the inclusion of on-board radar in his haste to build a powerful Navy.

As the two torpedo boats swept past the Negros Islands just after sundown, their Packard engines were again heard. The island’s occupiers must have thought the noise was from aircraft, since searchlights began scanning the skies.

Below deck, MacArthur was once again ill, with Jean comforting him at his side. Bulkeley and his skipper mate kept the boats running at top speed through the night. By dawn they had covered 560 total miles and made landfall, sighting the Del Monte pineapple plantation at 6:30 a.m. A half hour later, they rounded Cagayan Point and entered the bay. By now, MacArthur had recovered his sea legs and stood ramrod on the prow. Ashore at Cagayan, staff officer Colonel William Morse was among those awaiting the arrival. The image Morse beheld reminded him of Emanuel Leutze’s painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Once billeted in the guest lodge at the Del Monte plantation, MacArthur decided four B-17s would be needed to safely get his entourage to Australia. After squabbling over the request was resolved at Allied headquarters in Australia, four B-17s took off for Del Monte. One crashed off the Australian coast; two others turned back with engine problems. On the morning of the 13th, the lone remaining B-17 appeared on final approach at Del Monte Field. It made a less than smooth landing and taxied up, engines coughing, to where the general was waiting. MacArthur took one look at the young lieutenant who peered from the cockpit of the worn and battered plane and lost his temper. No way was he or anyone else boarding such a “dangerously decrepit” aircraft flown by “an inexperienced boy.” Not mentioned was the problem of flying through Japanese-controlled airspace in a lone aircraft. There was safety in numbers, and plans could be made to sacrifice one or more aircraft to save another. MacArthur sent a blistering radio message to Australia and Washington demanding “the three best planes in the United States or Hawaii.” No matter that word was out that MacArthur had reached Mindanao and Japanese sympathizers were everywhere. No matter that Japanese planes were seen daily in the skies looking for Del Monte Airfield. MacArthur was not leaving until transportation satisfied his ego and plan. It took until the 16th to finally launch three new B-17s for Del Monte. Two made it; one turned back with mechanical problems.

MacArthur’s entourage boarded that night and the planes took off for the 1,579-mile journey.22 They skirted Borneo, the Celebes, Java, Timor, and Bali, all now in Japanese hands. Though the planes slipped through unscathed, nothing in this odyssey came easy. As the planes approached Darwin, a radio message was received that the field was again under Japanese air attack. The B-17s diverted to Batchelor Field, 50 miles away. Upon his arrival that Monday, March 17, MacArthur made his oft-quoted pronouncement, “I came through, and I shall return.”

The men left on Bataan were not impressed. Instead they were hungry, tired, sick, and dispirited. They came up with pithy sayings, “I am going to the latrine, and I shall return.” Now they began to sense that all who remained were expendable.

At this point in time, the Japanese were able to free up some of the air assets that had been used or held in reserve for the Sumatra and Java campaigns. A slew of Betty bombers from the Takao Ku, originally out of Formosa, arrived at Clark on March 16, along with two squadrons from Saigon and Phnom Penh containing 85 new Ki 21-II Sally bombers. A dozen F1M Pete float planes needed to blockade Manila Harbor also arrived on seaplane tender Sanuki Maru. The noose was tightening.

The inter-island steamer Legaspi had brought many of the Allied troops to Bataan from the Manila piers, then made two dangerous resupply missions from Mindanao to Corregidor before being sunk on its third run. On Bataan, the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts had made the last cavalry charge in history on January 16, at Morong, then turned in their mounts. The remainder of the U.S. Army’s 250 cavalry horses were eventually slaughtered for food along with 48 pack mules. Included was General Wainwright’s prized jumper. Also slaughtered were the native water buffalo.

Soon the media touted MacArthur’s “I shall return” pledge. Upon learning of his departure to Australia, MacArthur was described by Germany’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels as a “fleeing general.” In Rome, Benito Mussolini called him a “coward.” The Japan Times and Advertiser accused him of being a “deserter who fled his post.”

General Honma learned of MacArthur’s departure and saw it as an opportunity. He ordered his planes to drop beer cans adorned with ribbons containing an ultimatum to Wainwright to accept “honorable defeat” and surrender by noon, March 22. By now, less than a handful of fighter aircraft remained in American hands. One patched up P-40 flew a recon mission out of Bataan Field and reported increasing troop movement near the front lines on Bataan. Wainwright rejected the ultimatum.

On the 22nd, Honma fulfilled his threat, beginning with a widespread artillery bombardment. The salvos continued day and night.

In Washington, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall decided that the best counter to negative propaganda surrounding the impending loss of the Philippines was to take the initiative in the media. He suggested MacArthur receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Dwight Eisenhower, who had served seven years under MacArthur and was now on Marshall’s staff, opposed the award. Marshall sent the recommendation on to Roosevelt anyway. It must have come as a painful decision on the part of Roosevelt, who was well aware that MacArthur’s affiliation was hardcore Republican, but decide he did, in favor of the award. The citation read, for “gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty” and for “utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment.” Although true that MacArthur had spent more than two months along with everyone else on Corregidor during the height of the bombing, his personal level of heroism was not at issue. Propaganda was. Thus, shortly after fleeing his command and abandoning his troops to their fate, MacArthur was awarded the medal on March 26, 1942, at a dinner hosted by the Australian prime minister in Canberra.

There can be little doubt regarding MacArthur’s bravery, but bravery is tested when challenges arise and there is little time to consider the consequences. With courage, there is time to dwell on one’s impending fate. Most medals are given out for bravery, not so many for courage. Should there be more acknowledgment for courage, in this instance for staying to the end? In MacArthur’s case, courage seems to have been in short supply, and that is the way his men on Bataan interpreted it.

While the dinner affair was underway, three more B-17s arrived at Del Monte to gather up President Quezon, his family and aides, all of whom had finally arrived there via submarine, steamer and patrol boat. When the planes took to the air for Australia, the Philippines became officially leaderless.

On April 1, the daily artillery barrage on Corregidor and Bataan by the Japanese increased in intensity, augmented by the air arm, which bombed and strafed. Up until now, the sight of American planes mixing it up with the Japanese had given the men on the ground a sense of encouragement. The defenders still had an air force. But now, friendly planes overhead were a rare sight, and much as had happened in Malaya, Singapore and Sumatra, the demoralizing effect was pronounced.

The next big offensive began on Good Friday, April 3, at 10:00 a.m., starting with a five-hour artillery barrage on Bataan. Nearly 150 sorties by Japanese bombers and fighters pounded the front lines. A black pall of smoke blew over the peninsula as bamboo and cogon thickets ignited. The Japanese, augmented by troops newly arrived from Singapore, surged ahead. American and Filipino forces drew back from the Bagac-Orion line, while Japanese fighters swooped in to strafe. The defenders were down to two P-40s, which served only to harass the Japanese. Then Japanese tanks and infantry of the newly arrived 4th Division moved forward. As a soot-shrouded sun dipped to the horizon, Japanese forces churned down the eastern side of the Bataan peninsula nearly to the base of Mount Samat. To the south of the mount rose Mariveles Volcano. Beyond it beckoned Corregidor and the sea.

MacArthur, upon learning that surrender was being contemplated, sent a message to General Wainwright announcing, “I am utterly opposed under any circumstances or conditions to the ultimate capitulation of this command. If food fails, you will prepare and execute an attack upon the enemy.” President Roosevelt agreed with MacArthur and issued his own “no surrender” orders.

Wainwright forwarded the orders to Major General King on April 4. One can only imagine what thoughts went through the two generals’ minds upon reading the messages from these two leaders who had written them off as expendable.

The Bataan defenders continued to fight and fall back, but by April 8 it was clear that the show was nearly over. Ammunition and fuel dumps were blown up, including the British ammunition vessel Yu Sang, which had been taken over by the U.S. Navy. The last remaining P-40 was flown out by Lieutenant Joseph H. Moore, while the last P-35A departed in the hands of Captain O.L. Lunde, with another pilot squeezed into the baggage compartment. Men began to flee to Corregidor via any means possible. A number began to swim the three miles to the island. Friendly skiffs went about plucking them from the water.

Though MacArthur forbade it, General King crossed the lines to surrender on April 9, 1942. At 12:30 p.m., King handed over his pistol to Colonel Motoo Nakayama, General Honma’s senior operations officer.33 King and 12,000 fellow Americans plus 67,500 Filipinos began stacking their arms. They represented the largest force in American military history to succumb to an enemy.

During the final days of the Bataan defense, over 2,000 men made their way to the Rock, where Wainwright was determined to fight on. With 13,000 men bunkered inside the tunnels and caves, they represented a force to be reckoned with.

With the fall of Bataan, General Honma was presented with a new problem: prisoners of war. In spite of the assurance given by Colonel Nakayama to General King that “the Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians,” the prisoners were assembled on Bataan, then marched north without food or water in intense heat toward San Fernando, 66 miles north. Those who fell out of formation were bayoneted, beheaded, or shot. For the first five days, no food or water was provided by the Japanese. The only sustenance received during that period was whatever was secretly tossed by local Filipinos who at great peril took pity on the men as they staggered through the hamlets. On the sixth day, one cupful of rice was given to each of the prisoners. Water was scrounged from ditches and buffalo wallows. The trek took nine days, and Japanese guards took every opportunity to take vengeance on any prisoner who gave them the slightest provocation. On the ninth day, the men were crammed into railroad cars, 100 to a coach. Men fainted from the heat and lack of air and water. Many who had struggled through the march now died. By the time the survivors reached the prison at Camp O’Donnell, over 8,000 American and Filipino prisoners had perished. These deaths represented only the beginning.