Ex-sailor looks back to first kamikaze attack

VETERAN: Gladstone's Bill Stiller relives the terror of Japan's kamikaze attacks in World War II. He was aboard two ships that were attacked by suicide pilots.
VETERAN: Gladstone's Bill Stiller relives the terror of Japan's kamikaze attacks in World War II. He was aboard two ships that were attacked by suicide pilots.

Bill Stiller was aboard the first ship ever to be targeted by a Japanese kamikaze plane attack and lived to tell the tale.

DAMAGE: The smashed control tower on the navy ship, Australia, after the world's first kamikaze plane attack.

DAMAGE: The smashed control tower on the navy ship, Australia, after the world's first kamikaze plane attack.

Looking hale and hearty at 94 years old, Mr Stiller chatted about the incident which happened in World War II.

He was aboard the flagship heavy cruiser, the Australian, travelling the Pacific Ocean.

“We assembled at Manus Island in a fleet of about 400 ships for the first invasion of The Philippines,” he said

“We left Manus, arrived in the Philippines and spent a couple of days bombarding for the landing.

“On the third day, this suicide bomber paid us a visit.

“It was right on noon when everyone was relaxed. He crashed into the bridge, killing the skipper, of course. Fortunately, I was serving in the magazine.

“It was the first kamikaze ever. It was an honour we wore.”

The suicide pilots were a part of the Japanese Special Attack Units of military aviators who died for the Empire of Japan against allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign.

The attacks were designed to destroy warships more effectively than was possible with conventional air attacks.

Almost 4000 kamikaze pilots died during the war and more than 7000 naval personnel were killed by their raids.

Mr Stiller said his damaged ship had withdrawn to an United States base in New Hebrides for repairs.

While there, he was trained to identify aircraft.

“I spent about three weeks waiting for the repairs to be finished and then I went back on board,” he said.

“Of course, we collected another four kamkazes. They had it in for us. I don’t know why.

“A twin-engined bomber hit the waterllne and left a big gash. To keep afloat, we had to pump out water and that side was at a 15-degree angle. It was difficult to walk on the steel deck.

“We stumbled back to Sydney for repairs.”

Later, Mr Stiller underwent training in gunlaying at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria.

“I learned how to shoot at the enemy. When I passed that course, I went to the corvette Bendigo as the gun trainer,” he said.

“I never fired a shot in wartime because the peace came along.

“We went to Hong Kong to sweep the harbour for mines. There were reports of pirates about 300 miles north of Hong Kong on the coast and we were sent there to find them, but they were gone.

“We formed up with four other corvettes at Hong Kong. The lead ship, Ballarat, struck a mine so we did a good job!”

Mr Stiller was born in Adelaide, but worked with the family merry-go-round business around the state as well as held jobs at BHP in Whyalla and at the Gladstone Town Hall as a maintenance officer and cleaner.

He spent 30 years in Whyalla and 30 years in Gladstone. His wife, Patricia, who he met in 1959, died in 1976.

His jobs included being a packer, working in weaving, being a laborer and working as a wood machinist.

His family, descended from Germany, had a merry-go-round at Henley Beach for many years. The amusement ride was taken to country shows.

“It was a family business. My old grandfather started that business. Originally, he migrated from Germany in the 1770s and imported the first merry-go-round in the state.

“At that time, i was primitive and only had about four ‘horses’. It had a winch handle on either side and two men to rotate it.

“Dad then built a big machine with 40 ‘horses’ and two ‘carriages’.

"That took only a few hours to put up. The family did the country shows for 60 years. The merry-go-round had a Dion car motor, a single-piston unit, that was installed by Holden when they were in King William Street, Adelaide.

“I have still got it in the shed, actually.”

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