HMAS Yarra blasted to pieces by Japanese Squadron on the 4th. of March 1942.

HMAS Yarra
HMAS Yarra
HMAS Yarra ( 11) the second to carry this name was a Grimbsy Escort Sloop laid down at Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney on the 24th. of May 1934. She was launched on the 28th. of March the following year, and  commisioned on the 21st. of January 1936. The ship was 266 feet long with a 36 foot beam, drawing 10 feet, at full load she came in at 1,339 tons. Her speed a scant 16.5 knots, and armament 3 by 4 inch guns and 4 by 3 pounders.

World War 2.
For the first year of WW2 we find Yarra part of the 20th. Minesweeping Flotilla working the Australian coast on patrol and escort duties. She sailed from Australia on the 28th. of August 1940 to join the Red Sea force of the Royal Navy, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Wilfred Harrington RAN, he went on to become Vice Admiral Sir Wilfred Harrington RAN, and serve as First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff over 1962-65. ( it was his son Rear Admiral Simon Harrington at the Australian Embassy in Washington, with whom my wife Denise and myself were involved, at the time of 9/11 in September 2001.)

Yarra served in the Persian Gulf until mid October 1941 when she sailed into the Mediterranean to take part in the Tobruk Spud Run, taking both troops and supplies from Alexandria to the beleagured Tobruk which was finally relieved by the British  8th. Army after a siege of 242 days. Early December 1941 with Japan at war in the Pacific, Yarra was ordered to Colombo, and thence to Batavia.

In January of 1942 she went on duty with escort work from Sunda Strait to Singapore. On the 3rd. of February, a convoy of 9 ships escorted by 2 British cruisers and a destroyer, a Dutch cruiser, an Indian sloop, and the Australian ships Vampire and Yarra entered Sunda Straits, on clearing these Straits, five ships covered by HMS Danae, HMIS Sutlej, and HMAS Yarra made for Singapore, the remaining ships set off for Batavia.

By the 5th. of February these ships were off Singapore in daylight, now Japanese aircraft made hard pressed attacks dive bombing and machine gunning, the 17,000 ton transports Felix Roussel and Empress of Asia were both hit and set on fire. The latter blazing fiercely amidships with a host of her troops crowding at both the bow and stern of her.

Commander Harrington brought the bows of Yarra close to the doomed transport's stern, in all, the sloop took off 1,804 men, the sheer number and weight of them all threatened the small ship's stability, and Harrington ordered " all hands to sit."

The Indian Sutlej and Australian Corvettes Bendigo and Woollongong were also busy rescuing as many troops as practicable.

This was the very last Allied convoy to make it into Singapore. Yarra's next task was to tow the old Australian destroyer Vendetta from Palembang in Sumatra to Batavia, as she had been caught immobilised in dock in Singapore when war broke out with Japan. Vendetta was eventually towed all the way back to Australia by the Ping Wo, escorted part way by Yarra until the old 6 inch cruiser HMAS Adelaide took over this duty.

Now on the 11th. of February 1942 at Batavia, Commander Harrington handed over command of Yarra to Robert W. Rankin RAN. The Battles of the Java Sea and Sunda Straits later in February and early March put an end to Allied sea and land operations in the Dutch East Indies.

It was time to leave, the Australian Corvettes Ballarat, Bendigo, Burnie, Goulburn, Maryborough, Toowoomba, and Woollongong all managed to sail safely back into harbour at Fremantle Western Australia by the 10th. of March.

At 1100 ( 11 AM ) on the 2nd. of March, Yarra with the Indian Jumna ( soon ordered to sail off to Columbo ) with the depot ship Anking, a tanker Francol, and the Motor Mine Sweeper No. 51, were told to make for Fremantle, but the Japanese net was about to close. Steaming with these ships at 8.5 knots south east, they made reasonable progress during the night of 2/3 March, taking aboard some survivors from the Dutch M S Paringi, sunk two days earlier. No sign of enemy ships, but reconnaissance aircraft were abroad in the evening, and the lull was about to cease.

With the bright dawning of sunrise on the morning of the 4th. of March the top masts of a Japanese Naval Squadron was visible approaching from the north north east. It was Admiral Kondo with three heavy cruisers, Atago, Takao, and Mayo, each mounting 10 by 8 inch guns, and two destroyers Arashi and Nowaki. The destroyers alone would have coped with the tiny Yarra, and her 3 by 4 inch guns.

To quote from Gill 's Royal Australian Navy  1939-42,

"Yarra's clanging alarm rattlers struck a chill to the hearts of men who were hoping to be in Australia within four days."

Rankin sent off an enemy sighting report, told his charges to scatter, made smoke in an attempt to allow the convoy to escape, and turned his ship to face an impossible task, 3 heavy cruisers and 2 destroyers versus one puny sloop.

There was no way any of the Allied ships were going to escape! The cruisers opened fire beyond the range of Yarra's 4 inch guns, Asking was sunk within 10 minutes, losing an officer and 25 sailors.

The crew of MMS NO. 51 scuttled and abandoned ship, which soon sank. Francol stayed afloat for an hour until 0730 ( 7.30 AM ) Yarra kept on firing although her engine room and steering were destroyed, she was listing to port and the Captain ordered "Abandon Ship." only a few minutes before an 8 inch shell destroyed the bridge, killing Rankin.

The little Sloop was blasted from the ocean, by shells, and bombs dropped from the Cruiser's aircraft, at 0800 ( 8 AM ) Yarra gave up and slipped beneath the waves. Leading Seaman Ronald Taylor ignoring his Captain's command to "Abandon Ship" kept firing his 4 inch gun as his ship sank beneath him.

Aboard the Japanese cruiser Maya, some survivors of HMS Stronghold, sunk two days earlier, watched in horror as Yarra was battered to death, one of them reported:-

" Yarra was the only ship left afloat, the two destroyers were circling her, she appeared to be stationary, and were pouring fire into her. She was still firing back, we could see odd gun flashes....the last we saw of Yarra was a high column of smoke, but we were vividly impressed by her fight."

The gun flashes observed must have come from Taylor, still manning his 4 inch mounting.

From Yarra's crew of 151, only 34 survivors were still alive on two rafts. The Japanese force now made off to the north, picking up one boatload of survivors from Francol, a pasing Dutch vessel Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from  Anking, but missed seeing another 14 in two carley floats from MMS No.51, but on the 7th. of March they were lucky to be picked up by the Dutch steamer Tjimanoek.

The Yarra survivors were not so lucky, they were missed, their two rafts drifting at the mercy of the ocean currents prevailing, wounds, exposure and thirst taking their toll. By the 9th. of March, when the Dutch Submarine K11 found them, only 13 of the 34 were still alive. A large boatload of survivors from Francol were never seen again.

The Captain of Yarra and all his officers perished, either in the action, or died later on the rafts.

Lieutenant Commander Rankin and most of his crew died trying to defend their convoy, they made no attempt to try and escape themselves. No Australian sailor has ever been awarded the Victoria Cross, but surely the actions of this brave Naval Officer in the face of impossible odds should have seen the first VC awarded in the RAN.

Yarra was one of seven RAN ships sunk in that dreadful year of 1942, at that time my country was extremely vulnerable, and at the fall of Singapore in February, a Japanese invasion seemed highly probable.

The Battle of the Coral Sea in May turned back a Japanese invasion of Port Moresby, forcing the enemy to march overland in New Guinea where they were first defeated on land. Victory at the Battle of Midway in June stemmed the Japanese tide.


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