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HMAS YARRA - Our Finest Action



By March 4, 1942, the Japanese navy was sweeping all before them continuing on southward from Java.......


Seven Australian Corvettes had escaped the net, and with luck on their side, had reached Fremantle, Western Australia, safely by the 10th of March.


Not the case for Lieutenant Commander Robert William Rankin, Commanding Officer of HMAS Yarra (a lightly armed sloop of some 1030 tons), who had only just relieved the former C.O. Commander W.H. Harrington, DSO., whilst alongside at Batavia. There CMDR Harrington took passage on the troopship 'Troilus' back to Australia.


Yarra had used most of its ammunition in air attacks off Singapore and subsequently had been unable to replenish due to the lack of supplies. With only fifty percent of its ammunition left she was ordered to sail as an escort for a convoy of three ships bound for Australia.


The Battle of Java Sea was over and our few remaining ships were being withdrawn and it was time to hastily leave the area. The convoy was subject to harrassment from the air almost continually whilst navigating Sunda Strait and Yarra, although sustaining minor damage was able to usher her charges through intact.


The ship's company were about to 'stand down' from Dawn Action Stations on the morning of 4th March 1942, when flashes were observed on the horizon lit by the rays of the rising sun. Any thought of them being possible signals was soon dispelled by the thundering sound of a large calibre shell passing overhead. The convoy at this time was 285 miles South of Java, yet it became obvious that they had been overtaken by Kondo's Squadron of three Cruisers (Atago, Takao, and Maya) and four destroyers.




Rankin as a Lieutenant

LCDR Rankin (pictured left as a Lieutenant) immediately began to lay a smoke screen between his convoy and the enemy, ordering his charges to scatter and proceed independantly at best course and speed. Then with a final look over his new command, he called for full power, turned back through the smoke screen and charged the enemy.


It wasn't long before the Jap Cruisers opened fire. But the opening salvoes passed overhead. Now, with the range closing rapidly, Rankin, with the full realisation that his ship had no chance of surviving ordered his guns crews to open fire with their main armament of 4 inch guns, which caused the cruisers to sheer off out of range but not before Yarra had scored at least one direct hit on the lead Cruiser


The opposing 30 eight inch guns of the Japanese soon found the range and pounded the brave little sloop until she lay stopped and helpless in the water, but her brave fight had at least gained a little time for the convoy to increase its distance from the enemy.


Yarra although still firing had taken, in rapid succession, hits in the sick bay, engine room and the bridge. Soon after these the barrel of X-Gun received a direct hit. Then with the upperdeck in a complete shambles, all boats wrecked by shrapnel and splinters and all guns apparently out of action the order "Abandon Ship!" was given.


Although A and X guns were out of action, The Captain of B-Gun now found that his mount was still capable of firing. He had two Ordinary Seamen left in his Guns Crew and at the 'abandon ship' he sent them aft to save themselves. Leading Seaman Taylor then loaded his gun and trained it ahead on the leading destroyer, now closing in for the kill. Then he laid his gun and fired. Some of the survivors in the rafts said that he fired two rounds, however, after some answering Japanese gunfire B-Gun did not fire again. It is believed that Leading Seaman Taylor scored a direct hit on the destroyer.


Upon 2 rafts the brave ship's survivors watched the end, marvelling at the amount of punishment she could endure before she finally slid beneath the waves. Of Yarra's complement of 159 plus 35 survivors from other ships who were taking passage only 34 got away to the Carley Floats. There was no food and very little water as they drifted, burning by day and freezing at night.


The courageous Captain Rankin was killed by an eight inch salvo hitting the Bridge soon after he ordered 'abandon ship'. Leading Seaman Taylor was also killed.


On the evening of the sixth day they were found and taken on board by a Dutch submarine, thus concluding one of the R.A.Ns finest actions. - there were just 13 survivors.


Compare the Ship Data and Specifications below...


Ship Data - HMAS Yarra - Grimsby Class Sloop


Displacement (tons): 1,060 Standard, 1,500 Full Load

Dimensions (feet): 266.3 x 36 x 10

Propulsion: Parsons Turbines, 2,000 hp, 2 shafts

Max. Speed (knots): 16.5

Armament: 3 x 4-inch, 4 x 3 pdr. pom-pom,

1 x .5-inch MG, 2 x DCTs, 2 x DCCs

Complement: 160

Built by Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney


INJS TAKAO - History and Data


Draught: 10.9m (35.76ft)

Machinery: Geared TurbinesArmour (4.011n)

(Deck): 76.2mm (3")
(Belt): 102mm (3")
(Turrets) 76.2mm (3")

Crew: 762

Type: Cruiser

AA Guns: 2 x 4Omm

Aircraft:: Three

Launched:: May 1930

Speed.. 35 knots

Length: 204.7m (671.58ft)

Beam: 19m (62.33ft)

Displacement (normal): 41,878tnes (41,217t)

Displacement (full load): 47,754tnes (47,000t)

Guns: 10x203mm; 4x12Omm


Launched on 12 May 1930, the heavy cruiser Takao was leader of a class of four, the others being Chokai, Atago and Maya. Wikao was refitted and modernized in 1939-40. As part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron, she covered the japanese landings in Malaya and on Luzon in December 1941, and also the landings in the Dutch East Indies in January 1942.


In June 1942, she formed part of the japanese carrier force at the Battle of Midway, which saw the turn of the tide in the Pacific war. August 1942 saw her operating in the Solomons area, and in the battle for Guadalcanal her gunfire inflicted heavy damage on the US battleship South Dakota. In November 1943 she was severely damaged by US air attack while covering the movement of Japanese forces in the Truk/Rabaul area.


On returning to active duty she formed part of the defence of the Marianas. In June 1944 she participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In October 1944, during the battle for Leyte Gulf, she was torpedoed by the US submarine Darter. Transferred to the Indian Ocean after repair, on 30 July 1945 she was attacked in Singapore harbour by British midget submarines and was so badly damaged by their charges that she sank. Refloated after the war, she was scuttled in the Malacca Straights in 1946.