- Swinden, Greg
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Rankin, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment), HMAS Penguin II, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Melbourne I, HMAS Anzac I, HMAS Albatross, HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Canberra I, HMAS Moresby I, HMAS Yarra II
- September 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On the morning of 4th March, 1942 Australia was less than four days’ steaming away when at 0630 the dread sound of YARRA’S alarm bells called her ship’s company to action stations for what was to be the last time. Admiral Kondo’s force of three cruisers and two destroyers (some reports state that there were four destroyers) were sighted and for the YARRA and her convoy there was to be no escape.
Rankin turned YARRA towards the Japanese force, sent an enemy report, ordered the convoy to scatter and began to lay a smoke screen in a vain attempt to allow the convoy the chance to escape by delaying the Japanese warships. YARRA was outgunned with only 3 four-inch guns against the eight-inch guns of the Japanese cruisers. The Japanese could steam at over 30 knots, YARRA could manage only 17 knots.
The Japanese warships stayed out of range and quickly sank the depot ship ANKING. MMS.51 and FRANCOL were sunk shortly after.
By 0800 only YARRA was still afloat, drifting helplessly after shells had wrecked her engine room. Two of her four-inch guns had been knocked out.
Rankin ordered `Abandon Ship’ and the message was passed around the upper deck by the First Lieutenant. Shortly after a shell hit the bridge killing Rankin and all on duty there. The First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander took command, walking around the upper deck directing and assisting small groups of men to launch Carley floats.
Only thirty-four men got away from the blackened hulk of YARRA. One man, Leading Seaman Ronald `Buck’ Taylor of No. 2 gun, ignored the order to abandon ship and remained at his gun firing at the enemy until death silenced him shortly before the ship sank. ((BALDWIN, SUZY (ed) – Unsung Heroes and Heroines of Australia.)) One survivor, Ordinary Seaman Reg Manthey, wrote later of Rankin and the YARRA’S last fight.
Lieutenant Commander Rankin only took command from Harrington a matter of weeks before the YARRA was sunk. Being only an Ordinary Seaman I had little contact with the Captain of the ship. I can say that Lieutenant Commander Rankin did all that was possible to protect the convoy, and engage the Jap ships, but of course the superior numbers (3 cruisers, 4 destroyers) and the range of their guns and their speed made any real fight back impossible. Rankin and most of the Officers were wiped out when a salvo hit the bridge. I remember it was the 1st Lieutenant who gave the order to abandon ship. No officers were on the raft.” ((MANTHEY, R. – Correspondence with Author. Ordinary Seaman Reg Manthey is a HMAS YARRA survivor.)) Ordinary Seaman J.R. Archibald was another YARRA survivor and wrote the following of YARRA’S last fight.
“Morning watchmen had been piped to Breakfast and the remaining crew were closed up for dawn action stations.
We thought the sun was breaking through over the horizon when we saw numerous flashes and projies (shells/projectiles) screaming over the convoy. Lieutenant Commander Rankin called on the Engine Room to make smoke and endeavoured to put a screen around the convoy. The Japs were closing rapidly on the convoy and it was only a matter of time before they made contact.
Eventually the YARRA received a direct hit on the bridge superstructure and YARRA lost way and steering. Lieutenant Commander Smith, Second in Command, gave the order to abandon ship as the Japs were having some shooting practice. We pushed all the Carley floats into the water and any crew still alive got into the floats. At this time the YARRA was still afloat so the Japs were firing at her and eventually they broke her back and she subsided gracefully to the ocean bed. We expected the Japs to open fire on us crew members on the Carley floats, but to our surprise they cleared off and left us.” ((ARCHIBALD, J.R. – Corresondence with Author. Ordinary Seaman Jack Archibald is a HMAS YARRA survivor)) For the next five days YARRA’S survivors floated on the tiny rafts that they had managed to launch. On 9th March the Dutch submarine K11 surfaced to recharge her batteries and to the Dutch crew’s surprise were less than thirty feet from YARRA’S Carley floats. Wounds and exposure had taken their toll and only a pitiful 13 survivors from YARRA’S complement of 151 were picked up by the Dutch submarine and taken to Colombo. None of the ship’s officers were amongst the survivors.