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- RAN Ships
- HMAS Yarra II
- December 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
HMAS Yarra, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Robert ‘Oscar’ Rankin, was sunk while defending a convoy against a vastly superior Imperial Japanese Navy squadron commanded by Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo.
After ordering his charges to scatter, HMAS Yarra laid smoke in a vain attempt to aid the escape of the convoy. Rather than surrender or attempt escape, Lt Cmdr Rankin then turned the Yarra, against overwhelming odds, to engage the enemy so as to buy time for his charges.
In a grossly unfair act of neglect and blindness, RAN senior officers and the politicians to whom they reported failed to recognise the gallantry and bravery of HMAS Yarra and her crew, who laid down their lives so that the ships and crews in their care might have a chance of escape. Greater love hath no man. . . .
A beautiful dawn greeted the eyes of Acting Leading Seaman Ronald ‘Buck’ Taylor as he stood on the starboard side of the bridge of HMAS Yarra, looking east, fulfilling his duty as lookout. His ship was sailing across the Java Sea, four days out from Fremantle.
In the early morning sunshine, Buck could see something, perhaps masts on the horizon. He called his report to the Officer of the Deck, and soon the dawn’s golden light revealed a chilling sight – the topmasts of a squadron of Japanese heavy cruisers steaming in from the north-east. As Action Stations sounded, he moved to take up his station at the starboard four-inch gun battery. ‘Bloody hell,’ he thought, ‘another run-in with the Nips. I had enough of that last month.’
Yarra’s guns were no match for three of the most powerful ships in the Japanese fleet. Out-gunned and out-ranged, no ship could escape the attack. The cruisers opened fire while remaining outside Yarra’s range.
Blasted beyond recognition by constant shelling and bombing from the cruiser’s aircraft, Yarra finally sank at 8 am following a barrage of close-range fire from the destroyers. Just minutes after Rankin gave the order to abandon ship, he was killed when an 8-inch salvo destroyed the bridge..
In a final act of defiance, ‘Buck’ Taylor ignored Rankin’s command to abandon ship, loaded fresh ammunition into the four-inch mount, and continued firing at the circling Japanese destroyers as the ship sank beneath him.
From the moment the crew of HMAS Yarra saw Admiral Kondo’s squadron, they must have known that their ship was doomed. Rankin had few options, but his decision to engage and not attempt to escape or surrender is widely regarded as one of the bravest acts in Australian Naval history.
Taken from ‘Archives’, April, 2007