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HMAS YARRA (II)

Date: 1934-1942
Dimensions:
Overall: 221 x 342 x 2 mm
Overall (Photograph only): 151 x 264 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Tammy Foy
Classification:Photographs
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00051284
Related Place:Tubruq, Jawa, Al-Basrah, Red Sea, Khorramshahr, Garden Island, Cockatoo Island, Persian Gulf, Al-‘Iraq, Îran,

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    Description
    Photograph of HMAS YARRA (II), a Grimsby class sloop that took leading roles in action and operations in the Mediterranean, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Pacific area of operations during World War II.

    On 4 March 1942 YARRA, escorting depot ship ANKING, tanker FRANCOL and motor minesweeper MMS51 to Fremantle from Java was attacked by a Japanese cruiser convoy. All four vessels were lost and of the 151 men in YARRA’s company, 138, including the captain and all officers, were killed in the action or they subsequently perished on the life rafts. Only 13 out of the 34 men who had survived the battle were rescued alive by the Dutch submarine KII after 5 days' exposure at sea. The story of the YARRA is frequently described as gallant and brave, with some ratings ignoring the order to abandon ship to continue to fire on the enemy ships as YARRA sank.
    SignificancePhotograph of HMAS YARRA (II), a sloop of the RAN that saw significant active service in many naval arenas in World War II. It was tragically sunk on its return to Australia with a very high loss of life.
    HistoryHMAS YARRA (II) was a Grimsby class sloop, laid down at Cockatoo Island Dockyards, Sydney in May 1934 and commissioned in January 1936. The sloop was armed with three 4-inch anti aircraft guns, four 3-pounder guns, a quadruple .5-inch anti aircraft machine-gun, and depth charges. It had a speed of 16.5 knots and a crew of 151. YARRA was assigned to Australian coastal patrol and escort duties until 1940 after the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

    On 28 August 1940 the sloop left Australia, under the command of Lieutenant Commander W.H. 'Arch' Harrington, to join the Royal Navy's Red Sea Force. It remained in the area until March 1941, escorting convoys along the Red Sea and maintaining a blockade between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. On the first night at Aden, Yemen, YARRA experienced air raids but was not damaged. In October 1940, YARRA was escorting a convoy northbound when an Italian cruiser, FRANCESCO NULLO, fired upon the escorts. YARRA and HMS AUCKLAND returned fire and the Italian ship attempted to flee. It was followed and later ran ashore before being destroyed by a Royal Navy ship.

    From March to April 1941, YARRA was in India being refitted and once available for service she was deployed to Iraq, as the Red Sea was no longer a combat zone. YARRA was then deployed to Iraq, providing an escort for ships carrying troops to the Iraq war and providing support to land forces. YARRA was charged with protecting the strategic Qarmat Ali Bridge and on 2 May Iraqi forces attempted to destroy the bridge; however, the detonators backfired and YARRA used its guns to destroy the charges. On the night of 24 May YARRA successfully fired on the nearby town of Shatt-el-Arab and covered the landing troops. The Iraqis surrendered to the British on 30 May, 1941.

    However, the Shah of Persia, apparently a German sympathiser tolerant of a significant German presence in Iran, threatened the defence of India and supply of oil. In August 1941 Britain and Russia acted jointly to secure the Persian Gulf. One of the operations was to capture Iranian naval base at Khorramshahr. HMAS YARRA and sloop HMS FALMOUTH were assigned to capture the base. Carrying a load of Indian infantry, YARRA slipped into the mouth of the Karun River under the cover of darkness and sank the enemy sloop BABR and captured a number of Persian gunboats alone as FALMOUTH had temporarily ran aground. The two sloops landed the Indian troops together at 5.30 the next morning and by nightfall the base and all of Khorramshahr had been captured. The other operations, carried out simultaneously, were also successful and on 2 September the Persian Government accepted British-Russian terms and the pro German Shah abdicated in favour of his son. CMDR Harrington of YARRA was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the actions in Persia.

    YARRA once again returned to India for refit and shore leave for the crew. Following the refit the sloop served in the Mediterranean as a convoy escort from Alexandria, known colloquially as the 'Tobruk Ferry', a particularly dangerous run with wild weather conditions and extremely active enemy dive bombers. YARRA set a record of '6 runs' without losing a single ship to enemy attack. One of YARRA's gun crews was also credited with shooting down three enemy aircraft.

    When war was declared with Japan, YARRA was ordered to Java. From January, 1942, YARRA served as an escort between Sunda Strait and Singapore for Chinese forces moving to defend the Malay Peninsula. Following a Japanese air raid off Singapore in February where the troop carrier EMPRESS of ASIA was lost, the YARRA, with the Australian corvettes BENDIGO and WOLLONGONG, rescued more than 1800 British troops from the stricken vessel.

    The Japanese made swift progress in the area and on 2 March 1942 YARRA was deployed to escort British ships from Batavia (present day Jakarta) to Tjilatjap, a harbour on the other side of the island of Java. Once the convoy reached Tjilatjap they were warned not to enter and YARRA was ordered to escort depot ship ANKING, tanker FRANCOL and motor minesweeper MMS51 to Fremantle, Western Australia. There was little sign of the enemy in the first few days. On 3 March two lifeboats were sighted and YARRA took on a number of exhausted survivors from the recently sunk Dutch ship PARIGI. On 4 March 1942 the tiny convoy was intercepted in the Indian Ocean, to the south of Java, by a squadron of three Japanese cruisers and several destroyers. YARRA's captain (LCDR William Rankin) ordered the dispersal of the merchant ships and turned toward the attacking Japanese squadron to engage them with YARRA's comparatively light (4") guns. They then came under heavy bombing, with the Japanese ships being faster and better armed than YARRA. Despite putting up an extremely gallant fight, the YARRA, outgunned from the outset, was soon overwhelmed by the superior firepower brought to bear by the Japanese cruisers' 8" guns; she was the last of the four ships in the convoy to be sunk. ANKING carrying a number of RAN personnel was the first to be sunk, followed by MMS51, FRANCOL and finally, YARRA. Just minutes after giving the order to abandon ship, the bridge was destroyed, killing the captain. Survivors of all ships drifted on rafts and floats, with several groups being rescued over the next few days. Of the 151 men in YARRA’s crew, 138, including the captain and all officers, were killed in the action or they subsequently perished on the life rafts. Only 13 out of the 34 men who had survived the battle were rescued by the Dutch submarine KII after 5 days' exposure at sea.

    Leading Seaman Ronald Taylor was one of YARRA’s 4-inch gun turret crews and, despite the order to abandon ship, continued firing as the ship sank. His last salvoes are reported by Allied prisoners on one of the Japanese ships as direct hits on the Japanese destroyer that stayed behind to 'finish off' the helpless YARRA; which was dead in the water having been pounded relentlessly by the three Japanese cruisers' 8" guns. Taylor is commemorated with his shipmates at the Plymouth Naval Memorial in England as well as at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

    The Naval Chapel at Garden Island, Sydney, commemorates HMAS YARRA with a commemorative stained glass window.

    The 1948 Australian film 'Always Another Dawn' - starring Bud Tingwell - is based on the story of the YARRA's defiant last action. Filming was partially carried out at sea off Jervis Bay on HMAS BATAAN as a stand-in for YARRA.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: HMAS YARRA (II)

    Assigned title: Mounted photograph of HMAS YARRA (II)

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