Yarra’s ‘sublime courage’ remembered 75 years on

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Todd Fitzgerald (author), LSIS Nina Fogliani (photographer)

Location(s): Melbourne

Topic(s): Ceremony and Traditions, HMAS Yarra (M87), Naval Heritage, 75th Anniversary

CO of HMAS Yarra LCDR Christopher Cockerill, RAN, CO of RAN Recruit School CMDR Luke Ryan, RAN and Recruit School Divisional Chief Petty Officer CPOML-C Scott Clarke take a salute as the RAN Band Melbourne play the national anthem. (photo: LSIS Nina Fogliani)
CO of HMAS Yarra LCDR Christopher Cockerill, RAN, CO of RAN Recruit School CMDR Luke Ryan, RAN and Recruit School Divisional Chief Petty Officer CPOML-C Scott Clarke take a salute as the RAN Band Melbourne play the national anthem.

More than 150 people attended a commemoration ceremony in Melbourne to mark the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Yarra (II) on 5 March. 

Japanese ships sunk the sloop off the Indonesian coast in 1942, killing 138 Royal Australian Navy officers and sailors. Only 13 of the crew survived.

Commanding Officer HMAS Yarra (IV) Lieutenant Commander Chris Cockerill told attendees the ship’s "sublime" courage is now widely regarded as one of the finest moments in the century long story of the nation and its navy.

“Through their actions, the officers and men of Yarra (II) earned the deepest respect and sincerest admiration of the generations of the Royal Australian Navy that have come after them. That is their triumph,” Lieutenant Commander Cockerill said.

“They won this imperishable fame at a terrible cost to themselves and to their loved ones. That is our tragedy. This gallant ship’s company deserves our remembrance and our gratitude.”

Yarra 
was escorting three merchant vessels to Fremantle from Java when at 6.30am on 4 March 1942 a lookout spotted three Japanese heavy cruisers and two destroyers.

Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, she placed herself between the Japanese and the convoy, laid smoke to cover the merchant vessels and sailed to engage.

Yarra
 took the brunt of the attack and only when it became obvious she was about to sink did Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin give the order to abandon ship.

A direct hit on the bridge killed the 34-year-old shortly afterward.

Leading Seaman Ronald ‘Buck’ Taylor stayed to fight despite the order. The 21-year-old directed his gun crew to the life rafts and began to fire the four-inch gun to cover the sailors in the water. He was killed shortly before Yarra went down at 10.00am.

All four Allied ships were eventually lost in the battle.

HMAS Cerberus Chaplain Kate Lord told the commemoration the bravery of the sailors was a lesson for everyone.

“We give thanks for the example of the crew of HMAS Yarra (II), for the honour they showed in putting the lives of others before themselves, for their courage even in the face of death. 

"And we pray that when the time comes for each of us to be tested in our own courage, honour, integrity and discipline we will not be found sleeping, but be ready for action,” Chaplain Lord said.

Several family members of those who served or lost their life on Yarra (II) attended the remembrance ceremony, including the great nephew of Leading Seaman Taylor, Garry Taylor.

In 2014, the crew of Yarra were awarded a Unit Citation for Gallantry. It was the first unit citation given to a unit in the Royal Australian Navy.

The then Chief of Navy and current Vice Chief of Defence Force Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said on accepting the honour that Yarra had set an enduring example to which all members of the Royal Australian Navy can aspire.

“No words can change the events of 1942. Likewise no words can change the quality of their gallantry: their example shines out from our past and into our future,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

Rankin and Taylor are now closely linked to Navy's initial training establishments, with Rankin a division at the Royal Australian Naval College and Taylor a division at Recruit School.

This year will mark 75 years since one of the darkest periods in the history of the Royal Australian Navy.

In 1942, the Navy lost HMA Ships PerthYarraKuttabulCanberraVampireVoyagerNestor and Armidale in various battles during the Second World War.

For more information about Yarra visit www.navy.gov.au/hmas-yarra-ii.