Brave crew recognised for extraordinary acts of gallantry in 1942

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Kate Mathias (author), ABIS Lee-Anne Mack (photographer), ABIS Tom Gibson (photographer)

Location(s): Melbourne, VIC

Topic(s): HMAS Yarra (II), Unit Citation for Gallantry

Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, inspects a Royal Guard from HMAS Cerberus accompanied by the Royal Guard Commander, Lieutenant Commander Peter Arnold RAN, during the HMAS Yarra (II) Unit Citation for Gallantry Investiture Ceremony held at the Port of Melbourne, Victoria.  (photo: Able Seaman Tom Gibson)
Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, inspects a Royal Guard from HMAS Cerberus accompanied by the Royal Guard Commander, Lieutenant Commander Peter Arnold RAN, during the HMAS Yarra (II) Unit Citation for Gallantry Investiture Ceremony held at the Port of Melbourne, Victoria.

Proud descendants of the Ship’s Company of HMAS Yarra (II) looked on today as Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO, CSC, RAN proudly accepted a Unit Citation for Gallantry awarded to the crew of HMAS Yarra (II) for acts of extraordinary gallantry in action in 1942. 

Presented by the Governor-General, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC, CVO, the citation details a series of events that commenced on 5 February 1942, when a convoy about to enter Singapore harbour was attacked by Japanese aircraft and the troop transport Empress of Asia was severely damaged.  

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO, CSC, RAN presents Mrs Pam Shirley, relative of a fallen shipmate from  HMAS Yarra (II), with a Copy of the Unit Citation for acts of extraordinary gallantry in action in 1942.

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO, CSC, RAN presents Mrs Pam Shirley, relative of a fallen shipmate from HMAS Yarra (II), with a Copy of the Unit Citation for acts of extraordinary gallantry in action in 1942.

Despite the threat from continuing air attacks and the explosions in the Empress of Asia, HMAS Yarra’s Commanding Officer, Commander Wilfred Hastings Harrington, RAN, manoeuvred the ship alongside the stern of the sinking transport, enabling 1334 men to be directly transferred across to YarraYarra then proceeded to rescue a further 470 men from life rafts and floats.  

On 4 March 1942, Yarra and her convoy of three merchant vessels were proceeding to Fremantle. In the early hours of the morning, Yarra’s lookouts sighted a Japanese surface action group. Each individual Japanese warship was greatly superior to Yarra in fighting strength and speed. Despite this, Yarra’s newly appointed Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Robert William Rankin, RAN, who had assumed command on 11 February 1942, immediately manoeuvred the ship between the enemy and the convoy, made smoke to screen the convoy and closed to engage. 

At the ceremony, the Chief of Navy spoke of their bravery. 

“Collective gallantry is the most prized achievement in Navy. The crew of Yarra served the nation; they did so with extraordinary gallantry, skill and conspicuous devotion to duty; they did so as one company, even to death,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

When it was obvious the ship was about to sink, the order to abandon ship was given. Despite this order the last remaining gun crew continued to engage the enemy until silenced by direct fire. Of 151 crew members, only 13 survived.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20140492

The crew of HMAS Yarra (IV) 'cheer ship' at the presentation of the Unit Citation of Gallantry at the investiture ceremony for HMAS Yarra (II) in Melbourne, Victoria.

The crew of HMAS Yarra (IV) 'cheer ship' at the presentation of the Unit Citation of Gallantry at the investiture ceremony for HMAS Yarra (II) in Melbourne, Victoria.