Brave crew recognised for extraordinary acts of gallantry in 1942
4 March 2014
Proud descendants of the Ship's Company of HMAS Yarra (II) looked on today as Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AM 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 Her Excellency, the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, the award serves as a poignant reminder of the service and sacrifice of Navy personnel past and present.
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. Despite the threat from continuing air attack 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 Yarra. Yarra 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 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.
Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Griggs praised the 151 men who faced almost certain death without wavering. "Collective gallantry is the most prized achievement in Navy. A ship’s crew are all of one company. They go to sea together, go into action together and, we always pray, come home together," Vice Admiral Griggs said.
"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. In doing so, they set an enduring example to which all members of the Royal Australian Navy can aspire."
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, only 13 survived.
CMDR Wilfred Hastings Harrington was CO during the rescue of the Empress of Asia troops. LCDR Robert Rankin had joined the ship as the CO designate and was with Harrington coordinating that effort. Rankin assumed command on 11 February 1942 and was the CO for the latter act of gallantry.
Imagery is available at: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20140492
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