HMAS Yarra

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HMAS Yarra
HMAS Yarra.jpg
HMAS Yarra 1.jpg
Name HMAS Yarra U77
Owner Royal Australian navy
Builder Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co Ltd, Sydney
Launched 28 Mar 1935
Completed Jan 1936
In service 21 Jan 1936
Out of service 4 Mar 1942
Fate Lost in action 4 Mar 1942
General characteristics
Type Grimsby Class Sloop
Tonnage 1,500 tons
Length 266 ft
Beam 36 ft
Depth 10 ft
Propulsion Twin screw
Speed 16.5 knots


From the time of her commissioning, up to the end of the first twelve months of World War II, Yarra (II) was employed on the Australian coast on patrol and escort duties and as a unit of the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla. On 28 August 1940 Yarra left Australia to join the Red Sea Force of the Royal Navy. At Aden Yarra experienced her first taste of enemy action in two air raids on the night of her arrival. Thereafter she quickly entered the routine life of a Red Sea Force sloop; on patrol, escorting convoys up and down the Red Sea and maintaining a tight blockade between Africa and the Arabian coast.

On 18 Oct 1940 she sailed from Aden as part of the escort of a north bound convoy. About 11:00pm on 28 October, a few miles east of Massawa, two ships were sighted approaching from ahead at high speed. Yarra challenged, just seconds before the flash of a torpedo was seen immediately followed by gunfire. HMS Auckland, a Royal Navy sloop, had opened fire, with Yarra joining in after Aicklands first salvo. The Italians turned away, persued by British units which drove the enemy destroyer Francesco Nullo ashore on a small island off Massawa and there destroyed her with a well aimed torpedo.

In mid March 1941 Yarra left the Red Sea for Bombay for a refit until 9 April, the day after the Red Sea was declared a 'non combat zone' with the end of Italian control of Eritrea. With a pro-axis government in Iraq, Yarra then escorted a troop convoy from Karachi to Basra, and on 2 May 1941 the Iraq government declared war. With British troops soon occupying all strategic areas in Iraq, the Iraq war was over. Yarra had participated by supporting land forces in the Shatt-el-Arab and nearby water ways.

The Germaan advace in southern Russia was thought to threaten Iran (Persia) and therefore India. Britain and Russia decided to act and agreed to invade Iran in a joint operation; Russia from the north and Britain from the Persian Gulf. The invasion was fixed for 25 Aug 1941. The naval force available to carry out these tasks consisted of three sloops including Yarra, a small gunboat, a corvette, two armed yachts, two armed river steamers, a trawler and the Australian Armed Merchant Cruiser Kanimbla.

Yarra sank the Iranian Sloop Babrby shelling which then ignited the ammunitionon board blowing th magazine and sending the sloop to the bottom, before moving up river to engage the Persian gunboats. Following a successful engagement they were tasked with capturing an Italian 5,000 ton ship that was on fire further down the gulf. Yarra undertook early firefighting and a tow until a slvage tug arrived to take over from them. The Iranian government surrendered on 2 Sep 1941. Soon after Yarr was sent to Bombaay for a refit, before returning to the Persian Gulf. Yarra was ordered on 26 October to proceed to the Mediterranean Station which the previous month had been extended to include the Red Sea. She reached Suez on 5 November and after some local escort duty, passed through the Suez Canal. On 14 November she sailed from Port Said in company with her sister ship HMAS Parramatta for Alexandria to take up duty as an escort vessel on the 'Tobruk Ferry'.

For three weeks, until Tobruk was relieved after a siege of 242 days, Yarra was almost constantly at sea between Alexandria and the beleaguered port. The weather was often wild and the enemy always active. For the first time her crew, experienced the savage low level attack of the German Luftwaffe. Parramatta, victim of a U-boat was lost in the eqarly morning of 27 November and Yarra was attacked by 35 aircraft including dive bombers on 7 December. She escaped with only minor damage from several near misses. The British sloop HMS Flamingo was not so lucky. Holed and with engines out of action she had to call on Yarra to tow her into Tobruk.

On 9 Dec1941 Yarra' s Mediterranean service came to an end. War had broken out in the Pacific. A few days later she sailed for Colombo and then to Batavia. In January 1942 she began escort duties from Sunda Strait to Singapore. The 'debacle of Singapore' lay in the future. Troops and supplies were still reinforcing Britain's Far East bastion in the face of a rapid Japanese advance and an ever increasing volume of attack from the air. By the end of January the Japanese Army was threatening Singapore and during the night of 30/31 January the British withdrew from Malaya, breached the causeway connecting to the Island of Singapore, and retired into their supposedly impregnable fortress.

On 3 February a large convoy of nine ships entered Sunda Strait with an escort that included the Australian ships HMAS Vampire and Yarra. After clearing the Strait the convoy split, five ships with an escort that included Yarra for Singapore, the remainder for Batavia. All ships were crammed with troops and equipment. They arrived off Singapore early in the morning of 5 February. In spite of some sporadic attacks en route, the ships were undamaged, but now the Japanese struck fiercely in a series of dive bombing and machine gunning attacks. The 17,000 ton transports Felix Roussel and Empress of Asia were both hit and set on fire. Felix Roussel quickly got the flames under control, but Empress of Asia was soon blazing amidships with her load of troops crowded at either end of the stricken ship.

Yarra nudged the doomed ship's stern and lowering boats, floats and rafts began the work of rescue. In all Yarra took 1804 men from the after part of the liner, which was cut off by flames from the fore part, before casting off. Meanwhile the Indian ship Sutlej and the Australian corvettes HMAS Bendigo and HMAS Wollongong had rescued smaller numbers, Wollongong going alongside the bow to take off the last survivors. The ship and all her stores were a total loss. It was the last convoy into Singapore. Yarra (II), though repeatedly attacked, fought the enemy off and in exchange for minor damage shot down one aircraft for certain with two 'probables'.

From 8 to 10 February Yarra was engaged in towing HMAS Vendetta from Palembang in Sumatra to Batavia. Vendetta, immobilised in Singapore dock when war in the Pacific broke out, was towed to Melbourne. V'endetta left Batavia on 17 Feb 1942 under tow of the Ping Wo, with Yarra, as escort until 24 February when she was relieved by HMAS Adelaide. From then onwards the Australian sloop continued her escort duties. The disasterous Battle of the Java Sea on 27/28 Feb 1942 finally ended all hope of stemming the Japanese tide of victory, and the remnants of the Allied naval forces were withdrawn to safety.

Around midnight on 27 Feb 1942 Yarra and the Indian sloop HMIS Jumna sailed escorting a convoy for Tjilatjap. There was an early mishap when the a tanker ran aground and had to be abandoned. Later, after Yarra had brought her remaining charges safely through Sunda Strait, another tanker was torpedoed but remained afloat and was able to make slow progress some distance astern escorted by HMAS Wollongong. At 11:00am on 2 Mar 1942 Yarra and Jumna with their convoy, hove to off Tjilatjap. A signal from the shore warned them not to enter harbour and ordered Yarra to make for Fremantle escorting the convoy.

Yarra and her convoy made steady progress. On the morning of 3 Mar 1942, two lifeboats were sighted from the Dutch ship Parigi, sunk by the Japanese two days earlier. At 6:30am on 4 Mar 1942, as the sun rose, the lookout in Yarra sighted the topmasts of the Japanese cruisers Atago, Takao and Maya to the north, north east. The Australian sloop's luck had failed. The convoy was ordered to scatter and Yarra placing itself between them and the enemy, laid smoke to assist them. Yarra began to prepare for an uneven engagement with the enemy. The task was hopeless, yet Yarra fought and kept on fighting as one by one the four ships in her convoy were smashed and sunk. Anking, carrying many Royal Australian Navy personnel, was first to go. Overwhelmed by many hits she sank in less than ten minutes. Yarra was then on fire and listing heavily to port but still shooting. Yarra, shattered by numerous hits, was last to go. Soon after 8:00am, "Abandon Ship" was ordered just minutes before an 8-inch salvo hit the bridge. Leading Seaman Taylor manning the last remaining gun kept on firing until he too was killed and Yarra, except for the crackling flames and the shouts of men, at last fell silent. Her end after close range shelling by two destroyers was watched by 34 survivors on two rafts. On 9 Mar 1942, 13 of the sloop's ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine K11. Of Yarra's total complement of 151, 138 including the Captain and all officers were killed in the action or died subsequently on the rafts.


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