- Bradford, John
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Armidale I, HMAS Yarra II, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Kara Kara
- September 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On taking command of YARRA, Rankin’s first major task was to escort a small convoy of ships attempting to traverse the dangerous waters south of Java en route to Australia. On the 4th March, 1942, YARRA was intercepted by three Japanese cruisers and two destroyers. In scenes reminiscent of the utterly one-sided HMS JERVIS BAY – ADMIRAL SCHEER engagement – an engagement for which Commander (acting Captain) Fogerty Fegen, RN, JERVIS BAY’s captain won a posthumous VC,11 Rankin made an enemy report, ordered the ships of the convoy to scatter, made smoke in a vain attempt to screen the rest of the convoy from the Japanese forces and charged towards the enemy. Tragically this was as far as any similarity with JERVIS BAY’s action went. For YARRA – and the other ships – this engagement was fought in the early hours of an equatorial morning, not the late afternoon twilight of a northern winter, making conditions for any escape hopeless. Rankin reportedly survived long enough to issue the command `abandon ship’ but a little while later was killed when an eight-inch salvo struck the bridge.12 Taylor – the captain of the last remaining gun – refused to leave his post and continued firing until he was killed and the gun silenced.
Rankin never received any posthumous award – so presumably he was never recommended for one. Surprisingly, neither do the names of any of No. 3 Gun, nor Taylor’s name appear on any list of gallantry awards. The decision to name the sixth Collins-class submarine, HMAS RANKIN, therefore, has to be regarded as a belated recognition of the resolution and heroism displayed by Rankin and his crew.
In WWII ROPs could be used by the Naval Board to initiate recommendations for honours and awards, and in hindsight, Harrington’s choice of words `are thought … consideration might be given … some recognition …‘ hardly constituted the most positive opening for an award recommendation. On the other hand, the same cannot be said to have been the case in his strong commendation of Taylor. But even if Harrington’s reporting of the gallantry of his No. 3 Gun crew was altogether too circumspect, what still must rankle is that there was no tangible and lasting recognition accorded YARRA for the action 5th February – and later her magnificent fight against overwhelming odds on 4th March. Question marks have been put against the Naval Board’s inability to act on Harrington’s ROP vis-a-vis the No. 3 Gun crew (it would have seemed an instinctive and natural reaction for Harrington to have wanted to `move heaven and earth’ to gain some form of recognition for his former crew, but did he?) and their reluctance to pick up the obvious parallels with the JERVIS BAY action.
The only public record I have sighted of how Harrington felt towards his former crew was provided in a Foreword to Parry’s book c.1944, where he wrote: 13
`This is the story of an Australian ship which for two and a half years endured the dullness, the discomforts and sometimes the dangers, associated with war. From time to time she enjoyed those small pleasures which opportunity offered. In due course she achieved an honourable end. This will be the pride and comfort of those who mourn the men who together were a ship’s company which may have added in some small degree to the prestige of this country.‘ But all these years on it is Taylor who – in a historical sense – cuts the most forlorn figure. Harrington’s prescient assessment of him had been admirably confirmed, yet his only recognition was to be found, quite literally, as one of naval history’s footnotes.14 His conduct and example had really deserved much better than that; indeed no higher praise can be accorded him than that he – and other crew members of YARRA – had more than earned the right to a place on the same honour roll* as Sheean, Davies, Emms and Rowley.
1. ‘The Advertiser’, July 22, 1993 – Sheryl-Lee Kerr 2. `By Skill and Valour’, p.103 – James J. Atkinson 3. Ibid, p.142 4. PRO ADM 1/12390, `Air Raid on Darwin – Awards to RAN Personnel’ 5. PRO ADM 116/5159, `RAN Operations in Philippines – Recommendations for Awards’ 6. AWM78/373/1, ‘HMAS YARRA – ROP Feb. 1st/10th, 1942’ 7. Quoted in `RAN 1939-42′, p.529 – Hermon Gill 8. Ibid, p.529 9. `By Skill and Valour’, p.70 and p.158-9 – James J. Atkinson 10. `Where Fate Calls – the HMAS VOYAGER Tragedy’ – p.xvi and p.131 – Tom Frame 11. `The Victoria Cross at Sea’, p.190-2 – John Winton 12. `RAN 1939-42, p.630 – Hermon Gill 13. ‘HMAS YARRA – the Story of a Gallant Ship’ – A.F. Parry 14. ‘RAN 1939-42, p.529 – Hermon Gill Ref. 5 (above) is also available as a microfiche in the National Library, Canberra.
*Roll of Honour