- Bradford, John
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Hobart I, HMAS Yarra II
- March 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Unfortunately, the unsatisfactory way in which the YARRA issue was handled was typical of what went on as far as the processing and assessment of RAN gallantry awards in WW II was concerned. For example, for much of WWII – and subject to which particular war zone an RAN ship was serving in – a major difference existed between RN and RAN paperwork procedures used for recommending and processing gallantry decoration and awards.
Whereas, from at least early 1941 onwards, COs of RN ships had the authority to recommend whether acts of gallantry warranted either a decoration or an MID, when war came to the Pacific region, a Commonwealth Naval Order, No. 43 (CN043) – presumably drafted under Royle’s authority – of 17th February 1942 instructed ship COs: `…the nature of the award is not to be suggested’. CN043 must have resulted in many RAN personnel receiving recognition not commensurate with the act of gallantry performed. This anomaly lasted until 1945 and it was only after the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, in January 1945, that RAN paperwork procedures came into line with those of the RN. ((‘RAN operations in the Philippines – Recommendations for awards’. PRO ADM116/5159.)) ((`Honours and Awards’. Series No. MT1214/1. Item No. 448/201/2002.))
To add to the confusion, the administration of RAN gallantry recommendations differed considerably from that applying to the RAAF and the Australian Army, for whom recommendations for gallantry awards in the SWPA were processed through the relevant Minister and thence the Prime Minister; in addition the Governor General was vested with powers to grant `immediate’ awards. On the other hand, all decisions concerning what class of award RAN personnel should receive were directed, via the Naval Board, to the Admiralty Honours and Awards Committee in London.
DCNS’s suggestion that YARRA’s action bore comparison with that of the JERVIS BAY, indicates a body of opinion within the RAN believing that here, perhaps, was an action worthy of winning the RAN its first VC. JERVIS BAY, basically a passenger liner armed with ancient 6″ guns, was the sole escort for a convoy of 38 ships, when she took on the German pocket battleship, the ADMIRAL SCHEER. Her CO, (Acting) Captain Fogarty Fegen, was badly injured early on but retained command of the ship for much of the one-sided action, whereas Rankin was most likely killed outright. JERVIS BAY’s sacrifice resulted in 33 ships reaching safety and was viewed by the authorities as a considerable military achievement – which was undeniably true. Against that, YARRA’S action took place in the early hours of an equatorial morning, not the late afternoon twilight of a northern winter, making any prospect of the convoy escaping hopeless. So whether Rankin’s action strictly merited being recommended for a posthumous VC or not is open to debate and must be viewed against the extremely stringent criteria that were applied for its award during WWII. My personal belief is that even if Royle or Hamilton had personally endorsed VC recommendations to the Admiralty, Rankin and Taylor would still have only received posthumous `mentions’. Nonetheless a submission could have, and should have been made.
It would appear that neither Royle nor Hamilton were aware of the sentiments expressed in 1942 by the Second Sea Lord, VADM. Sir W. J. Whitworth, DSO, RN, when, in arguing in favour of posthumous awards, he had drawn attention to the: ((‘Posthumous Awards’. PRO ADMI/1 6677.))
`Satisfaction which the serving man derives from the fact that the gallantry and heroism of his lost pal and shipmate have been recognised. The practice of posthumous mentions I think well meets this requirement, but I feel that recommendations for such recognition are not put forward as frequently as they might be and it is for consideration whether the attention of the C-in-C should be drawn to this matter’. These sentiments ring just as true today as they did 55 years ago and there are still many ex-servicemen for whom this `satisfaction’ still remains unfulfilled. In recent years, Navy’s decision to name three of its six Collins-class conventional, diesel-electric submarines after Capt. Hec. M. L. Waller, O/S `Teddy’ Sheean and Rankin has been well received and has gone some way to easing the disquiet felt over the perceived lack of adequate recognition for three of its greatest heroes.