- Newspaper, Daily Telegraph
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2, Obituaries
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Voyager I
- September 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Rupert Robison Born: Springwood, May 29, 1909 Died: Rozelle, June 7, 1999
Lieutenant-Commander Rupert Robison was captain of HMAS Voyager when it ran aground on Timor in 1942.
The commander ordered the destroyer – attacked where it lay on the beach by Japanese bombers – scuttled to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
A naval board of inquiry found the captain had made errors of judgment in his handling of the ship.
Vice-Admiral Sir Harry Burrell, retired chief of naval staff, while agreeing Robison made mistakes in losing his ship, argues he had not been given an opportunity to defend himself. “Had he been, a different light may have been shown on the picture,” he writes in a post-war study of the incident.
The official navy war history says that Commander Robison was ordered to disembark 250 officers and men of the 2/4 Independent Company, as well as tonnes of stores, at Betano Bay. “There were no navigational aids or marks on shore to help in anchoring and Robison had nothing by which to navigate save a very rough sketch plan,” the history records.
The ship ran aground during the disembarkation of the commandos and Admiral Burrell says the captain could have saved the ship – but it might have cost the lives of the troops alongside in the army barges.
Commander Robison, who received a shrapnel wound to his leg in the Japanese bomber attacks, was later discharged as medically unfit. According to a nephew, John Robison, the ship’s loss weighed heavily on him and he spent much of the rest of his life in psychiatric institutions.
In 1944, for his “bravery and enterprise” during the Mediterranean Battle of Matapan in March 1941, Commander Robison was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The citation notes that war injuries prevented him receiving the award himself and it was presented to his son, Richard.
The son of an Anglican minister, Commander Robison entered the Naval College as a midshipman in 1923. He gained colours for cricket, tennis and athletics and on passing out was awarded the Governor-General’s Cup for sport and the engineering theory prize.
He rose rapidly through the ranks and at the outbreak of war was appointed first lieutenant in HMAS Stuart which, along with the Voyager, was part of the famous Scrap Iron Flotilla.
Commander Robison is survived by his son and nieces and nephews.
(Edited by Ken Anderson, Daily Telegraph 5.7.99)