HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

10 September 2018

Sloop HMAS Yarra

The naval sloop HMAS Yarra would have been a familiar shape on the horizon for the residents and visitors to Jervis Bay in the late 1930's.


HMAS Yarra was a Grimsby-class sloop of the Royal Australian Navy which came to the bay on many occasions to conduct training exercises leading up to the second world war, sometimes alone,  other times as part of larger operations involving the Australian fleet.


Lost Anchor - Buffeted during a gale.
1936 August. - Anchored off HMAS Creswell she was caught in a strong northerly gale which reached speeds of 50 mph.  She rocked so violently a timber whaleboat tethered beside the ship was splintered to pieces within minutes.  A heavy swell whipped up by the gale came across the bay tossing the Yarra  so violently she lost one of her anchors when the chain snapped.  With this, the captain ordered full steam and the sloop sailed across the bay seeking shelter in the lee of Point Perpendicular. 

HMAS Canberra, also in the bay had her boat boom carried away in the violent storm, other boats were in danger of being smashed by the cruiser. Two divers were dispatched from HMAS Canberra to recover the Yarra's anchor, the operation was carried out in very difficult conditions.


Ken Stephens a young seaman on the Yarra fell overboard. 
         Stephens: -  "I went to put my foot on the Jacobs ladder", he said.  And found it was not there."

An open boat was immediately lowered and his shipmates had a difficult and dangerous time effecting the rescue. Stephens collapsed when he reached the deck and received medical attention.

1938 - The Yarra had a further association with Jervis Bay when H.B. Farncomb, a graduate from the Jervis Bay Naval College was appointed the captain of the Yarra.

War service.
1942 - War was raging across the Pacific.  HMAS Yarra was involved in rescuing 1800 troops from the liner Empress of Asia after she was dive-bombed by the Japanese and set on fire, Captain
W. H. Harrington by commendable seamanship took his ship alongside the blazing liner allowing the troops to come aboard. Meanwhile, the Yarra's gunfire helped save other ships in the convoy.


1942 - May,  HMAS Yarra was sunk during action with the loss of 138 including the Captain and all officers, they were killed in the action or died subsequently on the rafts. The action was described as one of the most gallant in Australian naval history.

Navy Minister Mr Makin described the gallantry of the HMAS Yarra's crew in fighting a far superior enemy until she was sunk.

  'At dawn on March 4 while escorting 2 merchant vessels and a minesweeper from Java to Australia the Yarra and her charges were attacked 350 miles south of Java
by three Japanese heavy cruisers and 4 destroyers. Against such odds, the battle lasted less than 30 minutes and the Yarra and her convoy were sunk.
The Yarra after trying to save the convoy by ordering a covering smoke screen fought to the end and went down with colour flying. Only 13 of her compliment
were saved after spending 105 hours in the water.

Take the time to watch this short well made documentary about the courage of the captain and his crew against overwhelming odds.



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