'Perth and Yarra sunk during Java action'

After the second torpedo the ship listed to port and listed heavily after the third torpedo, sinking bow first at about 0015 March 1st.

['Being a summary of the movements, actions and subsequent loss of HMAS Perth, 6" cruiser, during the period February 20th, to March 1st 1942 in the waters of, and adjacent to the Java Sea' AWM54 505/10/10]

HMAS Perth was sunk in the Sunda Strait just north of Java on the night of 28 February/1 March 1942. Perth and the USS Houston were sunk during an attack on Japanese convoys by American, British and Dutch ships. Of the 700 men on board the ship, about 350 died during the sinking including Perth's captain, Captain Hec Waller. Those who survived the sinking became prisoners and one-third of them died during captivity, many of them on the Burma-Thailand railway.

The Royal Netherlands Navy, severely disabled by the battle, fled to Australia and Ceylon and became entirely dependent on British and American war command for the remainder of the war.

'The last we saw of Yarra...'

We were taken on deck and shown, as they tried to impress us, the might of Japan's navy. The Yarra was the only ship left afloat, and we could see flames and a great deal of smoke. The two destroyers were circling Yarra, which appeared stationary, and were pouring fire into her. She was still firing back as we could see odd gun flashes. The three cruisers then formed line ahead and steamed away from the scene. The last we saw of Yarra was a high column of smoke, but we were vividly impressed by her fight ...

[From a report by Able Seaman John F Murphy, a survivor from Stronghold, a British ship sunk by the Japanese on 2 March 1942, in Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945, p. 631.]

HMAS Yarra, which was sunk three days after Perth, had returned from escort duties in the northern hemisphere after the outbreak of the Pacific war. Tasked with keeping the sea lanes to Singapore open, Yarra was subjected to intense strafing and aerial bombing during January and February 1942. On 5 February, off Singapore, Yarra came alongside the crippled transport Empress of Asia and rescued nearly 2000 men. She was credited with shooting down one enemy aircraft with a possible two others during this action.

One month later on 4 March 1942, a Japanese force sank HMAS Yarra approximately 500 kilometres south of central Java. Yarra's captain, Lieutenant-Commander Robert Rankin, had been ordered to escort a convoy of three ships – a tanker, a small minesweeper and a depot ship – away from the fighting during the Japanese invasion of Java. Early on the morning of 4 March, the convoy sighted enemy warships, including cruisers, directly behind them. Although the Japanese cruisers vastly outnumbered and outgunned Yarra, Rankin ordered the convoy to scatter and positioned his ship between the convoy and the enemy ships. It was a brave but futile fight and just 90 minutes later Yarra was on fire, listing heavily to port and only just afloat. The three ships in the convoy had been sunk. Rankin ordered his crew to abandon ship and just moments later, he and those on the bridge were killed by a salvo of Japanese shells. Most of the crew abandoned their ship but Leading Seaman Ronald Taylor, the captain of the last remaining gun, disregarded the order and continued firing until he was killed and his gun silenced.

A boatload of survivors from the convoy was picked up by one of the Japanese destroyers but more than 100 others were left in the water. Amongst those left drifting in Carley floats were 34 of the Yarra crew and by the time they were eventually rescued on 9 March, only 13 of the original complement of 151 officers and men survived. Another 25 RAN ratings and an officer were lost in Anking, one of the other vessels in the Yarra convoy.


Last updated: 1 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), 'Perth and Yarra sunk during Java action', DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 October 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/japanese-advance-december-1941-march-1942/fall-java/perth-and-yarra-sunk-during-java-action
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