Saturday, 16 June 2007

Sinking of HMAS Yarra March 4th 1942

The sloop HMAS Yarra was launched at the Cockatoo Dockyard, Sydney, on 28 March 1935 and commissioned on 21 January 1936. Displacing 1,080 tons, she was 81.1 metres long with a beam of 11 metres. She was armed with three 4-inch anti aircraft guns, four 3-pounder guns, a quadruple .5-inch anti aircraft machine-gun, and depth charges. She had a speed of 16.5 knots and a complement of 151.

Yarra's initial war service was in Australian waters, on patrol and escort duties. She was commanded by Lieutenant Commander W. H. Harrington, RAN, who was eventually to become Vice Admiral Sir Hastings Harrington, CBE, DSO, RAN, Chief of Naval Staff, 1962-65. In August 1940 she left for the Middle East where she was used on patrol and escort duties. In April 1941 she escorted a convoy from Bombay to the Persian Gulf where she took part in campaigns against Iraq and Iran. This was followed by service in the Mediterranean in November-December 1941.

With the outbreak of war with Japan, Yarra left the Mediterranean for Javanese waters, arriving in January 1942. She carried out escort and patrol duties and on 5 February performed a particularly fine piece of rescue work when she took 1800 survivors off the burning troopship Empress of Asia. On 11 February Harrington was relieved by Lieutenant Commander R. W. Rankin, RAN.

On 27 February orders were given to clear all remaining British auxiliary craft from Batavia (now Jakarta). About midnight Yarra and the Indian sloop HMIS Jumna sailed escorting a convoy to Tjilatjap. Arriving off Tjilatjap at 11 am on 2 March, the ships were warned not to enter harbour. The Yarra was ordered to take the convoy, which consisted of the depot ship Anking, the tanker Francol and the motor minesweeper MMS 51, to Fremantle while the Jumna sailed for Colombo. No time was to be lost, as powerful Japanese forces were known to be operating in the waters south of Java.

Steaming steadily south east at an average speed of 8.5 knots, the Yarra and her convoy made steady progress during the night of 2-3 March. Except for a faintly discerned shadowing aircraft sighted in the evening, there was no sign of the enemy. On the morning of the third two lifeboats were sighted. From these, Yarra picked up a number of exhausted survivors of the Dutch merchant ship Parigi, sunk by the Japanese two days earlier.

At 6.30 am on 4 March, as the sun rose the lookout in Yarra sighted the unmistakable topmasts of a Japanese heavy cruiser squadron to the north-east. The squadron consisted of Atago, Takao and Maya, each armed with ten 8-inch guns, and two destroyers. Immediately Lieutenant Commander Rankin made a sighting report, ordered the ships of convoy to scatter and, placing his ship between them and the enemy, laid smoke and prepared to engage. Yarra was outgunned and out-ranged, and the enemy ships were faster. Against such odds her task was hopeless, yet she kept fighting even as her convoy was overwhelmed and sunk, ship by ship.

Anking, which was carrying many RAN personnel was sunk first. Overwhelmed by many hits she was despatched in ten minutes. By then Yarra was on fire and listing heavily to port but still shooting. MMS 51 was on fire and was put down shortly after by a hail of close range automatic gunfire from one of the cruisers. The Francol took more punishment and still remained afloat, finally succumbing at about 7.30. Yarra, shattered by numerous hits, was the last to go. Soon after 8.00 am, Rankin ordered that the ship be abandoned. Minutes later he was killed when an 8-inch salvo hit the bridge. Leading Seaman R. Taylor, manning the last remaining gun, kept on firing until he too was killed, and the Yarra's guns fell silent. Her end, which came after close-range shelling by the two Japanese destroyers, was witnessed by 34 survivors on two rafts. All, except the Dutch captain of Parigi, were naval ratings.

When Yarra sank, the Japanese made off to the north-east after picking up one boatload of survivors from Francol. A collection of boats, rafts and floats was left scattered over a wide area of sea. Towards evening, a passing Dutch vessel, Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from Anking. However, in spite of frantic signals, she failed to sight two Carley floats, which held 14 men from MMS 51. For the next two and a half days they drifted about until picked up by the Dutch steamer Tjimanjoek on 7 March. Meanwhile Yarra's men, their numbers sadly reduced by wounds, exposure, and thirst, continued to drift helplessly. On 9 March 13 of the sloop's ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine KlL. Of the complement of 151, 138 (including the captain and all officers) were killed in the action or died subsequently on the raft.

Singapore Harbour Tug St Breock

Civilian Evacuation list

Evacuation of Civilians from Singapore December 1941 - February 1942

Michael Pether has complied a list of Ships/Vessels carrying Civilian Evacuees and the dates of departure from Singapore. He has complied this list only for vessels knwon to be carrying civilians and vessels carrying only servicemen have not been included where known. Michael is keen to add names and details where possible and should you have any further information I would be pleased to put you in contact with Michael.

January 1942;

• 16 Jan. “SS. NARKUNDA” with many passengers including a Mrs. Hosking and her children on board. Reached Australia.
• Some time mid-Jan. a British India steamer with probably over 1000 Japanese women and children internees and some allied civilians including a Miss Norah Inge (a missionary). Went to India.
• 23 Jan. – “ISLAM/ISLAMIC” reported to have reached India ( this could be the ship above)
• 30 Jan. “USS WAKEFIELD” with the “WESTPOINT” and “DUCHESS OF BEDFORD” in same convoy which altogether had 4000 passengers. Including a Mrs. McCormac (wife of “You will die in Singapore” author). Went to Tanjong Priok.
• 30 Jan. “SS DUCHESS OF BEDFORD” including Mrs. Pelton and Mrs. Barbara Parnell ( nurse with Malayan auxiliary service MAS in Ipoh)
• 31 Jan. “EMPRESS OF JAPAN “with 1221 evacuees including a Mrs. Dora Gurney plus 3 children, to Tanjong Priok where it left again on 15 Jan.

Some time in either January or February;

• “SS. ANGLO INDIAN” which reached Tanjong Priok on 12 February
• “SS. AUBY” (636 tons) reached Tanjong Priok
• “TIEN KWANG/ TUN KUANG” which had many Government servants on board plus RAF , but was bombed and sunk at Pom Pong Island on 14 Feb along with the “SS KUALA”
• “SS. AQUARIUS”(6094 tons) with 110 passengers but was sunk with possibly only 3 survivors
• “SS. NORAH MOLLER” (4433 tons?) which left with 57 passengers, some were women and children. It was shelled and set on fire. Passengers were rescued by the “HMAS HOBART” and the HMS TENEDOS” ,the latter rescued 28 wounded of whom 6 did not survive the voyage to TP which was reached on possible 4 FEB?
• “SILVER GULL” which was towed from RHIO by the famous Capt Bill Reynolds in his converted Japanese fishing boat (later the “KRAIT”) with women and children (totals vary between 166 and 216people) who were mainly families of Dutch Indonesian garrison soldiers on RHIO; they went to Pom Pong Island and then Rengat
• “MADURA” reported to have later sailed from Batavia (TP) in the last few days of Feb.

February 1942;

• 1 Feb. “ROCHUISSEN” a Dutch cattle boat with no passenger accommodation. Took 200 passengers including 50 Malayan Broadcasting personnel (Enid Innes Ker amongst) and reached Tanjong Priok on 5 Feb.
• 4 Feb. “SEDJATRA” a wooden schooner (30 tons) with 4 civilians on board – later left Tjilitap with 5 civilians and 3 RAF
• 6?? Feb. “SS. CITY OF CANTERBURY” with RAF personnel from 453 sqdn. and women and children
• 7 Feb. “HMS BAN HONG LIONG” (1671 tons) with troops and civilians in company with the “SIN AIK LEE” and reached TP from where it sailed again after two days to an unknown destination
• 8 Feb. “SS. PLANCIUS” which later (15 Feb ) sailed again from Tanjong Priok with 840 evacuees ( principally women and children) from ships that had arrived from Singapore, possibly for South Africa according to some, but more likely to Bombay.
• 8 Feb. “SS. MONARCH” sailed for New Zealand
• ?? Feb. “DOMINION MONARCH” for New Zealand
• 8 Feb. in the evening “FELIX ROUSSEL” (Free French ship) with 110 passengers mainly women and children including Mrs. Marjorie Hudson and Mrs. Dorothy Fawcett.
• 10 Feb. “SS. SILVERLARCH” which reached Java
• 10 Feb. “SS. IPOH” (Straits Shipping Co) left with 200 women and children (many were wives of Survey dept. personnel) plus 300 RAF and reached TP on 14 Feb.
• 10 or 11 or 12 Feb. “BULAN/ BULANG” which arrived TP and then went on to Ceylon
• 11 Feb. “AGAN” (244 tons) with 150 civilians including women and children – it either reached Palembang at midday on 13 Feb. or was sunk with the survivors being picked up by the “TENGORRAH”
• 11 Feb. “GIANG BEE” (1200 tons) a Chinese owned coaster with 200-300 old men, women and children on board. It was sunk by Japanese navy and 200-240 passengers were killed or drowned after getting in lifeboats
• 11 Feb. “PING WO” a pre War Yangste steamer of 200 feet in length and with only a 6 foot draft. Had 200 civilian passengers and ended up towing the destroyer “VENDETTA” all the way to Freemantle where it arrived on 4 March.
• 11 Feb. “KLIAS” which reached Palembang

- the next group of ships probably left in the major convoy of up to 40 vessels which actually departed from Singapore harbour (perhaps in groups according to their speed) early on 12 February ,

• 11 Feb. “SS. JALAVIHAR/ JALIBAHAR” ( 5330 tons) suffered heavy bombing through the Durian straits but passed through TP and finally reached Colombo
• 11 Feb. “SS. JALAKRISHNA” sailed at 1700 hours, possibly clearing the harbour on 12 Feb, in the convoy with the “DELAMORE”, “EMPIRE STAR”,”JALIBAHAR” and “LI SANG”. It was damaged by bombing in the Sunda Straits and via TP reached Colombo. Some reports say it carried no passengers but there was a Mrs. Francis Clarke who, with other evacuees from Singapore later boarded the “PLANCIUS” from TP.
• 11 Feb. “EDANG” left with 11 other vessels to form the slower part of the convoy heading for TP
• 11-12 Feb. “LI SANG” sailed about 1730 hours on 11 Feb (might have actually cleared the Harbour on the 12 Feb.)
• 11-12 Feb. “SS. JALRATNA” (3942 tons) sailed on the night of 11 Feb. and reached Tjilitap from where it left again on 19 Feb.
• 11-12 Feb. “ SS. GORGON’ ( 3533 tons0 a Blue funnel Line ship with 358-380 passengers ( the same convoy as the “DURBAN’, “KEDAH”, “STRONGHOLD”, “EMPIRE STAR” and “YOMA”)and reached TP and later Freemantle, Australia.
• 11-12 Feb. “SS. HONG KHENG” ( 6167 tons) which sailed on the night of 11 feb
• 12 Feb. SS. EMPIRE STAR” with 2000 RAF ground crew and service families, it reached Batavia (i.e. TP) on 15 Feb and then sailed on to Freemantle.
• 12 Feb. at daybreak, “HMS. SCOTT HARLEY” with 170 women and 30 men on board including,
o Michael Ashe
o Roland Braddell
o Miss Linda Brash
o Mrs. Annie L Clark ( wife of Norman Clark engineer Govt. Rice Mills)
o Mrs. Elliott / Mrs. Sharpe – Elliott ( a canteen worker with MAS whose husband was a engineer at the Naval Docks)
o Mrs. W.F. Joyce Fitzpatrick ( husband with Singapore Cold Storage)
o Eliza Martin / Mrs. Eric Martin
o Mrs. Enid Miller
o Mr. & Mrs. Pery
o Nessie Rhodes / Mrs. “Dusty” Rhodes of KL
o Winifred Sinclair
o Dr. J. W. Scarff, his wife, two daughters (Elizabeth and Jopin) and 2 boys
o Joan Winchester / Mrs. V. A. Winchester (wife of a vet and whose brother in law was a doctor)
o A Russian mother and daughter (the latter had a hairdressing shop in Raffles Hotel, Singapore)
o The Secretary to the Governor of Singapore – she is described as about 35 years and 16 stone.
o A naval policeman
o Plus possibly a Mr. Potts, Melvin Thompson, Mrs. Duke, and Mrs. Ray “..of the Municipality” and one child
- most of the “SCOTT HARLEY” European passengers on shipped from Batavia on 21 Feb. to Bombay on the “PLANCIUS”. Some then went on to Australia on the “JOHAN DE WITT”. For a full story of the “SCOTT HARLEY” see the item on the COFEPOW website.
• 12 Feb. “SS. REDANG” (531 tons) of the Thai Navigation Co. with 89 passengers including 6 women and 3 children. It was shelled in the Berhala Straits and sunk – some 30 passengers including 4 women and 2 children got away by boat but were captured by the Japanese.
• 12 Feb. “SING WO” a Yangste river boat (2500 tons) left with 230 passengers including Rohan Rivet who authored “Behind Bamboo” ,it was bombed and ran aground at Muntok where passengers were taken prisoner.
• 13 Feb. “FANLING” a motor launch with 47 passengers which was sunk with only 4 survivors in the Banka Straits
• 13 Feb. “HMS CHANG TEH” sunk in the Durian Straits
• 13 Feb. “SS. KUALA” (at the same time as the “MATA HARI and the “VYNER BROOK” mentioned below) with about 500 people on board including a large group of nurses who had been ordered to leave Singapore. It was sunk on 14 Feb at anchor off Pom Pong Island. The following were on board,
o Nurse Brenda Macduff (who today lives in NZ)
o Nurse Jean Smith
o Nurse Edith wood
o Nurse Olive MacFarlane (killed whilst the ship was at anchor in Singapore)
o Nurse “Paddy” Corke (killed in the bombing at Pom Pong Island)
o Nurse MacPherson (who left Pom Pong Island on the “TANJONG PINANG” which was sunk on the way to Sumatra with almost total loss of life)
o Matron Margot Turner
o Nurse Paddy Clarke
o Nursing Sister Marjorie de Malmanche
o Mary Cooper (Irish)
o Mrs. Doughty
o Miss Doughty
o Jenny Doughty (27 years who lost her leg in the bombing and died later in Padang)
o Dr. Elsie Crowe (Singapore Obstetrician)
o Dr. Marjory Lyon (Johore Government Obstetrician and Surgeon)
o Mrs. Madden
o Olga Neubronner
o Mr. Bruce – Smith (a NZer)
o Group Capt. Nunn and his wife (later died in the sinking of the “ROSENBOOM”)
o Mr. G. T. O’Grady a Public works engineer
• 13 Feb. “SS. SING KHENG SENG” of the Straits Shipping Co with 45 crew from the “EMPRESS OF ASIA” and unknown others.
• 13 Feb. “MATA HARI” with 320 passengers including a large group of nurses. It was captured by the Japanese in the Banka Straits and taken into Muntok harbour. Passengers included Nurse Phyllis Briggs who lives today in the UK.
• 13 Feb. “SS. VYNER BROOK” with 200 evacuees, mainly civilians and nurses. Attacked and sunk in the Banka Straits with heavy loss of life. A large group of the nurses were later murdered by the Japanese on a beach with only Vivian Bullwinkle surviving..
• 13 Feb. HONG KWANG” later abandoned in Java on 9 March
• 13 Feb. a small coaster with 12 British men and a woman named Mary Jenkins
• 13 Feb. in the evening “RELAU” a palm oil tanker of the Straits Shipping Co (75 tons) with 66 passengers. It picked up shipwreck survivors along the way ( including 13 from “SCORPION”) but was captured by the Japanese
• 13 Feb. in the evening “BLUMUT” a small craft of the Johore Marine Dept. with 29 passengers. It was captured by the Japanese off Banka around 16-17 Feb.
• 14 Feb. in the early hours, “HMS. KEDAH” a small costal ship of the Straits Shipping Co. with possibly about 750 men, women and children. It reached Batavia. Mrs. Muriel Reilly, a cipher officer to the Governor, was on board.
• 14?? Feb. “SS. BARLINE / BARLANE” with ships named “BARRIER” , BARRICADE” and “FASTNET” – this one may be an inaccurate piece of info .

What happened to the flags on Percival's car?

Thank you to Mike Stein who shared a photo of of the flags that were removed from the mudguards of the car of British Lt-Gen. Arthur Ernest Percival, the officer in charge of Allied forces at the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942. According to the recounts by Mike Stein's father Jack - on that day as surrender became imminent Percival ordered that as many vehicles as was possible be driven into the harbour to impede the Japanese fleet from an easy berthing and to stop the vehicles falling into Japanese hands.

An Australian Singapore Harbour Board employee, Jack Stein, took the opportunity to remove the flags from Percival’s car for posterity before pushing the car off the wharf as he had been instructed.Later that day Percival surrendered to his Japanese counterpart Ganeral Yamashita at the Ford Motor Factory on Bukit Timah Road.

Jack Stein then with other Harbour Board members escaped to Java and that story will be documented further in this website. The historical flags are now framed and hanging on display in Western Australia.

SS Kuala sunk off Pom Pong Island

The Kuala was sunk off Pom Pong Island and Michael Pether sent me a note that he met with an elderly lady, Mrs. Brenda Macduff, (now 95 years old but with a sharp mind and memory) recently whom he has come to know well in his research.

She was a British nurse, married to a British lawyer who was serving in the Federated Malay States Volunteer Forces, working in Ipoh who ended up nursing in Alexandra Hospital as the Allies retreated into Singapore. She and other Alexandra nurses were strictly ordered to evacuate on 13 February 1942 from Singapore and boarded the "SS Kuala" which was bombed and machine gunned (with about 500 people on board) as it tried to camouflage itself a day later off Pom Pong Island in the Rhio Archipelago. Many (possibly 100-150) were killed in this cruel event and then another 200 (mainly women ,children and wounded) of the complement died when they were "rescued " from Pom Pong island a few days later by the "SS Tanjong Pinang" which was sunk by the Japanese on its way to Sumatra.

Brenda was rescued with the remainder (by the famous Capt Bill Reynolds and his converted Japanese fishing boat - the one that was later renamed the "Krait" and which took the Australian Commandoes to Singapore to blow up Japanese shipping) and continued nursing the wounded on the escape trail across Sumatra to Padang so as a result arrived at Padang after the last evacuation ship had left there - she ended up in a Japanese POW camp in Sumatra for the remainder of the War.

HMS Scorpion