HMAS Yarra, one of a squadron of warships that visited Frankston in 1936, had been built a year earlier at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney. She measured 81m and had a speed of 16.5 knots.
“Many hundreds of persons of all ages visited Frankston pier on Wednesday and yesterday to see four warships riding at anchor half a mile from the shore,” the Frankston and Somerville Standard reported in its edition of Friday, February 28, 1936. “They presented a fine spectacle, particularly at night, when the many lights on the ships made a pleasing picture on the dark water.”
The ships were HMAS Yarra, Voyager, Stuart and Vendetta. On the Saturday morning they were joined by HMAS Canberra, the flagship of the Australian fleet, which had anchored in Western Port on Friday night. The squadron then proceeded to Melbourne, where the ships moored and were opened for the public to visit over the following 10 days.
HMAS Canberra was a heavy cruiser built for the RAN in 1928, but the three destroyers, which were built in 1917 and 1918, had served with the Royal Navy before they were transferred to the RAN in 1933. The sloop Yarra had commissioned into the RAN only one month previously. No doubt those who saw them felt safe with such ships ready to protect them. Sadly, only HMAS Stuart and Vendetta survived World War II.
HMAS Yarra, the newest ship in the squadron, must have looked quite impressive but she was not designed for a naval battle. On March 4, 1942, she was bound for Fremantle escorting a depot ship, a tanker and a minesweeper when, at 6.30am, three Japanese heavy cruisers and two destroyers were sighted. Commander Rankin ordered his convoy to scatter and, hoping to cover its escape, the Yarra began to lay a smokescreen. Yarra turned to meet the enemy, but with only three 10cm guns she had no hope. Each of the heavy cruisers mounted ten 20cm guns and each destroyer had six 12.7cm guns. The greater speed of those ships and the number, size and superior range of their guns left no doubt how the action would end. The four ships were quickly sunk, the last being Yarra, sinking about 10am. Only 13 of her crew survived.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society cannot invite visitors to meetings until further notice.