Fragment of Naval Alamo:

"The Heroic Last Months of the Asiatic Fleet: Dec 1941-March 1942"

 A. P."Tony" Tully

  On 4 March the carnage continued, with the same pattern of disaster mingled with a few miraculous escapes. At 0610 in position "Latitude south 12 degrees 15 minutes, longitude East 110 degrees 10 minutes" Kondo's Crudiv 4 (ATAGO, TAKAO, MAYA) and DesDiv 4's ARASHI and NOWAKI encountered a full convoy of refugees, which had only the Australian sloop YARRA and the British minesweeper MMS-51 as guards.

Without hesitation in the face of such overpowering firepower, LtCdr. R.W. Rankin swung his YARRA about and attacked the Japanese warships head on while his charges put on flank speed and scattered. Rankin had only three paltry 4-inch guns to fight with, and to say HMAS YARRA was hopelessly outmatched and out-ranged is still understatement. The Japanese heavy cruisers opened fire at 11 miles, firing from nearly the horizon on the bold challenger. The Japanese eight-inch shells came hurtling in at the rate of some thirty every minute, smashing into the YARRA as she struggled to get into range to use her guns. The sloops gunnery control tower was hit, and fires broke out. When the range spun down to to six miles, YARRA was at last able to open fire in turn. For all the good it could do.

Despite this courageous stand, the Japanese had too many guns and ships to even be tied down dealing with YARRA alone. Other guns were able to be targeted on the fleeing merchant ships and minesweeper simultaneously, blasting each in turn as if in a training exercise. Hit repeatedly at the onset, the depot ship ANKING was first to be sunk, going under within ten minutes of the start of the action with the loss of one officer and twenty-five ratings. The tanker FRANCOL was also taking shell-hits and flooding, but lingered on. The Minesweeper MMS-51 was overhauled by the ARASHI and pounded by her pom-pom guns and swiftly disabled.

That left YARRA alone on the sea. The cruisers had ceased fire now, but the ARASHI and NOWAKI continued to fire at close range as they circled the doomed ship. Shells had flooded the engine room and knocked out the steering and she was dead in the water and listing heavily to port. But her guns still fired back. Seeing that the entire convoy had been annihilated and the ship was sinking, the brave Rankin realized the situation was hopeless. Reluctantly, he gave the order to abandon ship. Only moments after, he was killed when an eight-inch salvo blasted the bridge into ruins. It was left to the bosun's mate to repeat the abandon order by blowing on his whistle. The dauntless Taylor ignored the order, and kept his gun in action to the end in a final act of defiance. He was still aboard and working his 4-inch when the YARRA broke in half and sank at 0800. By a tragic irony, the convoy's defender was thus first to engage but the last to go down. (34 initial survivors - but ultimately only 13 rescued five days later by Dutch sub K-X1 - out of crew of 151, and the MMS-51 was scuttled by her own crew when capture was imminent (14 survivors). Kondo then blasted the convoy, sinking the British tanker FRANCOL,. Later that afternoon they caught up with and seized two other Dutch refugees, the TJISAROEA and the DUYMAER VAN TWIST. This finally ended Kondo's rampage, whose cruisers and escort returned to Staring Bay around noon 7 March.

Nagumo's ships were also at work that day. Kido Butai was shaping course toward Java's southwest coast to launch a strike scheduled for 5 March. On 4 March the CHIKUMA and URAKAZE of the van encountered the burning wreck of the Dutch steamship ENGGANO in position 11-00'S, 108-00'E. They promptly dispatched the "armed merchant ship" with gunfire, the ENGGANO sinking at 1043.

The next day, on 5 March, CarDivs 1 and 2 launched and attacked Tjilatjap, sinking or damaging a number of freighters. Even seaplanes from the TONE and CHIKUMA participated in the attack, and later searched the sea for survivors. On 6 March a TONE plane rescued one British POW. On 7 March the KONGO and HARUNA shelled Christmas Island, which was also pounded by planes from Cardiv 2 for good measure. Some of these aircraft from SORYU stumbled upon and sank the Dutch freighter POELAU BRAS northwest of Christmas Island in position 10-00'S, 105-00'E. With this, Nagumo's ships were also finally done, and after a recon of Sunda Strait on 8 March, the task force returned to Staring Bay at 1620 11 March. Kondo's ships had already returned four days prior.

When Kondo dropped anchor back in Staring Bay, the Dutch resistance on Java had scarcely a day left remaining. Tjilatjap was overrun on 8 March, and with it the struggle had reached its ragged end. The very next day General Ter Poorten surrendered Java unconditionally to Japan. With it both Japan's "Third Phase of First-Stage Operations" and the Allied Asiatic Fleet's brave struggle against hopeless odds came to a close.



Lacroix & Wells, "Japanese Cruisers of World War II"

Internet references: (Yarra account)