Robert William Rankin

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Robert Rankin
Robert William Rankin.jpg
Robert Rankin as commander of HMAS Yarra in 1942.
Born 3 June 1907
Cobar, New South Wales
Died 4 March 1942(1942-03-04) (aged 34)
Indian Ocean
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch  Royal Australian Navy
Years of service 1921–1942
Rank Lieutenant Commander
Commands held HMAS Yarra

Second World War

Robert William Rankin (3 June 1907 – 4 March 1942) was a Royal Australian Navy officer who was killed in action during the Second World War. He is one of six people to have a Collins class submarine named after him.

Early life[edit]

Rankin was born in Cobar, New South Wales.

Naval career[edit]

He joined the Royal Australian Naval College in 1921. His first assignments were as a midshipman on board HMAS Brisbane and later HMAS Melbourne, following these appointments Rankin was sent to the Royal Navy in 1926 to undergo training. On the completion of his studies in England, he joined the newly commissioned HMAS Canberra and returned to Australia where he was promoted lieutenant in August 1929.

Rankin joined HMAS Moresby on 18 January 1934 and assisted in charting the waters of Australian and New Guinea until February 1938. Rankin was promoted lieutenant commander in August 1937 and sent to Britain on exchange duty, he was posted to HMS Gleaner, a minesweeper and following courses at HMS Dryad, he was posted to the repair ship HMS Resource as first lieutenant. Rankin served with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and South Atlantic in the early years of the war. Rankin arrived back in New South Wales during September 1941.

In early 1942, following the outbreak of war with Japan, he was posted to the sloop HMAS Yarra. On 5 February 1942, while under air attack near Singapore, Yarra took on board 1,804 people from the SS Empress of Asia, a troopship which had caught fire. He was commended for his actions during the rescue.

Rankin assumed command of Yarra on 11 February and was tasked mainly with escort duties around the Dutch East Indies. At 6.30am on 4 March, while escorting a small convoy from Java to Australia, Yarra encountered a Japanese naval force comprising three cruisers and two destroyers. Rankin immediately transmitted a sighting report, ordered the convoy to scatter, and placed Yarra between the enemy and the convoy. The sloop made smoke and engaged the vastly superior Japanese force, with her 4-inch guns. Rankin gave the order to abandon ship at around 8 am. A direct hit on the bridge killed him shortly afterwards. Of the 151 on aboard Yarra, only 13 were rescued.

Memorials and tributes[edit]

In honour of Robert Rankin the 6th and final Collins class submarine, HMAS Rankin was named in his honour. The ship's motto is "Defend the Weak", a reference to the efforts of Robert Rankin and Yarra to defend the unarmed convoy ships.

A group of Australian naval historians and others are campaigning Rankin to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross (as was awarded to Captain Edward Fogarty Fegen of HMS Jervis Bay, for similarly defending a convoy against hopeless odds). A website has been set up for the campaign.

A plaque in his memory, is at the base of a tree, in Memorial Ave, Merrylands, NSW (Outside the Uniting Church).