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HMAS Yarra & Operation Marmalade

HMAS Yarra & Operation Marmalade

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Published by draculavanhelsing
Royal Australian Navy History
Royal Australian Navy History

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: draculavanhelsing on Sep 13, 2012
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07/25/2013

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HINDSIGHT
HMAS YARRA AND OPERATION MARMALADE
During 1941 a number of Australian ships were servingoverseas under British Admiralty control, including theescort sloop HMAS
Yarra 
under Commander WilfredHastings Harrington RAN. In August 1941, Britain andthe Soviet Union undertook a joint invasion andoccupation of Iran, to amongst other things, secureexisting British oil interests vital to the Empire’s capacityto remain in the war.The Persian Gulf Division of the Royal Navy wasrequired to land Indian Army troops in three separateoperations at dawn on 25 August 1941, with the primaryobject being to secure the Anglo-Iranian Oil Companyrefinery on Abadan Island in the Shatt-el Arab River; thewaterway forming part of the frontier between Iran andIraq. The Iranian naval base upstream at Khorramshahrcould pose a serious threat to both the landings and thesafety of the refinery, so it needed to be captured beforethe Iranians could respond to the British assault onAbadan. This would be the responsibility of CommanderUghtred James RN in the sloop HMS
Falmouth 
withHMAS
Yarra 
under his command in an operationcodenamed MARMALADE. The third landing wouldoccur at the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Shahpur wherethe Australian manned armed merchant cruiser HMS
Kanimbla 
would spearhead the capture of the port andsheltering Axis shipping.
Yarra 
sailed from Karachi for service in the Persian Gulfon 12 April 1941 with a ship’s company of nine officersand 129 ratings.
Yarra 
was an efficient and well drilledship but after nearly four months serving through theIraqi summer and with a poor diet, the crew wasexhausted and had suffered high rates of sicknessincluding malaria.
Yarra 
had been transiting the Strait ofHormuz on passage to Bombay in India for rest and refitwhen recalled for the Iranian operation.The town of Khorramshahr lies on the western bank ofthe Karun River as it enters the Shatt-el Arab throughthe tributary of the Haffar Channel and is 45 miles fromthe Persian Gulf. The naval depot was on the oppositeside of the channel and the primary base of the smallIranian navy. Expected to be present alongside atKhorramshahr were the 950 ton sloop
Babr 
, two 331 tongunboats, depot ship
Ivy 
, tug
Neyrou 
, as well as around1000 naval personnel.
Yarra 
would embark a platoon ofIndian soldiers while
Falmouth 
would carry two platoonsfrom C Company of the 3rd Battalion, 10th BaluchRegiment. The requisitioned tug
Souriya 
was alsoattached to the force carrying a Royal Indian Navy (RIN)boarding party and crewed by sailors from
Yarra 
. Allvessels would sail from the Iraqi river port of Basra downthe Shat-el Arab whilst two separate Indian armyformations approached the town from the north toengage an estimated 3000 defending soldiers.
Yarra 
sailed from Basra at 0056 to lead
Falmouth 
and
Souriya 
down river but
Falmouth 
immediately wentaground with a falling tide and could not be immediatelyfloated off. Harrington continued while
Falmouth 
languished on their mud bank for the next 2¼ hours.
Shatt-el Arab Chart (Peter Cannon)Yarra 
arrived off Khorramshahr 0408 and lay off theentrance to the Haffar Channel, the waterway running offthe Shatt al-Arab in north easterly direction. The navalbase covered a 600 yard frontage of the channel on theeastern bank where five ‘T’ jetties provided berthing forIranian vessels. The first ship alongside leading up thechannel was the sloop
Babr 
with the tug
Neyrou 
ahead ofher then the depot ship
Ivy 
followed by the two gunboats
Charogh 
and
Simorgh 
lying alongside one another.
 Yarra 
was to board and capture the two gunboats whilst
Falmouth 
secured
Babr 
, if at all possible; capturing shipsintact and minimising casualties being the aim. But asHarrington was now unsupported, he decided to destroy
Babr 
during his approach into Khorramshahr before shehad a chance to react to the assault. Harrington hadstopped behind a British cargo ship, the
Barala 
, anchoredmidstream in order to conceal his ship from the basewhilst waiting for the Abadan assault to go in; preservingthe element of surprise at the oil refinery being of moreconcern than the execution of his own assault.The first troops went ashore at Abadan at 0410. TheBritish sloop HMS
Shoreham 
opened fire three minuteslater on
Babr’s 
sister ship
Palang 
lying alongside therefinery and immediately set her on fire. The gunfire, onlyabout 8 miles distant, could clearly be seen and heardfrom
Yarra’s 
bridge and at this point Harrington orderedthe ship underway. As
Babr 
came into view off
Yarra’s 
 port bow it became apparent that there need not havebeen any concern at achieving surprise as the barrackswere deserted. A similar state of preparedness prevailedaboard the Iranian warships as most of their crews wereashore on overnight leave.
Yarra 
picked up speed, cleared
Barala 
, and approached
Babr 
. The range was so short that when the Rangefinder-Director crew attempted to open fire they found that thefire control system’s safety depression cut off would notallow the electrical firing circuits to close.
Yarra’s 
crew
SEA POWER CENTRE - AUSTRALIAISSUE 07, NOVEMBER 2011

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