It was dawn when the lookout on the Australian warship Yarra spotted the masts of Japanese ships.
Singapore fell the fortnight before and Darwin had been bombed with more than 240 people killed and eight ships sunk.
The Japanese were closing in on Java and the Yarra’s Lieutenant Commander R.W. Rankin was ordered to withdraw and escort three ships to Fremantle.
Many of his 151 crew were returning to Australia after months at war and hopes were high.
The enemy wasn’t seen for the first two days of the voyage, except for a distant shadow of an aircraft.
But on March 4, 1942 – as the crew were filing in to breakfast at 6.30am – the dreaded alarm rung out.
They’d been spotted by Japan’s Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo and his three cruisers and two destroyers were upon them.
Lieutenant Commander Rankin ordered the convoy to disperse and positioned the Yarra between them and the enemy.
The valiant act was futile.
The Japanese had more guns with longer range.
They comfortably sat back and bombarded the Australians from afar.
Depot ship Anking sank within minutes, mine sweeper MMS.51 followed, then tanker Francol went down in flames by 7.30am.
The Yarra was without power and adrift and its sick bay and engine room destroyed.
Two of its anti-aircraft guns were damaged and Leading Seaman Ronald Taylor clenched onto the last until it too fell silent.
Just 34 crew from the Yarra escaped, including Queenslander Reg Manthey.
They drifted out to sea.
One seaman was so badly injured from shrapnel his lungs could be seen beating and straining with each breath, Reg Manthey’s son Peter told AAP.
The bigger men died first.
Others became delirious.
Some started drinking sea water and others jumped into the sea seeing visions of their wives.
The sharks circled.
On the fifth day, the weathered and beaten 13 men were rescued by a Dutch submarine.
Reg Manthey was one of the lucky few.
He went on to become a carpenter and raised Peter in Brisbane with his wife Betty.
He didn’t talk much about the war.
But his nerves gave away the trauma he endured.
“That vintage were pretty old school, they were tough, they didn’t show emotion,” Peter, 64, says of his dad.
“But you can’t go through that and not have it affect you.
“When you get back, you want to forget it, but when you get older, you can’t help but remember it.
“The action of the Yarra has been described as the most heroic event ever by the Australian navy.”
Reg took Peter to Anzac services each year until his death in 2004.
Just days before his 83rd birthday, Reg succumbed to pneumonia in a veterans’ hospital after a routine surgery.
The thought of Reg passing so simply still torments Peter, considering his father survived enemy fire and a pitiful life raft.
“It was a hard pill to swallow.”
Reg was the last from the Yarra to die.
Betty passed away 18 months later.
Their ashes were scattered into the sea with the remains of 19 other veterans at Currumbin on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Each year the RSL holds a burial at sea.
Before first light, 16 boats rowed off shore and ashes were scattered as the Ode of Remembrance was recited.
Pipers played Amazing Grace as thousands of people descend on Elephant Rock to watch on, including Peter, his wife, and two daughters.
They decided it was a fitting and suitable resting place for a father and grandfather whose life was shaped by war and sea.