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AHS Centaur

AHS Centaur
Capacity: 72 passengers (50 first class, 22 second class) 450 cattle Cargo in four holds 39 officers, 29 ratings Installed in 1939: 1 x 4-inch (100 mm) Mark IX naval gun, 2 x .303 Vickers machine guns, 2 x paravanes, degaussing equipment

Crew: Armament:

AHS Centaur following her conversion to hospital ship. The Red Cross designation "47" can be seen on the bow. Career (British Merchant Navy) Name: Namesake: Owner: Ordered: Builder: Centaur The Greek mythological creature Ocean Steamship Company (Alfred Holt’s Blue Funnel Line) 1923 Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Greenock 16 November 1923 1924 29 August 1924 Liverpool, England (registered) Fremantle, Western Australia (actual)

Career (2nd Australian Imperial Force) Name: Acquired: Reclassified: Homeport: Identification: Fate: AHS Centaur 4 January 1943 Hospital ship Sydney, New South Wales Red Cross Ship 47 Torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-177 on 14 May 1943

General characteristics as hospital ship Capacity: Crew: Armament: 252 bed-patients 75 crew, 65 permanent Army medical staff All weapons removed, degaussing equipment remained

Laid down: Launched: Completed: Homeport:

General characteristics as merchant vessel Tonnage: Length: Beam: Draught: Propulsion: 3,222 gross tonnes 96 metres (310 ft) 14.7 metres (48 ft) 6.1 metres (20 ft) Single screw; 4-stroke, 6 cylinder Burmeister and Wain diesel oil engine providing 1,400 bhp 12.5 knots (23.2 km/h)


Australian Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur[I] was a hospital ship which was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland, Australia, on 14 May 1943. Of the 332 medical personnel and civilian crew aboard, 268 were killed. The Scottish-built vessel was launched in 1924 as a combination passenger liner/ freighter and operated a trade route between Western Australia and Singapore via Indonesia, carrying passengers, cargo, and livestock. Centaur served in both civilian and military capabilities during her career, and she was involved in recovering German survivors of the engagement between HMAS Sydney and Kormoran.


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Following her early-1943 conversion to a hospital ship, Centaur served as a medical transport between Papua New Guinea and Australia. Before dawn on 14 May 1943, while on her second voyage, Centaur was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine off North Stradbroke Island, Queensland. The majority of the 332 aboard died in the attack and the 64 survivors had to wait for 36 hours before they were rescued. The attack resulted in public outrage as it was considered to be a war crime. Protests were made by the Australian and British governments to Japan and efforts were made to discover the people responsible so they could be tried at a war crimes tribunal. Despite this, it was not until 1979 that the attacking submarine, I-177, was officially identified. The reason for the attack is unknown, and the events surrounding the sinking of Centaur are controversial because it has been attested that she may have been in breach of the international conventions that should have protected her. The ship is yet to be discovered: claims of discovery were made in 1995, but the wreck was later proven to be another ship. Following the successful discovery of HMAS Sydney in 2008, there have been efforts to organise and fund a new search for Centaur.

AHS Centaur
hull were primarily for livestock, they could instead be used as additional cargo space.[1][4] The hull of the ship was a ’turret deck’ design; decks below the waterline were wider than those above water, and a flat, reinforced hull allowed the ship to rest on the bottom.[1] Centaur was amongst the first civilian vessels to be equipped with a diesel engine.[5] One of the most visible characteristics was the 35-foot (11 m) smokestack, the extreme size was more a concession to tradition than of practical advantage on a dieselpowered vessel.[1] In December 1939, Centaur underwent a minor refit in Hong Kong, receiving a new propeller and having a supercharger fitted to the engine.[6] The supercharger broke down in April 1942, but could not be repaired due to equipment shortages and restricted dockyard access caused by World War II.[7]

Hospital ship refit

Design and construction
Original design
In early 1923, the Ocean Steamship Company (better known as Alfred Holt’s Blue Funnel Line) decided that a new vessel would be required to replace the aging Charon on the West Australia to Singapore trade route.[1] The vessel had to be capable of simultaneously transporting passengers, cargo, and livestock.[1] She also had to be capable of resting on mud flats out of the water as the tidal variance in ports at the northern end of Western Australia was as great as eight metres.[2] Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Greenock, Scotland was chosen to build Centaur.[1] The ship’s keel was laid on 16 November 1923, with the ship ready for collection by 29 August 1924.[1] Constructed at a cost of £146,750 pounds sterling, Centaur was designed to carry 72 passengers and 450 cattle.[1][3] Cargo was carried in four holds, and while the two decks within the One of Centaur’s wards shortly after her conversion to a hospital ship At the beginning of 1943, Centaur was placed at the disposal of the Australian Department of Defence for conversion to a hospital ship.[8] The conversion was performed by United Ship Services in Melbourne, Australia, and was initially estimated to cost AU£20,000.[9] The cost increased to almost AU£55,000, for a variety of reasons.[9] It was originally intended for the ship to travel between ports in New Guinea and Townsville, Queensland, Australia.[9] Increasing casualty numbers in the New Guinea campaign meant that the hospitals in Queensland would quickly become unable to deal with the quantity of the casualties and the nature of their injuries, so a longer voyage to Sydney was required.[9]


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The Army demanded that additional facilities and conversions be added to the original plans such as expanded bathing and washing facilities, hot water made available to all parts of the ship through installation of a calorifier, the rerouting of all steam pipes away from patient areas, and ventilation arrangements suitable for tropical conditions.[9] The unions representing the ship’s crew requested improved living and dining conditions, including new sinks in the food preparation areas and the replacement of flooring in the quarters and mess rooms.[9] When AHS Centaur was relaunched on 12 March 1943, she was equipped with an operating theatre, dispensary, two wards (located on the former cattle decks), and a dental surgery, along with quarters for seventy five crew and sixty five permanent Army medical staff.[10][11] To maintain the ship’s mean draught of 6.1 metres (20 ft), 900 kilograms (2,000 lb) of iron stone were distributed through the cargo holds as ballast.[9] AHS Centaur was capable of voyages of 18 days before resupply and could carry just over 250 bedridden patients.[12]

AHS Centaur
Abrolhos Archipelago, where she was in danger of being wrecked by the reefs in the area.[13] Centaur responded to the distress signal and towed Kyo Maru II to Geraldton, Western Australia.[13]

1939 to 1942

Operational history
1924 to 1938
When Centaur entered service at the end of 1924, the Fremantle-Java-Singapore trade route was being serviced by two other Blue Funnel Line vessels; Gorgon (which remained in service until 1928) and Charon (which Centaur was replacing).[13] Centaur’s route ran from Fremantle up the Western Australian coast to the Bali Strait, Surabaya, Semarang, Batavia and Singapore.[2] Centaur operated as a cross between a tramp steamer and a freight liner; as while she travelled a set route, stops at ports located along that route varied between journeys.[13] From 1928 until sometime in the 1930s, Centaur remained alone on her route, but the increase in trade along this route prompted Blue Funnel Line to reassign Gorgon and assign the new Charon to work alongside Centaur.[14] A highlight of Centaur’s pre-war career was the rescue of the 385 ton Japanese whale-chaser Kyo Maru II in November 1938.[15] Kyo Maru II had developed boiler problems while returning from the Antarctic and was drifting towards the Houtman

Survivors from Kormoran under tow in Centaur’s lifeboats As a vessel of the British Merchant Navy, Centaur was affected by the British Parliament’s 1939 outline of how the Merchant Navy would respond to the declaration of war, primarily submission to the Admiralty in all matters excluding the crewing and management of vessels.[16] Following the outbreak of World War II on 3 September, 1939, Centaur was equipped with a stern mounted 4-inch (100 mm) Mark IX naval gun and two .303 Vickers machine guns located on the bridge wings for protection against Axis warships and aircraft. She was also fitted with port and starboard paravanes and degaussing equipment for protection against naval mines.[17] The weapons were removed during


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
the hospital ship refit, although the anti-mine countermeasures remained.[18] Centaur initially remained in service on her original trade route.[16] On 26 November 1941, a damaged lifeboat carrying 62 Kriegsmarine sailors and officers was spotted by an aircraft looking for the missing cruiser HMAS Sydney; the aircraft directed Centaur to the lifeboat.[19] Upon encountering the lifeboat, food was lowered to its 62 occupants, while one person was allowed onboard to explain the situation.[20] Initially posing as a Norwegian merchant navy officer, the man quickly revealed that he was the first officer of the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran, and that the lifeboat contained crew, officers, and Captain Theodor Detmers, who had survived Kormoran’s sinking after her battle with HMAS Sydney seven days earlier.[20] Unwilling to leave the shipwrecked men at sea, but afraid of having his ship captured by the Germans, Centaur’s Master decided to take the lifeboat in tow, after allowing nine wounded men aboard.[21] During the tow towards Carnarvon, Western Australia, the lifeboat was swamped and partially sunk by rough seas: two of Centaur’s lifeboats were lowered to carry the Germans.[21] On arrival in Carnarvon, the Germans were relocated to the number one cargo hold.[21] An additional 100 Kormoran survivors had been collected by other ships; they and 40 Army guards were loaded aboard Centaur, which transported the prisoners to a prisoner-of-war camp in Fremantle.[20] Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the Malayan Campaign on 7 December 1941, Centaur’s run was curtailed to Broome, Western Australia.[7] On 6 October 1942, Centaur was ordered to sail to Queensland, where she began runs between the east coast of Australia and New Guinea, carrying war materiel.[22]

AHS Centaur
region, none were suitable for conversion to a hospital ship, and a request to the British Ministry of Shipping placed Centaur at the disposal of the Australian military on 4 January 1943.[8] The conversion work began on 9 January and Centaur was commissioned as an Australian Hospital Ship on 1 March.[23] Data on the ship’s identifying markings and the layout of features such as funnel and masts was provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross during the first week of February 1943, who in turn provided the information to the Japanese on 5 February.[23] This information was also circulated and promoted by the press and media.[24] During her conversion, Centaur was painted with the markings of a hospital ship as detailed in Article 5 of the 10th section of the Hague Convention of 1907; white hull with a green band interspersed by three red crosses on each flank of the hull, white superstructure, multiple large red crosses positioned so that the ship’s status would be visible from both sea and air, and the identification number 47 on the bows.[25] At night, the markings were illuminated by a combination of internal and external lights.[26] Centaur entered operation as a hospital ship on 12 March 1943.[27] The early stages of Centaur’s first voyage as a hospital ship were test and transport runs; the initial run from Melbourne to Sydney had caused the Master, Chief Engineer, and Chief Medical Officer to compose a long list of defects requiring attention.[28] Following repairs she conducted a test run to transport wounded servicemen from Townsville to Brisbane, to ensure that she was capable of fulfilling the role of a medical vessel.[27] Once this had been ascertained, Centaur was tasked with the delivery of medical personnel to Port Moresby, New Guinea, returning to Brisbane with Australian and American wounded along with a small number of wounded Japanese prisoners of war.[29] Arriving in Sydney on 8 May 1943, Centaur was re-provisioned at Darling Harbour, before departing for Cairns, Queensland on 12 May 1943.[30] From there, her destination was again New Guinea.[30] On board at the time were 74 crew, 8 Army officers, 12 female Army nurses, 45 other Army personnel, 192 soldiers from the 2/12th Field Ambulance, and 1 Torres Strait ship pilot.[31][32] Most of the female nurses had transferred from the hospital ship Oranje,[33] and all of

Following Japan’s entry into World War II, it became clear that the three hospital ships currently serving Australia—Manunda, Wanganella, and Oranje—would not be able to operate in the shallow waters typical of Maritime Southeast Asia, so a new hospital ship would be required.[8] Of the Australian Merchant Navy vessels able to operate in this


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the male Army personnel aboard were medical staff.[34] During the loading process there was an incident when the ambulance drivers attached to the 2/12th attempted to bring their rifles and personal supplies of ammunition aboard.[35] This was met with disapproval from Centaur’s Master and Chief Medical Officer, and raised concerns amongst the crew and wharf labourers that Centaur would be transporting military supplies or commandos to New Guinea: the rifles were not allowed onboard until Centaur’s Master received official reassurance that the ambulance drivers were allowed to carry weapons under the Hague Convention (specifically Article 8), as they were used "for the maintenance of order and the defence of the wounded."[30][36] The remaining cargo was searched by the crew and labourers for additional weapons and munitions.[36]

AHS Centaur

Survivor breakdown[44] Group Crew[III] Army officers Army nurses Embarked Survived 75 8 12 30 0 1 32

2/12th 192 Field Ambulance Other Army Total 45 332

1 64

At approximately 4:10 a.m. on 14 May 1943, while on her second run from Sydney to Port Moresby, Centaur was torpedoed by an unknown and unsighted submarine.[37] The torpedo struck the portside oil fuel tank approximately two metres below the waterline, creating a hole 8 to 10 metres (26 to 33 ft) across, igniting the fuel, and setting the ship on fire from the bridge aft.[31][38] Many of those onboard were immediately killed by concussion or burned to death.[39] Centaur quickly took on water through the impact site, rolled to port, then began to sink bowfirst in several hundred metres of water,[II] submerging completely in less than three minutes.[31] The rapid sinking prevented the deployment of lifeboats, although two broke off from Centaur as she sank, along with several damaged liferafts.[40][41] Centaur is recorded to have sunk at a point approximately 24 nautical miles (44 km) east-northeast of Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland.[42] This position was extrapolated from the dead reckoning position calculated at 4:00 a.m. by Second Officer Richard G. Rippon at the end of his watch, and taking into consideration Centaur’s course and estimated speed at the time of the attack.[43]

Of the 332 persons onboard at the time of the sinking, only 64 survivors were rescued.[45] At the time of the attack, most of the crew and passengers were asleep and had little chance to escape.[40] It was estimated that up to 200 people may have been alive at the time Centaur submerged.[46] Several who made it off the ship later died from shrapnel wounds or burns, while others were unable to find support and drowned.[46][47] The survivors spent 36 hours in the water, using barrels, wreckage, and the two damaged lifeboats for flotation.[40] During this time, they drifted approximately 19.6 nautical miles (36.3 km) north east of Centaur’s calculated point of sinking and spread out over an area of 2 nautical miles (3.7 km).[23][48] At least four ships and several aircraft were seen by the survivors, but their attention was not attracted.[35] At the time of rescue, the survivors had gathered into two large and three small groups, with several more floating alone.[23] Amongst those recovered were Sister Ellen Savage, the only surviving nurse from twelve aboard, Leslie Outridge, the only surviving doctor from eighteen aboard, Richard G. Rippon, second officer and most senior surviving crewmember, and Richard Salt, the Torres Strait ship pilot.[49][50] In 1944, Ellen Savage was presented with the George Medal for her role during the 36-hour wait for rescue; providing medical care, boosting morale, and displaying great personal courage.[51][52]



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

AHS Centaur
that anyone in Australia had learned of the attack on Centaur.[45] The rescue of the 64 survivors took an hour and twenty minutes, although Mugford remained in the area until dark, searching an area of approximately 7 by 14 nautical miles (13 km × 26 km) for additional survivors.[54][57] After darkness fell, Mugford returned to Brisbane, arriving shortly before midnight.[45] Further searches of the waters off North Stradbroke Island were made by USS Helm during the night of 15 May until 6:00 p.m. on 16 May, and by HMAS Lithgow and four motor torpedo boats from 16 to 21 May, with neither search finding more survivors.[23][58]

At the time of the attack, none of Centaur’s crew witnessed who or what had attacked the ship. However, due to the position of Centaur at the time of the attack, the distance from shore, and the depth, it was concluded that she was torpedoed by one of the Japanese submarines known to be operating off the Australian east coast at the time.[40] Several survivors later claimed to have heard the attacking submarine moving on the surface while they were adrift, and the submarine was seen by the ship’s cook, Francis Martin, who was floating alone on a hatch cover, out of sight from the main groups.[59] Martin described the submarine to Naval Intelligence following the survivors’ return to land; his description matched the profile of a KD7 type Kaidai class submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy.[59] At the time of the attack, three KD7 Kaidais were operating off Australia’s east coast: I-177, I-178, and I-180.[40] None of these submarines survived the war; I-177 was sunk by USS Samuel S. Miles on 3 October 1944,[60] I-178 by USS Patterson on 25 August 1943,[61] and I-180 by USS Gilmore on 26 April 1944.[62] In December 1943, following official protests, the Japanese Government issued a statement formally denying responsibility for the sinking of Centaur.[63] Records provided by the Japanese following the war also did not acknowledge responsibility.[61] Historians originally concluded that I-178 or I-180 was responsible; the former was considered to be more likely as she had served in Australian waters the longest of any Japanese submarine at the time, but had claimed no kills in the three month period surrounding

Sister Ellen Savage was the sole survivor of the 12 female nurses on board Centaur at the time of the ship’s sinking On the morning of 15 May 1943, American destroyer USS Mugford departed Brisbane to escort the 11,063 ton New Zealand freighter Sussex on the first stage of the latter’s trans-Tasman voyage.[53] At 2:00 p.m., a RAAF Avro Anson of No. 71 Squadron which was providing an anti-submarine watch for the two vessels spotted an object on the horizon which, on inspection by the two crew, was revealed to be a group of shipwreck survivors.[54] The aircraft signalled Mugford, communicating by aldis lamp that survivors were in the water and required rescuing.[54] Mugford’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Howard Corey, ordered Sussex to continue alone while Mugford collected the survivors.[54][55] Mugford’s crew learned from the first group that they were from Centaur.[55] Marksmen were positioned around the ship to shoot sharks, while seamen stood ready to dive in and assist the wounded.[56] Mugford’s medical staff was present to inspect each person as they came aboard and provide necessary medical care.[56] At 2:14 p.m., Corey made contact with the Naval Officer-in-Charge in Brisbane and advised him of the situation.[45] It was the first


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Centaur’s sinking.[61] Identification of the attacking submarine was not made possible until 1979, when Volume 83 of the official Japanese War History Series stated that I-177, under Lieutenant Commander Hajime Nakagawa, was the responsible vessel.[63] Nakagawa survived the war, having been transferred from I-177 to I-37 in September 1943.[64] Although Centaur’s sinking was a war crime, Nakagawa was not tried for sinking a hospital ship as, despite a series of investigations between 1944 and 1948, including the interrogation of Nakagawa and the commanders of the other submarines operating in Australian waters at the time, the Allies were unable to establish beyond reasonable doubt which submarine was the attacker.[65] The Centaur case file was closed on 14 December 1948, with no direct proof as to the identity of the responsible submarine.[66] It was not opened again by any of the Allied Governments.[66] Nakagawa was found guilty as a Class B war criminal for ordering the machinegunning of survivors from three British merchant vessels torpedoed by I-37 in 1944; British Chivalry on 22 February, Sutlej on 24 February, and Ascott on 29 February.[64] His defence, that he was acting under orders from Vice Admiral Shiro Takasu, failed, and he was sentenced to four years imprisonment at Sugamo Prison.[64] Nakagawa refused to speak on the subject of the attack on Centaur, even after Japan’s War History Series implicated him in her sinking.[67] Nakagawa died in 1991.[59]

AHS Centaur

Public reaction
The media were notified of Centaur’s sinking on 17 May 1943, but were ordered not to release the news until it had been announced in Parliament by Prime Minister John Curtin.[68] This announcement was made on the afternoon of 17 May.[69] News of the attack made front pages throughout the world, including The Times of London, The New York Times, and the Montreal Gazette.[70] In some newspapers, the news took precedence over the ’Dambuster’ raids performed in Europe by No. 617 Squadron RAF.[71] The initial public reaction to the attack on Centaur was one of outrage, significantly different to that displayed when Australian warships had been lost, or even when merchant ships had been sunk in Australian waters.[72] As a hospital ship, the attack was a breach of the tenth section of the Hague Convention of 1907, and as such was a war crime.[73] The sinking of Centaur drew strong reactions from both Prime Minister Curtin and General Douglas MacArthur. Curtin stated that the sinking was "an entirely inexcusable act, undertaken in violation of the convention to which Japan is a party and of all the principles of common humanity.",[74] while MacArthur reflected the common Australian view when he stated that the sinking was an example of Japanese "limitless savagery".[75] Politicians urged the public to use their rage to fuel the war effort.[76] Centaur became a symbol of Australia’s determination to defeat what appeared to be a brutal and uncompromising enemy.[77] The Australian Government produced posters depicting the sinking, which called for Australians to "Avenge the Nurses" by working to produce materiel, purchasing war bonds, or enlisting in the armed forces.[77] People also expressed their sympathy towards the crew, with several efforts to fund a new hospital ship established.[76] The councillors of Caulfield, Victoria organised a fund to replace the lost medical equipment, opening with a donation of AU£2,000.[76] Those who worked on Centaur’s conversion contributed money towards a replacement, and employees of Ansett Airways pledged to donate an hour’s pay towards the fitting out of such a replacement.[76] With some people unable to believe that the Japanese would be so ruthless, rumours began to spread almost immediately after


A propaganda poster calling for Australians to avenge the sinking of Centaur


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news of the attack was made public.[78] The most common rumour was that Centaur had been carrying munitions or commandos at the time of her sinking, with the Japanese made aware of this prior to her departure.[78] This stemmed from the incident involving the ambulance drivers’ weapons during loading in Sydney.[35]

AHS Centaur
before considering the removal of hospital ship markings.[82] When the consideration was made that the ambulance drivers’ weapons incident just prior to Centaur’s voyage may have been partially responsible for the attack, it led to the tightening of rules regarding who was allowed to travel on a hospital ship.[35] Some quasi-medical staff, including repatriation teams, were no longer permitted aboard, while ambulance drivers had to transfer from the regular Army to the Australian Army Medical Corps before they were allowed aboard, although they were still permitted to carry their unloaded weapons and ammunition.[35][83]

Military reaction

Official protests
After consultation with the Australian armed forces, General MacArthur, the Admiralty and the Australian Government, an official protest was sent to the Japanese, which passed its way through diplomatic channels and was received by the Japanese Government on 29 May 1943.[84] At around the same time, the International Committee of the Red Cross sent a protest on behalf of the main Allied Red Cross organisations to the Japanese Red Cross.[84] On 26 December 1943, a response to the Australian protest arrived.[81] It stated that the Japanese Government had no information justifying the allegation made, and therefore took no responsibility for what happened.[81] The reply counter-protested that nine Japanese hospital ships had been attacked by the Allies, although these claims were directed against the United States, not Australia.[35][81] Although several later exchanges were made, the lack of progress saw the British Government inform the Australian Prime Minister on 14 November that no further communications would be made on the loss of Centaur.[85]

A war loan poster captioned "Save for the brave. Let us avenge the Nurses." displayed at an Australian Army workshop in Lae, New Guinea in September 1944. The attack was universally condemned by Australian servicemen, who commonly believed that the attack on Centaur had been carried out deliberately and in full knowledge of her status.[79] Six days after the attack on Centaur, a request was made by the Australian Department of Defence that the identification markings and lights be removed from Australian hospital ship Manunda, weapons be installed, and that she begin to sail blacked out and under escort.[80] The conversion was performed, although efforts by the Department of the Navy, the Admiralty, and authorities in New Zealand and the United States of America caused the completed conversion to be undone.[80] The cost of the roundabout work came to £12,500, and left Manunda out of service for three months.[81] On 9 June 1943, communications between the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the subject of hospital ships contained a section referring to this incident, with the conclusion that the attack on Centaur was the work of an irresponsible commander, and that it would be better to wait until further Japanese attacks had been made

Reasons for attack
The torpedo attack on Centaur was not an isolated incident. Between June 1942 and December 1944, a total of 27 Japanese submarines operated in Australian waters.[86] These submarines attacked almost 50 merchant vessels, with 20 sinkings confirmed to be the result of a Japanese attack, and an additional 9 unconfirmed.[86] This was part of a


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concentrated Japanese effort to destroy supply convoys travelling between Australia and New Guinea.[87] Several actions on Centaur’s part may have contributed to her demise. Centaur was under orders to sail well out to sea until reaching the Great Barrier Reef: her course keeping her between 50 and 150 nautical miles (90 and 280 km) from shore.[88] Centaur’s Master, believing he had been given a route intended for a merchant vessel, established a new course closer to land, but on the seaward side of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) in depth.[89] Also, Centaur was sailing completely illuminated, with the exception of the two bow floodlights.[31] These had been switched off as they interfered with visibility from the bridge.[31] There are three main theories as to why Centaur was attacked:

AHS Centaur

Nakagawa unaware
This theory states that Nakagawa was unaware that the vessel he was attacking was a hospital ship, and that the sinking was an ’unfortunate accident’.[95] This view was supported by several Japanese officers, both before and after the revelation that Nakagawa was responsible.[95] Amongst them was Lieutenant Commander Zenji Orita, who took command of I-177 after Nakagawa.[95] Orita did not hear anything from the crew about having sunk a hospital ship, not even rumours, and later claimed that if I-177 had knowingly attacked Centaur, he would have learned this from the crew’s gossip.[95] When compared to the other contemporary Australian hospital ships, Centaur was by far the smallest, approximately a third of the size of Manunda or Wanganella.[8] Centaur was also slightly shorter in length than I-177.[79] The observation of Centaur was made through a periscope, and some submarine officers attest that at 1,500 metres (4,900 ft), the optimum range of attack for World War II Japanese submarines, some officers would not be able to identify the target ship’s class or pennant number.[96] With Centaur’s bow floodlights out, and with the observation of the target made through the periscope, there is a possibility Nakagawa would not have seen the hospital ship’s markings if he had been in the right position.[96] However, apart from the two bow floodlights, Centaur was lit up brilliantly.[92] To attack, I-177 would have had to approach from abeam of Centaur, with the latter illuminated by both its own lights and a full moon.[96]

Centaur in breach
This theory stems from the various rumours spreading after Centaur’s sinking. If Centaur had been in breach of the Hague Convention of 1907, and someone had informed the Japanese of this, I-177 may have been under valid orders to attack.[90] When Centaur left Sydney, her decks were packed with greenuniformed men, and as Field Ambulance uniforms were only distinguishable from other Army uniforms by badge insignia and the colouration of the cloth band ringing the hat, a distant observer could conclude that the hospital ship was carrying soldiers.[91] Another consideration was that observers of the loading in Sydney would have seen the ambulance drivers bring their weapons aboard and come to a similar conclusion.[36] If a spy or informant had passed this information to the Japanese, I-177 could have been lying in wait.[90] The main flaw in this theory is the question of how Nakagawa and his crew were able to predict that Centaur was taking an alternate route and how they were able to determine the new route selected.[92] Similar but later rumours included that during her first voyage, Centaur had transported soldiers to New Guinea, or Japanese prisoners of war back to Australia for interrogation, and consequently had been marked as a legitimate target by the Japanese.[93] Centaur had carried 10 prisoners of war on her return voyage from New Guinea, but they were wounded.[94]

Nakagawa aware
This theory states that Nakagawa was fully aware that his target was a hospital ship and decided to sink her regardless, either on his own initiative or a poor interpretation of his orders.[97] Why he may have chosen to do so is a question he refused to respond to on multiple occasions, even to defend himself or deny the accusation.[67] Researchers speculate that as Nakagawa was approaching the end of his tour in Australian waters, and had only sunk a single enemy vessel, the 8,742 ton freighter Limerick, he did not want to return with the disgrace of a single kill.[31] His orders to machine-gun the survivors of three destroyed British merchant vessels


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showed that he was willing to ignore the laws of war.[64] Nakagawa may have been acting in vengeance for Allied atrocities during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, or may have expected praise for the sinking of an enemy naval vessel.[98] Nakagawa’s refusal to speak on the subject, combined with his 1991 death, means this question can never be answered.

AHS Centaur
wreck, due to the distance from Second Officer Rippon’s calculation of the point of sinking, and where USS Mugford picked up the survivors.[101] Dennis had been convicted on two counts of deception and one of theft through scams.[101] Two wreck divers, Trevor Jackson and Simon Mitchell, used the location for a four hour world record dive on 14 May 2002, during which they examined the wreck and took measurements, claiming it to be too small to be Centaur.[102] Jackson had been studying Centaur for some time, and believed that the wreck was actually another, much smaller ship, the 55-metre (180 ft) long Kyogle, a lime freighter purchased by the Royal Australian Air Force in 1951 and sunk during bombing practice on 12 May 1951.[100][102] The facts gathered on the dive were inconclusive, but the divers remained adamant it was not Centaur, and passed this information onto Nick Greenaway, producer of the newsmagazine show 60 Minutes.[102] On the 60th anniversary of the sinking, 60 Minutes ran a story demonstrating that the wreck was not Centaur.[100] It was revealed that nobody at the Queensland Maritime Museum had yet seen Dennis’ footage, and when it was shown to Museum president Rod McLeod and maritime historian John Foley, they stated that the shipwreck could not be Centaur, as the rudder was incorrectly shaped.[100] Following this story, and others published around the same time in newspapers, the Navy sent three ships to inspect the site over a two month period; HMA Ships Hawkesbury, Melville, and Yarra, before concluding that the shipwreck was incorrectly identified as Centaur.[99] An amendment was made to the gazettal, and the Hydrographic Office began to remove the mark from charts.[99] In April 2008, following the successful discovery of HMAS Sydney, several parties began calling for a dedicated search for Centaur.[103] By the end of 2008, the Australian Federal and Queensland State governments had formed a joint committee and contributed A$2 million each towards a search, and by February 2009, the tender for the project had received eleven expressions of interest.[104][105]


Centaur plaque at Centaur Memorial Park in Caloundra, Queensland Following World War II, several cursory searches of the waters around North Stradbroke and Moreton Islands failed to reveal Centaur’s location. It was believed that she had sunk off the edge of the continental shelf, to a depth the Royal Australian Navy did not, and still does not, have the capability to search for a vessel of Centaur’s size.[99] In 1995, it was announced that the shipwreck of Centaur had been located in waters 9 nautical miles (17 km) from the lighthouse on Moreton Island, a significant distance from her believed last position.[100] The finding was reported on A Current Affair, during which footage of the shipwreck, 170 metres (560 ft) underwater, was shown.[100] Discoverer Donald Dennis claimed the identity of the shipwreck had been confirmed by the Navy, the Queensland Maritime Museum, and the Australian War Memorial.[100] A cursory search by the Navy confirmed that there was a ship at the given location, which was gazetted as a war grave and added to navigation charts by the Australian Hydrographic Office.[99][100] Over the next eight years, there was growing doubt about the position of Dennis’

A memorial to Centaur was unveiled on the 50th anniversary of the sinking, 14 May


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

AHS Centaur
display was a scale model of Centaur presented to the Memorial by Blue Funnel Line, and the display included items that were donated by the survivors, such as a lifejacket, a signal flare, and a medical kit.[111] It was removed in 1992 to make way for a display related to the Vietnam War.[111]

See also
• Axis naval activity in Australian waters • Battle for Australia Centaur memorial at Point Danger, in Coolangatta, Queensland 1993, at Point Danger, Coolangatta, Queensland.[106] It consists of a monumental stone topped with a cairn, surrounded by a tiled moat with memorial plaques explaining the commemoration. The memorial is surrounded by a park with a boardwalk, overlooking the sea, with plaques for other Merchant Navy and Royal Australian Navy vessels lost during World War II. The unveiling of the memorial was performed by Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Senator John Faulkner.[106] In addition to Australian survivors and local dignitaries, a contingent from USS Mugford travelled from the United States for the event. Although the memorial at Point Danger is considered to be the primary commemoration of the incident, numerous other tributes were made prior to 1993, many of which still exist. In 1948, Queensland nurses established the "Centaur Memorial Fund for Nurses" which used the money raised to purchase an establishment and name it "Centaur House"; a facility supporting nurses by holding convivial meetings and providing inexpensive accommodation for out-of-town nurses.[107] The original Centaur House was sold in 1971, with a new building purchased and renamed.[108] The second Centaur House was sold in 1979 and although the fund still exists, it no longer owns a physical facility.[108] On 15 September 1968, a cairn was unveiled at Caloundra, Queensland, erected by the local Rotary International Club.[109] In 1990, a stained glass memorial window depicting Centaur, along with a plaque listing the names of those lost in the attack, was installed at Concord Repatriation General Hospital, at a cost of $16,000.[110] A display about Centaur was placed at the Australian War Memorial.[111] The centrepiece of the

^I Also correctly referred to as 2/3rd AHS Centaur or AHS 47.[10] Also incorrectly referred to as HMAS Centaur[72] or HMAHS Centaur.[10] The AHS is alternately considered to stand for Army Hospital Ship.[99] ^II As the exact location of Centaur’s point of sinking is uncertain, different depths are given in different sources. Battle Surface! gives the depth as 550 metres,[31] while Three Minutes of Time states the depth as 1,800 metres.[59] ^III Crew figures include the Torres Strait pilot assigned to Centaur.

[1] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 9 [2] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 281 [3] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, pp. 5–6 [4] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 22 [5] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 2 [6] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 14 [7] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 25 [8] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 19 [9] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 21 [10] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 51 [11] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, pp. 21–22 [12] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 40 [13] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 13 [14] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 13, 15 [15] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 13 [16] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 15 [17] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 18


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[18] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 21, 53 [19] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 18 [20] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 19 [21] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 16 [22] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 26 [23] ^ Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945, p. 258 [24] Goodman, Our War Nurses, p. 194 [25] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, pp. 43–44 [26] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 44 [27] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 23 [28] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 52 [29] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 24 [30] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 25 [31] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 278 [32] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 27 [33] Adam-Smith, Australian Women at War, p. 176 [34] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 198 [35] ^ Goodman, Our War Nurses, p. 195 [36] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, pp. 76–77 [37] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 28 [38] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 104 [39] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 105 [40] ^ Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945, p. 259 [41] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 128 [42] Stevens, David (2005). A Critical Vulnerability, p 358 [43] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 38 [44] Numerical comparison of crew and survivor statistics. Smith, Three Minutes of Time, pgs. 27, 34 [45] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 34 [46] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 122 [47] Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 279 [48] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 26 [49] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 34, 54–57 [50] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 156 [51] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 250

AHS Centaur
[52] London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36669, p. 3941, 22 August 1944. Retrieved on 14 May 2008. [53] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, pp. 144–145 [54] ^ Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945, p. 257 [55] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 33 [56] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 149 [57] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 153 [58] Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 35 [59] ^ Smith, Three Minutes of Time, p. 29 [60] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 247 [61] ^ Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945, p. 260 [62] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, vol 3, p. 100 [63] ^ Frame,. No Pleasure Cruise, p. 188 [64] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 284 [65] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, pp. 196–214 [66] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 214 [67] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, pp. 284-285 [68] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 169 [69] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 171 [70] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 175 [71] Wilson, Sunken Hearts, p. 23 [72] ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, pp. 186–187 [73] Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 187 [74] Adam-Smith, Australian Women at War, p. 174 [75] McKernan, All In:, pp. 134–135 [76] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 179 [77] ^ Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Sinking of the Centaur Commemmoration [78] ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 177 [79] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 282 [80] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, pp. 189–192 [81] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 192 [82] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 191 [83] Goodman, Our War Nurses, p. 197 [84] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 187


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[85] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 194 [86] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 286 [87] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 68 [88] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 87 [89] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 88 [90] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 232 [91] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 75, 85 [92] ^ Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 233 [93] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 227 [94] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 65 [95] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 280 [96] ^ Jenkins, Battle Surface, p. 283 [97] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 235 [98] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, p. 236 [99] ^ Department of Defence, Navy findings of search for ex Army Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur [100] A Grave Mistake [60 Minutes segment] ^ [101] Wilson, Sunken Hearts, p. 24 ^ [102] Jackson, Wreck diving in Southern ^ Queensland, pp. 157-181 [103] art, Shipwreck hunter offers to find D Centaur remains [104] rutcher, Let Aussie shipwreck hunters C find the Centaur [105] tkinson, Companies show interest in A Centaur search [106] Larsen, Centaur memorial unveiled, p. ^ 2 [107] illigan & Foley, Australian Hospital M Ship Centaur, p. 251 [108] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital ^ Ship Centaur, p. 252 [109] illigan & Foley, Australian Hospital M Ship Centaur, pp. 256–257 [110] illigan & Foley, Australian Hospital M Ship Centaur, p. 257 [111] Milligan & Foley, Australian Hospital ^ Ship Centaur, p. 255

AHS Centaur

• Adam-Smith, Patsy (1984). Australian Women at War. Melbourne, VIC: Thomas Nelson Australia. ISBN 0170064085. OCLC 12750077. • Frame, Tom (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: the story of the Royal Australian Navy. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1741142334. OCLC 55980812. • "Gilmore". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Vol. 3. Washington DC: Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center. 1968. LCC VA61.A53. http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/escorts/ de18.htm. Retrieved on 29 February 2008. • Gill, George Hermon (1968). "The Supply Lines Battle" (PDF). Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945. Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 2, Volume II. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. NLA registry number Aus 68-1798. OCLC 65475. http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/ histories/25/chapters/09.pdf. Retrieved on 14 May 2007. • Goodman, Rupert (1988). Our War Nurses: the history of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902-1988. Bowen Hills, NSW: Boolarong Publications. ISBN 0864390408. OCLC 29016571. • Jackson, Trevor (2007). Wreck diving in Southern Queensland. Brisbane, QLD: Jackson, T (self published). • Jenkins, David (1992). Battle Surface! Japan’s Submarine War Against Australia 1942–44. Milsons Point, NSW: Random House Australia. ISBN 0091826381. OCLC 0091826381. • McKernan, Michael (1983). All In! Australia During the Second World War. Melbourne, VIC: Thomas Nelson Australia. ISBN 0170059464. OCLC 10410056. • Milligan, Christopher; Foley, John (2003). Australian Hospital Ship Centaur - the myth of immunity. Hendra, QLD: Nairana Publications. ISBN 0646137158. OCLC 31291428. • Smith, Alan (May 1992) [1991]. Three Minutes of Time - the torpedoing of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur (Second Printing ed.). Miami, QLD: Tasman Press. ISBN 0646076310. • Stevens, David (2005). "Appendix V". A Critical Vulnerability: the impact of the submarine threat on Australia’s maritime

Reference list


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
defense 1915-1954. Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs. No. 15. Canberra: Sea Power Centre Australia. ISSN 1327-5658. ISBN 0642296251. OCLC 62548623.

AHS Centaur
2003. Archived from the original on 28 August 2006. http://web.archive.org/ web/20060828010512/ http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/ sixtyminutes/stories/2003_05_18/ story_838.asp. Retrieved on 29 February 2008. • Australian Department of Defence (29 June 2003). Navy findings of search for ex Army Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur. Press release. http://www.defence.gov.au/media/ DepartmentalTpl.cfm?CurrentId=2912. Retrieved on 29 February 2008. • "Sinking of the Centaur Commemoration". DVA.gov.au Commemorative Publications. Australian Government - Department of Veteran’s Affairs. 2003. http://www.dva.gov.au/ media/publicat/2003/centaur/comm.htm. Retrieved on 29 February 2008.

News and journal articles
• Atkinson, Bruce (18 February 2009). "Companies show interest in Centaur search". ABC Brisbane. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/ 02/18/2494291.htm?site=brisbane. Retrieved on 7 March 2009. • Crutcher, Michael (7 December 2008). "Let Aussie shipwreck hunters find the Centaur". The Courier Mail (News Corporation). http://www.news.com.au/ couriermail/story/ 0,23739,24765400-5017790,00.html. Retrieved on 7 March 2009. • Dart, Jonathan (10 April 2008). "Shipwreck hunter offers to find Centaur remains". Sydney Morning Herald (smh.com.au) (Fairfax Media). http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/ shipwreck-hunter-offers-to-find-centaurremains/2008/04/09/1207420485906.html. Retrieved on 24 April 2008. • Larsen, C (16 May 1994). "Centaur memorial unveiled". The Courier-Mail (News Corporation): p. 2. • Wilson, Neil (10 May 2003). "Sunken hearts". Herald Sun (News Corporation): p. 23 (Saturday liftout).

External links
• Hospital Ship Mystery - Find the Centaur Collection of news articles from The Courier-Mail relating to the hospital ship and the proposed search • Two-part article by Trevor Jackson on diving the assumed wreck of AHS Centaur • Jackson, T. "Learning to Climb Trees Part 1". Dive-Oz. http://www.diveoz.com.au/ regular_articles/readit.asp?p=3&a=16. Retrieved on 20 August 2008. • Jackson, T. "Learning to Climb Trees Part 2". Dive-Oz. http://www.diveoz.com.au/ regular_articles/readit.asp?p=3&a=17. Retrieved on 20 August 2008.

Other media
• "A Grave Mistake". Richard Carleton (reporter). 60 Minutes. Nine Network. 18 May 2003. • "Transcript: A Grave Mistake". Ninemsn.com.au - 60 Minutes Archive.

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AHS_Centaur" Categories: Australian hospital ships, Clyde-built ships, Maritime incidents in 1943, Merchant ships of the United Kingdom, Monuments and memorials in Australia, Ships sunk by Japanese submarines, Shipwrecks in the Coral Sea, World War II shipwrecks in the Pacific Ocean, 1924 ships This page was last modified on 15 May 2009, at 00:03 (UTC). All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.) Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) taxdeductible nonprofit charity. Privacy policy About Wikipedia Disclaimers


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