Australian Hospital ship Centaur Torpedoed by Japanese Submarine
When fitted out as a Hospital Ship she had red crosses painted on her sides, funnel and stern, from the air, a red cross was evident, horizontally on the after deck house.
The ship sailed out of Sydney on the 12th. of May 1943, bound for New Guinea to collect a load of wounded, thus no patients were on board, but equipment and stores of the 2/12 Field Ambulance were loaded in the holds.
Two days later, at approximately 0410 ( 4.10 AM ) when some 50 miles East North East of Brisbane, Centaur was torpedoed without any warning by Japanese Submarine I-177. The resulting death toll was appaling, only 64 survived from 332 people on board, the worst Merchant Ship tragedy on the Australian coast during WW2.
It was many years later before the Japanese Government admitted that Lieutenant Commander Hajime Nakagawa as the CO of I-177 had been responsible for this dastardly act, he had been found guilty as a War Criminal for having opened fire on survivors of the British Chivalry, a ship his Boat had sunk in the Indian Ocean. He was sentenced to four years in Sugumo prison.
At this time, the Deputy Prime Minister of England, Clement Attlee cabled the following message to the Australian Government:
On the 13th. of May 1995, a Press Release by the Australian Government announced the wreck of Centaur had been found by the RAN. A Melbourne diver Don Dennis, claimed to have found the wreck at 170 metres about 9/10 miles off the Northern tip of Moreton Island Queensland, had dived on it and taken a video of the wreck. He later claimed to have shown the video to a Captain Foley, a Naval Historian who had published a book about Centaur and her ordeal, and also to have shown this tape to the former President of the Queensland Maritime Museum, both of whom have very recently denied ever seeing such a tape.
However, after the Government announcement, it was generally accepted that this site was the final resting place for the Centaur. Relatives of those who had died were relieved that the ship was at last found, and memorial services were carried out at sea over the position of the supposed wreck.
However it did seem strange that this wreck was but 10 miles off shore, whereas it had been reported the Hospital Ship was torpedoed 23 miles off the Queensland coast. The Australian TV programme "60 Minutes:" denies this wreck is Centaur. On Sunday the 18th. of May 2003, the TV show " 60 Minutes" went to air with a strong denial that this wreck is that of the Centaur.
Again Captain Foley and the former President of the Queensland Maritime Museum were interviewed on the programme, both agian denied ever having viewed the Dennis tape. He was accused of being both a liar and a confidence man, he had been given a three year suspended sentence for theft and deception in a case unrelated to the Centaur. Captain Foley pointed out the rounded type rudder of the ship purporting to be Centaur, whereas the Hospital Ship had a square rudder, both photographs and ship drawings proved this point quite conclusively.
Recent research found that the RAAF in 1995 had used the wreck of a smaller ship named Bombala, for bombing practice, and sank her in the position that was claimed to be the site of Centaur by Dennis. It does seem that a cruel hoax has been played out by Dennis, and that the authorities were only too ready to accept the claim that Centaur had been found, without properly checking the veracity of such a claim, and even declaring this site as a "War Grave."
So, 60 years on, the position of the wreck of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, still remains a complete mystery, will the puzzle ever be solved?
So, let us hope this latest search may yield results that at last lay to rest the actual and final resting place of the unlucky Centaur.
Memorial Plaque at Centaur Park, Caloundra Queensland