Over 1,000 soldiers and civilians from New Britain, New Ireland and surrounding islands died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru off Luzon on 1st July 1942.
It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that [number and name] became missing on 1st July 1942 and is for official purposes presumed to be dead and desire to convey to you the profound sympathy of the Minister for the Army.
It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that the transmission of the nominal roll of the Japanese vessel Montevideo Maru which was lost with all personnel after leaving Rabaul in June 1942 shows that [name] was aboard the vessel and I desire to convey to you the profound sympathy of the Commonwealth Government. Minister for External Territories.
In October 1945, telegrams like the above were received by relatives of the military and civilian men captured by the Japanese in New Britain and New Ireland from January to June 1942. In Tokyo, Major H.S. Williams investigating the fate of missing POWs had uncovered the nominal rolls of the missing Rabaul men, and a letter of 6 January 1943 confirming the loss of the prison ship Montevideo Maru in the records of Japan's Prisoner of War Information Bureau. This together with other pieces of evidence pointed to the loss of over 1,000 civilian and military POWs from Rabaul when the ship was sunk by the submarine U.S.S. Sturgeon off the coast of Luzon in the Phillipines, in the early hours of the 1st July 1942.
The Mystery of the Montevideo Maru
Margaret Reeson in her book A Very Long War: The Families Who Waited outlines the evidence (page 60):
- The Australian officers with Lark Force witnessed the departure of the civilians and other ranks from the POW camp at Rabaul on 22 June 1942, and Chinese and New Guinean wharf labourers saw the men boarding a ship in the harbour.
- Australian intelligence learned from New Guineans who arrived on mainland New Guinea during battles in mid-1942 that the prisoners had been sent away by ship.
- The submariners on the US submarine Sturgeon knew that they had torpedeoed and sunk a large Japanese ship on 1 July 1942. Four torpedoes were fired, two of them striking the target amidships, holing it and causing fire to break out. The watching submariners observed the ship sink within eleven minutes.
- Ship owners in Japan were informed of the loss of their vessel Montevideo Maru, a ship which matched the description, location and time of sinking of that sunk by the Sturgeon.
- As well as the prisoners in the holds, most of the crew and guards also perished with the ship, only seventeen Japanese seamen and three guards managing to escape.
- The loss of the Montevideo Maru and the prisoners was reported to the Japanese Navy and to the shipowners.
- Allied prisoners in Rabaul were told by Japanese officers that the ship carrying the men from Rabaul had been lost in July 1942.
- In Japan, the loss of the ship with prisoners from Rabaul was mentioned in newspapers and the Australian officers in prison in Japan learned of it.
Peter Stone writes in his book Hostages to Freedom that 'a confirmed list of all Australians who died on the Montevideo Maru is not available although several reports indicate that the ship's complement consisted of 845 prisoner of war servicemen, 208 civilian prisoners of war, 71 Japanese crew and 62 naval guards.'
Sixty years later, why does this lack of clarity still exist?
Does the answer partly lie in the fact that Lark Force at Rabaul was abandoned without reinforcements, in fact refused reinforcements, and ordered unequivocally that there would be no withdrawal, surely a series of events unique and scandalous in Australian military history and which led to disastrous consequences?
David Day in his book John Curtin: A Life describes the Rabaul garrison as 'staked out like a sacrificial lamb'. We now know that the dilemma faced by the Rabaul defenders had been deliberately contrived. General Wavell had laid down the principle 'that we could not afford to reinforce these small garrisons' and the War Cabinet agreed that it would be too hazardous to send a relieving force from the mainland, after leaving it too late to do so.
For sixty years both contrived and unwitting silence has descended over parts of the Rabaul experience. Those who escaped told their stories. Some of those who were captured survived. Relatives were told various versions of the truth. Historians became more and more careless and neglectful of the sequence of New Guinea events. Politicians who had been part of the betrayal built post war careers. Post war migrants came from Europe, uninterested in New Guinea stories. Schools did not embrace the idea of teaching Australian military history adequately. Japan became our strong trading partner. July 1 passes every year with no mention of the Montevideo Maru and the events of 1942. And so the silence continues.
The National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial hold records relating to the Montevideo Maru.
- National Archives of Australia
- The RecordSearch database can be searched by keyword. Click on the search, login as a guest or as a researcher and type 'Montevideo Maru' into the keyword search box. Ensure that the option for the search box is 'All'. In 2002 the result of this search yielded 19 items and 1 series. A keyword search on 'Monte video Maru' yielded 1 additional item. Details are listed below.
- Australian War Memorial
- As part of its Remembering 1942 program, the Australian War Memorial has highlighted items from its collection relating to the Montevideo Maru. These pages contain a digital copy of Major H.S. Williams report for the Recovered Personnel Division. See http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/ambon/index.htm and also search their collection database for Montevideo Maru images.
- Ashby, Stan (1894 - 1942)
- Cameron, John Andrew Edward (1910 - 1942)
- Carr, John Eshott (1921 - 1942)
- Clark, Robert Leeuwin (Nobby) (1889 - 1942)
- Cogan, Thomas Edward Joseph (1918 - 1942)
- Commemoration Service for the Prisoners on the Montevideo Maru (22 June 1972 - 22/06/1972)
- Fox, Anthony Richard John (1910 - 1942)
- Groat, John George (1913 - 1942)
- Gullidge, William Arthur (1909 - 1942)
- Hill, Anthony Dinny (1900 - 1942)
- Jones, John Thomas (1903 - 1942)
- Keid, Norman Leslie (1911 - 1942)
- Ladner, William Francis (1900 - 1942)
- Lovell, Leslie Lewis (Bill) (1920 - 1942)
- Matthews, Gordon Frederick (1921 - 1942)
- McGregor, Sydney (1901 - 1942)
- McLaren, Thomas William (1906 - 1942)
- Montevideo Maru Memorial at Ballarat POW Memorial (2004 - )
- Moore, Richard Kingsmill Pennefather (1886 - 1942)
- The New Guinea Islands Memorial
- Newman, Keith Alfred (Butch) (1915 - 1942)
- Oakes, William Daniel (Dan) (1905 - 1942)
- Render, David (1914 - 1942)
- Render, John Mervyn (1908 - 1942)
- Russell, Robert William (1920 - 1942)
- Schmidt, Adolf (Ardie) (1903 - 1942)
- Simpson, Thomas Nevison (1909 - 1942)
- Margaret Reeson, A Very Long War, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2000, 200 pp.
- Peter Stone, Hostages to Freedom - The Fall of Rabaul, Oceans Enterprises, Yarram, Victoria, 1995, 513 pp.
- Don Wall, Heroes at Sea, Griffin Press, Adelaide, 1991, 191 pp.
- Alan Gill, 'Honouring Pacific War Martyrs', Sydney Morning Herald, 30 April 1987.
- Alan Gill, 'Obscure Tragedy Recalled on Anzac Day', Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 1987.
- Alan Gill, 'Forgotten Martyrs', Sun Herald, 26 June 1988.
- Alan Gill, 'Without a Trace', Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, 1992, pp. 16-19.
- Neil Wilson and Hiroshi Oosedo, 'Witness Raises Hope on Survivors', Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), 28 Jun 2003. (Also available at http://heraldsun.news.com.au/printpage/0,5481,6663010,00.html)
- 'The sinking of the Montevideo Maru, 1 July 1942', in Remembering 1942, Australian War Memorial, 2002, http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/montevideo/index.htm.
- Ian Hodges, 'The sinking of the Montevideo Maru, 1 July 1942', in Remembering 1942, Audio and transcript of talk on 1 July 2002 beside the Roll of Honour at the Memorial, Australian War Memorial, 2002, http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/montevideo/transcript.htm.
- George Oakes, European Civilians who died in World War 2 who were residents of the New Guinea Islands immediately before the War, 2011, http://www.jje.info/lostlives/exhib/eurocivil/index.html.
- Jim Ridges, People of the Plaque, Web publication of the commemorative booklet distributed at the unveiling of the plaque at Kavieng on the 4 July 2002, 2002, http://www.jje.info/lostlives/exhib/potp/index.html.
- Mark Simkin, 'Silence broken on Australia's worst maritime disaster', in The 7.30 Report, transcript of story broadcast 6 October 2003, ABC Online, 2003, http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2003/s961016.htm.
- 'The Fall of Rabaul - A Geelong Man Recalls the Horror', Geelong Advertiser, Weekend Magazine, 11 July 1987, p. 10.
- [Prisoners of War and Internees:] Reply concerning the SS Montevideo Maru and Naruto Maru (Also includes some names of persons believed to have been on the Montevideo) (Oct 1945) [original], 1945, 779/1/5A; AWM 54 Written records 1939-45 War; CA 46 Department of Defence [III], Central Office; Australian War Memorial Research Centre.
- [Prisoners of War and Internees:] Report on investigations in Manila and Japan regarding Prisoners of War and civilians, by Maj H S Williams LO 1 Australian PW Contact and Enquiry Unit (Includes the sinking of Montevideo Maru), c. 1946, 779/1/1; AWM 54 Written records 1939-45 War; CA 46 Department of Defence [III], Central Office; Australian War Memorial Research Centre.
- [Prisoners of War and Internees:] Reports from 1 Australian PW Contact and Enquiry Unit, September 1945 - November 1945, 779/1/15; AWM 54 Written records 1939-45 War; CA 46 Department of Defence [III], Central Office; Australian War Memorial Research Centre.
- [War Crimes and Trials - General:] MONTEVIDEO MARU - List of passengers believed to have left New Britain on above ship, compiled by A Creswick and G Thomas, recovered Prisoners of War, 1945, 1010/1/30; AWM 54 Written records 1939-45 War; CA 46 Department of Defence [III], Central Office; Australian War Memorial Research Centre.
- Montevideo Maru Nominal Roll Civilian Internees Lost at Sea as Result of Sinking, 1945 - 1946, 255/15/1643; MP742/1 General and civil staff correspondence files and Army personnel files, multiple number series; CA 36 Department of the Army, Central Office; National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office.
- Aust P/W reported lost on SS Montevideo Maru, 1945, GP25/293; MP727/1 General correspondence; CA 36 Department of the Army, Central Office; National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office.
- Australian Prisoners of War reported lost on sinking of transport "Montevideo Maru" alleged to have been in Prisoner of War Camp in Japan, 1942 - 1946, 144/26/35; B3856 Correspondence files, multiple number series; CA 2002 2 Echelon, Army Headquarters; National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office.
- Defence - General - Information of deaths for persons lost on the Montevideo Maru, 1945 - 1947, GR16/2/1; A518 Correspondence files, multiple number series with alphabetical prefix; CA 42 Department of External Territories [I], Central Office; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- Information re Death Forms for persons who were aboard Japanese prison ship Montevideo Maru, 1964 - 1968, 1964/7853; A452 Correspondence files, annual single number series; CA 60, Department of Territories [I], Central Office; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- Internees - Australians abroad. Civilians reported lost on board - SS Montevideo Maru, 1945 - 1947, IC45/55/3/19; A1066 Correspondence files, multiple number series with year and letter prefixes; CA 18 Department of External Affairs [II], Central Office; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- List of Members of New Guinea Volunteer Rifles on full-time duty reported to have been on board Montevideo Maru when torpedoed on 1/7/1942., c. 1942, 13; A7030 Lists of Servicemen and Civilians reported missing or lost etc. Papua and New Guinea; CA 42 Department of External Territories [I], Central Office; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- Minutes of meeting of full cabinet held at 2.30pm on Monday, 17th December 1945 at Parliament House, Canberra, 17 December 1945, 120; A2703 Curtin, Forde and Chifley Ministries - folders of Cabinet Minutes (with Indexes); CA 3 Secretary to Cabinet/Cabinet Secretariat [I]; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- Persons lost on Montevideo Maru, c. 1946, 6; A7030 Lists of Servicemen and Civilians reported missing or lost etc. Papua and New Guinea; CA 42 Department of External Territories [I], Central Office; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- Re Rabaul Garrison internees lost in Montevideo Maru, 1945 - 1946, GP25/334; MP727/1 General correspondence; CA 36 Department of the Army, Central Office; National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office.
- Sinking of Japanese Prison Ship Montevideo Maru 1/7/42, 1954, 182P; B6121 Naval historical files, single number series with alphabetical suffixes; CA 38 Navy Office [IV], Department of the Navy [II]; National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office.
- Territory of New Guinea - pension payment to dependants of officers and residents of New Guinea who lost their lives on Japanese vessel Montevideo Maru, 10 December 1945 - 18 December 1945, 1014; A2700 Curtin, Forde and Chifley Ministries - folders of Cabinet minutes and agenda; CA 3 Secretary to Cabinet/Cabinet Secretariat [I]; National Archives of Australia, National Office.
- War crimes - Shipping - During movement at sea [includes nominal rolls of prisoners of war lost on the Montevideo Maru], 1946 - 1948, 336/1/1614; MP742/1 General and civil staff correspondence files and Army personnel files, multiple number series; CA 36 Department of the Army, Central Office; National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office.
- Commemoration Service for the Prisoners of the Montevideo Maru [Document]
Date: 22 June 1972 Source: George Oakes
- Letter from Gordon Thomas to Mrs Brawn [Letter]
Date: 24 February 1965 Source: George and Edna Oakes
Excerpt from Japanese book regarding the sinking of the Montevideo Maru
Army Telegram 15 October 1945
Memorial to Montevideo Maru Embarkation, Simpson Harbour, Rabaul, 30 June 2002
Rabaul Lark Force & Montevideo Maru Memorial - 13 January 2003, Peter Cohen