29 Jun 2017

The hidden story of an Australian disaster - Montevideo Maru

From , 5:05 am on 29 June 2017

A number of events have been held to mark the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in 1942, but an Australian historian says far too little is known about  Australia's worst maritime disaster.

The ship was carrying 1053 Australian soldiers and civilians, all captured by the Japanese after the fall of Rabaul in East New Britain in Papua New Guinea on January 23rd in 1942.

The soldiers, young, untrained and poorly armed, called the Lark Force, had been sent to Rabaul to guard the airfield.

But in June of that year they were placed on the Montevideo Maru and it sailed for Japan but an American submarine, not realising it was a POW ship, torpedoed the vessel and it sank off the Philippines on July 1st with all the prisoners drowning.

Military historian Dr Kathryn Spurling, in her new book Abandoned and Sacrificed; The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru aims to bring to the public a story Australian authorities have been striving to keep hidden.

Don Wiseman asked her what was known about the plight of the Australians in Rabaul at the time.

Montevideo Maru

Montevideo Maru in 1941. Photo: WikiCommons