Australia's most enduring wartime mystery

Discussion about wrecks and losses as well as historic sites in the Pacific.

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Australia's most enduring wartime mystery

Post by West-Front »

More than 1050 Australians died on the Montevideo Maru.
By Max Uechtritz, Editor in Chief

Australia's most enduring wartime mystery — and our greatest maritime disaster — may be a step closer to being solved with help from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

A total of 1053 Australian soldiers and civilians disappeared without trace when the Japanese transport ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine off the Philippines coast in 1942. Mr Rudd says he will consider an appeal to launch a search for the wreck - similar to the hunt for the HMAS Sydney - to bring closure for generations of descendents and throw light on one of the darkest chapters in Australian history.

David Mearns, the renowned wreck hunter who found the Sydney and Kormoran, told ninemsn the 3.7km sea depth at the sinking site would not prohibit a search."Such a depth is not a barrier to search like the one we conducted for Sydney, it just ensures that the expedition will be costly and run into the millions of dollars," he said.

Twice as many Australians died in this single incident than the entire Vietnam War. Just over 400 more perished on the Montevideo Maru than on the HMAS Sydney after it was sunk by the German raider Kormoran in 1941. "The sinking of the Montevideo Maru was the greatest disaster at sea ever suffered by Australians," said prominent historian Hank Nelson, who has spent decades researching the loss of 845 prisoners of war and 208 civilians.

Only one eyewitness account has ever emerged and then only after 60 years when the sole surviving Japanese sailor revealed heart-wrenching details of the "death cries" of trapped Australians going down with the ship while others sung 'Auld Lang Syne'. (Montevideo survivor recalls 'death cries')

Among the missing were the uncle of former opposition leader Kim Beazley and the grandfather of current Rudd government minister Peter Garrett. Mr Beazley last night backed calls for a search of the Montevideo Maru. The Australians had been taken aboard the Montevideo Maru on June 22, 1942 at Rabaul where they'd been interned after the Japanese invasion and occupation of the former capital of Australian-mandated New Guinea. It was bound for Hainan. However, it was intercepted and sunk by the USS Sturgeon about 60 miles west of Cape Luzon in the Philippines in the early hours on July 1. The submarine commander, Lieutenant William "Bull" Wright had no way of knowing the ship was carrying allied troops and civilians. (Read the captain's log)

Some descendents of the Australians still fiercely resist this official version and believe their men were executed in New Guinea. They believe the ship's passenger list was "padded" by the Japanese to try to cover up war crimes. There is enormous confusion over the nominal roll, which was apparently lost from the national archives after being brought back from Japan by post-war investigators.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said last night the government would consider an appeal to provide funds to find the ship after receiving a letter from Sydney historian and Montevideo Maru campaigner Albert Speer. "The Rudd government understands the desire of relatives to know the resting place of their loved ones who tragically lost their lives at sea" she said. Anyone with information on sunken vessels of historical significance was urged to contact the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. "They will consider all applications on merit. If merit is found, a proposal will then be put forward to government for consideration," she said.

Among the civilians was Reverend Syd Beazley of the Methodist Mission, brother of Kim Beazley Snr, the father of the former opposition leader. Kim Beazley told ninemsn the Montevideo Maru should be found and he felt for the descendents of the victims."There are a lot of people looking for closure, a lot of Victorians especially," he said. "We grew up with the Montevideo Maru in the family lore. I never got to know my Uncle Syd but my father was very close to him and talked about him a lot." Mr Speer wrote to the Prime Minister calling for action for "the sake of historical truth, certainty and peace of mind of the families" of the victims.

He urged government funding to find the Montevideo Maru and recover the captain's safe which is presumed to have contained the passenger manifest.

"The continuing existence of doubts still obscuring truth and causing anguish to all families of Australians who lost their lives in the Pacific War should be of concern to all Australians," he wrote. "It is surely the duty of the Australian government to do all in its power to remove those doubts, just as it has done in other cases no more or less deserving." In 2003 the Howard government rejected a petition of 959 people to search for the Montevideo Maru and regular appeals by Mr Speer and others. A relative of victims who has also been proactive in calling for government support for a search, Andrea Williams, wants the site of the sinking to be located and commemorated as a war shrine.

"It is important that the loss of the men from Rabaul in 1942 is acknowledged and has a special place in our Australian history," she said. "I know that there are many descendents of those men who will like to see some closure on the events that led to their disappearance".

Ninemsn has launched a national petition to the government to fund the search for the Montevideo Maru. Join the petition to help find the Montevideo Maru here.

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Re: Australia's most enduring wartime mystery

Post by clutchfan »

Albert Speer? Isn't he dead?

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