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Converted to Hospital Ship
310' x 48' x 20'
1 x 4" gun
2 x .303 machine guns
2 x paravanes
& degaussing equipment
Jessie Hague May 1942
Built by Scott's Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Greenock, Scotland for service as a passenger vessel and cargo vessel for the Ocean Steamship Company (better known as Alfred Holt's Blue Funnel Line). Her keel was laid on November 16, 1923. Entered operation on August 29, 1924. Beginning on the Blue Line's trade route from Fremantle to Singapore. She continued in this role until the start of the Pacific War.
On November 19, 1941, she was near Carnarvon, Western Australia and the scene of the battle that resulted in the sinking of the HMAS Sydney and scuttling of Kormoran. During November 25-27, Centaur's life boat 'P2' and 'P4' were used to transfer survivors to the ship from their damaged boat, that was also hoisted aboard afterwards. At the start of the Pacific war, Centaur was ordered to Sydney, where she began transfer runs from the east coast of Australia to New Guinea, transporting soldiers and war materiel.
On January 4, 1943 transferred to Australian control. At Melbourne she underwent a two month conversion to a hospital ship, capable of voyages of up to 18 days without resupply, and could carry up to 280 cot-bound wounded. Red crosses were painted on her sides, funnel and stern, from the air, a red cross was evident, horizontally on the after deck house. All armament was removed. Registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross during the first week of February 1943, receiving the designation number '47' in Red Cross records.
Returned to service on March 12, 1943 with a mechanical shakedown run between Melbourne and Sydney and a test run transporting wounded from Townsville to Brisbane. Centaur was tasked with the delivery of medical personnel from Port Moresby to Brisbane with Australian and American wounded, along with a small group of prisoners of war.
On May 8, 1943 arrives Sydney and re-provisioned in Darling Harbour. The ship departed on May 12, 1943 bound for Cairns. Stored in the cargo holds as cargo was equipment and stores of the 2/12 Field Ambulance. The crew included the captain, 75 crew, 8 army officers, 12 army nurses, 45 other army personnel, 192 soldiers from 2/12 Field Ambulance.
On May 14, 1943 at 04:10am the Centaur 50 miles east-north-nast of Brisbane, Centaur was torpedoed without any warning by Japanese Submarine I-177. Only 64 survived from 332 people on board. Her sinking was the worst merchant ship tragedy on the Australian coast during the war.
Other ships including HMAS Lithgow unsuccessfully searched for more survivors.
War Crimes Justice for Submarine Captain
Postwar, Nakagawa denied sinking the Centaur, but serves four years in the Sugamo Prison after pleading guilty to the machine-gunning of merchant crew survivors in the Indian Ocean while captain of I-37.
The Australian Navy had searched for the shipwreck with two mine hunters: HMA Yarra and HMA Hawkesbury searching the south Queensland coast during middle of May 2003, searching north Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island. This searched failed to find anything.
The shipwreck was discovered in the early morning of December 20, 2009. Search director David Mearns said the wreck is located approximately 30 nautical miles due east of the southern tip of Moreton Island (27 deg 16.98 South, 153 deg 59.22 East) at a depth of 2,059 meters. The Australian and Queensland governments jointly committed $4 million to the search and officers from the Department of Defense and the Department of Premier and Cabinet provided oversight and technical assistance to the project.
The town of Caloundra has dedicated "Centaur Park" with a memorial plaque devoted to the ship.
Australia @ War Sinking of hospital ship "Centaur"
List of casualties and survivors [PDF]
news.com.au "Hospital ship Centaur discovered off Queensland coast" December 20, 2009
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