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  AHS Centaur
Passenger Ship
Converted to Hospital Ship

1,839 Tons
310' x 48' x 20'
(Installed 1939)
1 x 4" Mark IX gun
2 x .303 machine guns
2 x paravanes
& degaussing equipment

(Hospital Ship)
All armament removed

Click For Enlargement
circa 1941-1942

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Jessie Hague May 1942

Click For Enlargement
RAN 1943
Ship History
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). Laid down November 16, 1923. Launched June 5, 1924 as Centaur named for the Greek mythological creature. Completed August 29, 1924 and registered in Liverpool but operated by Alfred Holt & Co Ltd (Blue Funnel Line) in Australia.

Wartime History
On September 3, 1943 at the start of World War II, as part of the British Merchant Navy armed with a stern mounted 4" Mark IX gun and two .303 machine guns on the bridge wings were added for defense plus paravanes and degaussing equipment to protect against sea mines and remained in service between Fremantle to Singapore.

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, 1941 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. Next, 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 placed under control of the Australian Department of Defence but was never commissioned in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Over two months, converted into a hospital ship operated by the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at Melbourne with all armament removed but retained the anit-mine equipment and added cots for up to 280 patients and was capable of voyages up to 18 days.

As a hospital ship, a large red cross was painted on her bow and amidship, funnel and stern, from the air, a red cross was evident, horizontally on the after deck house. The side also had a large green line from bow to stern. During during the first week of February 1943 registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross and designated 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 (POWs).

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.

Sinking History
On May 14, 1943 at 04:10am Centaur was fifty miles east-north-east of Brisbane, without any warning, Centaur was torpedoed by Japanese Submarine I-177. Only 64 survived from 332 people aboard. Her sinking was the worst merchant ship tragedy off Australia during World War II.

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.

In the middle of May 2003, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) two mine hunters: HMA Yarra (M 87) and HMA Hawkesbury (M 83) searched for the shipwreck north Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island off the Queensland coast but failed to find anything.

During December 2009, another search by Seahorse Spirit led by David Mearns that searched a large area using side scan sonar. 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. On December 20, 2009 in the early morning, the shipwreck was discovered approximately 30 nautical miles east of the southern tip of Moreton Island at roughly Lat 27°  16.98 South, Long 153°  59.22 East at a depth of 6,755' / 2,059m. During January 2010 three documentation dives were made by Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that documented the Red Cross number, hospital ship markings and ship's bell. The shipwreck was marked as a war grave and protected with a navigational exclusion zone under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

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] "Hospital ship Centaur discovered off Queensland coast" December 20, 2009

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Last Updated
September 17, 2023


6,755' /

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