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  MV Tulagi

2,281 Tons

Ship History
Built by the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company in Hong Kong. Launched in 1939 and purchased by Burns Philp & Company and named MV Tulagi in honor of Tulagi Island. Manned by a crew of twelve Australians plus thirty-two Malay and Chinese crew.

Prewar, operated between Sydney, the Pacific Islands including New Guinea and the west coast of North America. Afterwards joined MV Montoro operating a run between Sydney via Port Moresby to Darwin.

Wartime History
During 1940, MV Tulagi was in the vicinity of German raiders was kept under surveillance by a float plane but was never attacked.

On December 5, 1941 departs Sydney and travels via Brisbane and Cairns before arriving at Darwin. At the start of the Pacific War, MV Tulagi was pressed into service with a convoy transporting troops and supplies to "Sparrow Force" on Timor.

The convoy departed on February 15, 1942 and was comprised of MV Tulagi with troops from the US Army 148th Field Artillery and supplies plus USAT Meigs, USAT Mauna Loa and USS Portmar, escorted by USS Houston, USS Peary, HMAS Warrego and HMAS Swan.

On February 16, 1942 the convoy was attacked by Japanese aircraft and the convoy aborted the mission and returned to Darwin Harbor, return during the afternoon of February 18.

On February 19, 1942 Japanese aircraft attacked Darwin Harbor, but only sustained superficial damage. Because of the troops aboard, Captain Thompson grounded the ship into a mud bank north of Harper's Folly and south of Sweir's Bluff allowing the crew to exit, although the area was crocodile infested.

After the raid, Captain Thompson and the Chief Engineer Mr. J. R. Ward went back on board and with the help of others floated the vessel, made repairs. Crewed by volunteers from MV Neptuna and MV British Motorist departed for Sydney, arriving 19 days later.

During the remainder of 1942 until 1944 transported supplies and troops from Australia to the South Pacific. During February 1944, returned to the United Kingdom Department of Defense to join the Royal Navy Fleet Train.

On March 10, 1944 departed Sydney with captain L. W. Millar still in command bound for Colombo. Aboard were fifty-four passengers including the crew of 16 Europeans, 26 Indians, 7 Malays and five RAN gunners. The ship traveled southward along the coast of New South Wales via the Bass Strait and around Cape Leuwin. The weather was fine with calm seas.

Sinking History
On March 27, 1944 in the Indian Ocean spotted by German Submarine U-532 and tracked. On March 28, 1944 at 1:00am the ship was hit by two torpedoes fired by U-532 on the starboard side between the No. 3 hatch and the engine room, causing it to sink in only 20 seconds stern first, before rolling over to the starboard side. Thirty-nine went down with the ship.

Fates of the Crew
The survivors took to life rafts including the Chief Engineer, 2nd Mate, 3rd Mate, Purser, Deck Cadet, 3rd Engineer, the 5 Naval gunners 3 Malays and 1 Indian. Over the next several days, an unknown submarine followed and observed the life rafts.

Their fate began one of the most epic drifts of survival. On April 21, 1944 twenty four days after the sinking, the fifteen were split into two raft groups, seven on one, eight on the other. On April 30, 1944 the survivors saw smoke from a ship on the horizon. The ship passed at about 5:00pm without seeing them. Around this time, the rope connecting the rafts rotted and caused them to separate.

One of these rafts was never seen nor heard from again and no evidence was found of survivors. On May 25, 1944 (fifty-eight days after the sinking) the remaining raft with seven aboard saw white gulls and at 11:10pm the seven landed at Bijoutier Island in the Seychelle Islands.

The seven survivors were:
1) John R. T. Ward, Chief Engineer Officer, earned Order of the British Empire (OBE)
2) Richard T. Charles, 2nd Officer, earned Member Order of the British Empire (MBE)
3) Dudley G. S. Jacobs, Purser, , earned Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
4) Ali Bin Sarawee, Quartermaster, earned British Empire Medal (BEM)
5) Bahu Mian, Fireman, earned British Empire Medal (BEM)
6) Abdul Bhooya, Fireman, earned British Empire Medal (BEM)
7) ?

At daylight two boats approached and the survivors were taken back to a small village and fed and clothed for fourteen days. On June 12, 1944 the survivors were transported to Mahe on Victoria Island then taken by ship to Bombay then departed for Melbourne and then travelled by train to Sydney arriving July 31, 1944.

The MV Tulagi's Log
Mercantile Navy - Burns Philp Shipping Company - MV Tulagi

AWM PR00072 Burns Philp and Company Ltd account of the activity of three vessels
Passengers In History - Tulagi

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Last Updated
August 10, 2019


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