Will we ever know if the Owen Gun Project sank with the Centaur?
In 1943 the oceans and seas off Australia were a war zone the Battle for Australia and the South Pacific was in full fight. As the Centaur sailed up the coast of New South Wales towards Queensland the Centaur passed close to the last resting places of the Kalingo, the Lydia M Childs, the Wollongbar, the Fingal and the Limerick. These merchant ships had been sunk, a with great loss of life, by Japanese submarines between 18 January and 29 April 1943. There could be no doubt of the intensity of enemy activity in the sea lanes by which the Centaur was making her way north. The men who sent her knew that Japanese Submarines were operating, basically unopposed in this strategically important area. The Australian High Command were sending men and supplies to New Guinea, Port Moresby and they never had enough Armed Navy ships to escort them. So the Australian Hospital Ship was sent defenceless into a sea of trouble. Its immunity was supposed to be under the Hague Conventions of 1907, a treaty that the Japanese never signed and only verbally agreed that it would abide by. Under the Hague Convention the articles specially prohibited the carrying of soldiers or arms. In World War One the Germans sunk many Allied Hospital ships on the basis that they were carrying arms. The British denied, (it but not too strongly) that was also the reason given by the Germans that they sunk the Lusitania, as it was carrying arms the British have always had a problem trying to prove that they didn’t.
At 4 am on 14 May 1943 the brightly lit Army Hospital Ship Centaur was torpedoed and sunk off Stradbroke Island. In this despicable act, 268 lives were lost, with the Centaur, more than from any other Japanese torpedo attack in Australian waters during the war. (or more, as there is still controversy as to the numbers on board and the number of survivors and who they were)
William Blake said, “A Truth told with false intent, beats all the lies man can invent”.
General Macarthur: said in his press statement.
“I cannot express the revulsion I feel at this unnecessary act of cruelty. Its limitless savagery represents the continuation of a calculated attempt to create a sense of trepidation through the practice of horrors designed to shock normal sensibilities.
The brutal excesses of the Philippines campaign, the execution of our captured airmen, the barbarity of Papua, are all of a pattern. The enemy does not understand – he apparently cannot understand – that our invincible strength is not so much of the body, as it is of the soul, and rises with adversity.
The Red Cross will not falter under this foul blow. Its light of mercy will but shine the brighter on our way to inevitable victory.”
Stirring words, but what was it about the Centaur that he could not say, His telegrams say that there is a big secret to be kept that concerned the sinking, what was it? If some thing is not the whole truth, is it a lie and if the Centaur was carrying guns, ammunition and soldiers then the ones that ordered this to occur had committed the War Crimes, not the Japanese Submarine Captain.
If this is so the Australian The High Command would have ordered non- combatants to go un protected, and unknowing that they were legitimate targets. The Germans, Italians and Japanese were tried for War Crimes after the war. Crimes against the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention, even though the Japanese never signed either documents but Australia did. Why did the Australians High Command miss out on being charged for War Crimes as they in more than one instance sent there own innocents unprotected to their deaths. Is that not worse than sending the enemy to their deaths.
Those that knew the guns and ammunition was on board and there is little doubt that the Army Service Corps were classified as soldiers and not as ‘medical personal’, murdered those nurses and medical staff just as certainly, and as criminally as the Japanese soldiers that hacked the heads off Australian servicemen.
In Australia there was no proper investigation just a flurry of teleprinted (telegrams) messages ordering everyone to keep it a secret. The Centaur case file was closed on 14th December 1948 without any serious investigation or charges laid even against the Japanese Submarine Captain.
Was the Centaur in breach of the Hague Conventions?
Article 8 The Protection due to Hospital Ships and Infirmaries of vessels ceases if they are used to commit acts detrimental to the enemy.
That is a very broad statement.
This theory stems from the various rumours spreading after Centaur’s sinking. If Centaur had been in breach of the Hague Convention of 1907, and someone had informed the Japanese of this, I-177 may have been under valid orders to attack. When Centaur left Sydney, her decks were packed with green-uniformed men, and as Field Ambulance uniforms were only distinguishable from other Army uniforms by badge insignia and the colouration of the cloth band ringing the hat, a distant observer could have concluded that the hospital ship was transporting soldiers. The Australian Army Service Corps were soldiers. Those witnessing the loading in Sydney would have seen the ambulance drivers bring their weapons aboard, and could have come to a similar conclusion. Those same witnesses could have seen ammunition being loaded. As soon as a crane is used to take goods from the dock to the holds the information as to what it was, would be very public. If a spy or informant had passed this information to the Japanese, I-177 could have been lying in wait. The main flaw in this theory is the question of how Nakagawa and his crew were able to predict that Centaur was taking an alternate route and how they were able to determine the new route selected. Except for the information that the Japanese as well as capable of launching midget submarines also used a Sea Plane for observation, which was capable of flying over and covering large areas. The Sea Plane then docked in with the submarine was re-fuelled and then sent out again until it would rendezvous again with the submarine for re-fuelling. The information on the course of an un armed, un escorted without any convoy protection would have been easy pickings and music to a Japanese Submarine Captains ears. As soon as spy, who had radio communication, gave the story that one hospital ship was seen loading arms and soldiers. Any Australian hospital ship would have been a fair target.
Similar but later rumours included that during her first voyage, Centaur had transported soldiers to New Guinea, or Japanese prisoners of war back to Australia for interrogation, and consequently had been marked as a legitimate target by the Japanese. Centaur had carried 10 prisoners of war on her return voyage from New Guinea, but they were all wounded personnel; transporting them on a hospital ship was lawful by the Conventions.
The captain of the Centaur, G. H. Murray, of Aberdeen, was among the missing and used his words carefully when asked if Munitions were on boerd.
You will notice he did not say Hague Conventions as the Geneva Conventions was nothing to do with Hospital Ships it mainly concerned Prisoners of War.
Again discussion is supporting the Geneva Conventions again nothing about the Hague Convention which was the law of the matter.
As you can see the Commission kept most people talking about the markings on the ship and if they can remember if the lights had been left on before the ship sank.
Most of the statements note that there was two explosions prior to the ship sinking, which would indicate that something on board had exploded after the torpedo had exploded when it hit the side of the ship. The Commission tries to lead the witnesses into saying that the medical ether in the First Aid kits could have caused this secondary explosion but Davidsons evidence states that the ships hull plates were blown outwards from inside to outside. Something substantial must have caused this and it was not explained in anyway by the Commission in fact it was not commented on by the Commission nor was any other witnesses called to give evidence to refute or support it. They just ignored it.
In the paragraph cut out above you can see that someone had marked the margin just where the transcript evidence had recoded that statement. Maybe they were contemplating editing it out of the record or maybe they were interested in asking more questions on the matter. All we know was the silence was deafening. When the shipwreck is found it would be possible to identify the cause of this internal explosion. The questions on why two explosions instead of one, could also be answered but funnily enough there does seem to be a reluctance to find it. They can find the Bismark and the Titanic in the middle of the Atlantic miles deep but the greatest shipping disaster in Australian waters has been to difficult for the Australian and State Governments.
The ship is yet to be discovered: claims of discovery were made in 1995, but the wreck was later claimed to be another ship but does the Government want to find it?
In 1995, it was announced that the shipwreck of Centaur had been located in waters 9 nautical miles (17 km) from the lighthouse on Moreton Island, a significant distance from her believed last position. The finding was reported on A Current Affair, during which footage of the shipwreck, 170 metres (560 ft) underwater, was shown. Discoverer Donald Dennis claimed the identity of the shipwreck had been confirmed by the Navy, the Queensland Maritime Museum, and the Australian War Memorial. A cursory search by the Navy confirmed that there was a shipwreck at the given location, which was gazetted as a war grave and added to navigation charts by the Australian Hydrographic Office.
The government accepted the false discovery of a wreck near Moreton as the Centaur in 1995. During this time, two wreck divers, Captain Trevor Jackson and Simon Mitchell, used the location for a four hour world record dive on 14 May 2002, during which they examined the wreck and took measurements, claiming that the ship was too small to be Centaur. Jackson had been studying Centaur for some time, and believed that the wreck was actually another, much smaller ship, the 55-metre (180 ft) long MV Kyogle, a lime freighter purchased by the Royal Australian Air Force and sunk during bombing practice on 12 May 1951. The facts gathered on the dive were inconclusive, but the divers remained adamant it was not Centaur, and passed this information onto Nick Greenaway, producer of the news magazine show 60 Minutes. The wreck reported by Don Dennis as the Centaur is now claimed by the Australian Government, to be the SS Kyogle, a ship which was used by the RAAF for target practice in the 1950′s.
Does the Government not want to find the Centaur? Would they still be embarrassed if we found out what was in it? As there seems further controversy and differing stories.
After World War II, several searches of the waters around North Stradbroke and Moreton Islands failed to reveal Centaur’s location. The story released to the media was, ‘that she had sunk off the edge of the continental shelf, to a depth the Royal Australian Navy did not, and still does not, have the capability to search for a vessel of Centaur’s size.”
However they had a certain fix on its location due to the distance from the Second Officer Rippon’s calculation of the point of sinking, last reported position: 27′ 17′ S, 153’58′ E, about 50 miles east northeast of Brisbane. Maritime historian, Mr Foley believes the Centaur lies within 1800m of the location reported by navigator Gordon Rippon, who took the Centaur’s bearings shortly before the hospital ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine at 4.10am on May 14. Mr Rippon, who survived the sinking, was interviewed as part of Foley’s book on the subject. (Co- Author of ‘ Centaur, the Myth of Immunity’ )
“The man was very clear in his thoughts and went on to become head of the Blue Funnel Line navigation school. This guy was obviously no slouch when it came to navigation,” he said.
But that location – about 23 nautical miles east-north-east of Point Lookout – would contradict many eyewitness accounts of Sunshine Coast residents who claim an explosion was visible much closer to Cape Moreton. There are memorials at Point Danger and Caloundra. They were both erected in the belief that the Centaur had sunk off the coastline near the memorials.
On the 60th anniversary of the sinking, 60 Minutes ran a story demonstrating that the wreck was not Centaur. It was revealed that nobody at the Queensland Maritime Museum had yet seen Dennis’ footage, and when it was shown to Museum president Rod McLeod and maritime historian John Foley, they stated that the shipwreck could not be Centaur, as the rudder was incorrectly shaped. Following this story, and others published around the same time in newspapers, the Navy sent three ships to inspect the site over a two month period; HMA Ships Hawkesbury, Melville, and Yarra, before concluding that the shipwreck was incorrectly identified as Centaur.
On 29 June 2003, the Royal Australian Navy announced that investigations by five RAN ships over the previous three months had proven conclusively that the wreckage in 174 metres of water off Moreton Island was not the Centaur. The use of video and sonar images of the wreck by RAN mine-hunters HMAS Yarra, HMAS Hawkesbury and hydrographic ship HMAS Melville showed that the wreck’s hull was only 55 metres long, much shorter than Centaur which was 96 metres long.
An amendment was made to the gazettal, and the Hydrographic Office began to remove the mark from charts. A further report stated, that local divers said, “That the RAN had located the wreck of the Centaur in 1,500 metres of water off Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island using side scan sonar. They did this search after their other search off Moreton Island but they did not bother to send a submersible down to the wreck to confirm it.
In April 2008, following the successful discovery of HMAS Sydney, several parties began calling for a dedicated search for Centaur. By the end of 2008, the Australian Federal and Queensland State governments had formed a joint committee and contributed $2 million each towards a search, and by February 2009, the tender for the project had received eleven expressions of interest.
In a news report Captain Bruce Kafer, chief hydrographer for the Royal Australian Navy said that the Navy and the media had been carried away by the 1995 claims by Don Dennis of Melbourne, that he had located the Centaur. Captain Kafer claimed that the Navy still did not know where the real location of the Centaur was located.
Yet when the government wanted to find shipping containers which had Ammonium Nitrate they were found and confirmed in a few weeks. So why wait for 65 years to find the Centaur.
The media release went like this.
On March 26, 2009 ,The navy has confirmed the location of 24 of the 31 containers lost from the Pacific Adventurer during Cyclone Hamish.
HMAS Yarra is equipped with sonar technology and will start its search today near the scene of the accident off the northern tip of Moreton Island.
The ship lost 31 containers of ammonium nitrate fertiliser overboard, which ruptured its oil tanks and caused the leakage of 250 tonnes of fuel oil off Moreton Island, near Brisbane.
The containers were identified by the navy’s mine disposal vehicle on the seabed not far from where the containers were reported lost on March 11.
Commander Dean Schopen, commander of the Australian Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Task Group, said video footage showed 24 containers were lying on the seabed in groups of twos and threes and in varying condition.
The navy believes it may have located most of the containers of fertiliser lost from a cargo ship off southeast Queensland.
“Progress is slow, but (the commanding officer of HMAS Yarra) has identified 21 contacts that … meet the dimensional features we are looking for with regards to these containers,” Navy Commander Dean Schopen said, “Southeasterly winds and strong currents have delayed the launch of remote-controlled search vehicles that operate on the ocean floor at a depth of up to 200 metres. They use low-light television cameras and sonar to identify objects and transmit images back to the search vessel.”
So in the same area of the world within a matter of weeks, in the same bay they can find a 20 foot container that has fallen off the deck of a Container ship but in 65 years, cannot locate and identify a 320 foot long ship. The Premier of Queensland Anna Bligh has stated that as soon as it is found she will declare it a war grave to prevent any further investigation by divers or remote control submersibles. When the Navy is told to find the Centaur, when it finds the Centaur as we know they should, will it tell the truth? Will it say what was in it, will it say that the plates were blown outwards from an internal explosion?
Will this tell us why the Owen Gun Project was cancelled packed up and sent to Lithgow, will this explain why 60,000 Owen guns were never made for the U.S Forces and why Evelyn Owen never received the five shillings each per Owen Gun for guns that should have been made? Before the project sunk with the Centaur.
All to cover up the ‘shiney backsides’ of the High Command that sent a defenceless ship to a watery grave because they wanted to stack Owen Guns and Ammunition below its decks.