April 23 - 29  2023: Issue 580


Montevideo Maru Found: Descendants Of Those Lost In World War Two Tragedy May Now Commence The Healing 

Montevideo Maru. Supplied

The wreck of the Montevideo Maru, one of the worst international maritime disasters in history, has been located at a depth of more than 4,000 metres off the coast of the Philippines – 80 years after it was sunk by an American submarine during World War II.

The announcement was made on April 22nd, 2023.

Montevideo Maru was a Japanese auxiliary ship that was sunk by the USN in World War II, resulting in the drowning of Australians, both prisoners of war and civilians, who were being transported from Rabaul to Hainan.

The location of the Japanese transport ship has been an enduring mystery since it was torpedoed on July 1, 1942 by the USS Sturgeon. Unbeknown to the submarine, the Montevideo Maru was carrying prisoners of war and civilians who had been captured in the fall of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea a few months earlier.

The ship was carrying approximately 1,060 prisoners from around the world, including 850 Australian service members from Rabaul. An estimated 979 Australians perished in the disaster, the worst in Australia’s maritime history. Onboard were 33 crew from Norwegian freighter the Herstein, who died together with 20 Japanese guards and crew.

The tragedy impacted at least 14 counties, including: Australia, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Holland, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Solomon Islands, Sweden and the United States.

The wreck was discovered on a mission put together by Australia’s Silentworld Foundation, which is dedicated to maritime archaeology and history, and Dutch company Fugro, deep-sea survey specialists, with support from Australia’s Department of Defence. 

The search commenced on April 6th in the South China Sea, 110km north-west of Luzon. After just 12 days (April 18th), a positive sighting was recorded using state-of-the-art technology, including an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) with in-built sonar.

Over the next days work to verify the wreck using expert analysis from the project team, comprising maritime archaeologists, conservators, operations and research specialists, and ex-naval officers took place.

Image: Silentworld Foundation

Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP stated, 

“At long last, the resting place of the lost souls of the Montevideo Maru has been found.”    

“We hope today’s news brings a measure of comfort to loved ones who have kept a long vigil.”

“The extraordinary effort behind this discovery speaks for the enduring truth of Australia’s solemn national promise to always remember and honour those who served our country. This is the heart and the spirit of Lest We Forget.”

Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Richard Marles MP said, 

“For 81 years, hundreds of Australian families have waited for news of this shipwreck. It is my great privilege to confirm their loved ones have been found.” 

“Finding the Montevideo Maru has been a remarkable effort by a passionate team of researchers and the Silentworld Foundation, supported by dedicated Defence personnel.”

“I also acknowledge the generous support from the Philippines authorities in permitting this search.”

“These Australians were never forgotten. Lost deep beneath the seas, their final resting place is now known. This remarkable discovery is a reflection of who we are as a nation and remarkably close to our day of national commemoration; Anzac Day. We will remember them.”

Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart stated, 

“The Australian soldiers, sailors and aviators who had fought to defend Rabaul had enlisted from across the country to serve, met a terrible fate at sea on the Montevideo Maru.” 

“Today we remember their service, and the loss of all those aboard, including the 20 Japanese guards and crew, the Norwegian sailors and the hundreds of civilians from many nations.”

“I want to thank the Silentworld team and the dedicated researchers, including the Unrecovered War Casualties team at Army, who have never given up hope of finding the final resting place of the Montevideo Maru.” 

“A loss like this reaches down through the decades and reminds us all of the human cost of conflict. Lest We Forget.”

It has taken nearly five years of planning by Silentworld and 20 years of dedication from the Montevideo Maru Society to assemble the expedition team, led by Australian businessman, maritime history philanthropist and explorer John Mullen, the director of Silentworld.

“The discovery of the Montevideo Maru closes a terrible chapter in international military and maritime history,” Mr Mullen said.

“Families waited years for news of their missing loved ones, before learning of the tragic outcome of the sinking. Some never fully came to accept that their loved ones were among the victims. Today, by finding the vessel, we hope to bring closure to the many families devastated by this terrible disaster.

“I would like to express my gratitude to all of the dedicated Silentworld team involved in this expedition, to the outstanding Fugro crew and technical team on board the Fugro Equator, and to the Australian Department of Defence for their unwavering support.

“I am proud to be the citizen of a country that never forgets or stops looking for those lost in the course of duty, no matter how many years may pass.”

The wreckage of the Montevideo Maru, sitting at a deeper depth than the Titanic, will not be disturbed. No artefacts or human remains will be removed. The site will be recorded for research purposes out of respect for all the families of those onboard who were lost. 

Details of any commemorative events will be provided at the appropriate time. Descendants of the Montevideo Maru may register their details to be kept informed at https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/unrecovered-war-casualties/register-us

On the 70th Anniversary 2012-The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society dedicated a Memorial at the AWM, with the ceremony attended by the then-Papua New Guinea high commissioner Peter Garrett, whose grandfather, Tom Vernon Garrett, aged 35, is on the list of those who were aboard the vessel.

The National Archives of Australia also launched a new webpage at the time listing all the names available of those on board, including a complete translated copy of the Japanese military's list of victims. 

Relatives are able to search for family members and add their own photographs and messages to pay tribute to their loved ones, visit:  montevideomaru.naa.gov.au

The deaths were not fully revealed until the end of the war.

No family suffered more from the tragedy than the Turners of Artarmon. Their three inseparable young sons, Sidney, Dudley and Daryl, enlisted together in Australia’s first commando group, the 1st Independent Company – and perished together in the submarine attack. Their parents, Mark and Jessie, and two sisters never recovered - one sister lost her husband in the war. 

A family account, penned by a relative, speaks of the three brothers and the impact of their loss on their parents and sisters is available in the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Memorial website

All three Turner brothers enlisted together and perished together on the Montevideo Maru. (Supplied)

Australian Andrea Williams was on board when the wreck was discovered. Both her grandfather and great uncle died in the tragedy. Ms Williams is a founding member of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, formed in 2009 to represent the interests of descendants.

“Today is an extraordinarily momentous day for all Australians connected with this tragic disaster,” said Ms Williams.

“Having had a grandfather and great-uncle as civilian internees on Montevideo Maru always meant the story was important to me, as it is to so many generations of families whose men perished. I could never understand why it was not a more powerful part of our Australian WWII history. Being part of the Silentworld team that has found the wreck, has been both hugely emotional, and also fulfilling.”

Kylie Adams-Collier, an award-winning vocalist whose Grandfather Harry Adams lost his life on the ship Montevideo Maru (1942) will sing “Montevideo Maru 1942” as part of the Pittwater RSL Sub-Branch 2023 Anzac Day Service.

Kylie stated on Saturday; ''I am very honoured to be singing my award winning song 'Montevideo Maru 1942' this ANZAC Day along with the Royal, Australian and New Zealand National Anthems.

Thank you Pittwater RSL Sub-Branch for inviting me to be a part of your ANZAC Day Dawn Service.

This has become even more poignant now that the wreck of the 'Montevideo Maru' has been found.''

The significance of this to Pittwater is that last October a Lost At Sea Memorial, was consecrated to honour of the POW’s, Nurses and Civilian Internees who lost their lives in the South Pacific ocean at the hands of the Japanese through ships being lost. 

Kylie attended the dedication and consecration ceremony for this memorial.

Mona Vale south headland's Lost At Sea Memorial serves as a poignant reminder, doubly so when you realise the gentleman behind it, former Pittwater RSL president Wal Williams OAM, worked with now retired Pittwater MP Rob Stokes to have the memorial placed on the opposite headland to where commemorates the Japanese submariners grave site off Bungan beach. 

Mr Williams was among the tens of thousands of Allied soldiers, nurses and civilians taken prisoner by the Japanese after the Fall of Singapore. Wal was interned at the notorious Changi prison camp before working along the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway. While Mr Williams was being transported to Japan in 1944, onboard the Rakuyō Maru, an American submarine fired a torpedo at the Japanese prison ship, unaware of the Allied prisoners onboard. After treading water for 24 hours and surviving overhead aerial attack, Mr Williams was among a small number of survivors pulled from the water and transported to labour camps in Japan. Mr Williams later survived the Allied firebombings of Tokyo and Yokohama, before finally returning home to Australia in October 1945 – on his 23rd birthday.

Mona Vale's and Bungan Beach headlands, and throughout Mona Vale and to Bayview feature as the second Anzac Day precursor for 2023 - The Mona Vale-Bungan Beach-Bayview Tank Traps: Coastal Defences Of Pittwater During World War Two - Some History

Mona Vale south headland's Lost At Sea Memorial. Photo: A Johnston

'Wal'. Photo: A J Guesdon.

Chair of the Australian War Memorial Kim Beazley says the discovery of SS Montevideo Maru in the South China Sea almost 81 years after the tragedy is a “monumental moment in war history”.

Mr Beazley’s uncle, Syd Beazley, was among those lost in the tragedy.

“Finding the site of Australia’s most devastating loss at sea and will help heal Australia’s collective memory for generations,” Chair of the Australian War Memorial Kim Beazley said.

“This has solved a Second World War mystery and my family’s history.”

Mr Beazley’s uncle was a resident of Rabaul in New Guinea's East New Britain province, and was on board the ship.

“This discovery is connected to an enormous Australian tragedy, both from massacres on land and the huge loss of life at sea," Mr Beazley said.

“This is a monumental moment in history and for the families who have agonised and grieved about what happened to their loved ones on this ill-fated ship."

In 2009 Mr Beazley joined a group of relatives urging the federal government to launch a search for the wreck.

Australian War Memorial Director Matt Anderson said: “The families on the ship were unaware of their loves ones fate until after the war.

"According to an account from the handful of surviving Japanese crew, the Australians in the waters sang Auld Lang Syne to their mates still trapped in the ship as it sank beneath the waves.”

“We should take both pride and comfort in the fact we live in a country where we have continued, for 80 years, to find the Montevideo Maru’s final resting place. This will bring some measure of closure to the relatives and, I hope, allow all those who perished, to finally rest in peace."

Last year, families of those who died marked the 80th anniversary of the tragedy at the Australian War Memorial.

The Australian War Memorial commemorates the tragedy through a commemorative sculpture and the Memorial’s Roll of Honour.

Two memorial services, one at Vulcan beach, the other at Rabaul, were held to mark the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the Japanese transport Montevideo Maru in which Second AIF prisoners and civilians died. Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) nurses from the 118th Australian General Hospital inspect wreaths at the conclusion of a service. 

On 22 June 1942 an estimated 845 prisoners of war (POWs) and 209 civilians captured by Japanese forces embarked from Rabaul, New Britain, aboard the Japanese transport ship MV Montevideo Maru. The POWs were members of the No. 1 Independent Company, 2/22 Battalion, and other units of Lark Force. Civilians included officials of the New Guinea Administration and missionaries. The ship sailed unescorted for Hainan Island. On 1 July 1942 all the prisoners died when the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by a US Navy submarine, USS Sturgeon, off the coast of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Phoot taken January 23rd, 1946. taken by Harding, B A. Supplied: Australian War Memorial 

Lark Force was an Australian Army formation established in March 1941 during World War II for service in New Britain and New Ireland. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Scanlan, it was raised in Australia and deployed to Rabaul and Kavieng, aboard SS Katoomba, MV Neptuna and HMAT Zealandia,to defend their strategically important harbours and airfields. The Turner boys were part of this.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in December 1941 they entered the war and it wasn't just the Germans Australians had to be on the look out for. 

Most of Lark Force was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army after Rabaul and Kavieng were captured in January 1942 by an invading force of around 20 thousand being opposed by less than a thousand.