This Day in History ( July 1 )

The ill-fated Montevideo Maru
The sinking of the - Montevideo Maru
1 July 1942 

Australia’s Thin Khaki Line :
'The Malaya Barrier' 

Many Australians have never heard of the MONTEVIDEO MARU (DVD). In terms of loss of life this tragic event is in fact Australia's greatest ever maritime disaster, resulting in the death of over 1,200 fine young Australian men. The men were locked in the hold of the Montevideo Maru and drowned when this unknown Japanese prison ship was torpedoed by the American submarine USS Sturgeon (considered friendly fire) on the 1st July 1942. The complete facts of the ‘Montevideo Maru’ have remained a mystery to this day.

Survivors of the sinking
A Japanese crew member who survived the sinking of the Montevideo Maru was interviewed in Japan. He said that some prisoners did in fact get out of the ship's hold and he formed an opinion of respect and admiration for Australians when they started singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in dedication to their drowned mates.

Brief Overview: In order to protect the airstrips north of the Australian mainland and the strategic harbour at Rabaul, New Britain (an Australian Territory) from the feared Japanese invasion Australian battalions were sent to Rabaul (Lark Force), Ambon (Gull Force) and Timor (Sparrow Force). These battalions - undermanned and relatively poorly armed, lacking any significant naval or air support – were sent to their fate. When Japan entered the war these Australian battalions were met by Japanese divisions who vastly outnumbered them and these Australians would become ‘hostages to freedom’ as the Japanese armed forces swiftly swept all before them as they moved south towards Australia. The rationale of the Australian Chiefs of Staff for this loss of Australian lives was that the enemy would be made to fight for the islands and buy enough time for the Australian Government to organise the defence of Australia. 

‘It’s not the first time a few thousand men have been thrown away and it won’t be the last.’ ~ Major General Sidney Rowell, Deputy Chief of the Australian General Staff, after the fall of Rabaul 

What happened in the Australian Territories of New Britain and New Ireland during the Second World War clearly demonstrates how complex war can be. The options submitted to the Australian War Cabinet and the decisions made by Australian Government in what to do with the people (service personnel and civilians) who lived on these islands when Japan entered the war - have been consigned to the history books. It's hard to imagine how these civilians coped with this sudden invasion, but how could we ever forget their bravery or their sacrifice.
Information supplied by Patrick Bourke - Member, Rabaul and Montevideo Maru, Papua New Guinea Association of Australia. Cronulla.

Further research options here:
Rabaul 1942  (Book)
Sister's of War (DVD) 
70th Anniversary commemorative events of the Rabaul & Montevideo Maru tragedy  (DVD)
Hostages to freedom : the fall of Rabaul (Book)

Finding Darcy (YA fiction book)
When Darcy Abbott is sent to live with her surly grandmother and silent great-grandmother for three months, she discovers a mystery regarding the death of her great-grandfather during World War II. A school project sets her on a search for the truth.
This book is suitable for students from upper primary to mid secondary. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Children’s Peace Literature Awards.