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The Sinking of the Montevideo Maru: Australia's Worst Military Maritime Disaster 1 July 1942

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

The Montevideo Maru The USS Sturgeon

845 Australian POWs and over 200 civilian internees left Rabaul New Britain on 22 June 1942 on the “Montevideo Maru”. The"Montevideo Maru” was not marked as a POW carrier, it was torpedoed and sunk by a United States submarine the “USS Sturgeon” close to Luzon, Philippines resulting in the deaths of almost all Australian prisoners and other internees onboard.

Rabaul, New Britain was attacked by the Japanese Army on the 23 or January 1942, as part of the Japanese push on the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies during the early days of WWII. The Japanese attacked Rabaul which is on the tip of the Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain and defeated Australian forces there.

After the fall of Rabaul, the Japanese loaded over 1000 POWs and others onto the Montevideo Maru. The ship set sail for the Chinese island of Hainan, when she was sighted by an American submarine the "USS Sturgeon” near the northern Philippine coast. The ship was unmarked as a POW ship, so the American sub commander would not have known the Montevideo Maru was carrying Australian POWs when she was sighted by the sub. The Sturgeon pursued the Montevideo Maru until it was able to fire four torpedoes at the Montevideo Maru as she slowed down to rendezvous with two Japanese destroyers. The Montevideo Maru was mortally struck, and she sank in only 11 minutes. About 100 Australian POWs escaped the sinking into the water only to watch their fellow brothers in arms go down with the ship. The Australians in the water sang “Auld Lang Syne” to their fellow trapped mates still onboard the Montevideo Maru as she disappeared beneath the waves of the Philippine Sea.

I can almost hear them now singing that song that we all have sung on many a New Years eve.

“Auld Lang Syne”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne.


For auld lang syne, my jo,

For auld lang syne.

We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!

And surely I'll be mine!

And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Auld lang syne song is attributed to the national poet of Scotland, Mr. Robert Burns, but the true composer is not definitely known.

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