May 14, 2015

AHS CENTAUR - 14 May 1943

72 years ago today (14th May 1943)  the AHS Centaur was torpedoed and subsequently sunk off the east coast of Australia.

In the early afternoon of 12 May 1943 Centaur steamed from Sydney for Cairns carrying members of the 2/12th Field Ambulance. Shortly after 4.00 am on 14 May, while most people were asleep, a torpedo struck Centaur‘s port side, hitting the oil fuel tank which ignited in a massive explosion.

The survivors were at sea for a day and half before they were rescued. The ship’s crew and medical staff suffered heavily, as did the 2/12th Field Ambulance -178 men, from a total of 193, died. It was the nurses though, who suffered the worst. Of the 12 nurses on board only one, Sister Nell Savage, survived.

The bridge superstructure collapsed and the funnel crashed onto the deck. Everything was covered with burning oil and a fire quickly began to roar across the ship. Water, meanwhile, rushed in through the gaping hole in her side. Many of those on board not killed in the explosion or fire, were trapped as the ship started to go down bow first, and then broke in two. In just three minutes Centaur was gone.
The Japanese sinking of this Australian hospital ship in 1943 was a violation of the most basic humanitarian convention.

An informative post on the history of the torpedoing of the A.H.S. Centaur  including all the names is on the Tweed Heads Historical Society website HERE.

According to the Wikipedia site, the reason for the attack is unknown, and the events surrounding the sinking of Centaur are controversial because it has been attested that she may have been in breach of the international conventions that should have protected her.

The ship had been appropriately lit and marked to indicate that it was a hospital ship and its sinking was regarded as an atrocity. The Australian Government delivered an official protest to Japan over the incident. The Japanese did not acknowledge responsibility for the incident for many years and the War Crimes Tribunal could not identify the responsible submarine.

However, the Japanese official war history makes clear that it was submarine 1-177, under the command of Lt Commander Nakagawa who had sunk the Centaur. Lt Commander Nakagawa was convicted as a war criminal for firing on survivors of the British Chivalry which his ship had sunk in the Indian Ocean.

Claims of discovery were made in 1995, but the wreck was later proven to be another ship. The wreck of
Centaur was found on 20 December 2009.

and now, new images of the wreck have emerged.

With thanks to the World War 11 Zone forum:

THREE  explore in 3D (takes awhile to load, but worth it)

Charles Richard Le Brun was one of the 268 people that died on board the HMAS Centaur and at the time was aged 43.
Charles was born at Darlimurla in Victoria, Australia on 10th Oct 1899 to Murdoch Le BRUN and his wife, Rebecca Ann MOORE.

At the age of 23, Charles married Dorothy KEMPTON on 15th Feb 1923 at Malvern and they had 6 children.

On 9th July 1940, Charles joined the AIF, his army number being: VX40778 and he was assigned to the 2/12th Field Ambulance unit.

The 2/12th Field Ambulance was an Australian military unit of the Second Australian Imperial Force, serving during World War II. During their six years of service, over 200 soldiers were killed, the highest figure for a non-combatant unit in Australian history.

The 2/12th was founded at Sydney Showground on 22 November 1940. The unit was attached to the 23rd Infantry Brigade, 8th Division until February, 1943, when it was moved to II Corps. Most of the recruits were from rural New South Wales. During their training in the Northern Territory, the members of the 2/12th provided medical support for the 23rd Brigade, participated in the construction of five small medical hospitals, and assisted sappers and pioneer assault units, earning the unit the nickname "2/12th Pioneers".

Following the beginning of the Pacific War, 45 members of the 2/12th were each attached to Gull Force and Sparrow Force, and sent to defend the islands of Ambon and Timor respectively. All of the members of the 2/12th serving with Gull Force were captured or killed by the Japanese on 1 February 1942, with many dying as prisoners of war on Ambon or Hainan. Many of those serving with Sparrow Force were also captured.

The half-strength unit was reinforced, and on 10 May 1943, the 192 members of the 2/12th boarded hospital ship Centaur to be transported to New Guinea.

On 14 May 1943, at 4:00 a.m., Centaur was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-177, and sank in less than three minutes. Of the 332 aboard, there were only 64 survivors, including 14 members of the 2/12th. It was 36 hours before they were resuced by USS Mugford.

The 14 survivors were reinforced by men from the 4th Light Field Ambulance, and served in Borneo, Morotai, Tarakan, Lutong, and Kuching. The unit stood down in 1946, having served past the war's end, working with the retrieval and care of Allied prisoners of war.

below: copy of the will of Charles Richard Le Brun:


please note:  none of the above images are mine, all have been located on the internet over many years or passed on to me by family members.

a National Service of 

Thanksgiving & Remembrance
AHS Centaur

is usually held at St Johns Cathedral, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Click HERE for a PDF Document, including name of everyone on board.

Lest We Forget


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