A Brief History
On May 14, 1943, the Australian hospital ship AHS Centaur was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese Imperial Navy submarine I-177. Sadly, 268 of the 332 crew and civilians aboard along with 63 of the 65 Australian Army personnel aboard the ship died.
Centaur was clearly marked in accordance with International Red Cross protocol, painted white and showing large red crosses on the hull. She was also fully illuminated when attacked. Built in Scotland in 1924, Centaur was originally a combination refrigerated cargo and passenger liner that was turned over to the Australian military in 1943 for conversion as a hospital ship.
Centaur was not particularly large, only 315 feet long and 48 feet wide with a gross tonnage of 3222. Capable of 12.5 knots, she had been armed as a British vessel, but her conversion to hospital ship included the removal of all armaments.
Tragically, about 2 dozen hospital ships of all nations were sunk during World War II, including some that were heavily damaged. The worst of these incidents was the sinking of the Soviet hospital ship Armenia by German bomber aircraft, resulting in about 5000 deaths.
Despite investigation and protests, no one was ever put on trial for or charged for the war crime of sinking the Centaur.
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For more information, please see…
Royal Australian Navy. Royal Australian Navy Fleet: Celebrating 100 years of Pride in the Fleet. Big Sky Publishing, 2016.
Stille, Mark. The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War. Osprey Publishing, 2014.
The featured image in this article, a propaganda poster calling for Australians to avenge the sinking of Centaur, is of Australian origin and is now in the public domain because its term of copyright has expired.
You can also watch video versions of this article on YouTube.