An infamous torpedo attack in 1943 marks Anzac Day coverage

Sat, 25 April 2020

This Anzac Day is a different one for many of us. There are no marches, or gatherings of old friends, but what remains is the remembrance of the sacrifice of those Australians and New Zealanders who have served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

At 12.15pm today, 2RPH broadcasts a special Anzac Day program of Get Together. Volunteer presenter Bob Hargreaves, who records all of his episodes from home, shares the story of the infamous sinking of the well-lit and clearly marked Australian hospital ship, The Centaur. 

Here is a little of the story. 

On the night she was attacked the ship was steaming northward some 24 miles off the Queensland coast. At 4am on 13 of May the ship’s 2nd Mate Gordon Rippon finished his watch and, estimating the Centaur to be those 24 miles east-north-east of Stradbroke Island, he checked that all external lights were burning, and illuminating the three large red crosses on the ship’s sides and went to his cabin and bed.

In a letter he later wrote to his father he said he had just lain down when he heard and felt the first mighty explosion. “Picking myself up off the floor I looked out my cabin door. I saw a sight I will never forget….The ship was way down by the head. All the forepart was one sheet of flame, it was raining drops of burning oil."

A single torpedo had hit in the port side (left-hand side) and blew a hole 8 to 10 metres in diameter in the hull, from well below the waterline, and up to the green band in which the large red crosses are/were clearly displayed. The blast demolished the engine room.

268 people died in the torpedo attack which came from the Japanese submarine I-77. The war crimes claims of Japanese involvement in the attack and sinking were denied by the Japanese until 1979 when they admitted to carrying out the attack. The Captain of the 1-77 was never convicted of the Centaur attack, but the Commander of the 177, Commander Hajime Nakagawa survived the war, but I-77 didn’t.

In July 1948, he was indicted and tried by the U.N War crimes Commission in Yokohama for war crimes, not including the Centaur incident. He pleaded guilty to one charge and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. It is understood the Commander was convicted for ordering the machine gunning of people in the water.

Tune in today (Saturday 25 April) at 12.15pm on 2RPH - 1224AM, 100.5FM, digital DAB+ and web streaming -