"Jap Sub Sinks Hospital Ship!" screamed the world's press in mid-May 1943, after Prime Minister John Curtin and General Douglas B. MacArthur announced the loss of the AHS 'Centaur' off Brisbane. The unarmed and brilliantly-lit ship - supposedly immune from attack - had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. She sank in less than three minutes. To their doom went 268 of the 332 souls on board. All but one of 12 female nurses perished.
The death toll on the 'Centaur' was the highest of any merchant vessel sunk by submarine in the Pacific during WWII.
But sadly, over the half-century since that fateful day, the 'Centaur's' innocence has been questioned. Sceptics were sure the military had compromised her hospital ship immunity by illicitly stuffing her holds with munitions and her wards with armed troops, possibly even commandoes. That a political/military coverup took place is undoubted by many people, even today.
Other mysteries enshroud the ill-fated 'Centaur'. Why, is can be asked, was she close to the coast that night, instead of 110 miles offshore as ordered? Why did the submarine's captain so flagrantly violate that most sacred of all conventions of war? And why did the Japanese deny any culpability at the time, when under international pressure to do so, yet concede it a quarter of a century later? The questions go on and on.
In this book Professor Christopher Milligan (who lost an uncle on the ship) combines 14 years of international research with the local knowledge of maritime historian and author Captain John Foley. Between them they address without fear of favour all the accusations and conjecture directed at the luckless 'Centaur' Fifty years of allusion are more than enough; the 'Centaur' deserves to be exorcised of all her ghosts so that she will be remembered for what she was; a lady of mercy, a speck of sanity on a sea of insane times.
Foreword: by Professor Geoffrey Blainey
Chapter 1: The Good Life
Chapter 2: A Merchant Ship at War
Chapter 3: From Passenger Liner to Hospital Ship
Chapter 4: AHS 47
Chapter 5: Sydney Swansong
Chapter 6: Northwards from Sydney
Chapter 7: Three minutes of Horror
Chapter 8: A Struggle for Survival
Chapter 9: A Pitful Muster
Chapter 10: Stars and Stripes to the Rescue
Chapter 11: The Survivors in Brisbane
Chapter 12: Shock Waves
Chapter 13: The War of Words
Chapter 14: Under the Legal Microscope
Appendix A: Personnel Statistics
Appendix B: Extracts from the Geneva Convention
Appendix C: Centaur's Construction Details
Armed with meticulous research' Foley and Milligan have set out to solve the 50 year old mystery of the sinking of the Centaur, one of Australia's greatest wartime disasters. This is an impressive piece of historical detective work - Jane Cadzow, Sydney Morning Herald
As with his earlier works Captain John Foley brings maritime history to vivid life ... further enhanced this time by painstaking research from Dr Christopher Milligan - Lawrie Kavanagh, Brisbane Courier Mail