Friday, October 30, 2009

The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru world premiere

Australia’s worst maritime tragedy, which intimately involves Papua New Guinea, will be remembered in the stirring world premiere of The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru on Wednesday, November 11.

It tells the shocking story of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru off the Philippines coast on July 1, 1942.

Japanese hospital ship Montevideo Maru was carrying 845 troops from Australia’s Lark force and 208 civilians – 1,053 men – taken prisoner of war after Japan invaded Rabaul, East New Britain province, in Jan 1942.

The youngest was a boy of 15.

There were fathers and sons, civilians and troops, missionaries and traders, businessmen and administrators.

They had all been captured and interned by the Japanese in Rabaul.

They all died.

The youngest, the 15-year old, was Ivan Gascoigne, recorded as a clerk, the son of Cyril Gascoigne, who also died.

The sinking of the Montevideo Maru at 2.40 am on Wednesday July 1, 942 was Australia’s greatest disaster at sea, then and now.

The unmarked Japanese ship left occupied Rabaul on June 22, 1942, but nine days later on July 1, American submarine USS Sturgeon torpedoed it off Luzon in the Philippines.

The saddest thing is that the wreck has never been found to this day, and both Australia and PNG do not know the names of those killed, as the official nominal (katakana) roll – which might give a clue to the identities of those on board – has not been located

This Remembrance Day, The History Channel will commemorate Australia’s greatest-ever maritime disaster in The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru, premiering on Wednesday Nov 11 at 7.30pm AEDT.

Introduced by Sky News anchor Jim Waley – who lost a relative in the tragedy – and narrated by actor John Jarratt, this explosive two-hour documentary film tells the forgotten story of the death of over 1,000 Australians who were locked in the hold of the Japanese POW ship Montevideo Maru when the vessel was torpedoed.

In the early hours of July 1, 1942, the POW “hell ship” Montevideo Maru was torpedoed off the coast of the Philippines by an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon.

What the Americans did not realise at the time was that the boat was in fact a floating prison, holding over 1,000 Australian POW’s and civilians.

Tragically, 1,053 Australians perished on that fateful day.

The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru recounts the harrowing story of the sacrifice and suffering endured by these forgotten Australians during World War II.

It features detailed re-enactments of the shocking event as well as in-depth interviews with soldiers and crew members speaking publicly for the very first time – including the only Japanese crew member to survive the Montevideo Maru and a USS Sturgeon crew member who witnessed the sinking ship through the periscope.

This unique documentary also explores the broader story of the torturous Australian POW experience during this tumultuous period of WWII and features interviews with both Australian and British survivors of other hell ship sinkings.

Group channel manager of FOXTEL’s Owned and Operated Factual Channels, Jim Buchan, said: “In the tradition of event television such as Beyond Kokoda, and He’s Coming South, The History Channel remains committed to remembering the legacy left behind by Australia’s brave men and women.

“I am delighted that we are able to share this truly incredible, although sadly forgotten, story.”

Producer John Schindler said he was drawn to the Montevideo Maru story because his own mother lost four loved ones in the tragedy: “It is one of Australia’s greatest maritime tragedies with the loss of 1,053 lives and yet remarkably, most Australians have never heard of it.

“This documentary will once and for all put faces to numbers.”

The tragedy of the Montevideo Maru honours the brave Australian soldiers who served on the islands of New Britain, New Ireland and the surrounding islands of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.

The documentary is an exclusive FOXTEL production, co-produced by John Schindler and Bob Blasdall.




  1. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Just a minor technical point. The MONTEVIDEO MARU was not a hospital ship. It was a former luxury vessel converted to deliver Japanese troops to various theatres of war. It was being used to transport POW's and civilian internees from Rabaul to Hainan in China when it was sunk approximately 100 kilometres West of the island of Luzon in the Phillipines. Lest we Forget. John

  2. Anonymous10:25 PM

    Thank you Mr. Nalu for posting this. My father, Jack Atkinson, was interviewed for this film last Autumn. He is elderly and lives in the USA. It was not shown there (yet). He did not even know the name of the film and has not seen it yet. He is in it as the Sturgeon crew member who watched the sinking though a periscope. : ) I will get the DVD when it comes out. The director is sending him a copy. I ran across your post to discover the name of the film. Thank you again!
    Kathy (Atkinson) Collins