On 22 June 1942, some weeks after the fall of Rabaul to the Japanese, a large number of Australian prisoners were embarked from Rabaul’s on the SS Montevideo Maru. Unmarked as a POW ship, she was proceeding without escort to the Chinese island of Hainan, when she was sighted by the American submarine USS Sturgeon near the northern Philippine coast on 30 June.
The Sturgeon pursued, but was unable to fire, as the target was traveling at 17 knots. However, it slowed to about 12 knots at midnight. Unaware that it was carrying Allied prisoners of war and civilians, the Sturgeon fired four torpedoes at the Montevideo Maru before dawn of 1 July, causing the vessel to sink in only 11 minutes. According to a Japanese survivor Australians sang “Auld Lang Syne” to their trapped mates as the ship sank beneath the waves.
A nominal list made available by the Japanese government in 2012 revealed that a total of 1054 prisoners (178 non-commissioned officers, 667 other ranks and 209 civilians) died. Not a single POW survived the sinking, and this became Australia’s worst loss of life at sea.