Remembering the sinking of the AHS Centaur

Sydney, NSW. 1943. Starboard bow view of the hospital ship Centaur, AWM

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the sinking of Australian Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur. In May 1943, the attack on AHS Centaur by a Japanese submarine made it one of the most remembered hospital ships of the Second World War.

To ensure Centaur was easily identifiable as a hospital ship she was painted white with a green band, interrupted by large red crosses, running around the hull. At night, the vessel was brightly illuminated by powerful spotlights.

In addition to this, a large number 47 was painted on the bow. This was Centaur's registration number with the International Red Cross and indicated that the enemy had been notified through diplomatic channels of her status as a hospital ship.

However, at 4.10 am on Friday, 14 May, Centaur was traveling east of Moreton Island, off the coast of Queensland when she was rocked by a great explosion and sank within minutes of the attack. The sinking was so quick, no SOS message was able to be sent.

Of the over 300 people on board, only 64 survived. They spent up to 35 hours on makeshift rafts and debris before being rescued by the United States destroyer, USS Mugford.

Sister Ellen Savage was the only one of twelve nursing sisters on board to survive the sinking. She suffered severe injuries as a result of the explosion and immersion in the sea. Sister Savage concealed her own injuries and treated the wounded. She also kept up morale, with a focus on keeping spirts high for the survivors, and later received the George Medal for her bravery.

To find more information on the sinking of AHS Centaur and the Second World War, visit

(Image: Sydney, NSW. 1943. Starboard bow view of the hospital ship Centaur.)