In a paper, Sunk en route to freedom, Miller says the 1053 men being shipped from Rabaul when the Montevideo Maru was sunk off the Philippines by a US submarine on 1 July 1942 were being shipped to the Japanese-occupied island of Hainan in China.
Miller agrees with the Chifley Government’s assessment that a post-war inquiry into the loss of the Rabaul men was unnecessary because all the facts associated with the occupation of the Rabaul area were known to the government.
“This knowledge included the loss of the men captured there [who were] aboard the Montevideo Maru,” Miller writes.
He says the movement of the Montevideo Maru was associated with the exchange of Japanese and Allied internees in 1942, writing: “circumstantial evidence supports the contention that the Rabaul men were being moved into a zone that had been negotiated with the Japanese for the exchange of civilian internees.”
Miller’s research also reinforces that the Australian government was exploring all avenues to gain information about the men in Rabaul, including negotiating with the Japanese.
The government received advice from Japanese sources about the Rabaul prisoners, citing this extract from a file:
“Approximately 1,300 troops were at Rabaul at the time of the Japanese attack: of these 700 were taken prisoner or surrendered, according to advice from Japanese sources, 300 were in hospital or were casualties, and 160 had just been rescued. This left 140 not accounted for. He thought that most, if not all of these, would be casualties.”
Even if the Rabaul prisoners had reached
The prisoner exchange may have foundered on Foreign Minister HV ‘Doc’ Evatt’s view that it could be “highly dangerous to return from Australia 1120 [Japanese] internees many of whom will be able to imperil our security during the critical period of war.”
History buffs can find the complete paper on Rod Miller’s Montevideo Maru website here.
Photo: PNG First day cover with postmark commemorating 30th anniversary of the departure of the Montevideo Maru from Rabaul on 22 June 1942. Left click on the image to enlarge it [Max Hayes]