SS Montoro

Montoro was a 4,507 gross tons passenger and cargo vessel built by Clyde Shipbuilding Co. in 1911, of 361ft length and 48ft breadth and with a service speed of 12 knots. At first she carried a crew of Australian Officers with other ratings being Malay, Indian, and Chinese, but this later became all-Australian manning. Operating a continuous service on the Australia, Java and Singapore Service until the mid 1920's she was then transferred to the Australia-Papua-New Guinea run.

The Company's intention to sell her in mid 1939 was abandoned due to the critical state of international affairs, and so commenced the wartime career of this grand old ship 1939 to 1945. Fortunately coming through the war unscathed, Montoro like others quietly doing their work in grey wartime camouflage paint, contributed markedly to allied success in the war in the Pacific.

Throughout 1940/41 modifications to merchant ships were carried out for reasons connected with the war. Montoro was fitted with a 4 inch stern gun, Oerlikon guns, Paravanes, and Degaussing Gear, four R.A.N. naval Gunners were assigned to the ship and the Deck Officers underwent gunnery courses at various Naval establishments.

The Introduction part of this site outlines the activities of the German sea raiders, while Wartime Stories tells briefly of enemy submarines and of atrocities as the enemy advanced towards Australia.

Taken under Commonwealth Government control late in 1939, Montoro in 1940-1941 transported troops and supplies north and evacuated civilians back south. She was among the vessels which recovered the erstwhile prisoners of the German Commerce Sea-raiders, via Emirau and Kavieng (the Germans having shown greater compassion than their (later) Japanese allies.

Burns Philp ships like Montoro in conjunction with the ships of other companies, now became an integral part of Australia’s defence and communication, as there was no rail link to the north and roads and air transport capacity was limited.

In addition to the US convoys,the "ZK convoy" system was introduced for the transport of troops to northern Australia and the New Guinea area to reinforce outlying bases. The Army units were initially A.M.F. (sometimes called Militia) units, as the all-volunteer A.I.F. Infantry Divisions were still occupied in the Middle East and Malaya/Singapore. In the ZK convoys during this period 4121 troops were carried north by merchant ships, 525 troops were carried to Thursday Island, 1087 to Port Moresby, 1593 to Rabaul and 916 to Darwin all at a critical period of danger sometimes sailing independent.

Montoro's war service, consistent and steady through to war's end in September 1945 took her to numerous ports, including Gove, Milingimbi and the Wessel Islands, all vital R.A.A.F. outposts, forming early warning and a formidable triangular defence for the area between the Gulf of Carpentaria and Darwin against Japan's southward thrust towards the Australian Mainland.

An Extract from the R.A.A.F.Operations Record Book of 1/4/43. indicates the hazards:-

"Suspect enemy vessel in area 3/4/43 unidentified vessel in vicinity detected prepare for emergency 4/4/43 unidentified vessel again located by R.D.F.5/4/43 submarine sighted visually by C.G. and located by R.D.F. action stations maintained 12/4/43 visual sighting of submarine. Immediate transmission "Top Priority" emergency signal to "Fighter Section Townsville"

As does the later entry in Montoro's Wireless Telegraph Log:-

"May 22 followed by submarine, June 24 mysterious flares observed near ship and sighted submarine periscope, July 20 suspected submarine sighting, 3 mines sighted August 24, Lat.11.13s Long.156.24e torpedo attack two torpedoes fired firing at enemy surfaced submarine, September 15 suspicious craft sends blinking light."

A long delayed de-requisitioning from Government control came in June 1948, a period spent returning defence personnel and their logistic material to Australia and also part of the Government plan to restore the South Pacific area to a peace time environment after the ravages of war.

Burns Philp was able to assume direct control on 9 June 2023 Montoro at 36 years of age, (a lifespan seldom achieved by a passenger vessel) and in August 1948 she was sold to the Wah Shang Co. of China. In 1955 after 43 years this fine old vessel went the way of so many others, to Japanese shipbreakers.