MV van Imhoff
The infamous, unsavoury incident which was to give rise to a
strange International aftermath, that dragged on for ten years and involved the
2980 ton "van Imhoff"
After the invasion of Norway, Holland, Belgium and France the most hair raising
stories of Fifth Column activities in those countries circulated world wide.
There were a surprising number of Germans in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI)
augmented by the crews of 20 German ships seized by the Dutch in NEI ports,
totalling about 3'000.
entered the war bringing hostilities to our area of conflict, fears were this
group would break out and operate as a Fifth Column for their Allies the
was prepared to accept them, so they were shipped out in 3 groups.
The first 2 in the KPM ships "Plancius" and "Ophir"about
2,500, the last in "van Imhoff
Orders from the British and Dutch Authorities were becoming scary and in
retrospect, not as rational and explicit as might have been.
On 15th January 1942. Captain Hoeksema received orders in Padang to proceed to Sibolga to embark
evacuees. On arrival the next day, he discovered they were almost 500 German
and NSB internees. He also had to embark a 62 military guard detachment and 100
tons of barbed wire to secure them.
"van Imhoff" an old ship and fitted with limited life saving
equipment and unarmed all of which Hoeksema radioed C-in-C.
The reply short and to the point "Embark them anyway." So he
scrounged a few bamboo rafts ashore and took off.
The internees were locked, securely in a couple of holds.
Many of this group were middle aged business men who had lived in the Indies for years, running camera shops or import export
business and a few aggressive German seamen off the impounded ships.
The next morning out into the Indian Ocean
they were bombed by Japanese planes and the ship began to sink.
Hoeksema panicked. He immediately ordered the lifeboats launched and the crew
and military guards into them. One lifeboat which could not be launched was
left hanging in the davits.The sergeant of the guard released the prisoners and
requested as many as possible be picked up by the lifeboats. Hoeksema refused .
in his opinion the prisoners were the "enemy' there were ample lifejackets
and bamboo rafts and they would have to take their chances and ordered the
lifeboats to row away from the ship. They made it to shore, but many of the
Many months later, news of it trickled through to Germany,
the authorities in occupied Holland
arrested KPM staff and transported them to German Labour
Camps. They also forced KPM to pay 4 millon guilders compensation to relatives
of the drowned men.
For another ten years a group of relatives and survivors of the tragedy
attempted criminal proceedings.
There is virtually no record here in Australia of the
contribution the Forty Plus KPM ships, (escaping ahead of the Japanese Forces
in Dutch East Indies) their officers and crews made to the Allied war effort
during and World War 2 "Battle for Australia" with Australian and
United States Forces.
The following is but one tragic story of Survival.
The most tragic KPM loss during the dreadful days of NEI - in terms of lives
lost - was that of the "Rooseboom" a small 1035 ton inter-island
ship. When she was sunk on the 28th February she was under command of Captain M
C A Boon.
The Rooseboom left the heavily damaged port of Tg. Priok
on the 22nd February. Her ultimate destination was Bombay
But first she had to call at Emmahaven (Padang)
to pick up a large number of military and civilian refugees, who had somehow
escaped from Malaya, crossing the narrow Malacca Strait
in small coasters, motorboats, canoes anything that would float.
They had then made their way up the large Indragiri
River in Sumatra
as far as they could, then crossed the mountains on the west coast and were now
awaiting rescue at Emmahaven.
No-one knows exactly how many refugees were crammed on to that little ship
there but it was probably well over five hundred.
The "Rooseboom" left Emmahaven on 27th February
On the 28th, in the middle of the night, well out into the Indian
Ocean, she was sunk by the Japanese submarine I.59 under command
The force of the explosion destroyed all but one of the lifeboats and the ship
sank within minutes.
At daybreak, there were some 80 people in that lifeboat, with a normal capacity
of 40 and another 50 or so floated alongside clinging to the gunwhales.
One by one they succumbed to injuries, sunstroke or sheer exhaustion while the
lifeboat drifted helplessly in an Easterly direction. back towards the west
coast of Sumatra.
Three and a half weeks later, the lifeboat was washed up on Sipora Island,
containing four living skeletons -- a Sergeant Gibson from a Scottish Regiment,
a young Chinese woman (Doris Lim) and two native crew members.
Miraculously, the natives of Sipora Island
managed to nurse them all back to health.
Gibson wrote a book about their experiences on his return to Scotland. Doris
and the two native crew members disappeared.
The only other survivors of this ghastly tragedy were two other native crew
members, who had been picked up two weeks earlier, clinging to wreckage in the
sea, by the KPM ship "Palopo" which made it to Bombay.