indrapoera, sulzer powered ships
Indrapoera / Asuncion / Bianca C / Melanesien
Rotterdam Lloyd Line / Genoese Linea C / Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes
1926 - 1963

The contract for this ship was signed in June 1923 at a cost of six million Dutch Guilders, although work had in fact started three months earlier at the Koninklijke Maatschappij De Schelde, Vlissingen. The ship was launched in March 1925, named Indrapoera, a volcano on the island of Sumatra. Sea trials were successfully completed during December 1925, importantly so as this was the first ship in the Dutch fleet to be powered by diesel engines. Refrigerated space was also incorporated to allow the transport of Australian meat to Java.

Seven water-tight bulkheads separated the eight compartments built into the ship. Nine lifeboats and one motor boat and a doubled hulled bottom were part of the safety features.

The electric power station supplied current to three 5-ton and eight 3-ton electric winches, the steering engine, 3,000 lamps, 375 fans and various appliances including those in the pantries, kitchens, laundry rooms, surgery, barber shop, wireless station etc. All passenger cabins were electrically heated. Should the main engines fail a separate generater set located on one of the upper decks could supply emergency power.

The Indrapoera was delivered at the same time as the company's new ship Slamat, both ships were about the same size but the Slamat was equipped with double reduction geared turbines, making possible an interesting comparison of the ships propulsion systems.

From February 1926 to September 1939 the Indrapoera made fifty five round trips on the Rotterdam - Batavia (Djakarta) route. The route varied little; Rotterdam, Southampton, Tangiers, Marseille, Port Said, Suez Canal, Columbo, Sabang, Singapore and Batavia followed by a fill-in trip to Surabaya. The return route was the same, the round trip took about seventy seven days covering 18,000 nautical miles.

1926: March 11th arrived at Singapore on her eastbound maiden voyage. A reception with dancing was held on board the vessel during the afternoon.
1926: May 19th departed Rotterdam and May 28th at Marseilles, due Singapore June 16th (?), reported three days ahead of schedule on her second voyage east.
1926: July 9th at Singapore for Holland.
1926: report dated December 30th from Batavia - the sailing of the Indrapoera from Batavaia to Singapore was delayed due to heavy weather which was affecting both land and sea. The stop at Belawan was cancelled due to severe local floods with damage to the port facilities (?). Passengers destined for Belawan would continue to Singapore and return on the eastbound Grotius.

1927: January 21st at Singapore.
1927: April 7th at Singapore.
1927: August 5th at Singapore for Holland.
1927: October 20th at Singapore from Holland.
1927: November 11th at Singapore for Holland.

1928: February 17th at Singapore for Holland.
1928: May 17th at Singapore from Holland.
1928: June 8th at Singapore for Holland.
1928: August 22nd at Singapore for Holland.
1928: September 14th at Singapore for Holland.
1928: December 21st at Singapore for Holland.

1929: March 8th at Singapore for Holland.
1929: March 28th at Singapore for Holland.
1929: June 13th at Singapore from Holland.
1929: September 19th at Singapore from Holland.
1929: October 11th at Singapore for Holland. Late arrival of the immigration authorities delayed disembarkation of the passengers.

1930: January 9th at Singapore from Holland.
1930: January 31st at Singapore for Holland.
1930: May 9th at Singapore for Holland.
1930: October 30th at Singapore from Holland.
1930: November 21st at Singapore for Holland.

1931: February 5th (?) at Singapore from Holland.
1931: February 27th at Singapore.
1931: May 14th at Singapore from Holland.
1931: June 5th at Singapore for Holland.
1931: August 12th at Singapore from Holland.
1931: August 28th at Singapore for Holland.

As the ship had settled into its routine two problems were noted. The diesel engines, particularly the pistons & cylinders suffered regular failures and the ship generally suffered from high levels of vibration. To rectify these two failings the ship was taken out of service during October 1931 and drydocked in Rotterdam to have her bow extended by 7ft 6in. Following this the ship sailed to Vlissingen to have the old engines removed and two new 4,500shp double acting diesel engines were fitted. These new engines increased the ship's top speed to 17 knots. This modest increase in speed could shave five days off the oneway trip to Batavia. No significant changes were required in the engine room to accommodate the new engines. The double acting two-stroke Schelde-Sulzer engines, the first of the design to be fitted to a large passenger ship have cast steel pistons with the fuel pumps arranged differently. All the pumps were grouped at the forward end being driven from the crankshaft by Renold duplex chains. The engine crankshaft operated the scavenging pump whilst a single three-stage air compressor was driven at the forward end.

The single-acting engines utilised turbo blowers and salt water cooling, fresh water coolers now occupied the space vacated by the bturbo blowers. Certain pumps were replaced with larger capacity pumps due to the greater volumes of fresh water required. However the electrical demands were reduced due to the replacement of the turbo blowers. The increased output from these engines would allow the Indrapoera to match the high speed of sister ship Baloeran and of similar vessels in the employ of the Netherland Steamship Company.

The two engines removed from the Indrapoera were intended for use in two new cargo ships to be built for Rotterdam Lloyd (one was the Bengalen - the Bengalen would be a familiar vessel in the Dutch East Indies, but became a casualty of World War II, being scuttled near Sourabaya on March 2nd 1942).

Placed back in service during December 1931 the ship performed well as she plied the regular route to Djakarta. Maximum speed was now just over 17 knots, engine output measured 8,860shp at 94rpm, diesel oil consumption was forty five tons per day.

1932: May 4th at Rotterdam, her maiden voyage with the new engines.
1932: May 31st at Singapore for Batavia.
1932: June 17th at Singapore for Holland.
1932: July 27th departed Rotterdam.
1932: August 23rd at Singapore from Holland.
1932: September 9th at Singapore, from Batavia for Holland, passengers included Sultan Ibrahim of Johore, sailed for Europe to join the Sultana, formerly Mrs. Helen Wilson, a Scotswoman, at Deauville. They would return together to Johore, expected to arrive on November 14th. They would separate in May 1938.
1932: November 15th at Singapore from Holland.
1932: December 2nd at Singapore for Holland.

1933: February 3rd at Columbo & February 8th at Singapore from Holland for Batavia.
1933: February 24th at Singapore from Sourabaya.
1933: April 5th at Rotterdam for Batavia.
1933: May 19th at Singapore for Holland.
1933: July 25th at Singapore from Holland.
1933: August 11th at Singapore for Holland.
1933: October 16th (?) at Singapore from Holland.

Despite the good results effected by the changes completed during 1931 the engineers felt the ship's efficiency could be further improved. Lengthening the hull even further was the preferred option but was deemed too costly. An alternative was to fine down the underwater bow sections by the introduction of hollow frames. This would have a beneficial effect on the output of the engines. This work was to be carried out at the end of November 1933 using a drydock in Rotterdam. Prior to this work being carried out the ship caught fire at Rotterdam, a considerable effort was expended by the authorities to bring the fire under control. The fire started in bedding stored in the 1st Class smokeroom, possibly from a dropped cigarette set light to materials being collected following the end of the voyage. This damage was repaired at the same time the hull work was being carried out. In refitting the damaged section of the ship improved fireproofing measures were added. However the finishing and triom materials kept to the traditions and 'feel' of the original design. A large sports deck was added on the top deck, complementing newer ships with this feature.

After the repairs and enhancements were completed the Indrapoera returned to the Rotterdam - Djakarta run.

1934: May 18th at Singapore for Holland, her first return trip after the fire at Rotterdam, under the command of Captain Tluidinga..
1934: July 20th at Singapore.
1934: September 18th at Singapore.
1934: October 5th at Singapore for Rotterdam.
1934: December 11th at Singapore from Holland.
1934: December 28 at Singapore for Holland.

1935: March 5th at Singapore from Holland.
1935: March 22nd at Singapore for Holland.
1935: June 14th at Singapore.
1935: July 16th, the impressive naval review drew almost a hundred thousand visitors to Spithead, with the King being present as part of the Jubilee celebrations. A number of large passenger ships acted as floating grandstands, including the Indrapoera.
1935: August 20th at Singapore from Holland.
1935: September 6th at Singapore. Ticket prices from Singapore via Marseilles to Southampton were 1st Class single $754, return $1,320; 2nd class single $549, return $960.
1935: November 12th at Singapore from Holland.

1936: February 4th at Singapore from Holland.
1936: February 21st at Singapore.
1936: April 28th at Singapore from Holland.
1936: May 15th at Singapore for Holland.
1936: July 23rd at Singapore.
1936: August 7th at Singapore for Holland.
1936: October 13th at Singapore (eastbound).
1936: October 30th at Singapore (westbound).

1937: January 27th expected at Singapore from Holland, departure from Marseilles on January 9th. The ship was timetabled one day later than advertised in order to accommodate the wedding of H.R.H. Princess Juliana, and connections of the boat train from The Hague to Marseilles.
1937: February 12th at Singapore for Holland.
1937: April 20th at Singapore.
1937: May 7th at Singapore for Holland.
1937: July 13th at Singapore from Holland.
1937: July 30th at Singapore for Holland.
1937: October 5th at Singapore (eastbound).
1937: October 22nd at Singapore (westbound).
1937: December 28th at Singapore from Holland for Batavia. the theft of an undisclosed sum of money and other valuables from a French passenger saw the baggage of disembarking passengers at Columbo & Singapore being closely inspected by European excise officers. Similar procedures would also take place on arrival at Batavia (Tandjong Priok) and Sourabaya (Tandjong Perak).

1938: January 14th (?) at Singapore for Holland.
1938: June 14th departed Singapore for Batavia.
1938: July 1st, Singapore for Batavia, whilst docked the Sultan of Johore became threateningly embroiled with press photographers snapping photographs as the Sultan said farewell to his recent guest, former showgirl, Cecily Hill, who was returning to London. The 64 year old recently divorced Sultan was seeking marriage with the 24 year old Cecily Hill
1938: September 6th at Singapore from Holland for Batavia.
1938: September 23rd at Singapore.

1939: February 21st at Singapore from Holland for Batavia.
1939: May 16th at Singapore from Holland, passengers included 57 Dutch Naval personnel headed for the Netherlands Indies.
1939: June 9th at Singapore.
1939: August 8th at Singapore from Holland.
1939: August 25th at Singapore.
1939: December 1st at Singapore from Holland for Java. It is reported that between November 1939 & January 1940 the Indrapoera and her sister ships would not call at Singapore or Columbo.
1939: December 13th at Batavia for Europe, the company would route the ship via Suez rather than the Cape of Good Hope. The ship would also call at Lisbon.

1940: February 5th at Singapore from Batavia for Belawan, Sabang, Colombo, Port Said & Genoa. This was the first Rotterdam Lloyd mail & passenger ship to call at Singapore since November 1939. The timetables indicated the Indrapoera would sail from Singapore on July 26th 1940, however the war intervened.

Its routine was interrupted by World War Two, when Holland was invaded on May 10th 1940 the ship was at Genoa, it immediately sailed for Marseille, the Dutch not considering Italy to be a friendly power. From here it was on to Casablanca then to Djakarta via Cape Town. Hired to the British Government the ship sailed in July 1940 to transport refugees from Hong Kong to Australia. After arriving in Sydney the ship was fitted with a four inch naval gun and altered below-deck to reflect her troopship status. Her first troop movement occurred in September 1940 voyaging from Sydney to Port Said via the Suez Canal, then returning to Bombay. The ship remained on these routes until the spring of 1941. Whilst operating with convoy US9 during January 1941 the Indrapoera sailed with the Queen Mary and the Mauretania.

The slower pace of the Mediterranean convoys did not bode well for the ship's engines, these slower speeds led to incomplete combustion of the fuel oil, leading to an exhaust filled with showers of sparks. The ship moved from the Middle East routes, via Cape Town to Halifax in order to transport Canadian troops to Europe. During July 1941 time was spent at Glasgow undergoing further internal modifications and the fitting of anti-aircraft armament, depth charge launchers and two rockets to combat low flying aircraft. After this attention it was back to transporting troops to Aden via Cape Town, further voyages were concentrated about the Indian Ocean and the Middle Eastern ports.

On August 3rd 1941 the Indrapoera sailed with convoy WS 10 from the United Kingdom bound for Suez. Freetown was reached on August 17th 1941, leaving on August 21st 1941, Indrapoera was in the section of ships bound for Cape Town for refuelling. Suez was reached late in September 1941. Also sailing as part of this convoy was the Sulzer powered Rangitiki. On December 24th 1941 the Indrapoera joined convoy WS 12Z at Durban bound for Suez, but split from this convoy in the Indian Ocean to become WS 12ZB with eight ships and one naval escort bound for Bombay, arriving here on January 6th 1942.

From June 1942 the Dutch government requisitioned the Indrapoera, it received a refit in Durban and then continued on with its Middle Eastern duties. After the refit the Indapoera joined convoy WS 22 at Durban on October 3rd 1942, this convoy had sailed from the United Kingdom on August 29th 1942, in the convoy already were the Sulzer engined ships Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, Rangitata & Sibajak. Also joining at Durban was the Sulzer engined Felix Roussel! These five ships would not remain together long, the Indrapoera arrived at Bombay on October 17th 1942, the others split between Aden/Suez & Mombasa.

In support of Allied landings in North Africa it worked many shuttles during 1943 between Liverpool, Algiers and other Mediterranean ports.

Convoys WS 29 & KMF 13 sailed from the United Kingdom on April 16th 1943 with the Indrapoera in the convoy. When the convoys split on April 20th 1943 the KMF 13 headed for the Mediterranean with the Indrapoera in this convoy.

The Indrapoera and the Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt sailed as part of joint convoys WS 30 & KMF 15 from the United Kingdom on May 21st 1943. On May 25th 1943 the convoys split, the KMF 15 heading into the Mediterranean with the two aforementioned ships.

On August 17th 1943 the combined convoys WS 33 & KMF 22 sailed from the United Kingdom with the Indrapoera as part of WS 33. Unusually both sections of the convoy sailed into Gibralter, arriving on August 24th 1943. WS 33 sailed from Gibralter on September 4th 1943, arriving in Freetown on September 9th 1943. Departure from here was on September 14th 1943 with all ships calling at Lagos & Takoradi to pick up West African troops. The convoy reached Cape Town on October 9th 1943 for refuelling and moved on to Durban, arriving October 13th 1943. Seven days were spent at Durban before the convoy moved on to Kilindini, arriving on October 26th 1943 and remaining here just one day. Three days later (30th) the convoy divided with the Bombay section including the Indrapoera and the Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt (from ?), reaching Bombay on November 4th 1943. This convoy was the last of the WS (Winston Special) series, the opening up of the Mediterranean to Allied forces made the long trip around Africa redundant.

Late in 1943 the ship lost its rudder in a serious storm in the Mediterranean, the ship safely reached Algiers, but remained here until May 1944 awaiting repairs. Once back in service the ship continued operations in the Mediterranean and off the west coast of Africa. By September the ship was back at Liverpool for repairs, including the fitting of radar, but it would not sail again until January 1945 - again to the Mediterranean area of operations. VE Day (May 5th) was spent in Liverpool, the ship receiving more attention, by VJ Day (August 15th) the Indrapoera was docked in Bombay. The ship was used to bring home many former British prisoners of war previously held by the Japanese.

Mid-October found the ship receiving honours in Southampton, by month end the short emotional journey had been made to her home port, Rotterdam - for the first time in five years. But it was soon back to her regular Dutch East Indies run, this time as part of the effort to quell the uprising in these colonies - taking military personnel eastwards and bringing refugees westward. Occasional diversions were made to carry emigrants to South Africa.

1946: April 28th at Singapore.

Late in 1948 the ship underwent a major refit, her passenger accomodation was limited to a maximum of ninety eight persons, whilst her cargo space was greatly increased. Although the routes operated in this capacity were more varied, the run to Djakarta remained the most frequent.

1949: September 17th, the Indapoera arrived at Singapore for the first time since the end of the war in order to resume normal passenger workings. The ship was enroute between Holland & Batavia with about 100 passengers.

1950: January 23rd at Singapore.

1951: September 28th Singapore.

1952: February 8th at Singapore.
1952: March 14th at Singapore for Holland.
1952: June 7th at Singapore.

1954: March 10th at Singapore.
1954: April 24th at Singapore.
1954: July 27th at Singapore.
1954: August 28th at Singapore.
1954: December 2nd at Singapore.

1955: August 9th at Singapore.
1955: September 10th at Singapore.

1956: April 25th at Singapore.
1956: May 29th at Singapore.

However her cost-effectiveness became more and more of a concern for her owners, to the point where the ship was placed up for sale. During July 1956 the Indrapoera was sold to the Providencia Shipping Company S.A. of Genoa, Italy for GBP202,500. It was renamed Asuncion & registered in Panama. Three months later the ship was sold to the Genoese Linea 'C', modified for packet boat service, renamed the 'Bianca C' and re-entered service in 1957 between Italy and Central/South America. After several months of service Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes chartered the ship, including a journey from France to Australia, travelling under the name 'Melanesien'. The ship sailed under this name for the remainder of her career, which ended in May 1963 when the ship was sold for scrap to Ariberto Bianchi of Cesa, Italy.

Builder: K M de Schelde, Flushing
Length: 500 feet: 507 feet after 1931 work
Beam: 60 feet
Draught: 29ft 9in
Gross Weight: 17,825 tons.
Engines: Two x 3,500shp - six cylinder 760mm bore, 1,340mm stroke. 1931 upgrade - K M de Schelder Sulzer 6DS70 two x 4,500shp
Auxiliary engines: four 4SS34 engines, bore 340mm, stroke 540mm
Screws: Two
Maximum speed: 15 knots; 17 knots after 1931 upgrade.
Passengers (1926): 141 1st, 182 2nd, 68 3rd & 56 4th class.
Passengers: 437; 98 after 1948 refit.
Crew: 222


(Above) From a postcard by C R Hoffmann


Page added February 12th 2005
Last updated June 14th 2014

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