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.
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.
As the ship 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.
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. Despite the good results 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. This damage was repaired at the same time the hull work was being carried out.
After the repairs and enhancements were completed the Indrapoera returned to the Rotterdam - Djakarta run. 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.
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. 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
Maximum speed: 15 knots; 17 knots after 1931 upgrade.
Passengers: 437; 98 after 1948 refit.
(Above) From a postcard by C R Hoffmann
Page added February 12th 2005
Last updated March 2nd 2008
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