mv tanimbar, operation harpoon
1930 - 1942

The Tanimbar was built by the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Dundee for the Stoomvaart Maatschapplj Nederland, Amsterdam. The vessel included features for its intended use for trade in the Far East, including special accommodation for the passage of pilgrims. The ship was named after the Tanimbar Islands (Timur Laut), a group of about sixty five islands in the Maluku Province of Indonesia, which at one time were part of the Dutch East Indies empire.

The vessel was equipped with six main holds, one designed to act as a deep tank. 14 derricks with lift capacities between three to forty tons were powered by Messrs Laurence Scott & Co Ltd electric motors. Six three ton capacity electric deck cranes from Messrs Storkhysch, Hengelo, Holland; two electric capstans from N.V. Machinefabriek der Firma P.M.Duyvis & Co, Koogaan de Zaan, Holland. One electric windlass supplied by N.V. Atlswerke AC, Bremen. Messrs Brown Brothers & Co Ltd, Edinburgh provided the electrically driven steering gear, which was controlled by telemotor. An Oertz patent rudder was fitted. The refrigerated spaces were powered by equipment supplied by N.V. Grasso's Machinefabrieken of Holland

Sea trials for the Tanimbar commenced on September 17th 1930 and were considered successful.

During July 1931 the owners announced that the well known, but aging steam powered 'Kerk' vessels (Aagtekerk & Almkerk) would be replaced on the Holland - Australia service by the motorships Tawali, Tanimbar & Talisse, which would be additionally supported by the older steamers Djambi & Gaasterdijk.

The Tanimar arrived Port Adelaide on September 11th 1931 from Rotterdam via the Cape, to discharge about 28 tons of general cargo, leaving later that afternoon for Eastern ports. Six days later (17th) Sydney was reached. The Tanimbar was dressed with flags to celebrate the first anniversary of her sea trials run on September 17th 1930.

Departed Sydney October 8th (?) 1931 for Europe. A small quantity of cargo had been loaded at Brisbane, at Sydney further cargo loaded included 10,000 bales of wool, 3,000 tons of flour and some general merchandise. 2,000 tons of flour were already onboard having been loaded at Melbourne on the inward voyage. At Fremantle, reached in six days from Sydney, the cargo loaded included 550 bales of wool, 775 tons of flour, 140 loads of timber and 80 bales of skins. Departure from Fremantle was on October 15th 1931.

October 17th 1932 the Tanimbar reached Dunkirk in record time taking 31 days 3 hours 2 minutes from Sydney with a cargo including 17,603 bales of wool. The Tanimbar had left Sydney on September 16th 1932 at 12.26am under master Bellinga with the possibility of challenging the sailing record for the 'Wool Derby' - the fastest delivery of wool from Sydney to Dunkirk. The previous record was held by the British motorship Port Fairy with a time of 32 days 45 minutes (all times adjusted for the ten hour time difference). Other ships carrying the first of this year's wool cargo were the Temeraire, Ville d'Amiens & the Nardana.

September 14th 1933 the Tanimbar (current 'Wool Derby' record holder) and the Norwegian motorship Talleyrand departed Port Adelaide with wool for Dunkirk, the Zealandic, City of Dieppe & the Somerset followed, carrying a total of 23,000 bales of South Australian wool worth £400,000 and other cargo loaded at the Eastern ports.

Friday 13th October 1933 the Commonwealth and Dominion Line freighter Port Bowen and the Dutch motor freighter Tanimbar were in collision off Flushing, Holland, on Friday (13th). Both vessels had reached Antwerp on Friday evening, where examination showed that they were damaged and were leaking but no damage to the cargo had resulted. Despite the collision, the Tanimbar covered the direct passage from Adelaide, with the new season's wool in 29 days 16 hours (allowing for time difference) having left Port Adelaide on September 14th and travelling via Suez, a fast voyage. The Norwegian motor freighter Tricolor, which reached Antwerp five hours before the Tanimbar, after creating a new record from Sydney to Dunkirk direct, took 31 days 11.5 hours on the voyage from Sydney to Antwerp. The Port Bowen, which made the direct passage from Sydney to Hull, was the first vessel to reach the other side of the world with new season's wool from the first Sydney sales.

After 1933 the Tanimbar does not appear in any newspaper reports regarding the wool shipments, did the ship get re-assigned eleswhere?

World War II

The Tanimbar was reported sailing in convoy AT.15 which departed New York on April 30th 1942 and arrived on the Clyde on May 12th 1942, the convoy comprised nine ships and one escort including the 44,786 ton passenger liner Aquitania. After arrival on the Clyde the Tanimbar was loaded with supplies in order to join Operation Harpoon to provide relief for Malta. Convoy WS.19Z sailed from the Clyde on June 5th 1942 and arrived Gibraltar on June 12th 1942. The convoy comprised five merchant ships and twelve escorts. Information that the ships were routed for the Cape via Freetown fooled very few onboard, most on the ships believed from the outset their destination was Malta.

The small convoy left Gibraltar on June 12th 1942, comprising six merchantmen: Troilus (UK), Burdwan (UK), Orari (UK), Tanimbar (DU), Chant (US) and the tanker Kentucky (US) carrying a total of 39,000 long tons of cargo and oil. The immediate escort was considerable: the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Cairo, nine destroyers, the fast minelayer HMS Welshman and smaller vessels including minesweeping launches. Supporting this force at a distance was the battleship HMS Malaya, aircraft carriers HMS Argus and Eagle, cruisers HMS Kenya, Charybdis and Liverpool and a number of destroyers. The aircraft carriers provided the primary air support for the convoy with a total of forty aircraft (Sea Hurricanes, Fairey Fulmars and Fairey Swordfish).

The early morning of June 14th had been quiet but at about 10.30am air attacks began, the aircraft carriers were unsuccessfully targetted by two groups of Ju.87 dive-bombers manned by Italian crews. About forty minutes later a second attack commenced when twenty-eight Savoia S79ís torpedo-bombers, escorted by twenty Macchi fighters, attacked in two groups. Both columns of the convoy were attacked, the port column responded with anti-aircraft fire and fighters, but a gap between the destroyers on the starboard column allowed the torpedo bombers to come in low and release their torpedoes at close range. At 11.35am HMS Liverpool and the Tanimbar occupying the rear position in the convoy were hit; the Tanimbar sank within a few minutes with the loss of 23 crew. Tanimbar had only been able to make 12 knots for most of the trip whereas 13 to 14 knots had been expected, thus consigning it to the last place in the convoy.

The damaged, partially flooded HMS Liverpool was barely able to operate on its one remaining engine. It received a tow from two naval ships, including the HMS Antelope. On its slow voyage back to Gibraltar the aerial attacks continued, but Gibraltar was reached on June 17th. Prior to reaching the Straits of Sicily on June 14th the covering force also returned to Gibraltar. Of the remaining escorts the minelayer HMS Welshman was detached on June 14th for Malta, dropping off some cargo, the next day returning to the convoy.

With the heavy Allied ships now gone the convoy came under attack near Pantelleria on June 15th from ships of the Italian 7th Division and Axis aircraft. The escort destroyers created a smokescreen and then attacked the Italian fleet, casualties were sustained by both sides prior to the surface action being broken off. Air attacks stopped the Burdwan, Chant and Kentucky, which were abandoned and later sunk. Of the merchantmen only the Troilus and Orari now remained afloat. The situation was equally serious for the escorts: damage had been sustained by the cruiser Cairo and the minesweeper Hebe, the Bedouin, listing heavily had been set adrift but was later taken in tow by the Partridge. The arrival of four Italian ships saw the tow dropped, the Bedouin was later sunk by aerial torpedo on the evening of the 15th, the Partridge began its way back to Gibraltar.

The convoy's troubles were not over, on the evening of the 15th a minefield off Malta claimed further casualties. The destroyers Badsworth & Matchless and the merchantman Orari all struck mines and were damaged, while the Polish destroyer ORP Kujawiak sank after midnight. Although damaged the Orari would limp into Malta, along with the Trolius which had come through the battles virtually unscathed.

At the same time as the running of Operation Harpoon, a second convoy under the name of Operation Vigorous was run from Port Said/Haifa to supply Malta from the eastern Mediterranean. The running of the two convoys at the same time was an attempt to force the Axis to split their resources. Operation Vigorous included eleven merchantmen and a considerable flotilla of Allied warships and submarines. For a number of reasons this convoy never reached Malta, being turned back late on June 15th. The strength of the enemy air attacks, the proximity of a large Italian naval presence and shortages of fuel & ammunition all factored in the abandonment of the mission. Of the eleven merchantmen involved two were sunk. Ironically one of these was the Aagtekerk, a vessel owned by the same Dutch company as the Tanimbar, and which sailed on the same Netherlands - Australia route.

Sister ships:
Talisse (1930): built Caledon Shipbuilding & Eng. Co Ltd and equipped with a Sulzer (Winterthur) engine.
Tabian (1930): built Netherland Shipbuilding Co Ltd, and equipped with a Sulzer (Winterthur) engine.
Tawali (1930), Tabinta (1930): built Netherland Shipbuilding Co Ltd, and equipped with a Werkspoor built Sulzer engine.

Basic Details

Built: Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering CoLtd, Dundee
Tonnage: 8,230 tons gross, 13,000 tons deadweight
Length: 465ft 0in
Breadth moulded: 62ft 0in
Depth moulded: 36ft 3in
Propulsion: one Sulzer (Winterthur) 8S82 two cycle, single acting, reversible diesel engine, 7,000bhp at 106rpm.
Auxiliary engines: 4 x 6RKH30 producing total of 1,200bhp at 300rpm
Screws: 1
Speed: 15.0 knots
Passengers: ?

National Library of Australia : Trove website of archived Australian Newspapers (
The Motor Ship Reference Book for 1941
Convoyweb website
Sulzer list of Motorships, circa 1933

Page added April 1st 2012

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