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  MS Van Heemskerk

325' 5" x 43' 8" x 25'
2,996 Tons

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KPM prewar
Ship History
Built by built by N.V. Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw-Maatschappij in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Powered by 233 nominal horse power Triple expansion engine built by Nederlandsche Fabriek van Werktuigen & Spoorwegmaterieel. Launched on August 31, 1909 as MS Van Heemskerk named after the Dutch explorer Jacob van Heemskerk. Delivered October 29, 1909 to Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) and registered in Batavia for use in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) as a cargo vessel.

During World War I, this ship came under British Shipping Controller, London for wartime operation by British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. and returned to KPM control in 1919.

Wartime History
At the start of the Pacific War, this ship was operating in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). After the Japanese occupation of Java, one of twenty-one KPM ships that took refuge in Australia and were provided by the Dutch government to the Allied war effort.

On May 18, 1942 Van Heemskerk was part of Convoy ZK.8 transporting the Australian Army 14th Brigade equipment and 4,735 troops along with MS Bantam, SS Bontekoe and SS Van Heutsz escorted by HMAS Arunta (I30) and HNLMS Tromp that departed Sydney Harbor bound for Fairfax Harbor off Port Moresby.

On March 26, 1942 chartered by the U.S. Army as a small ship under the chief quartermaster, U.S. Army forces in Australia (USAFIA), crewed by the KPM Dutch officers including captain J. D. Thumann. Van Heemskerk was never assigned "X" number designation. Afterwards, she continued operating as a transport between Australia and New Guinea.

During early September 1942 along with SS Japara bound for Milne Bay scheduled to arrive during the evening of September 11, 1942 but was instructed to hold until the next morning due to a possible Japanese attack. Both vessels arrived on September 12, 1942 at 6:00am managed to unload then departed for Townsville escorted by HMAS Arunta (I30) and HMAS Stuart (D00) arriving three days later.

On December 26-27, 1942 while anchored off Merauke, bombed by a Japanese float plane and sustained seven casualties.

Afterwards, participated in Operation Accountant transported the U.S. Army 41st Infantry Division, 162nd Infantry Regiment from Australia to the Buna-Gona. Then Operation Lilliput transporting troops and supplies from Milne Bay to Oro Bay. For these transport missions, Van Heemskerk was code named flight number 28.

Sinking History
On April 14, 1943 Van Heemskerk and MV Balikpapan escorted by HMAS Kapunda arrives in Milne Bay. Van Heemskerk had unloaded her troops but still had cargo aboard including ammunition when Japanese aircraft attacked during Operation I-Go.

Unable to clear the area, twenty U.S. Army soldiers aboard used a jeep with a .50 caliber machine gun on the deck for anti-aircraft defense. Japanese D3A Val dive bombers made four mast level attack, scoring a hit on the cargo hold with ammunition and fuel inside and causing fires. HMAS Wagga attempted to fight the fires until 5:00pm suffering four killed before Van Heemskerk sank into Milne Bay.

Some sources refer to this vessel as simply "Van Heemskerk" or "SS Van Heemskerk"
Lloyds of London Lloyd's Register of Ships - Van Heemskerk
Lloyds of London Lloyd's Register of Ships - Van Heemskerk 1943-1944 [PDF]
WreckSite - SS Van Heemskerk (+1943)
References: Operation A by Richard Dunn

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Last Updated
September 2, 2021


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