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BLOEMFONTEIN and the Pensacola convoy

May 25 2009 at 4:14 PM
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Nelson  (no login)
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Response to M. S. Bloemfontein


The short version of events is this:

MS BLOEMFONTEIN was part of a convoy of eight vessels sailing for Manila ("Plum"), escorted by heavy cruiser USS PENSACOLA (CA 24). These ships consisted of two naval transports, two U.S. Army transports, three chartered merchantmen (including BLOEMFONTEIN), and the former gunboat NIAGARA (PG 52), now an auxiliary. The army transports and one navy transport carried four battalions of field artillery, standard armament 48 modernized French 75mm guns, as well as 48 non-organic (without gun crews), high-speeded British 75mm guns (M1917AI), a number of A-24 dive bombers, and a great many USAAF personnel, all intended to augment the Philippines garrison. The second navy transport carried replacements and naval supplies for various navy and marine insular outposts in the mid-Pacific Ocean and in the Philippines. The merchant vessels were transporting military gear of various kinds and a substantial amount of drummed gasoline and lubricants.

What became known as the Pensacola convoy sailed from the Hawaiian Islands on November 29, 1941; it was in mid-ocean when receiving word of the air attack on Pearl Harbor. After some indecision, the convoy was diverted to Australia. It arrived at Suva in the Fiji Islands on December 13 and departed there, minus NIAGARA, the following day. The convoy, now additionally escorted by Australian warships, arrived Brisbane on December 22.

BLOEMFONTEIN and a few other vessels originally with the Pensacola convoy stood out from Brisbane in late December and reached Darwin on January 1, 1942. She left Darwin on January 5, carrying air force personnel, one artillery unit--2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery (formerly Texas National Guard, now federalized)--its 12 organic artillery pieces, and either 45 or 48 non-organic 75mm guns (original records differ). BLOEMFONTEIN arrived Soerabaja on January 11, 1942. The artillery battalion was sent to Singosari Airfield in the mountains near Malang, there both to defend the airfield and to otherwise assist the 19th Bombardment Group (B-17 aircraft). Eventually the battalion, after seeing some combat, was captured with other Allied soldiery and put into PW camp, suffering an appreciable number of deaths therefrom by war's end.


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