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May 28 2009 at 6:34 PM
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Nelson  (no login)

Response to Re: M. S. Bloemfontein


The information on BLOEMFONTEIN is most useful, for certain. I'm able to speak only for the period just prewar and immediately after the commencement of hostilities, but the history has a couple of serious errors, IMO. Note that the week's voyage commencing November 21, 1941, has no destination given (although it's clear from the next line down that the destination was Honolulu). I think, however, that absence is the cause for the subsequent confusion. The Honolulu-to-Darwin voyage, specified as "Independent", is the double-error, as BLOEMFONTEIN was of course part of the Pensacola convoy, which did not sail to Darwin, but rather to Brisbane, arriving there December 22, 1941. Then we--or more to the point, I--get into murkier water.

I am in no manner an authority on maritime law, but before the outbreak of the actual shooting war, BLOEMFONTEIN was--I believe--under simple bare-boat charter to carry military equipment to Manila. With the subsequent outbreak of war and the convoy's diversion to Brisbane, the rules under which she sailed changed. The Americans wanted her to participate in a smaller convoy of fast ships from Brisbane to Manila Bay to succor the American forces fighting on Luzon, but the ship's captain protested and sought counsel from the government in Java. In consequence she sailed late from Brisbane, catching up with the smaller convoy after it had been diverted to Darwin on the order of Lt. Gen. George H. Brett, who thought the entire notion a suicide effort, given the IJN's command of sea and air around and over most of the Philippines. [Brett would be strongly criticized by some for this absolutely correct decision, and eventually would be shelved by the inimitable MacArthur as his air chief.]

After BLOEMFONTEIN had arrived at Darwin, there apparently was further argument about who and what could be unloaded there. Some have suggested that 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, intended with its organic armament, and the non-organic 45 or 48 British-style 75mm guns, to go to Luzon, was hijacked to Java for political purposes. I don't buy this theory at present, because if the Yanks really wanted to off-load this battalion at Darwin, they would have done so pronto, captain's protests or no. Also aboard BLOEMFONTEIN was a field artillery brigade headquarters of 100+ men, commanded by soon-to-be Colonel Albert Searle, around which a full brigade was to be built once this nucleus had reached Luzon. The idea that the battalion and the extra field guns were initially meant to defend Java is not true either, as the intention was to transship them to the Philippines by smaller coastal (inter-island) steamers--a notion the Americans were quickly disabused of once they had arrived in Java, only to learn those vessels were simply not available for such a forlorn-hope venture.

But back to BLOEMFONTEIN, the correct version of events is (a) in convoy, Honolulu to Brisbane; (b) partly independent, partly in convoy, Brisbane to Darwin; (c) in convoy, Darwin to Soerabaja. Thereafter--I THINK--she was fully leased to the United States, and no more appeals to or interventions by the Dutch government-in-exile.

I WELCOME corrections to any errors or misinterpretations in the account given above.


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