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M.S. Bloemfontein Carried Contingent of the American Volunteer Group in Summer of 1941

February 10 2014 at 11:23 PM
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W.C. McLeod  (no login)

Response to M. S. Bloemfontein

In July and August of 1941 M.S. Bloemfontein of the Java-Pacific Line carried twenty-five members [Pilots and Ground Crewmen] of the American Volunteer Group [later nicknamed the "Flying Tigers"] from San Francisco to Singapore.

The following quotations are taken from pages 41-50 of Tale of a Tiger by R.T. Smith, published by Tiger Originals in 1986. Clarifications in brackets are mine.

"We were all notified on the evening of the 23rd [23 Jul 1941] that we were to sail the following day at noon, and that transportation by bus would be provided for the short trip to the pier. All of us were on hand in the lobby [of the Bellevue Hotel in San Francisco] at 10 a.m...."

"We were rushed through the formalities of Customs and Immigration offices in a corner of a huge warehouse.... Moments later we were out on the pier and heading for the gangway of the Bloemfontein. She was a good-sized vessel of about ten thousand tons and perhaps three hundred feet in length, predominately black in color with areas of tan and white on her superstructure. The name BLOEMFONTEIN appeared in large block letters on her stern, and just beneath in smaller letters the word Batavia, her home port in Java."

"We ...sailed from San Francisco at about noon on the 24th... Once outside the entrance to the bay all hell broke loose; we ran into heavy seas, with what appeared to be at least fifteen-foot waves, and the old 'Bloom' as we had immediately nicknamed our ship, began to bob like a cork. At least half of the complement of passengers got sea-sick..."

"We had each received a copy of the passenger list from the purser and it looked like a future United Nations roster. Of the eighty-five passengers aboard, only a handful besides our group were Americans. The rest were mostly Dutch, Chinese, East Indian, and Swedes.... About thirty of the passengers were missionaries.... The rest were mostly businessmen or low-level diplomatic officials."

"Early on the morning of the 28th the island of Oahu could be seen in the distance and a couple of hours later we were off Diamond Head and could see the Aloha Tower on Honolulu's waterfront." [They sailed from Honolulu on the afternoon of the 29th headed for Manila]

[From a letter to his Parents] "August 9, 1941. Somewhere on the Pacific Ocean. Dear Folks: I don't know exactly how to start this letter, as I don't know where in hell we are, where we're going, or anything else. But I will give you a summary of events following our departure from Honolulu.
After we were about three days out of Honolulu, supposedly headed for Manila, the Captain of the ship called a meeting of all passengers and made a little speech, which went something like this: 'My friends, due to the war situation, namely the presence of German surface raiders and the tense situation between Japan and the East Indies, we have been forced to change our course and take a route to Manila which will take about a week longer, making a 3-week trip of it. Please cooperate in the blackout of the ship at night...."

"That was about it. He didn't tell us what new route we were to take or anything. We are now about eleven days out of Honolulu and have seen only two or three islands to date. We have been heading southwest, and crossed the equator about 5 days ago. There has been much speculation about where we are going, etc; some of our navy guys who have studied celestial navigation go on deck at night and gaze at the stars, and they insist we're heading for Australia. ... At any rate, when we do get into a port I'll mail this and tell you in a P.S. what the dope is...
Aug. 10. Sure enough, we pulled into Brisbane, Australia, early this a.m."

"Our stay in Brisbane was brief, just long enough for the ship to take on fuel and water and some fresh vegetables. We sailed at about noon the following day, August 11, this time headed north, and once again our next port of call was said to be Manila...."

"We arrived in Manila on the 19th of August...."

"We sailed from Manila on the morning of August 22nd, expecting to arrive in Singapore about three days later."

"Our soaring spirits took a nose-dive after we'd been back at sea for nearly three days. With ... Singapore dead ahead and less than a day away, the Bloom changed course to a heading of due south. Our navy guys spotted the change in direction immediately.... the ship was heading for her home port of Batavia...."

"...we arrived [in Batavia] on the 26th of August ...."

"We arrived in Singapore on the morning of Sept. 1. ... in Singapore we were to part company with the Bloemfontein. ...our ship would not be going on to Rangoon...."

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