The Dutch Merchant Vessels and their role in 'The Battle for Australia'
It is not well known or for that matter recorded that ships of the KPM Line, otherwise known as the Royal Packet Navigation Co. played a vital role during that grim period of WWII from early 1942.
The KPM Line was established in The Netherlands in the late 19th Century and became one of the World's greatest ship owning companies, with a significant part of their fleet based in the Netherlands East Indies.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and their rapid and relentless advance through South East Asia, and the fall of Singapore in mid-February 1942, the Netherlands East Indes was next, they held on until 7th March 1942. They had at least delayed the advance further south, but at great cost and with the loss of many ships. Of the ships that were not scuttled or otherwise destroyed, several escaped and sought refuge elsewhere, and thirty had made their way to Australia, with Dutch Officers and Javanese crew.
These ships were subsequently allocated to General Douglas MacArthur, but the Javanese crews refused duty and were interned. The shortage of experienced crews in Australia at the time created difficulties in replacing the Javanese, and pending the availability of experienced crews from India some ships were manned by Australian merchant seamen and some by Australian naval ratings.
These Dutch vessels made a vital contribution in maintaining the supply lines to New Guinea, carrying troops and their equipment in 1942 to engage the Japanese on the Kokoda trail. They transported the vehicles, and all of the essential supplies including the hazardous cargoes of ammunition and drums of fuel for the aircraft and vehicles.
They were the first allied merchant ships into Milne Bay and their support of our Defence Forces elsewhere in New Guinea and the Pacific Area.
Keith Pryor: Was born and educated in Sydney. After leaving school in 1941 joined The Adelaide Steamship Company Ltd in Sydney and was subsequently appointed Assistant Purser of the Australian Hospital Ship Manunda where he served in WWII, and continued as a Purser post war and into interstate passenger trade. After transferring ashore in 1948 he was in management positions with shipowner and management companies, completing a career in the Australian Maritime Industry spanning 50 years.
Photos; Wikipaedia Commons