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Monday, January 16, 2012

U.S. Merchant ships in World War II

 Ms. Boschfontein (United Netherlands Navigation Company ltd)

My step-dad was a machinist engineer on this ship. He was very young when he became a sailor, he was the happiest when he was at sea. When he was forced to  retire at the age of sixty , it was very hard for him. He tried so hard for the longest time if he could stay on board. But when you were sixty you were finished. This was in 1967.

In World War II my step dad was employed on the Boschfontein. When the war ended he was 38 years old..
Lately I am thinking a lot about my Mom and Step Dad.My mom was in Japanese prison camp on the island of Java, then called the Dutch East Indies.I was only 1 year old when we were put behind barbwire.My mom was only 26 years old when the war ended, and she was widowed.

What is it about my mom and step dad, what is it what makes me want to know more and more about the time they were in that horrible War. The more I search on the internet and find stories from other daughters, sons, and even grandchildren, trying to find out about what their dads, moms or granddads had endured during that time, the more I start to wonder why it was that our parents, grandparents did not liked to talk about their experiences during that time.This question I see so often on the internet, why is it my Dad never talked about what he did in World War II?My Mom always went very quiet when I asked her about particular things about the time she was in Japanese prison camp with me.It must have been horrendous what they have seen and what they endured.My step dad on board of that ship must have been so scared at times; when I read the movements of the Boschfontein and see how often this ship must have been in harms way.
Why did they not talk about it? Why? I often ask myself?Is it because they like to spare their children from the horrors of a war, is it because they feel guilty that they survived? and that others died?Is it because they got a second change in life, and liked to make the most of it?How hard it must have been for them to pretend it had never happened.I saw it when my Mom passed away and I saw it when my step Dad passed away. They still struggled about those years, world war II was always on their mind.I know they could not forget.I know their life had been upside down, and they had to start over.

I have done a lot of research in the last twelve months in the where about of my step father during World War II.My step father passed away in 2003 at the age of 2 weeks short of 96. I came upon some articles, which surprised me. I found so many stories in which the Boschfontein was mentioned.These stories gave me goose bumps.I came upon some stories about troops who had been sailing on the Boschfontein. My step father was  on this ship from the day this ship went into the water in 1928. The ship went by the name"Nieuwkerk" as of 1934 it sailed as the Boschfontein. In 1956 it became the "Boschkerk" and in 1958 it had a fire and was destroyed and sold as scrap.From 1956 until my step Dad retired he sailed on the Randfontein.
The Boschfontein was in San Francisco some time in the late 1940.In September 1941 the ship left the harbor of San Francisco on a secret mission. The Boschfontein had 30 Pilots on board,who pretended they were civilians en route to Burma.

I found a really interesting article about the Boschfontein which gave me the all around movements the ship had taken from September 24, 1941 up to August 15, 1945.when the war was finally over and the ship left the Harbor of Eniwetok, the Marshall Islands.My step dad had been on every voyage.
Picture below Eniwetok Bay. in the Pacific.
These pictures with thanks to National Archives.

Eniwetok the Marshall Islands.

U.S. marines landing on Eniwetok,The Marshall islands.

About 4000 kilometers southwest of Hawaii islands the Martshall Islands represented part of the perimeter of the Japanese Pacific empire. The former German colony was given to Japan after the closure of World War I and had since been an important part of both offensive and defensive plans of the Japanese Navy. By the end of 1943, Admiral Micheichin Koga of the Japanese Combined Fleet knew the Americans were eyeing the islands, but he could not figure out where they would strike.
American intelligence decoded the Japanese messages and detected movements for the outer islands, and decided to change the invasion plans. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, the Americans were now bypassing the reinforced outer islands; they were now directly attacking Kwajalein and Eniwetok. Jan 31,1944 the Americans landed. On February 20, 1944 American troops captured Eniwetok in the Marshall islands.

One way to understand the Second World War is to appreciate the critical role of merchant shipping...the availability or non-availability of merchant shipping determined what the Allies could or could not do military.....when sinking of Allied merchant vessels exceeded production, when slow turnarounds, convoy delays, roundabout routing, and long voyages taxed transport severely, or when the cross-Channel invasion planned for 1942 had to be postponed for many months for reasons which included insufficient shipping....

Hundreds of merchant ships shuttled men, food, guns, ammunition, and other supplies across the Pacific. 44 merchant ships were sunk at Pacific beach-heads. Countless others damaged by Kamikazes, bombers, artillery, or torpedoes while they took part in every invasion.
The men and ships of the Merchant Marine have participated in every landing operation by the United States Marine Corps, from Guadalcanal to Iwo-Jima, and at all times they were at hand with supplies and equipment when American amphibious forces hit the beaches of Japan itself'.

My step father served on the Ms Boschfontein a Dutch ship, one of the Merchant ships which was rebuild in San Francisco into a transport ship for troops, etc.

This is how the Boschfontein looked like, when it was camouflaged and rebuild into a troop transport.

Had these ships not been produced, the war would have been in all likelihood prolonged many months, if not years.Some argue the Allies would have lost as there would not have existed the means to carry the personnel, supplies, and equipment needed by the combined Allies to defeat the Axis powers.( it took 7 to 15 tons of supplies to support one soldier for one year) The U.S. wartime merchant fleet.... constituted one of the most significant contributions made by any nation to the eventual winning of the Second World War...

Merchants ships faced danger from submarines, mines, armed raiders and destroyers, aircraft, "kamikaze," and the elements. About 8,300 mariners were killed at sea, 12,000 wounded of whom at least 1,100 died from their wounds, and 663 men and women were taken prisoner.Some were blown to death, some incinerated, some drowned, and some starved. 66 died in prison camps or aboard Japanese ships while being transported to other camps. 31 ships vanished without a trace to a watery grave.

So I can say the Ms Boschfontein, on which my step father was serving, had been lucky.That's what he would tell me too. Not much more. The only thing he once told me as well and I remember all of a sudden, that he introduced these Pilots to the Dutch Gin ( jenever), which he loved.

Casualties were kept secret during the War to keep information about their success from the enemy and to attract and keep mariners at sea.
Newspaper carried essentially the same story each week:"Two medium-sized Allied ships sunk in the Atlantic."In reality, the average for 1942 was 33 Allied ships sunk each week.

The Ms. Boschfontein voyages in the Pacific started on September 24, 1941, with the AVG ( American Volunteer Group) these were  Pilots called the Flying tigers, under the command of Colonel Claire Cennault. This group of 30 pilots were sailing on the Ms Boschfontein on which my step father was a machinist engineer. The ship pulled out of Singapore on November 9,1941, and set course to the Bay of Bengal. After 50 days at sea they docked at Rangoon.

 19 of the 20 Merchant ships were allocated, to General MacArthur's command were Dutch. In all probability without the KMP merchant fleet, the Allies could not have beaten the Japanese in New Guinea in 1942-43. Australia may have been invaded and the Allies would certainly have had a much harder and longer task to win the war.

 I came up on a few names of the Flying Tigers who were on board of the Boschfontein. My step father once told me that they had lots of fun with these guys. They were a jolly group.

The Flying Tigers, the painting on their planes.

Greg Boyington's :
One of the Flying Tigers who claimed to have shot down six Japanese fighters. He died in 1988.

John Richard Rossi :

Robert Keeton:
Flight Leader of the Flying Tigers.Passed away on January 25,2011

Charlie Bond:
He was shot down twice and was credited at shooting down 9 1/2 Japanese fighter planes.He passed away August 18,2009.

Lewis Sherman Bishop:
Was shot down and was taken prisoner by the Kempetai military from 1942-45. He was mistreated, and nearly starved to death suffered from all kinds of deseases in the Bridgehouse jail in Shanghai.He escaped from a moving POW train on May 1945, while he was transported north to Manchunia. It took him 40 days over land to got behind enemy lines. He passed away in 1987.

The Flying Tigers racked up a 5-1 kill ratio and likely stopped the Japanese from conquering and threatening British held India.

During World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt,and many military leaders praised the role of the Merchant Marine as the "Fourth Arm Of Defense".
President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Merchant Marine was responsible for putting our armies and equipment on enemy territory and maintaining them there. Merchant ships delivered;
Troops, Ammunition, Food, Tanks,and boots for the U.S. and Allied Infantry, Bombs, fuel, Raw material needed to make all of the above.

They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult and dangerous job ever undertaken. As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our Merchant's fleet records during this war. (World War II) 

Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

USS-Marblehead-(CL-12) in the harbor of Tjilatap, Java. damaged by Japanese bombing attack on Febr,4,1942
The Boschfontein left Tjilatap,  Dec.29,1941 and arrived in Wellington, Jan 13, 1942 from Wellington it departed on Jan.14,1942 to Los Angeles, where the ship arrived Feb,5.1942. From Los Angeles it departed on Feb. 7, 1942 and docked in San Francisco on Feb, 9,1942.
On March 18,1942 the Boschfontein sailed from San Francisco independently to Melbourne, where the ship docked on April 09.1942;  it left the same day for Brisbane, arriving April 23.1942.Departed Brisbane
May 2,1942 and sailed independently for Auckland, arriving there May 7,1942. Departed from Auckland May 10,1942 sailed independently to Los Angeles where the ship arrived on May 31,1942. Sailed from Los Angeles June 4,1942 arriving in San Francisco.
Los Angeles Harbor.
The Boschfontein then left San Francisco not until July 21,1942  in convoy PW.2111, arriving on August 11,1942 in Noumea. The ship left Noumea on August 13,1942 and arrived in Brisbane on August 15,1942.Departed independently from Brisbane on August 24,1942 and arrived in San Francisco September 15,1942.Left from San Francisco on October 3,1942.
 Brisbane Harbor Australia.
No idea what the Boschfontein carried on those trips.It is believed that the Boschfontein was possible one of the ammunitions ship that carried ammo for the ML/KNIL and the KNIL Army logistics.
Perhaps the cargo would be mentioned in Bezemers "Geschiedenis van de Ned. Koopvaardij in de tweede wereldoorlog" (History of the Dutch merchant service in World War II ) but maybe somewhere in a box in a basement it might be found.
On November 3,1942 the 214 th CA(AA) regiment left Auckland, New Zealand aboard two Dutch trooptransports; the Ms.Boschfontein and the Ms.Tabinta heading for Noumea, New Caledonia.( this information was collected from NARA "ship movement history cards". No eyewitness accounts are available to support the dates of arrival on New Caledonia.It is a mystery and we may never know.
 Auckland Harbor New Zealand.
Reviewing the "Ship Movement cards" the card from the Ms Boschfontein and Ms Tabinta mention if these ships were escorted or were part of a large Task group. It's understood that the 43rd Division less 172d Combat team were moved to NC during this same time period. If  so there might be a War diary from one of these other ships if part of a U.S. Navy movement. The ships being associated with the 43rd movement is another thread topic.
The Boschfontein's movements during this period was: sailed from Auckland November 3,1942, arrived in Noumea, November 6th; Sailed from Noumea November 14th, arrived in Vila, Efate.November 16,1942

sailed from Vila November 19 with SS Perida escorted by Ellet, arrived in Espiritu Santo November 20th; sailed from Espiritu Santo(?), arrived in San Francisco December 17th,1942; sailed from San Francisco January 9,1943 and arrived in Bora Bora on January 21,1943.
Bora Bora Harbor.
On the same day January 21,1943 the Boschfontein left Bora Bora and the ship arrived in Noumea, January 29,1943.
Noumea Harbor in Caledonia.
February 8,1943 the Boschfontein left Noumea and arrived in Tongatabu on February 12.1943.

The ship left Tongatabu on Februqary 23,1943; arrived in Havannah Harbor on February 28,1943

Havannah Harbor in the Pacific off the coast of Australia.

From Havannah Harbour they went to Lautoku; departed on March 10,1943.
The ship left Lautoku on March 10,1943 and arrived in Suva on March 19.1943 from which she left the same day and arrived in San Francisco on April 4,1943., where I think it went in dock until they left San Francisco again on June 12,1943.
At that time when the ship was in dock my step dad worked in San Francisco for a company called Apex Bronze, and had a social security number. He only worked there from May 21 till June 2, 1943.
The Boschfontein was leaving again on June 12,1943.

More about the ship movements and my step dad in my next blog.


  1. I would like to use the picture of the Boschfontein for a book I am writing about a Flying Tiger who traveled to Burma aboard the Boschfontein. Please contact me here thank you

  2. Hello Thea,

    great story about the Boschfontain!

    My father Wilhelm Erich ter Meulen, born 25.08.1935 in Amsterdam, had been on the Boschfontain as a "Fougen MK" (I assume as some kind of machinist helper) from 29.09.1951 - 19.01.1952, so most likely he knew your step-dad.

    If you would send me your step-dads name to I can ask him, if he remembers when I see him in 9 days for his 80th birthday.

    Ingo ter Meulen

    1. correction: my father had been on the Boschfontain until 11.09.1952.

    2. My Grandfather, A.Th.L. Dolmans, was the Captain of the Boschfontain during the war.

    3. My step-dad and your grandfather must have known each other.

    4. Hello Thea and Jan. My father made a single trip on the Boschfontein leaving Vancouver on April 9, 1941. He was on a secret mission to the Dutch East Indies with four others. Adriaan Dolman was Captain. I have a record of the ship arriving in Seattle and leaving for Tacoma but have never been able to discover what happened after that. I know my father stopped in San Francisco for a few days but do not know if he arrived there (or continued from there) on the Boschfontein. Would either one of you have a record of what route the Boschfontein took on that trip? John email: without spaces is deknatel geneaology project @

  3. Was the Boschfontein involved with the Iwo Jima Operation?

    1. YES, see my story above and the discussion I had with an American who was aboard the ship.

    2. My dad was on the Boschfontein for the I Iwo Jima invasion.

  4. My Grandfather Dr Hugh Topping was the Ships Surgeon /Doctor on the Nieuwkerk as he called her before 1942, he was also on the Amstel Kerk on the Atlantic convoys before being recalled the to the BAMC and sent to Italy and Monte Casino in 1943

  5. I found this blog researching the ships my father Abraham Craye served aboard during his years in the Dutch Merchant Marines. He served from January 1938 until March 1951. He did one tour on the Boschfontein while in Indonesia leaving Soerabaya Nov 10 1939 and returning Feb 9 1940 according to his 'Monsterboekje' which I still have. I found the photo of your step-dad wearing his war service medal wonderful, because I still have my dad's same medal with all 4 bars representing the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Mediterranean theaters of operations. My dad passed away Feb 2011 at 91 years of age. My dad's Uncle Harry Craye had a rubber plantation in Indonesia, and was captured by the Japanese and worked on the Burma Railway. He barely survived his ordeal. My mother lived in Holland under German occupation for the entire war. My family has a lot of history during the war.

    1. So very interesting. My mother and I met my step-dad, while leaving the former Dutch East Indies in March 1946 on the Boschfontein. The world is a small place. My birth father died on the Burma Railway in September 1943. Indeed there is a lot of history in every ones family. Thank you for reading my blog.

    2. So very interesting. My mother and I met my step-dad, while leaving the former Dutch East Indies in March 1946 on the Boschfontein. The world is a small place. My birth father died on the Burma Railway in September 1943. Indeed there is a lot of history in every ones family. Thank you for reading my blog.

    3. That is around the time my parents met. My mom (being stuck in Holland under occupation) trained as a red cross nurse in England in 1945-46 then went over to Indonesia to work in a military hospital and later on in a TB hospital. My dad was on board the 'Oranje' then serving as a hospital ship ferrying sick and wounded ANZAC troops and POWs to NZ and Australia. The 'Oranje' is the ship that they met on because my dad worked in the galley and my mom would always come in at night and sneak snacks from my dad for the troops. I believe they sailed back to Holland aboard the 'Tabinta' in 1950 and got married in '51. Take Care...Rick

    4. What a small world. I believe the Oranje was also laying in the harbor of Tandjong Priok, where we boarded the Boschfontein. You are right, the Oranje had mostly sick people on board. What an awful time that was.

  6. My dad was a machinist on the Boschfontein during WW2. His port of call was SF. He also served on Bloemfontein (his fav.) and I think Randfontein.
    After the war he went back to Holland and I was born in 1951.
    Thank's for all the info.

  7. Hello Again,

    Dave Brouhoud here with the address of the page I mentioned in my last contact with you.



  8. Hi Thea.
    I found your blog by accident while searching for information on the ship Bosch Fontein (sp).You likely already know this but in case you don't I'll pass on the information to you. In his book Baa Baa Black Sheep Greg "Pappy" Boyington discusses his voyage to Rangoon Burma with the third and last contingent of the American Volunteer Group aboard the Bosch Fontein. It's brief but interesting if you haven't read it.

  9. Hallo Thea,
    Greetings from down the road - Ottawa. I so hope you can help me. My father together with four other Dutchman mustered on the Boschfontein on April 8, 1941 in Vancouver, BC, all as "Seaman with no experience at sea." Which was absolutely correct as they were on their way to Java to join the KNIL. They arrived in Seattle on April 9, 1941
    The US immigration must have had some concerns as the five men are listed on a separate page on the immigration records which lists a crew of 118.. It appears that they were specifically scrutinized as indicated by the notation on the page that they are "All bona fide seamen and on ship's payroll as such" signed by "Illegible" C.O. Two separate guards sign a statement stating that the 5 men were identified and the departure for Tacoma verified. Outside of some wives of senior crew members there are no passengers on board.

    I know the Boaschfontein leaves Seattle for Tacoma on April 10, 1941 at 5:00 pm but have no further details on her voyage. I have a picture of my father in San Francisco but that is about it. What I am trying to figure out is what the route was of the Boschfontein to Java on that trip I know he made it there sometime in May and joined the KNIL. He managed to get out of Java via Tjilatjap on the MS Abbekerk.

    Can you help?

    Love your musings in this blog. I have very similar sentiments as I work on a book about his complicated life.

    Kind regards, hartelijke groeten,

  10. Hello Thea from Minnesota,USA! In going through my sisters things after she died, I found she had a postcard of the Boschfontein. I don't know what her connection was, but I found this page very informational. Thank you for this!

  11. my dad was on the ss perida....any info?


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