Netherland Line MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, sold to become the TSMS Lakonia

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Author, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer and Maritime Lecturer

Please Note: All ssMaritime and other related maritime/cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or any travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! Although the author has been in the passenger shipping industry since 1960, although is now retired but having completed well over 700 Classic Liners and Cargo-Passengers Ships features I trust these will continue to provide classic ship enthusiasts the information they are seeking, but above all a great deal of pleasure! 

“Memories of the JVO

HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt - 32

Chapter Two

JVO Heads for War as a “Trooper”

HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt returns to her homeport Amsterdam on February 13, 1946

having sailed and endured a great deal throughout the war

Although the Netherland’s had always been a “Neutral Country,” but Nazi Germany being as evil as they were, thus they came and commenced to bomb the country mercilessly without warning and invaded the country on May 10, 1940. It was decided to have the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt that was over in Batavia at the time, to re-register her at Batavia.

She made a number of voyages from Tandjong Priok (the Dutch Naval Port of Djakarta) sailing via Singapore, Belawan, Colombo to Suez and returning via India, Sabang, Belawan to Tandjong Priok. There was another just a return voyage to Singapore and then a voyage across the Pacific to New York in order to carry exotic Indian cargo collected on her earlier voyage as these items were so much sought after in America! What was so amazing was she transported this cargo not just in her five holds. but also in every possible space available onboard, even inside her magnificent public rooms!

Having completed the voyage and returned to Tandjong Priok she headed for India once more as well as America for a repeat voyage of these luxury goods to please the Yanks, the world was on the brink of war, but we must keep these Americans happy with their trinkets, whilst six million Jews and another six plus million others were about to be slaughtered by the Nazis! Sorry about my rave, but the very thought of it just makes me angry for I loathe such selfish greed at a time when the world is suffering hardships!

Captain van der Laan was in command during this time and he had brought the ship back again to Batavia, and took his ship on another short voyage to Singapore and Cheribon, and finally the ship undertook her final pre-war voyage from the Dutch East Indies to New York.

She departed Balikpapan (Borneo) on November 12 and sailed via San Pedro, through the Panama Canal, New Orleans, arriving in New York on December 26 laden full of Indian treasure worth a fortune. However, less than a month later she would be operating her very first voyage as a Troopship, although she had not been rebuilt as yet.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 1.

It was on January 1941 that the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt made her very first troop carrying voyage, even before she had been rebuilt. Although she had already been designated as being the HMT, and given her number, being 32. She departed New York on in January and headed for Halifax arriving on February 17 and whilst there some 750 Canadian soldiers joined the ship. She departed on February 20 and together with convoy HX 107 crossed the Atlantic and she arrived at Glasgow on February 28. She was under the command of the superb Captain K. J. van der Laan.

Her Official Requisition & Rebuild at Hoboken:

On January 20, 1941, the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was officially requisitioned by the Allies and she would be rapidly converted into a troopship and was sent to Harland & Wolff Hoboken shipyards. Upon completion she would be able to carry a good 4,000 troops. She came under the management of the Orient Line, but she was remained manned by her regular Dutch crew.

Although at first she was not repainted in her grey war colours, usual her black hull remained, but she did receive her canon’s far forward and aft as well as machine and anti aircraft guns, etc, which were scattered around the ship. With a good number of naval men, officers, gunners and others onboard who would operate her guns, etc, they would make sure that she was well taken care off! She was a ship ready to do her duty and ready to go to war! Now she was the British “His Majesties Transport Ship #32,” but still flying the Dutch flag, as Curacao is Dutch!

Here we see one of the Dutch Marines cleaning his machine gun up on deck

Armed Troopship Johan van Oldenbarnevelt -32 had one of the fastest refits in history, having had workers work on a 24 hour shifts, thus she was completed in just less than a week for she was due to depart on March 6, 1941.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 2.

Experienced Captain van der Laan was still at the helm and he would remain there until August 1942, for the company and the British had all their trust in this superb captain!

She departed Glasgow on March 6 and headed for Liverpool where she remained to be fully stocked and made ready for the ship would not return to England for almost a year.

The HMT JVO – 32 departed Liverpool on March 21, 1941 joining convoy “WS 7.” The first port of call was Freetown, arriving Durban by April 19, 1941. Here the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt joined convoy “WS 7X” that was bound for Bombay arriving on May 5, and then to Singapore arriving on May 20. This was considered as the end of the voyage.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 3.

Her next voyage would take her to Australia, as she departed Singapore on 23, and she sailed non stop to Sydney, arriving on July 16, she would remain here just for the day and depart again the next day, but once more, according the official books, this was Troop voyage 3.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 4.

She departed Sydney on July 17 and headed for Auckland New Zealand where she arrived on July 21 and departed again on the she returned to Sydney arriving on July 25 and departed again on the 29th.sailing via Fremantle to Singapore arriving on August 15. End of Troop voyage 4.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 5.

Having been in Singapore for seven full days, on August 23, 1941 the captain took the HMT JVO – 32 out of Singapore and headed her directly south east for Wellington New Zealand where she arrived on September 7. End of Troop voyage 5.

Trooper Johan van Oldenbarnevelt is seen departing Wellington New Zealand

During Troop Voyage 6 on September 15, 1941 - Note the guns up on the aft section!

Troopship 32 - Voyage 6.

She departed Wellington on September 15, and undertook a lengthy voyage around the bottom of Australia to Fremantle over on the western side. She arrived there on September 25, having made good time, considering the well known treacherous Southern Seas! She departed Fremantle on the 28th.and sailed via Colombo to Suez arriving on October 20. End Troop voyage 6.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 7.

The JVO departed Suez on October 22 having offloaded a full ship of Australian and New Zealand soldiers, and she headed for Durban sailing via Berbera and Mombasa. She arrived in Durban on November 5. End of Trooper voyage 7.

The Durban Incident:

The HMT JVO - 32 was to take a short break in Durban before continuing, but what came was completely unexpected! The port was a hive of activity with a multitude of ships both in port as well as coming and going; ships such as many Dutch liners, the JVO’s sister the MS Marnix van Sint Aldegonde, SS Nieuw Amsterdam, MS Sibajak and MS Straat Malakka, as well a good number of fine British liners; SS Strathmore, SS Aquitania, SS Devonshire and Llandovery Castle! Other ships in ports where the SS Ile de France

The crew took time to do a spot of fishing, but apparently there were far too many sharks around, thus a jump in the harbour for a swim, was defiantly out! Although she was to spend a short time in Durban, but die to an unexpected occurrence it turned out to be a lot longer than expected!

Suddenly without warning on November 11, 1941, there was a mighty storm that was so bad that the JVO was pulled away from her berth and suddenly she was adrift and suddenly there was a collision with a cargo ship that also has slipped its anchor. The harbour was in chaos. The captain did everything in his power to regain control of his ship and after several hours having gotten the engines fully restarted he managed to get his ship out to sea where he kept sailing in circles until the storm had ceased a good day or so later. But sat sadly there had been two deaths of young men working where the accident occurred and they were buried at sea.

Upon her return and was berthed, it was a matter of having repairs, however that would take much longer than anyone could imagine for there were ongoing delays, be it for one reason or another! Finally on January 11, 1942 the JVO was high and dry in dry-dock and her repairs were underway on her exterior, where the interior part had been completed. On January 15, the JVO was refloated and was returned to her wharf for final preparations for departure. Then on January 17, the ship is laden with 7,000 ton of copper as well as sugar.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 8.

She departed Durban at 0600 hours on January 21, apparently sailing at just 15 knots bound for East London where they arrived the next morning at 0700 hours and departed again at 1900 hours bound for Kaapstad arriving at January 24, departing on the 31st.sailing direct for Liverpool where she arrived on February 23. End of Troop voyage 8.

Another Refit:

Upon her return to Britain she was sent to the yard and given another refit and was fitted with another 1,000 beds and additions and modifications made to the galleys and other areas as were need. In addition, there was considerable shell damage, where the ship had been hit by enemy aircraft, etc.

At this time, she was also repainted in that dull grey war paint that did nothing for a “lovely lady.” But it was the poor quality of the paint that was the biggest problem as it very quickly peeled off and her original black hull beneath would show through, also soon she looked like a floating rust bucket! Externally she always seemed to look shabby, but just like the Dutch on the inside this ship was impeccable and the captain liked to keep it that way! The ship was so spotless and neat and well ordered that she became one of the most talked about troopships that sailed during World War 2! Captain van der Laan was very pleased with the men he carried on his ship in those early days, especially those New Zealander’s!

In a short article in the onboard new letter “Troopship Tattoo” the Editor wrote after the ship had obviously departed New Zealand;

“This is the first time we have sailed as a troopship carrying New Zealand troops,” said the master of this ship in an interview with a representative with of Troopship Tattoo.

“And I must say that I am very pleased with the way they behave, act and keep their quarters clean. We became a troopship last year when we carried Canadian troops to England and since then we have carried British and Australian troops to other parts of the world. Of all of these soldiers, I think the men we have on board now are the best as far as keeping the ship clean and tidy is concerned. I hope this will continue until we reach our destination.”

Thanks skipper! Editor

Troopship 32 - Voyages 9 to 12.

Having had her refit, the JVO would undertake another four official Troopship voyages in 1942, all of which being from Liverpool. The first departed on March 20, and sailed like all voyages via Africa to Bombay, being one trooper voyage and then the next being the next one. Voyage 12 returned to Liverpool on January 30, 1943. Troop Voyages 11 and 12 were under the command of Captain H. A. Broere.

JVO seen here on one of her frequent visits to Liverpool UK

“The Efficient Dutch Ships”

The British soldiers and medical staff who had sailed from Britain to the Middle East on British ships very quickly began to hear from others about the conditions on the excellent Dutch Trooper number 32, which was obviously by far superior to any British ship in operation, as they in general were quite poor in many ways, especially when it came to food! Whereas Dutch Troopship number 32, the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt became so well known for its superiority, even the British newspapers published an article about this ships conditions, entitled … “A Veteran Speaks.”

The Tunisia Campaign:

The HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt would be used to transport large numbers of soldiers to fight in the Battle of Tunisia, which was a major success and over 230,000 German and Italian troops were taken as prisoners of war. She made three return voyages to Algeria under the command of Captain H. A. Broere.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 13.

She departed Liverpool on February 6, 1943 and sailed to Algeria arriving February 15 and departing Algiers on the 17th.then having offloaded all her brave soldiers and she then sailed back to Liverpool arriving on February 24.

She sailed from Liverpool just north of the coast of Ireland, which was the norm, for there she would await her convoy to arrive. However, as it can be in that region the weather was just foul and as she was at anchor, there was a moment when the ship suddenly swerved wildly and the anchor chain broke and thus her anchor was gone! Captain Broere insisted that he would not continue unless he was supplied with another anchor and as soon the new anchor came onboard, two destroyers took her direct through the St George Canal and with the JVO sailing at her top speed of 19 knots they soon caught up with the main convoy and she arrived on time!

Troopship 32 - Voyage 14.

The JVO departed Liverpool for her next voyage on March 15, but this was going to be a difficult voyage for Captain Broere!

On April 22, one day prior to arrival in Algiers the large transport directly ahead of the JVO, the Windsor Castle that had onboard part of the 6th.Regiment was targeted by a German submarine and a torpedo hit her with a blistering pace and the ship was immediately is paralysed and it sank the next day. Thankfully all onboard the Windsor Castle was rescued, except for one life lost. The JVO arrived at Algiers on March23 and arrived back in Liverpool on April 5.

Captain Broere was most upset that on his return voyage that the Spanish towns and villages were had too many lights on at night and that it so easily betrayed the convoy’s as the sailed past at night, thus he made a strong submission to the Convoy Leader! Upon arrival in Liverpool, Captain J Riedel took over the command of the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Having had a short break, he had come from fifteen months duty on the earlier of the Netherlands Line ships, HMT. Johan de Wit.

Here we see one of her aft canons

After having returned to Liverpool on April 5, the JVO must have moved to the port of Gourock (Glasgow) Scotland in order to take onboard her next complement of soldiers.

Troopship 32 - Voyage 15.

The HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was about to make the last of the Tunisia Campaign voyages, as she departed Gourock on April 19 arriving in Algiers on May 27, and returning once again to Liverpool in June 5, 1943.

Troopship 32 - Voyages 16 to 20:

Between 1943 and 1945 she made a further six troop voyages all under the command of Captain S Bakker, some of which were to Gibraltar, Freetown, Port Said, Aden, Colombo and Bombay and even a visit to Rotterdam on Voyage 20, under the Command of Captain G. A Man who taken just this one voyage. She arrived on August 4, 1945 however she was trapped and had to remain at anchor after she had unloaded until September 10. This was due to the Canal’s Locks some having had some damage and had to be repaired before she could leave, which she did on September 10.

Anchored in Rotterdam from August 4 to September 10

Troopship 32 - Voyage 21.

With Captain Bakker at the helm again, the HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt departed Rotterdam for a very special voyage, for it was her as a troopship, but it would be more than that for it would be a memorable voyage indeed, as we will discover!

She departed Rotterdam on September 10, arriving in Southampton on the 11th.and departing again on the 17th.sailing for Port Sais where she arrived on September 26, Suez 28, and then headed for Bombay where she departed on October 12. Once again sailing via Suez and Port Said to Southampton arriving on October 29, 1945.

However as the JVO arrived at Southampton she had on board some 3,668 troops, half of them being Allied POW's awaiting repatriation. Thus as a very weary looking HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt arrived in Southampton on October 29, there was a tumultuous welcome awaiting her with thousands ashore and small craft, and a ship load of happy personnel just wanting to get home to their loved ones!

Here we see the very hard worked and well worn and tired looking

HMT Johan van Oldenbarnevelt on October 30, 1945

Note that her funnels have beeb repainted in company colours again

During this time, the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt sailed through enemy-infested seas without sustaining any major damage and thus she became known as the “Lucky Ship.” At the end of her war duties she was still officially attached to the British Ministry of Shipping as a troopship. On November 3, she entered dry-dock for 14 days for an overhaul. For her service was almost over, but not just yet!

Troopship 32 - Voyages 22.

Yes she has arrived in England with 3,668 troops in October, but there were many Dutch troops still overseas and they also needed to be brought home. Thus the HMT JVO departed Southampton after her overhaul on November 25, 1945 and sailed via Port Said, Suez, Trincomalee (Ceylon) to Singapore arriving on December 22 and departing again on the 25th.She then sailed to Penang Malaya arriving on December 26 and she remained there until she departed on January 7, heading for Singapore again arriving on January 9 and departing having fully stocked and fuelled up on January13, sailing via Batavia, Colombo, Suez, Port Said arriving home to Amsterdam on February 13, 1946 with 3,079 Dutch troops as well as 2,018 repatriates, thus the ship was packed to capacity! However, she arrived home to an even bigger welcome than what was received in Southampton, considering this is her homeport!


Above & below: the JVO returns to her homeport, Amsterdam on 13 February 1946


With the end of her duties a much needed overhaul was carried out on the JVO, after which the ship re-entered service on the Amsterdam to Indonesia service. In addition to passengers she continued to carry many Dutch troops home that were used in the tragic crisis in the Dutch East Indies.

Go to Chapter Three – 1946 to 1951


Or the - JVO Index



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