Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij

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A KPM advertisement in 1910.

Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) (Royal Packet Navigation Company) was a Dutch shipping company (1888–1966) in the Netherlands East Indies. It maintained the connections between the islands of Indonesia,[1] and supported the unification of the Dutch colony economy as the Netherlands expanded its territory across the Indonesian archipelago. The company brought inter-island commerce through the capital, Batavia (now Jakarta) rather than to Singapore, which shifted economic activity to Java.[2] With independence and establishment of Indonesia as a nation the company, after competing with the national Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia (National Indonesian Shipping) line and being taken over by trade union laborers on 3 December 1957, was faced with nationalization and moved its headquarters and international shipping assets to Singapore in 1958.[1][3][4] From that base the company bought control of Maatschappij Zeetransport (Oranje Lijn) of Rotterdam entering a less than successful effort for the European-Canadian trade whereupon Oranje Lijn shares were sold and the company liquidated. KPM itself continued until January 1, 1967, when it merged with the Koninklijke Java China Paketvaart Lijnen (KJCPL) of Amsterdam. Crews and ships continued service with other lines until finally all former KPM elements were taken over by Nedlloyd in 1977.[1]

Pre-World War II[edit]

The line's routes, beyond the home islands, included services to the ports of Singapore and Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila, Saigon; the Australian ports of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide; African ports such as Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Cape Town, Zanzibar, Mombasa, and the Indian Ocean ports of Réunion and Mauritius and Mahé.[5]

World War II[edit]

During the second world war with Japan their ships assisted the Dutch, British and Australian war ships with the protection of Singapore and during the battle of the Java sea with the supply of ammunition. In the Netherlands East Indies several of their ships were rented by the Royal Netherlands Navy to participate in the defence of the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore too against the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy.[6]

KPM ships were involved in the first months of the Pacific war in movement of supplies and troops. In January plans were made for the Aquitania to transport troops from Australia to Singapore until concern about putting such a large and valued transport loaded with 3,456 troops in range of Japanese air strikes resulted in a plan to transfer the troops to smaller vessels from Aquitania at Ratai Bay in the Sunda Strait. Aquitania and escort, the cruiser Canberra, sailed from Sydney on 10 January and reached Ratai Bay 20 January where the troops were distributed among the KPM vessels Both, Reijnst, Van der Lijn, Sloet van de Beele, Van Swoll, and Reael and the British flagged ship Taishan. That convoy reached Singapore on 24 January.[7]

Company ships reaching Australia during the Japanese advance through the islands were incorporated into the fleet being assembled by United States Forces in Australia (USFIA), shortly to be redesignated as U.S. Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA) and later the U.S. Army Services of Supply (USASOS), for support of the defense of Australia and campaign against the Japanese in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).[8] In early 1942 twenty-one small KPM vessels, loaded with refugees and limping into Australian ports, were obtained by charter for U.S. Army use and became known as the "KPM vessels" in the SWPA fleet.[9] The means by which these vessels were brought under control of the SWPA command was complex and involved discussions with the Netherlands government officials in exile in both London and Washington as well as locally in Australia. Initially the original twenty-one vessels that reached Australia were chartered by the Chief Quartermaster, USAFIA on 26 March 1942 with long term details to be negotiated at higher levels.[10]

The eventual decision, involving governments in London, Washington and the Combined Chiefs of Staff, was that the charters would be handled by the British Ministry of War Transport (BMWT) for the U. S. Army. The complex arrangement was a "bareboat charter to BMWT and through the War Shipping Administration (WSA) the ships were assigned by WSA to the Army but 'not, repeat not, on bareboat but on gross basis,' though under 'full control' of the Army."[11] In early March 1943 almost half the permanent local fleet was composed of the refugee KPM vessels:

On 6 March 1943, nearly 16 months after the beginning of the war, the permanent local fleet consisted of 43 vessels: the 21 KPM vessels obtained on 26 March 1942 and the 6 additional KPM vessels obtained on 19 January 1943; 3 vessels from the China Navigation Co. Ltd. (the Anhui, the Hanyang, and the Yochow); the Empire Hamble (ex Thepsatri Nawa. previously Admiral Senn), of Siamese registry, assigned 15 October 1942; the Admiral Halstead, the West Cactus (assigned 20 May 1942), and the Portmar (salvaged and reconditioned in 1942 by port-battalion troops), of U. S. registry; and 9 unnamed Liberty ships, which probably were in temporary service. The Coast Farmer had been sunk on 21 July 1942, and the Dona Nati had been withdrawn.[12]

The twenty-one original vessels were: Balikpapan (1938), Bantam (1930), Bontekoe (1922), Both (1931), Cremer (1926), Generaal Verspijck (1928), Janssens (1935), Japara (1930), Karsik (1938), Khoen Hoea (1924),[Note 1] Maetsuycker (1936), 's Jacob (1907), Sibigo (1926), Stagen (1919), Swartenhondt (1924), Tasman (1921), Van den Bosch (1903), Van der Lijn (1928), Van Heemskerk (1909), Van Heutsz (1926) and Van Spilbergen (1908).[13]

Dutch hospital ship Maetsuycker served as Southwest Pacific Area interbase hospital ship.

Two of the ships, Maetsuycker and Tasman, were converted to hospital ships to handle casualties in the New Guinea campaign.[14] Both ships, though under United States Army control, were Dutch flagged and certified as hospital ships under the Hague Convention by the Netherlands Government in exile.[15]

Post War[edit]

The company later merged into Nedlloyd, P&O Nedlloyd and finally Maersk.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Ship was built for Thong Ek Steamship Co. specificilly designed for the Singapore/Pontianak (Borneo) trade and chartered to KPM sometime in 1940. Evacuated part of ABDA naval staff from Java to Australia. (Gill, 1957, p. 627)

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