Karel Doorman

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Karel Doorman
Karel Doorman as lieutenant-commander.jpg
Doorman (Then a lieutenant-commander) in 1930
Birth nameKarel Willem Frederik Marie Doorman
Born(1889-04-23)23 April 1889
Utrecht, Netherlands
Died28 February 1942(1942-02-28) (aged 52)
Java Sea
Allegiance Netherlands
Branch Royal Netherlands Navy
RankRear admiral
Commands heldHNLMS De Ruyter

Karel Willem Frederik Marie Doorman (23 April 1889 – 28 February 1942) was a Dutch naval officer during World War II who commanded remnants of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command naval strike forces in the Battle of the Java Sea. He was killed in action when his flagship HNLMS De Ruyter was torpedoed during the battle, with Doorman choosing to go down with the ship.


Early career[edit]

Doorman, born in Utrecht[1] and raised as a Catholic, came from a military family. In 1906, he and his brother Lou ACM Doorman were commissioned as midshipmen. In 1910, he was promoted to officer.[1] That same year he moved on board the cruiser Tromp to the Dutch East Indies. During his first three years of duty, from January 1912 to December 1913, he was placed aboard the survey vessels HNLMS van Doorn and HNLMS Lombok, with the primary aim of mapping the coastal waters of New Guinea. Early in 1914, he returned to the Netherlands on board cruiser De Ruyter. In March 1914, he put in a transfer request to the Aviation Service.

In April 1914, he served on the Noord-Brabant during its mission to the Principality of Albania to recover the mortal remains of Major Lodewijk Thomson of the International Gendarmerie. His transfer to the Aviation Service was approved in the summer of 1915. He became one of the first naval officers to be awarded his pilot wings.

Naval aviator[edit]

From 1915 to 1918 he was stationed at the Aviation Service at Soesterberg[1] under the command of Captain (later Major) of Engineers H. Walaardt. There he met Albert Plesman, who at first was an observer but later was trained as a pilot. In 1915 he was awarded a civil pilot license, and in 1916 he was awarded the Naval pilot license. From 1917 to 1921 he was an instructor, first at Soesterberg Air Base and from October 1918 at the Naval Air Base De Kooy in Den Helder. He commanded this Naval Air Base from 1919 to 1921. Because of his merits as an organizer of the still young Naval Aviation, he was made a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau in 1922.

Budget cuts and an arm injury meant that Doorman's active flying career was over. From November 1921 to November 1923 he attended Higher Naval School in The Hague,[1] essential for a career as a naval officer, particularly for staff positions. After he completed this training, in which, among other things, he studied communication between aircraft and naval vessels, he was placed at the Department of the Navy at Batavia in December 1923.

Personal life[edit]

He was born in 1889 in Utrecht, Netherlands.

From 1919 to 1934, Doorman was married to Justine A.D. Schermer. In 1928, his son Joop was born, and Doorman became a professor of philosophy. They had two other children before they divorced. After the divorce, he married Isabella J.J.J. Heyligers in 1934. He had one son with her.

Resumed naval career[edit]

In 1926, for the first time in eleven years, Doorman landed a longer appointment on board a naval vessel, the armored ship De Zeven Provinciën. Until late 1927 he was gunnery officer, later he combined this with the function of first officer. Early in 1928 he returned to the Netherlands and was employed in the Navy Department at The Hague and was primarily responsible for the purchase of equipment for Naval Aviation. In 1932 followed his first command of a ship, the minelayer HNLMS Prins van Oranje. In this ship, he sailed for the third time in the same year to the Dutch East Indies. In 1932 his command was changed to destroyers, first Witte de With and from the end of 1932, Evertsen. The latter ship saw action against the rebels on HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën in February 1933.

In January 1934 Doorman went back to the Netherlands with Evertsen, a period of three years as Chief of Staff of the naval commander in Den Helder followed. In 1936 Doorman wrote a request to the Secretary of Defence for a command of a cruiser in the Dutch East Indies. As a result, he left in 1937, now a Captain, to the Dutch East Indies as a commander of the cruisers Sumatra and Java. In August 1938 he was appointed Commander of Naval Aviation in the Dutch East Indies.[1] From his headquarters at Surabaya Morokrembangan Naval Air Station, he made many inspection tours of the archipelago.

World War II[edit]

On 16 May 1940, he was promoted to Rear-Admiral and on 13 June 1940 on board the light cruiser De Ruyter, he took command of the squadron of Rear-Admiral GW Stöve[2] at Surabaya. Early 1942 he led remnants of the ABDA Combined Striking Force.

On February 3, Doorman led a group of ships to stop a Japanese invasion force headed towards Makassar. While en route, his strength was observed by the Japanese and bombed, forcing him to turn back after several ships were damaged. This conflict was the Battle of Makassar Strait also known as the Battle of the Flores Sea.

On 18 February, Japanese forces invaded Bali. Doorman led another force attempting to stop the invasion the next day. Due to short notice and unable to concentrate his troops, three waves of counterattacks were planned. The first wave involving cruisers and destroyers was unsuccessful, leading to the sinking of the Dutch destroyer Piet Hein. The second wave of a Dutch cruiser and several American destroyers was also unsuccessful, although causing severe damage to a Japanese destroyer. The third wave of patrol boats encountered no Japanese forces. The failure to stop the Japanese led to the successful occupation of Bali. This engagement is known as the Battle of Badung Strait.

Doorman was killed in action when his ship De Ruyter was hit by a Japanese long lance torpedo and sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea. Part of the crew was rescued, but Doorman, following old navy tradition, chose to go down with his ship.[1] On 5 June 1942 he was posthumously made a Knight 3rd class in the Military William Order. The medal was awarded to the rear admiral's eldest son on 23 May 1947 by Lieutenant-Admiral Conrad Helfrich, on board HNLMS Karel Doorman, attended by Prince Bernhard.

The Royal Dutch Navy named four vessels after Karel Doorman, including a former British Colossus-class aircraft carrier, the largest ship the Navy ever commissioned.

"I am attacking, follow me"[edit]

HNLMS De Ruyter

Karel Doorman is often honoured because he signalled "Ik val aan, volg mij" (I am attacking, follow me) during the Battle of the Java Sea, which was considered very gallant.[by whom?]

On 27 February 1942, at approximately four in the afternoon, the Japanese and the allied squadrons spotted each other. Karel Doorman notably recognised that the Dutch fleet was outnumbered by the Japanese, and gallantly proceeded to attack the Japanese fleet and go down with the ship. The guns of the two Japanese cruisers had a more extended range than the Allied guns, and at about five o'clock the British cruiser HMS Exeter was hit. Twenty minutes later the Dutch destroyer HNLMS Kortenaer was torpedoed. The ship exploded and broke in two pieces. Confusion arose in the Allied squadron over the way forward, compounded by the fact that HMS Exeter could only sail at half power and wanted to return to port at Soerabaja or now day Surabaya on its own steam.

Remembering instructions issued by High Command, Doorman gave the order to attack at the approach of the Japanese fleet. The tactical command "I attack, follow me" as such he did not signal at the beginning of this battle in the Java Sea. It is a very free translation of the signal sent by him, "All ships – follow me," to remedy the confusion. The battle on 27 February 1942 which, with interruptions, lasted for over seven hours, ended with the almost complete destruction of Doorman's squadron. The squadron commander perished aboard the flagship, which sank after approximately ninety minutes.

The Kloosterkerk in The Hague has a memorial plaque and commemorations for the Battle of the Java Sea are regularly held.

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Klemen, L (1999–2000). "Rear-Admiral Karel W.F.M. Doorman". Dutch East Indies Campaign website.
  2. ^ Klemen, L (1999–2000). "Rear-Admiral Gerhard Wilhelm Stöve". Dutch East Indies Campaign website.
  3. ^ Koninklijk Besluit No. 9 from 5 June 1942