Escape from Singapore (February 1942)

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by PeteT, Sep 10, 2012.

  1. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    I am trying to help someone track the shipping movements of her father (RAF personnel) during ww2.

    This is a bit of a long shot, but I was wondering if anyone with a knowledge of this particular theatre of war would be able to give any pointers on what ships may have been involved in the following:

    "Left Singapore for Java in February 1942; escaped from Java by ship for Australia, but two ships were sunk and his ship turned and headed for India, arriving in Karachi March 1942".

    I recognise that these were chaotic times and that it will be nigh on impossible to track his movements from Singapore to Java, but do the snippets of information in the second sentence enable any kind of identification of ships involved?

    Any help would be much appreciated

  2. papiermache

    papiermache WO 356 Mechanic

    David Nelson in his book "The Story of Changi" , 1974, ISBN 0 9503243-0-2, gives brief accounts of many ships leaving from Java and Singapore. The following has three things that match: size of "convoy", original destination, ultimate destination:

    " Felix Roussel" : A.B. McAlaney, ex "Sin Aik Lee", reports this ship left Tandjong Priok mid-February towing "Iris" and "Rover", said for Western Australia. ( This information probably incorrect ). Capt. Roche, E.S.O., Tandjong Priok, states ship sailed not towing, bound for Cape with evacuees. Ship arrived India and South Africa safely-unless passengers transhipped at Batavia.

    There is a file at Australian Archives about a voyage of the "Felix Roussel" in 1942.
  3. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Thanks for the feedback, which looks like a promising start point; I will see if I can build on that



    UPDATE: A quick google suggests that the "Felix Roussel did not linger long at Singapore; along with the Devonshire & City of Canterbury they sailed for Bombay on the evening of February 8th 1942"; this would not tie in with the statement that he embarked a ship in Java heading for Australia .... so perhaps we are not on the right path yet .....
  4. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member


    I remember reading in Rivett's 'Behind Bamboo', that HMS Durban had led a convoy of ships away from Singapore heading south in February. He also mentioned that one of the ships was from the 'Empress' line and was carrying RAF and RAAF personnel.

    As you say it was a confused situation, so who knows if this is at all relevant.
  5. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Thanks bamboo43 .... I may be biting off more than I can chew with this one ... but thought there was no harm in giving it a try .... I guess it may help if I establish what ports would have been in use on Java at that time ... so that is my next goal


  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Attached Files:

  7. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Thanks again; I have found snippets of information regarding 100 squadron so I have been able to do some tracking of their movements.

    As I know that the squadron were in Java on 15th February and Java fell on 7th March, I am wondering if it may be worth tracking backwards from Karachi to see if there are any records of ships that departed Java (possibly Tjilatjap) between those dates.


  8. papiermache

    papiermache WO 356 Mechanic

    David Nelson has this in his Appendix B to the aforementioned book which has some elements matching with your original snippets of information:

    " Deucalion": left Batavia approximately 22.2.42 with local British from Java and some R.A.F. for Fremantle."
  9. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    The ships that sailed in convoys, fromTanjong Priok in February were:

    SJ1, Batavia 12/2, Colombo 21/2 - Anglo Indian , Banjoe Wangi (Du), Batavia (Du), City of Canterbury, City of Pretoria towing HM submarine Rover, Clan Alpine, Halizones, Madura, Malancha towing HM destroyer ISIS, Rijn (Du), Van Der Capelle (Du), Van Swoll (Du), Yuen Sang.
    SJ2, Batavia 15/2, Colombo 22/2 – Empire Star (for Fremantle), Plancious (Du?) with 970 evacuees.
    SJ3, Tanjong Priok 17/2 – For Fremantle - Darvel, Giang Ann and Ping Wo (TowingHMAS Vendetta); for Colombo – Krian? Oriskany and Resang.
    SM2, Tanjong Priok 19/2, for Fremantle 28/2 - Cable Enterprise, Whangpu – both independent from position 8S, 104E, Wu Chang to Tjilatjap.
    SJ4, Tanjong Priok 19/2, dispersed 21/2 – Erling Brovig, Generaal Michiels, Generaal van Geen, Generaal van Swieten, Lee Sang, Modasa & Stanmore
    SJ5, Batavia 20/2, dispersed 22/2 – Angby, Filleigh, Hai Lee (Nor), Jalakrisna, Lulworth Hill, Silverlarch and Yoma.
    SM3, Batavia 20/2 – Adratus, Marella and Phrontis (Du)for Fremantle. City of Manchester and Prominent for [FONT=&quot]Tjilatjap[/FONT].
    S 4, Batavia 23/2, dispersed 25/3 – Deucalion, Perak, Seirstad, Springdale.
    SJ6, Batavia 21/2, dispersed 23/2 – Orcades with 3768 troops and evacuees.
    SJ7, Batavia 22/2, dispersed 25/2 – Ah Kwang, Cedardale, Fu Kwang, Ho Kwang, Ning Kwang and Tso Kwang. According to Apprentice Ralph Armstrong of the Pinna, who was ‘acting, unpaid, 2nd Mate of the Ho Kwang' they sailed from Batavia on 17/2, all reached Ceylon. He says that the others were Ah Kwang, Ee Kwang and Ning Kwang

    SJ8, Batavia 26/2, for Colombo – Ashridge (Wing Hong Co, Hong Kong) - alone
    The Dutch ship Khoen Hoea sailed from Tjilatjap on 26 February, with Lt Cdr Frank Man RNVR in command. He said ‘about fifteen ships sailed independently for Fremantle and Ceylon on that day’ there was ‘no convoy of any kind, in fact no warship of any description was seen.’ Abbekerk is reported as sailing from Tjilatjap on 27 February with 1,500.

    In the Third Supplement to[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]The London Gazette of Friday 20 February, 1948, Air Vice-Marshall Sir Paul Maltby says: 'Much credit is due to the Merchant Navy it rendered the R.A.F. devoted service in bringing into Singapore reinforcements and supplies at a critical time, in transferring units to the N.E.I., and in evacuating several thousands of personnel from Singapore and later from the N.E.I. This work was done at great hazard in waters exposed to surface, submarine and air attack. A number of ships and seamen were lost in the doing of it. I wish to record our deep appreciation to the masters and crews who did so much for us at such cost to themselves.'

    The above from my book Merchantmen in Action, Evacuations and Landings by Merchant Ships in the Second World War. Fonthill Media. To be published in October.

    [FONT=&quot]ISBN 978-1-78155-045-8[/FONT]

    For ships that sailed from Singapore during that period see Convoyweb Evacuations and Landings.

  10. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Thank you all for such a wealth of information; I will have to spend some time ploughing through it later to see if I can find a Karachi link.

    Perhaps that needle will appear in the haystack

    Thanks again; very much appreciated


  11. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

  12. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    The website for 211SQN RAF details their departure from Java which included airmen from various other squadrons:

    Squadron movements

    From that site the "Kota Gede" is starting to look good for this story -

    BBC - WW2 People's War - The Voyage of the ‘Kota Gede’

    To keep out of the lanes of Japanese bombers and submarines the Captain steered SSW until Sunday 1 March when he changed to NNW. He had been ordered to sail in convoy style to Australia but he decided to head for Ceylon.

    At the end of the war Captain Goos was expecting to be court-martialled but when the facts were known he was decorated for having saved his ship and at least 2000 servicemen.

    At Colombo in Ceylon we transferred to the ‘Dunera’, hoping we were returning to the UK but in fact arriving in Bombay and then Karachi.
  13. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member


    Yes; I am trying to cover the sailings for her whilst others focus on the land based movements. I have tracked the convoy from UK to Singapore for her and I think I have worked out his route home from India in 1944 .... this thread is focussed on the Singapore to Java ? to Karachi sailings in 1942.

    I have just got hold of the Karachi arrivals for March 1942 so will see what I can tie into that a bit later.


  14. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Mate, I can see that most of the input has been focused on organized convoys leaving the island while there still was some sort of order, even before the actual invasion, but none has dealt with the ships convoyed more by chance than by design, which escaped from Tjilatjap when the Japanese where already close by.

    Does this give you a clue? Am still going through the bookshelves trying to find something more substantial for you.
  15. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member


    I am not making any assumptions at this stage.

    I refer back to the original statement of "Left Singapore for Java in February 1942; escaped from Java by ship for Australia, but two ships were sunk and his ship turned and headed for India, arriving in Karachi March 1942".

    The information from DaveB regarding the actions of the captain of the KOTA GEDE, which departed Tjilatjap in Java on 27th February 1942 arriving in Columbo on 8th March 1942 and Karachi on 21st March seem to come closest to this statement at the moment.

    .... but certainly not ruling out other options


  16. papiermache

    papiermache WO 356 Mechanic

    Nelson mentions individual ships rather than convoys from information gathered from individuals passing through Changi POW camp. There are about 140 vessels mentioned covering a large maritime area.

    Nelson has this: "Van Der Lijn" left Tjilatjap during last 10 days of February with approximately 100 women ex Malaya, 100 mixed civilians, Army, R.A.F., R.N., personnel - for Australia ? "

    A website which might be helpful is maintained by the Dutch Nationaal Archief. The easiest way to get to it is to search for the phrase " Farewell To The Indies". The website has numerous documents in pdf format gathered from a host of archives, some of which are in English. I have referred to this before on WW2 Talk.
  17. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Based on my VERY limited understanding, many of the RAF personnel were on ships heading for Australia as I believe the aim was to reform there.

    The key to this puzzle (I think) is to establish how many ships sailed for Australia but then turned towards Ceylon and Karachi (as per the initial statement). Obviously the Kota Gede was one, but were there any others?

    I do have a listing of the ships arriving in Karachi during March 1942 but have nothing to compare it with in terms of ships leaving Java at this point in time.

    .... the search continues

    Thanks again to everyone involved for your interest and feedback; much appreciated


  18. tonyvant

    tonyvant Junior Member

    My father escaped from Singapore in Feb 1942. He was with 100 Sqn and his route is described in his brief diary entries from the time.

    02 Feb 1942 Left Singapore in SS Perak
    03 Feb 1942 Arrived Palembang
    09 Feb 1942 Left Palembang by rail
    10 Feb 1942 Arrived Oosthaven. Embarked for Java SS Rooseboom
    11 Feb 1942 Dismebarked Merak arrived at Batavia by train
    23 Feb 1942 Left Batavia for Freemantle on SS Deucalion
    02 Mar 1942 Arrived Freemantle.

    Doesn't help with Karachi I know but it may help somewhere.

    Subsequently he was posted to Jodhpur and Alipore and had to sail back from Australia to Colombo.


  19. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member


    Thanks for the information; it may help solve another case which I have recently been involved with.


  20. Griff68

    Griff68 New Member

    Hello to all interested in this topic. Have only just joined this website so I realised that my info comes 18 months after the last posting.

    My father, David Griffiths, was an engine fitter with 36 Squadron in Singapore and after he died I found a very short note about his escape. He left Singapore on the SS Perak on 31.1.42 for Sumatra and eventually landed up in Java. He and other RAF men boarded the SS Deucalion on 22nd February 1942 (as did Tony's father, see above), setting sail at about 14.30. They landed in Fremantle, Western Australia on 2nd March 1942 after what he describes as a largely uneventful journey,albeit hazardous as there was a full moon several nights running, and they had to negotiate the Sunda Straits - "well known to be lurking with enemy subs".

    Best of luck in your research.

    Regards, Lesley

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