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There can have been few ships as popular amongst European travellers to the East Indies as the exotically named Indrapoera , a "twin-screw motormailship" of the Rotterdam Lloyd RL company.
Her evocative name, with its mysterious, oriental overtones, had a seductive charm, a charm that passengers found mirrored both in the luxury of her appointments and her ever-attentive crew.
She sailed under the Dutch flag from until both as a cruise ship, carrying passengers to exotic places, and as a troopship carrying soldiers to less happy destinations. In an active life, spanning more than three decades, she fulfilled a variety of maritime roles and won widespread international respect and acclaim. Indrapoera the ship with the memorable name.
The Indrapoera displayed the same, elegant features which had so characterised the RL passenger fleet since ; features which made them all instantly recognizable as "the graceful daughters of those Ruys gentlemen ". Typical for the RL ships were the long, plain, black funnel, the dove-grey and white hull with a vertical bow and the characteristic "open" superstructure so essential for staying cool in the tropical heat.
But the Indrapoera was more than just another member of the family, she was also a very special vessel: When the RL commissioned the construction of the Indrapoera in the early 's, the company had already acquired many years of operational experience with services to the East Indies and this was reflected in the very exacting set of specifications issued.
What really counted was that the passage should be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible and the service pleasant, efficient and of the highest standard. This made it imperative for the ship to have open, airy decks to allow the cooling sea breeze to flow freely and to offer shade from the sun. At the same time the decks had to have a surface large enough for numerous deckchairs as well as for the all-important promenade.
For the same reason, passenger cabins were positioned on the outside of the ship allowing them to benefit from fresh sea air and normal daylight. In fact, natural ventilation was a basic requirement for all passenger accommodation with 'forced' convection only being resorted to in exceptional cases. In fact, heavy seas could make parts of the journey unpleasant almost anywhere and at any time.
This made it important to position the cabins particularly of those passengers who had parted with substantial sums of money for the passage as far above the waterline as possible, so that the porthole windows could be left open, even in less clement weather, without the occupants being inconvenienced by excessive 'sea spray'.
To ease the burden of this 'enforced' stay aboard, it was essential to give passengers as much space as possible for promenading and to allow them to stretch their legs. This was in marked contrast to the transatlantic liners 'shuttling' back and forth between Europe and North America, who needed less than a week to complete their one way trips of 3, nautical miles 6, km. Naturally, the interior design of the Indrapoera had to meet these criteria and so inherit the characteristic 'house style' of the RL company.
In practice, this meant extensive use of soft fabrics in warm shades of browns and reds, dark-stained woods for panels and fitments and rich, dark upholstery for the furnishings. On Friday June 15th the firm of Wm. Ruys and Sons as management of the RL company signed the contract for the construction of the Indrapoera.
The main particulars were reported as follows: Maximum beam 60 ft. Depth to upper deck 38 ft. Draught, loaded 29 ft. Displacement 17, tons Gross register 11, tons Net register 6, tons Deadweight capacity 8, tons No. As was usual at the time, work commenced well before formal signature of the contract, and the keel had already been laid in early February The launch took place two years later at the end of March The wife of the yard's director named the ship after the 4, meter high volcano on the island of Sumatra.
By August the construction of the main and auxiliary diesel engines was at a sufficiently advanced stage to allow them to be run under test, and between March and December of the same year the interiors of the Indrapoera could be fitted. The design of the interiors had been entrusted to the creative skills of the established specialist in ship interiors H.
The quality and workmanship of the Mutters firm enjoyed an international reputation not least as a result of their work for the Harland and Wolf shipyard in Belfast, where they were contracted to produce interiors for the ships of the prestigious White Star Line including no less a vessel than the Titanic where Mutters produced parts of the first class accommodation. The British shipping journal "The Motor Ship" had the following to say about the style and quality of the Indrapoera's interiors: In the main the scheme of the decorative treatment appears to have been worked out on the lines of Javanese or Sumatran style, into which have been judiciously incorporated European modifications desirable for enhanced comfort.
The effect is extremely pleasing, and the owners have apparantly spared no expense to ensure that the passengers may make their voyages in surroundings of a luxurious character The propulsion units were a pair of 6-cylinder Schelde-Sulzer diesel engines with a bore of mm and a stroke of 1,mm. The auxiliary units were likewise Schelde-Sulzer diesels with 4 cylinders and bore and stroke of mm and mm respectively. The total cost of the Indrapoera in her delivered state was 6 million Dutch Guilders to put this value into perspective it is worthwhile noting that the average annual income of a skilled worker at that time was 1, guilders.
The Indrapoera began her sea trials in the middle of December and received remarkably complimentary reviews from the influential and critical editorial staff of the "The Motor Ship": We are inclined to emphasize this point, for it should be appreciated that great pains have been taken to provide for comfort throughout the ship. Rather than concentrate on the first-class accommodation at the expense of the remainder of the quarters, the owners appear to have specified that the entire layout shall bear the seal of distinction.
There is, for example, an atmosphere which is not far short of bordering on the luxurious even in the third-class dining saloon, and we think that the Rotterdam Lloyd Line deserve every congratulation for their policy in this respect. From this date until the outbreak of the Second World War she made a total of 55 round trips on the regular route between the Netherlands and the Dutch East-Indies.
In that time she carried many thousands of passengers to the wealthy and exotic colony, she fulfilled the postal service contract for the Dutch state and, in her four capacious holds, she carried the European goods which were otherwise unobtainable in the East and brought back the tropical products so much in demand in the West.
Finally, there followed a picturesque trip along the Northern coastline of Java then on to Soerabaja and back again. Between departure and arrival in Rotterdam lay a total of some 18, nautical miles which the Indrapoera covered in an average of 77 days.
The RL Line had high commercial expectations of their first motorship and in these they were not disappointed. With her relatively low fuel costs the Indrapoera was able to generate a high return. Moreover, the passengers too were generally more than satisfied with the level of appointment and comfort. The meals served aboard met even the most exacting culinary standards and the staff exceeded all expectations in their level of service and attentiveness.
Nevertheless, two important, negative apects should not go unreported. Firstly, the Indrapoera's diesel engines were less than completely reliable, with both pistons and cylinders suffering regular failures.
Secondly, the ship was plagued with high levels of vibration which were the subject of a great deal of research and significant costs for modifications. After 5 years the RL company decided, as part of a general programme to increase the speed of the fleet, to replace the Indrapoera's two 3, s. The KMS yard was commissioned to install two new double-acting diesel engines rated at 4, s. The engines would be built by KMS under licence from Sulzer.
The total cost of the new engines was put at 1,, Guilders with a further 50, Guilders for other structural work. Model towing tests were carried out in the tanks of the Viennese hydrodynamic laboratory and these showed that if the Indrapoera were to be extended by 7 feet and 6 inches 2. The Wilton dock in Rotterdam needed only a month for the extension work and the KMS a further 15 weeks for the engine conversions. Hence, in October , the Indrapoera went in for her 'operation' during which she was extended at the bow to an overall length of feet and 6 inches and provided with new screws.
In early December she sailed to the KMS yard in Vlissingen where the old diesel engines were replaced with the newer, more powerful units. Naturally, the RL management was keen to find out just how successful the operation to Indrapoera had been and so the following regular journey her 22nd was used to carry out a test at full power. Between Cape Gata and Dragonera, under favourable conditions, she averaged The output of the engines was measured at 8, s.
As the faster and fitter Indrapoera re-assumed her duties, the technical staff at both the RL and the KMS continued to look for ways to increase the speed of the ship still more. In due course, further towing tests in Vienna showed that if the ship had been lengthened even more in , the same performance could have been achieved with a significant reduction in the required engine power. The engineers also experimented with a new design of screw. However, the same towing tests also showed that by using chined sections, 9.
On the basis of the technical options available and given that any further lengthening of the ship would incur unacceptably high costs, the RL management opted for the latter solution, which meant fining down the underwater bow sections by the introduction of hollow frames. For this latest intervention, the Indrapoera would have to go back into dry-dock after her 28th trip. On Wednesday November 29th , two days after the end of her last trip, the Indrapoera was docked in Rotterdam at the "Holland" sheds belonging to the Lloyd company.
The Rotterdam city fire brigade turned out with their heaviest equipment, while the port authorities deployed fire boats to try to extinguish the flames threatening to engulf the ship. In the end it took no less than 29 fire hoses to get the fire under control. Shortly thereafter, the Indrapoera was towed to the Wilton yard in Schiedam for the repair work. This opportunity was also used to carry out the planned modification of the forward section which involved the installation of new frames, the lower parts of which were concave, in order to achieve the required "fining down".
From that moment on the forward aspect of the ship's hull displayed an unmistakable "kink". The total cost of this rebuilding and repair work was , Guilders. The longer, faster and renovated Indrapoera reassumed her duties to the Indies, with occasional short but very exclusive outings for which she was occasionally hired in between times. For instance, in mid July she was given the honour of attending the famous naval review off Spithead on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of King George V of Great Britain.
Just before her 36th voyage to the Indies, the Indrapoera made a special cruise to Southampton where three hundred members of the Dutch Royal Society of Engineers were given the opportunity of seeing the Queen Mary, the flagship of the British merchant fleet. The well-informed company was actually quite critical of the Queen Mary, no doubt because they were making comparisons with the great ship Normandie which they had inspected the previous year. Their own "review" of the Queen Mary concluded: Early in the morning of May 10th the German army invaded the Netherlands.
Enemy paratroopers were dropped at different locations across the country. After just a short period of resistance the Netherlands capitulated. At the time of the invasion the Indrapoera was in harbour at Genoa in Italy and she immediately received instructions to proceed to a port in friendly territory. Although the Netherlands were not at war with Italy, the Dutch authorities, naturally enough, could not consider Italy to be a friendly power. Hence, the Indrapoera made for Marseille from where she sailed, in mid-May , to Casablanca.
A week and a half later she left the North African harbour and sailed - via Capetown - to the Dutch East Indies where, in early July, she arrived in the harbour of Batavia. However, according to the "Charterparty", she continued to sail under the Dutch flag to show the red, white and blue colours. She duly arrived in Sidney on August 18th, and there underwent the necessary modifications to convert her from a luxury liner into a troop transport.
This included the mounting of a 4 inch gun on the afterdeck an old piece of naval ordnance which offered no defence at all against aircraft. Apart from a few rifles, this remained the extent of her 'armament'. In mid September , the transformed Indrapoera left Sidney harbour in her new wartime role. During the first days of the voyage the crew, who as non-combatant members of the merchant navy had no knowledge of naval warfare, were given instruction in the use of the gun.
For many this was a very serious turn of events and one which drove home to them the real dangers to which they would inevitably be exposed. The Indrapoera, meanwhile, continued her journey back through the Suez Canal and on to Bombay where she arrived in early November By December 10th , the Indrapoera was once again safely back in Bombay.
In January the troop-transport again received orders to sail to the Middle East.