Daily Event for March 4, 2013

The Japanese invasion of Java began on Mar. 1, 1942 at about midnight. Unstoppable forces made landings on both the east and west sides of the island, then they began their march toward the center. Located on the south side of the island about midway between Jakarta and Surabaya (the largest cities near the landing points), is the port city of Tjilatjap, this was now the destination of the Japanese Army and the escape point for thousands of Dutch, Australians and anyone else fleeing the island before the oncoming army. Many ships left this port with the hope of reaching safety, several did not make it.

There seems to be some confusion as to the fate of two ships which left Tjilatjap around this time, Le Maire and Merkus. The confusion of war causes historians many headaches, of course people were trying to save their lives rather than taking notes, while the enemy was trying to keep as much of what they had done a secret. The Japanese were notorious for destroying documents at the end of the war and therefore many hundreds of thousands of records were burned. On top if this so much was destroyed in battle during invasions, bombings and sinkings that even more material is gone forever. It is these forces which lead to the confusion of what happened to these two ships.

Both ships were owned by Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (Royal Packet Navigation Co.), Amsterdam, Netherlands. Le Maire was built in 1908 at Maatschappij Fijenoord in Rotterdam and was 3,271 tons. She left Tjilatjap on or about Feb. 27, 1942 bound for a Western Australian port, Fremantle or Bunbury (both ports near Perth) and was carrying forty-five people. She was intercepted on March 4, 1942 by Lt. Commander Kiichi Koizumi and his submarine I-7 about 925 miles WxS of the port she left. The ship was sunk either by gunfire or torpedo, maybe by a combination of both. It is not clear to me how she met her end, and there were no survivors to tell the tale.

We don't know if they all went down with the ship (which is doubtful) or if they were cast adrift in lifeboats only to suffer the long death that can only come to those alone on the sea. There is of course another possible fate, they could have been machine-gunned by the crew of I-7. To be fair I have no evidence of this and looking at the fate of the crews of the other two ships he is credited with sinking it appears none of them were killed in the water. All three ships sunk by Koizumi were sunk before the Massacre Order which was issued to submarine commanders on Mar. 20, 1943, however some commanders did not wait for that order before they killed survivors in the water.

The other ship, Merkus, left Tjilatjap around the same time, but was bound for Bombay, India. She was built in 1937 at NV Scheepsbouwwerf Gebr Pot, Bolnes, Netherlands and was only 865 gross tons. She was carrying twenty people. Her fate was the same as that of Le Maire, but the exact date and location varies by source. Some sources give the date of her loss as March 4, 1942, others as Mar. 16, but it seems that the latter is correct. She was found and shelled until sunk by I-62 and the same tragic fate awaited the people of Merkus, none survived.

Again we must wonder how those on board died, and again I looked into the record of the commanding officer of I-62, Lt. Commander Takakazu Kinashi. To this point in the war he had damaged two ships and sank only one small sailing vessel, and not one person had been killed. He damaged one other ship on Mar. 21, and again nobody was killed. He was promoted to Commander and reassigned as commanding officer of I-19, in which he made one of the most famous attacks of the war.

On Sept. 15, 1942 he torpedoed and sank USS Wasp CV-7, USS O'Brien DD-415 and damaged USS North Carolina BB-55, of course none of the survivors of these ships were attacked in the water as he was too busy escaping himself. He later sank three more ships and damaged one other, five men were killed, but again none were shot in the water. So since he had no record before or after one can assume the people from Merkus were not shot. They nevertheless did not survive.

Sources disagree as to which submarine sank which ship, but I should point out that I-7 was assigned to the waters south of Java (where Le Maire was sunk) and I-62 was assigned to the Bay of Bengal, about 2,000 miles away. I have two different positions for the sinking of Merkus, one just off the west coast of Ceylon the other just off the southwest coast of India, both would be in the area where I-62 was assigned.

I-7 was destroyed in June of 1943 in the Aleutians, by then Kiichi Koizumi had been reassigned and promoted, he survived the war. I-62 was renumbered I-162 and was one of the few Japanese submarines to survive the war, but Commander Takakazu Kinashi died when his I-29 was sunk on a return trip from France in July of 1944.
© 2013 Michael W. Pocock

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