They can’t be that stupid!

Abbekerk unloading it's cargo on barges in Singapore two years earlier (source:

17 January 1942 Abbekerks crew find themselves in a nerve wrecking position. The engine room staff do not follow the normal routine of repairs in the engine room: the engines must be ready at anytime. Assistant engineer Adriaan Kik has all the time in the world to look around on deck. And to worry …

On every day that followed Singapore was under aerial attack. At nine a.m.( you could set your watch by it) thirty bombers flew right over our ship on their way to bomb Singapore. We could do nothing but watch the sky and wonder whether they would pick on us or go to the city again. 
In the meantime all of us had a couple of snifters of the so called ‘Dutch courage’. We kept asking ourselves whether these Japs had not noticed that one ship had anchored so far from the others. Surely they were not that stupid? Stupid or not, not a single bomb came our way, but we were all stressed-out for sure.
Ass engineer Adriaan Kik

Very soon after arrival the 50 Chinese port workers refused to work on Abbekerk ‘ in such a warehouse of bombs ‘.  At first they only left when the air raid warning sounded, but very soon they packed up everything and returned to shore forever. The crew now have to unload the ship themselves and troops have to unload their own equipment.

Wrecked Hurricane aircraft of Squadron Leader Richard Brookers of No.232 Fighter Squadron RAF on the side of a road, British Malaya, 8 Feb 1942

As it was vital to get our squadron operational as quickly as possible we had to help with the unloading of the ship which carried our planes and equipment. One night in particular stands out in the memory. Bob Robinson and I were working down in the hold of the Abbekerk with bright arc lights shining down upon us. The air raid warning sounded. The work couldn’t stop which meant that the lights had to remain on. It was disconcertingly apparent that we were unloading ammunition for the guns of the Hurricanes and if anything dropped our way from above it seemed we were a poor insurance risk. I’ll not pretend that I wasn’t scared, but eventually the ‘all clear’ sounded and once more we had been lucky.
Harry Tweedale, groundcrew 232 Squadron RAF

The 60 Hurricanes brought to Singapore by Abbekerk and Sussex have been assembled just days after arrival and are deployed almost immediately. 3 Weeks later there are only nine left which are flown to Sumatra, just before Singapore capitulates.   



Merchant shipping losses in the area

16 January 
Senang (Dutch): The cargo ship struck a mine and sank off Singapore with the loss of 54 of her 93 crew.

17 January
Bantam (Dutch): The cargo ship was torpedoed and sunk in the Banda Sea by I-121 .


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