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Interview with Adriaan Kannegieter

the Netherlands
The Netherlands

Name & Surname: Adriaan Kannegieter
City of Birth & Country: Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Rank in the Royal Dutch Navy in 1942: Sailor Second Class

[This interview with Mr. Adriaan Kannegieter was done in July 2000 via e-mail and is posted here by his kind permission.]

Adriaan, could you tell us a little about your background.

I was born in Rotterdam on 23 June 1926. I had an older sister and 5 younger brothers.

Why did you join Koninklijke Marine ?

Because there was a financial crissis with very much unemployment.

Could you briefly describe how the Dutch Navy trained its recruits in pre-war time? Seeing photos from your book, it seems that you had also some naval infantry training. Is this correct ?

All kind of sailors work even a soldiers training for possible landings with small boats.

Was your ship ever attacked by any German planes in May 1940? You soon left for England, leaving Holland and your families behind. How did this influence at the crew morale aboard RNN Sumatra and did you ever had any homesickness?

The first day, May 10th, 1940, we were bombed and machine-guned the whole day. The second day early in the morning we went to Britain. There certainly were some homesick but there was a heavy war wath of 6 hours on and 6 hours off and between the time off gun and mitrailleur training, cleaning and painting the ship and even time to sleep. So we were too very tired for thinking.

Probably one of the ''proudest hours'' in the history of RNN cruiser Sumatra was the time when you brought Dutch Royal Family to Canada. Do you still remember the young princesses Irene, Beatrix and Juliana aboard the ship during the voyage through Atlantic Ocean ? Were you during the voyage attacked at any time by any enemy planes or U-boats ?

Yes, I do it still very much as they spended much time on the command deck just under the deck of my war wath by the 40 mm mitrailleurs. Once we had alarm in the night when I was sleeping because theis was seen gun fire lights in the horizon and in the air hanging light bullets. Later it seemed to be training British warships during a convoy.

Was RNN Sumatra updated with any new weapons (perhaps AA guns) while being in various British or Canadian ports ?

No! We only got in England a cable against magnetic mines.

What assigments were you assigned after bringing Dutch Royal Family to Canada ? Convoy escorts ? Were you attacked during this time by any German U-boats ?

Escorting a trooper with soldies bount for Jamaica ans Curacao and hunting after raiders between Cuba and Miami (USA). Pittyfull we never met a ship of the enemy.

You have been among other places also in the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao Island if I am not mistaken. How would you describe the life on these islands in 1940, when you arrived ? Was there at that time a lot of white (Dutch) population-colonists on Curacao Island ? I guess you achored at Parera Naval Base, correct ? There has been a big difficulties for WWII researchers to find out more about Dutch garrisons in the Netherlands Antilles and Dutch Guyana (also known as Suriname) in World War Two. Do you recall if Royal Dutch Navy had any warships and any troops in 1940-1941 on Curacao Island ?

As we were only short times on the Islans Bermuda, Jamaica, Curacao and Mauritius I cannot give an impression. We were only warned that Jamaica and Mauritius were dangerous islands for robbery. In Curacao the usual Dutch population were mostly employees of the Shell Oil Plant. We anchored in the Anna Bay. As far as know some Dutch officers and Marines led inland police. Another Dutch warship Hr.Ms. Van Kinsbergen was already based there before the war.

When RNN Sumatra sailed to Dutch East Indies ?

We left Curacao in the night of 7-8 of August 1940.

How would you describe the Dutch East Indies islands and the population, looking from nowdays perspective ? People often says that there was a strong resemblence between the Dutch and native population, which showed when the Japanese occupied Java and when natives often betrayed the Dutch and other Allied soldiers hiding in the jungle. How did you see the situation at that time ?

I was there from 9-10-1940 until 7-3-1942 so one and a half year as free man and most time sailing. I am sure there was no strong resemblence. There was no fear. For instance: In the night I drove with my bicycle about 10 km from my family to the navel base through a rather dark Soerabaja. When I was with my family with holiday in the mountains we, my cousine and me walked hours and hours passing kampongs and drank cocowater with a man of a kampong climbing in a palm dropped for us and we payed for. When there was any hate they had killed us. Today many former Dutch militairies visited Indonesia and crossed all around. The Indonesian people still are happy to meet any Dutchman as the said that they had more to spend and better live in colonial time. Never Dutch people had became in his vacantion some trouble. I think this all speaks for itselves.

You have served during your time in NEI aboard some RNN warships (RNN destroyer Banckert for instance). How were you preparing for war with Imperial Japanese Navy ? In fact have you and your colleagues - sailors ever spoked about the possibility of war to broke up soon ? Have you performed any military exercises in case of war against Imperial Japan and if so where exactly ?

As every navy in the world we were always prepared for a war and to do our duty, no more and no less.

Do you remember where were you when you were told that the war has begun ? Were you and Royal Dutch Navy confident/sure about defending Dutch East Indies ? Certainly you have to know that you are facing the third largest fleet in the world, having 10 carriers with 600 planes on and 10 more or less modern battleships, while Dutch East Navy could resist to this powerful forces with just four light cruisers, all desperately needing some repairs and dozen of destroyers and submarines, also most of them (with exception of few submarines) quite obsolete at that time. What have the Navy told you about the Japanese Navy and Army ? In fact how well were you informed about the Japanese Armed Forces ?

I was aboard aboard of the minesweeper Hr Ms Pieter de Bitter” on 7-12-1941, the day the Japanese bombed the American base "Pearl Harbour" and our Gouvernment daclared the war to Japan. There was no reason to be confidential. Moreover the Japanese shopholders, fishermen and so on were Japanese officers and they knew more then we. My personal opinion is that there wat no any change to overwin. The better could withdraw to Australia. As all over the world lower crew were not informed.

What was your worst experience you have to go through the Dutch East Indies Campaign between December 1941-March 1942 ?

The convooi of the KPM merchantship van Lansbergen. We were some hours attacted by Japanese dive bombers by witch the Lansbergen sunk and the Japanese bombers severel times mitrailled the crew swimming and wounded drifting in the water. That we had to sunk our lovely Pieter de Bitter.

How would you describe last days on Java Island before the Japanese occupation ? Was there any panic among Dutch civilian population and military personnel ? Have you took part in any combat actions against the Japanese forces, which landed on Java Island ?

The most Dutch civilian were ordered to went to the south coast place Tjilitjap were ships were waiting for evacuating. After we had let sunk our ship we were set in near a bridge to defend Soerabaja with rifles (don’t laugh please).

Do you still remember the day when you were captured by the Japanese troops ? Do you remember where ? What was your first impression about Japanese soldiers and what kind of feelings have you had coming into captivity ?

As the day of today when we got order to withdraw to a cloister/church to hand over our wapons. This company had a former shopowner as commander and he was friendly to his former customers and so I think he has ordered his soldiers. Terrible!

You have gone through various POW camps on Java Island before arriving in Thailand to work on (in)famous ''Burma Railway''. You were also held for a while in Changi POW camp, Singapore Island. There has been sometimes debates about the behaviour of Indian camp guards with Allied POWs. How would you describe them ? Some people even compared them with Korean camp guards.

They were watching outside the the barbwire of Changi area. They never shoot in my time someone who creeped under the babwire to sreel parafin out of the former British forts. The Indian guards were only in Singapore outside the babwire were I was some months. I think you are changing the Indians with the Koreans. Beasts witnout any moral.

Escapes. Have any Allied POWs tried to escape from the POW camps ? What has happen to them ? Anyone made a sucessfull escape by reaching British frontlines or Burmanese partisans in Burma ? Have you ever discussed in the camp about the escapes ? Have you ever thought to escape ?

I only know that some POW’s who were escaped after some time by the Kempai Tai were cutted of their head.

Some ex-POWs often said that Japanese camp commanders were quite clear and serious when they told them that they will execute all Allied POWs in case of Japan defeat. Have you also heard such rumours in your camp or were told this directly by your Japanese camp commander ?

No never. But the treatment was equal.

Did you have any contact with your family during POW time ? Do you remember the day and place where you were liberated from the Japanese captivity ?

No. About three weeks after the Atomic bomb fell I was in a small wood-cutters camp far away in the jugle close to the border between Siam and Burma. They put us on a open wagon of a train and after two days traveling. The two escorting Japanese soldiers hand us over to the Japanese commander of a collective basic camp. I was total loss and there we heard that the war was over already some weeks. Between two Dutch naval petty officers I had been brougt to a hut and more I cannot remenber as I felt asleep I think for hours. I was skin over bone and emaciated.

You have stayed in the navy after the war for a while, but soon returned to your civilian life ? Why ?

I was disapointed about the promotion regulation.

Adriaan, you have also writen a book about your wartime experiences as a sailor and POW. Could you tell us a few words about your book ?

Much more as I told here above but the longest chapter about the construction, without any mechanical power of the Burma Railroad to know 414 km ready in only 8 months yes you read it correct; in only 8 months. Unbelievable but true.

  Adriaan Kannegieter's book about his wartime experiences

Veterans of the Dutch East Indies Index . Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright Adriaan Kannegieter 1999-2000