Below report was written by Dutch colonial Marine officer M.S.D. 1st class Ir. N.J.C. Smit in December 1945. He recounts in detail the shipwreck of the torpedo-boat destroyer H.M. "Piet Hein" after an attack by an "enemy" torpedo-boat in the pitch-black night of 19-20 February 1942, in the straight between mainland Bali and Nusa Penida.
Some 40 marine personnel managed to survive by holding on to rafts which eventually stranded them on Nusa Penida's southeastern steep cliffs. How did they manage not to succumb to the fierce currents in the Badung Straight? Who exactly was this "enemy" torpedo-boat? And, arguably more to the point, what help did the marine personnel get from the local population of the island? Fortunately, along the bottom of the towering cliffs, which for some proved a death trap, there was fresh water...
Additional notes made after 1945 in the original letter, in various handwritings, and information by Godi Dijkman are given in square brackets. Please, refer to source and notes at the bottom of this article. English translation by Godi Dijkman.
Night of 19-20 February 1942
Image right: 'Cliffs of Noesa Penida near Bali.'. Tydeman's view of the towering cliffs of Noesa Penida (island southeast of Bali)', Gustaaf Frederik Tydeman aboard Siboga, 1899' Source: het Scheepvaartmuseum; www.maritiemdigitaal.nl)
[handwritten, above this page: 'Report today M.K. – H: m: Piet Hein = Agno177C06/7-1-45 – Smit']
During the action I found myself at the entrance of the engine room underneath the rear bridge, where I was standby for possible difficulties both on deck and in the engine room. Officer M.S.D van Muyden [the 'M' in bold has been changed, the original letter hardly readable, it could be an h or m or n] was inside the engine room and was in charge.
After the torpedos from the rear torpedo cannon had been fired, at which the cartridge remains set fire to the mats - quicly extinguished - nothing happened for a while. The ship continued at 23 nautical miles. Because of the darkness, we couldn't detect any manoeuvres. Silence ruled aboard, as the cogwheels were of excellent workmanship, and at this crossing, given the three chambers, the noise of the ... was hardly audible. At around 10.30 PM we heard noise at starboard and witnessed the volleys caused by three granades. We hid as well as we could, after which a second volley hit closerby, followed by a third, which hit the midship. The volleys were fired in quick succession without searchlights. On deck we saw the results of a burning airplane winch motor, which spread a glaring light.
In de vuurpauze, volgend op de drie salvo's heb ik getracht het bedrijf weer op gang te krijgen, wat niet gelukken kon, doordat onze eenige resteerende ketel geen water kon krijgen en op een gegeven moment wegens watergebrek afgezet werd, en het personeel naar boven gestuurd. Daar het schip weer opnieuw onder vuur genomen werd, nu van stuurboord met behulp van een zoeklicht, en in de M.K. alle werktuigen gestopt waren, heb ik het personeel naar boven gestuurd. In de vuurpauze heb ik aan bakboord, wat achterlijker dan dwars duidelijk een torpedojager waargenomen (4 pijpen) zich bevindend op de plaats, vanwaar de salvo's afgevuurd zouden (kunnen) zijn.
During the pause in the firing, which followed after mentioned three volleys, I tried to bring back to live the whole machinery (?), to no avail, because the only remaining chamber wasn't able to get water and was switched off due to a lack of water. The remaining staff was sent upstairs. As the ship was fired at yet again, this time from starboard with a search light, and in the engine room all machinery had stopped working, I sent all of the staff upstairs. During the pause in the shooting, I was able to discern a torpedo-boat (4 pipes), (...) which found itself at the place from where the volleys could have been fired.
When I arrived back on deck, all hell broke lose. Everyone who was able to leave the ship, did so. I have been able to help some wounded staff up the rear staircase. [noted with pen/pencil at the bottom of the firt page: 'Very good report, send a copy to CJ/Zm en RsO. A']
At some stage, a full blow hit the ... ammunition of the rear cannon. Major Mach. Swarthof was next to me at that moment. Swarthof was cast overboard by the blast and was heavily injured, according to later reports, whilst I found myself on deck some time later with torn clothes and lacerated eardrums. As no-one at the stern was able to hold on and given the fact that the ship was sufficiently intact to be towed elsewhere, I remained aboard. Communications with the fore part of the ship had been tied off, as to our larboard the front torpedo cannon was lying across deck. On starboard, the deck was teared open. The bombardment continued for some time.
After I did a round to check up on the damage, it was evident that the ship was teared up completely from underneath the bridge to the wardroom. As I saw a life raft with one man on-board drifting there, I decided to abandon the ship. It took me some time to reach the life raft, and I saw that the ship leaned over to the left, and it sank with waving flag. A few moments after the ship had sunk, we heard loud crackling. I thought we were being machine-gunned. Later, it appeared they were caused by two depth bombs ['cannons' is omitted by handwriting], which were ready for use in the pours. The ship sank at around 23.30 hours.
In my opinion, the first volleys have been fired by a U.S. hunter, probably the U.S.S. Pope, which, according to later findings, must have been near. My opinion is based upon the following facts: 1. I observed a four stacker on larboard, whereas the volleys came from larboard; 2. the hole in the A.K.R was around 50cm wide, which does not indicate a grenade of a large calibre, but rather of a 411/d'', knowing that the Japanese carried heavier artillery on their hunters; 3. The pause in the firing, which followed the first hit; 4. The firing without [manually crossed out: killing of a ship by a cannon plus'] a search light [manually crossed out: 'which as far as I know'] was the case during the raid at Balikpapan.
The U.S. hunter has also been seen by Lieutenant at Sea (?) Malpensa, and probably by many others.
The journey on the raft
When I arrived at the life raft, corporal carpenter Foekens was already there. The enemy searchlight was spent, the moon had disappeared and I could hardly discern the mountainous area in the west from the east. As the Japanese had already landed on Bali and I was not intent on making myself a prisoner of war straight away, I decided I wanted to reach the island Penida, which lay east of us. In the complete darkness, I was able to orient myself by two bright stars that arose just above the island. We were underway using a small board, and after some time had passed, we found two people who needed help from drowning. These people joined us, and they brought with them one paddle.
Some time later, we were able to pick up two other men, of whom one carried another paddle. Armed with two paddles, operated by two men sitting on either side of the raft, we were able to make some progress, whilst the other men pushed the raft downwards at the other side. Except for the two paddlers, we were all up to our necks in the water. We headed to the east, as well as well could. As the evening progressed, we noticed some search lights and signal flares in the north. At daybreak, we were able to pick up tow more swimming men, by which the number of people on the raft amounted to eight, which is far too many for this raft made out of balsa wood, meant to carry ten men. It is therefore, hard to keep the raft sufficiently afloat.
At some stage in the morning, it appeared too difficult to reach Nusa Penida as we were drifting northwards. Because of a favourable wind and the position of the sun, South Bali seemed much closer. And because we couldn't think of anything better, we headed in that direction. This caused us to end up in a stream, which carried us around South Bali into the ocean, and it became obvious that the south coast of Bali, too, could not be reached. Since the sunrays made Nusa Penida appear a very attractive destination, much easier to reach, we headed for the island and we persevered towards Nusa Penida. It was evident that we had been carried away around the south, and that at our slow pace we were not able to counter the northward current. As a result, in the morning of February 21 ['5' is crossed out, which makes it appear a '7', but given the circumstances this would have to be interpreted as '21'] it seemed we could well land on the shores of Nusa Penida. On 20 February, the sun had blinded me to such an extent, that later this caused rumours of blindness on my part.
That day, we witnessed a dogfight above Nusa Penida after which one fighter fell down and was set on fire. The pilot, as became evident later on, had jumped out and has been buried at a sight know to us at Sempel on Nusa Penida. His identity could not be verified. He wore a pocketknife with "Sprague" scratched into it, but the American pilot by this name was later seen alive. These data have been sent to controller Smit of Kupang, who was captured and made prisoner by the Japanese. During the voyage we were much inconvenienced by the oil drifting on the water, and after our arrival at Nusa, we were covered in it. Hence, our clothes could no longer be worn.
Our arrival at Nusa Penida was far from easy as the coast rose vertically and high from the sea. At some places, there were coves from where a hazardous path started upwards. Before these coves, there were coral blocks, which had to be passed before reaching the shore. I had come ashore at the wrong place, and I noticed that this landing place would inundate very soon at high tide, and there would be no accessible path upwards. When I had passed the coral blocks and arrived at the shore, there were two natives who helped me ashore from the water with bamboo sticks. They took me up the cliffs to their kampongs. This barefooted walk along coral caused a number of injuries at the soles of my feet, as a consequence of which I suffered greatly during the following days.
I was taken to a village where the remaining seven people on the raft had already found shelter. Corp. Timmerman Foekens had already taken measures and had provided food and drinks. We were offered shelter in a roofed meeting hall, which is to be found in every Balinese village. The following day, we left for Sempel, the capital of the island, where we were lodged at a school. Many people had already arrived there, and many more came to this place after we did. All in all, more than 40 men had managed to arrive on the island. The natives have found lodgings in the kampung and have left first to Bali and then on to Java on their own bet.
A number of Europeans has tried to make the crossing to Klungkung by proa, and to reach Java on foot or bicycle, at which they were successful. They reported our presence on Nusa Penida to the CMR on 2 March. Personally, I didn't see the point of this enterprise, moreover there were two heavily injured men with me who had to be taken care of. On the island, there was only one native nurse with insufficient dressing material as all the remaining men were wounded by shrapnel and coral blocks when they arrived on land. I intended to reach Lombok. I was convinced that on this island there were no Japanese, and because of earlier visits I was familiar with the hospital, doctor and a PTT radio, which would enable me to report to the C.Z.M, after which we could have been accompanied out.
The punggawa (District Head) of the island, which was part of the 'Onderafdeeling' Klungkung (Bali), has done his utmost to help us and provided shelter, clothing, which for the greater part consisted of garments from his own wardrobe, and food, which seems rather scarce on the island. It is a poor island and the few Chinese ['Balinese' has been crossed out] tokos had hidden their supplies in the mountains after what took place.
Transport to Lombok caused him great concern. There was a Madurese proa, large enough for all of us, but the crew was nowhere to be seen. A trip to Lombok proved too unusual for the islanders. After much trouble, it proved possible to make the crossing to Bali instead, where in Boeitan there was supposed to be a clinic where the heavily wounded could be taken care of. In the course of the afternoon of 28 February, I made the crossing to Boeitan on a proa in order to investigate these (...) and to find out whether it was possible to reach Java through the north of Bali.
The clinic at Boeitan did not exist, and I went to Karangasem by cikar to discuss the possibilities there. When I got there, I heard that the previous day the controller had been taken away by the Japanese and it was clear that the journey to Java was going to be very difficult. I received this information from the Javanese doctor who took care of our wounded at the hospital. (I was accompanied by Corp. Mach. Koster as I was nearly totally deaf). The doctor had also provided footwear for the six men, who, at an earlier stage, had managed to cross the straight to Klungkung. He had made sure that dressing material had been sent over to Penida, which, however, never arrived. He gave us a few boxes of dressing material, which we took back to Penida the following day.
We left on the morning of 2 March, and arrived the following evening after dark at Labuhan Tring Bay. The Japanese appeared not to have landed on Lombok. After I had called Assistent-Resident Jacobs, we were welcomed by car. The heavily wounded were taken to a hospital in Mataram where they were taken care of. The others were cordially welcomed at the home of the Assistent-Resident and were given nasi goreng with beer, which tasted really well after the rather uncomplicated Nusa Penida cuisine, and the even more so after the unsophisticated food we had enjoyed in the boat. We were given lodgings in Mataram and the following day were spent in search of suitable shoes and clothing, as our outfit was reduced to no more than a sarong and a shirt.
When we left Nusa Penida, it was know to us that four men: ltz Zêgers Veeckens, Maj. Mach. Slot, Maj. Mach. Swarthof and Corp. Mach. Nak had remained behind at the bottom of a cliff. Zêgers Veeckens, Slot and Swarthof to some degree injured, while Nak had stayed with them in order to help them. At our departure, we were assured that these men were to be assisted, and accompanied up the cliff once sufficiently strong.
When we had spent a few days on Lombok and we had received shoes and clothing, and generally we had gathered our strength, I decided to investigate the fate of these men. On Lombok there was a motorboat called the "Pat", which was at my disposal. I was accompanied by Mil. Corp. Mach. Koster who had come ashore at the exact same place and who would probably have been able to recognize the situation from the outside, and Seaman I Penninga, who was a good swimmer. Furthermore, aboard we carried a rope of some 110m and some inner tubes from a car. We intended to approach the landing place from the outside, at which Penninga, equipped with inner tubes and rope, would attempt to reach the shore, after which it would have been possible to make our way outwards and to take take all men on-board.
We departed 11 March, afternoon, in order to make the crossing by night aided by moonlight as there were reduced chances of us being spotted by the enemy. The following morning, at dusk, we arrived at Sampelan. I made it to the shore to investigate whether they had already managed to climb the steep cliffs above. It became apparent that the punggawa had left for Klungkung as he had duties to attend to. And after the messenger of these tidings was welcomed, it became obvious that nothing had been arranged, and that only two men had been seen during the previous two days. We left, after having conveyed the message that if the expedition were to fail, we would have to return by land. In the "Pat", we sailed around the south, after which the going got more difficult as passing the next corner of the island became more hazardous because of the counteracting swell and currents, with an easterly wind.
Early afternoon, it became apparent it was impossible to continue any further, so we turned around, a manoeuvre handled with much seamanship by the native juragan. As the exhaust pipe was waterlogged due to the seawater from behind, the motor ran dead. The emergency sail wasn't able to carry us any further, but we managed to repair the motor, and were able to continue our journey. After the motor once again had failed, we cast anchor near Sampelan at sunset. It appeared that the punggawa had been called back from Bali, in possession of a large number of Japanese flags, which he didn't seem to like at all. He had been a messenger to and fro to the village, where our four men had been waiting anxiously. It became apparent these men had not been taken care of, that the punggawa had received erroneous information and that, indeed, only two men had been observed as of late.
I wanted to go there the following morning, but because there was the risk of the Japanese and traitors amongst the population, the punggawa assured me that he would make sure that the men were to be accompanied. After having expressed the threat that if our men were not to be safely accompanied to Lombok within a certain number of days [...], we left for Lombok. And indeed, the punggawa kept his promise and the following afternoon he accompanied ltz Zêgers Veeckens and Maj. Mach. Slot up the steep cliffs and helped them to get out to Lombok straight away. This was against the orders of the new authorities.
Maj. Mach. Swarthof succumbed to his injuries suffered onboard within a few days, while Corp. Mach. Nak had died whilst trying to climb the steep cliff unaided, after which he had fallen to the ground and perished. During these three weeks, the remaining two men survived on water, which seeped from the cliffs, and leaves and snails, whilst natives tricked them and taken from them their wedding rings, without anything in return.
After we arrived on Lombok, the Assistant-Resident immediately sent a message to the CZM, by PTT radio, at which a reply came from Bandung that the telegram had arrived. I had conveyed a message to the remaining men who had departed to Java through Bali, that they should report to Surabaya, that a number of survivors from the Hr. Ms. "Piet Hein" were still present on Nusa Penida, and that I was intent on leaving for Lombok as soon as possible. In relation to this message, the Binnenlands Bestuur took measures, after having consulted us on this subject, in order to inform us as soon as possible on the arrival of allied vessels or aeroplanes, after which our embarkation would have lasted only a short while. Attempts were made to use the PTT Radio Station in order to reach the allied forces, but the transmitting station was only fit for one wavelength, crystal wave, and could not be used on any other wavelength, and all other radio data were absent.
Then, we thought about leaving on the motor boat the "Pat" and sometime later on a Makassar proa called the "Constantinopel". Given the limited range of action, the sail-bearing capacity and the size (only ± 11m. in length) of the motorboat, we decided not to embark on this journey. Moreover, there appeared to be no sea maps or any other navigational instruments for that matter, and at present it was only possible to take as little as one month's ration of water for the duration of the journey. These limitations also went for the prao "Constantinopel". What's more, when this amount became available, the east monsoon arrived with gradually stronger east-west currents in the Timor Sea. As a consequence of this, our chances of arriving there were reduced to a minimum. Op top of this, we were expecting to be picked up there.
On 12 March, three survivors of the Hr. Ms. "van Amstel" arrived on Lombok, of whom one was heavily injured by shell fragments. These men have been hospitalised and taken care of by the B.B. (Binnenlands Bestuur; Colonial Internal Government).
Tanjung Priok, 11 [the first '1' has been crossed out and replaced by a '3', so the date changes into '31'] December 1945; Officer M.S.D. 1e class, [signed] Ir. N.J.C. Smit
REPORT, concerning the conduct of the late Corp. Mach. Nak, initials and stbno. unknown to me, on 21 February 1942 and the following days. Corp. Nak found himself on a raft with seven other survivors from aboard the Hr. Ms. "Piet Hein". The raft landed on Nusa Penida at a point where climbing the enormously steep and high cliffs was especially difficult. Four of the eight men were able to make their way up directly, but the heavily injured Maj. Mach. Swarthof and the slightly wounded, though exhausted, ltz Zêgers Veeckens and Maj. Mach. Slot were not able to climb the cliffs.
Corp. Nak, although he wasn't wounded or exhausted, stayed behind to assist them. There was some water available, but regarding food, they had to make do with leaved from the undergrowth and snails. After a few days, Maj. Mach. Swarthof succumbed to his injuries. There was no help from above, so that Corp. Nak decided to climb upwards in order to ask for assistance. There had been a number of native down at the bottom of the cliffs, but refused help, offering to swap a coconut for a wedding ring, and they ran away with both of them. Half way his climb up, Nak fell down and lost his life, trying to get help for the benefit of his companions in adversity.
Above mentioned facts were conveyed to me by both Ltz Zêgers Veeckens and Maj. Mach. Slot after their arrival on Lombok on 15 March 1942. As both spokesmen have deceased, I consider it my duty, finally, to report these facts. Given the fact that Corp. Nak showed great sacrifice towards his companions who were suffering in a terrible way, a fact which led to his own death, I therefore am intent on asking you to consider granting him a decoration.
Tanjung Priok, 11 December 1945; Officer M.S.D. 1e class, [signed] Ir. N.J.C. Smit [At the bottom of page no.9, in handwriting, is written: 'To the chairman of the C.O.G.']
Names of survivors from aboard the Hr. Ms. "Piet Hein", who have arrived on Nusa Penida: Mil. bootswain Mayer vx; Corp. Mach Maas vx; Sailor.1e class Van Wageningen vx; Sailor.2e class Voogd vx & de Vries vx; Fireman oiler Stokkelaar vx; by proa crossed to Klungkung (Bali), and later arrived in Surabaya; Corp. carpenter Foekens; Sailor.1e class Soetyadi v; fireman 2e class Mens v; 26 February crossed to Klungkung, unaided attempted to reach Java; Corp. fireman Hendra; Corp. cook Subagio & Sasrowirya v; Sailor.1e class Padang; Sailor. Telegr. Supang v; Native servant Suba v & Sompyo v & Samar v & Prosdiya v, & Damar v; Mil. sailor. Arifin v; 27 February left unaided to Java through Bali; Off. MSD 1e class Smit vx; Ltz 3e class Van Ysel Smit vx; Sgt. telegrapher Brown vx; Sgt. mechanic Van Eijssel vx; Corp. bott. Vlaming vx; Corp. Mach. Van Emminga vx; Mil.Corp. Mach. Koster v; 'Konst.' seaman Swelteringa; Sailor. 1e class Pfenning v & Meerleveld v; Sailor.2e class Baalen vx & Van Breding vx;  Fireman oiler Dijksema; Fireman 2e class Rowland vx; Mil. sailor. Stalmeester vx & Berlin v; Mil. fireman Van Cleve vx; 2 March left Lombok arrived on Nusa Penida; 15 March arrived on Lombok from Nusa Penida. Ltz 2e class Zêgers Veeckens v & Maj. Mach. Slot v; 12 March arrived on Lombok survivors of the Hr. Ms. "van Amstel". Mil. mechanic Ruding -; Mil. Telegrapher Van de Poort -; Sailor r.m. Labuhantiga -
[In very small print, on top of this page, is written: "aangel L de Vos/Vis [?]"; behind most names in below list there are one or two signs (a 'v' sometimes combined with an 'x') or somtimes none at all. Does this indicate that these names have somehow been verified and/or have deceased?]
- Smit, Ir.N.J.C. - Rapport van de officier MSD 1e klasse ir. N.J.C. Smit inzake de krijgsverrichtingen en ondergang van de Hr. Ms. Piet Hein alsmede de tocht met enige overlevenden op een vlot naar Noesa Penida; Ministerie van Marine: Commissie Onderzoek Gedragingen Marinepersoneel Nederlands-Indië, 1945-1949 (1950-1954) » Inventaris nr. 84; http://www.gahetna.nl/collectie/archief/inventaris/index/eadid/2.12.51/inventarisnr/84
This document was viewed at the National Dutch Archives (NA, Nationaal Archief) in The Hague, February 2013. It was the NA's explicit request to refrain from publishing the names of the people involved as a way of respecting the privacy of those still alive today. Therefore, all names in this report are fictitious, except for the names of N.J.C. Smit, Zêgers Veeckens, Nak and Slot. The reasons for this are that 'Smit' can be found online as part of the title of present report, and Zêgers, Slot and Nak have reportedly died, as stated by Smit in 1945 in this report.