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| 016 History | 020 History | The People

The O-16 was in the 1st submarine division with the K-XVII and K-XVIII (then under repair). It was under the command of Ltd. I. A.J. Bussemaker, who also commanded the Dutch Submarine Flotilla. This submarine, under supervision of the British Admiral Layton, patrolled in the South China Sea from 6th December to the 15th December 1941 before it was lost.

A day after the Netherlands declared war on Japan, O-16 sailed northeast of Malaya. On the 10th of December 1941, the submarine spotted a Japanese transport ship, the Ayatosa Maru. Three torpedoes were launched, but due to rain and poor visibility, the enemy ship was damaged but not destroyed. In the dark hours of the 12th December 1941, a Japanese transport vessel was spotted, heading for the coast.

A light was visible from the coast (probably to direct the transport ship into the bay, a system often used in the war time). The O-16 could follow the transport vessel to the Bay of Pataki. Commander Bussemaker then daringly took the submarine into the shallow anchorage of the bay and during a surface attack launched six torpedoes all of which struck home at the four unsuspecting Japanese vessels in the area.

Three ships sunk to the bottom and one ship was damaged. The sunken ships
were later raised which was possible because locally the water depth is merely 9 to 11 meter. Nevertheless, the attack was a triumph for the O-16. Sadly however, the O-16’s rejoicing was short-lived. The submarine was ordered back to Singapore on the 13th of December and was reported missing on 17th December 1941.

Then on 22nd December a bedraggled Dutch sailor was found by an Australian patrol, trudging toward Singapore in the hapless procession of native refugees fleeing the advancing Japanese. Brought to naval headquarters, Cornelis de Wolf had an incredible story to tell. A boatswain on O-16, he had been on watch on the rainy night of 14-15 December when at about 02.30 a huge explosion rent the deck forward and nearly broke the ship into half.

In less than a minute the boat was gone and he was gasping for breath in the lukewarm water of the South China Sea. Nearby a few other survivors called to each other and in the distance the voice of their commander was heard in reply. The swimmers clustered together, but Bussemaker failed to appear and was heard no more. De Wolf asked the only officer present, Ltz. II C.A. Jeekel, what had happened and was told that they must have hit a mine.

Knowing that Tioman Island was many miles south west of them, the men -Jeekel, de Wolf, seaman first class F.X. van Tol, seaman second class F. Kruijdenhof, and machinist A.F. Bos- decided to strike out for its shore, but van Tol and Jeekel soon succumbed to exhaustion and drowned. In the morning a Dutch aircraft passed overhead but failed to spot the swimmers, and Kruijdenhof disappeared soon afterwards. Toward evening, after 17 hours of struggling against the current that kept sweeping the men south-eastward away from the island, Bos could go on no longer. Asking de Wolf, if he survived, to remember him to his wife and two children, he gave up and sank from sight.

Alone in the tepid sea, the sturdy de Wolf pressed on until at about noon on the 17th he was washed up on the rocky shore of uninhabited Dayang Island.
Exhausted and bleeding, he fell asleep. Waking after a few hours, he was found by a lone native in a small prau and taken to a larger island (presumably Aur) where impoverished but hospitable natives nursed him as best they could. After three days, de Wolf, clad only in shorts, rigged up a sailing prau and crossed over to the mainland, then walked for nine hours on raw feet before encountering the Australian patrol.

Cornelis’s interrogators concluded from his revelations that O-16's navigators had been unable to fix the submarine's position accurately because of the rain on 14th December. Pushed off course by the unexpectedly strong current, the boat must have run afoul of one of the British minefields that the submarines had been warned were in a restricted area south of Tioman Island. It was also generally doubted whether de Wolf had really spent so much time in the water. <see map>

It was not until 1995, when a Swedish diver, Sten Sjöstrand, reported finding a sunken submarine that he suspected to be Dutch, that the authorities found out what had really happened to the O-16. The Royal Netherlands Navy’s Admiralty organized an expedition to identify the wreck. The mission consisted of the leader, Ltd-Cdr Van Zee, two sons of the late commander Bussemaker and H.C. Besançon (son of K-XVII’s commander, located in 1982). The team traveled by plane to Tioman Island and embarked on the diving tender of Sten Sjöstrand.

Details of the boat's layout confirmed it to be O-16, and the divers removed the steering wheel and some other fittings for retention as official evidence and historical mementos. The location of the wreck also revealed that it had not gone anywhere near the supposed British mine, but had suffered the same fate as the K-XVII. The brothers Bussemaker then dropped a memorial wreath on the wreck and van Zee offered a brief prayer on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The case of the O-16 was finally closed.