M. V. Bloemfontein
Troop Transport for VMD-154
The Bloemfontein was a Dutch motor vessel that was used by the Allies as a freighter in the South Pacific during WWII. Built in 1934 in Amsterdam, Holland, this ship measured 488 feet in length and could achieve a speed of 16 knots. She could carry 2,334 passengers and could hold 146,000 cubic feet of cargo. With such a capacity, the Bloemfontein was a natural choice for troop and supply transport during the war.
On December 3, 1942, the Bloemfontein embarked from San Diego with the main body of USMC Squadron VMD-154. The voyage was less than memorable, and at least one member of the squadron nicknamed the ship "The Miserable Bloemfontein." Listed below are commentaries on the Bloemfontein written by VMD-154 squadron members.
Embarked 2 Dec 42, sailed from San Diego, Calif. 3 Dec 42 via M. V. Bloemfontein.
Arrived at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides on 31 Dec 42 and disembarked 31 Dec 42.
Service Record Book
William Earl Bauer
While Christmas of 1942 has never been my favorite Christmas, it's the one I remember most vividly - as undoubtedly do many of the nearly 4,000 Marines who were aboard the troop ship Bloemfontein that Christmas Eve 44 years ago.
After 31 days at sea, the ship, a converted Dutch icebreaker, had dropped anchor in Noumea Harbor in the coastal waters of New Caledonia, an island in the southern hemisphere halfway around the world from the USA. Using an icebreaker to carry troops to the tepid waters of the South Pacific didn't seem to make much sense, but then, during wartime, what did?
Earlier in the day, I had been designated as the O.D. and directed by Major Gay Thrash, operations officer on board, to stand the gangway watch. He went ashore to pick up orders - orders that would send us northward into the active war zone.
It was summertime south of the equator. The weather was seasonally hot and traditionally humid. In the cargo holds below, bunks for the troops had been stacked four and five high, resembling steel shelving in a hardware store. With the ship not moving, there was not a breath of air stirring below the decks.
Somewhere out on deck in that layer of partially khaki-clad human protoplasm was a guy with a harmonica. I didn't know his name, but I could hear his buddies call him "Polack." He player a lot of tunes including "The Marine's Hymn" and "Beer Barrel Polka."
After the troops had belted out several choruses of the lively polka, there fell upon the ship a hush. Loud by comparison to the sudden silence aboard ship was the sound of the gentle splash of the calm harbor waters against the steel plates of the hull.
Then from somewhere out in the nearly solid blanket of Marines lying mustly on their backs, their eyes focused on the big, perfectly round and brilliantly glowing moon, a Marine called out: "Hey, Polack. Can you play "White Christmas?"
written by the late Jack O. Baldwin
"VMD-154 Newsletter" April 24, 1987
Note from S. Monaghan: It is believed that the Marine who played the harmonica was Lucian Tuszynski. His talent with the harmonica has been recalled by several squadron members.
As I recall the trip on the "Luxury Liner" Bloemfontein, I was seasick about three weeks of the month going over. I think that I must have fed a lot of the fish out there because I had it timed just about right so I could make it from the galley, up the ladder to the rail and get rid of all the delicious food that the cooks had slaved so hard over the hot stoves to prepare.
I remember Christmas Eve of 1942 quite vividly. I was assigned guard duty on deck from 20:00 hours to 24:00 with orders that there were to be no lights on deck (no smoking) and that no one was supposed to be on the roof of the heads. The heads were long wooden sheds built along the railing, the outflow of which went to feed the fish. Many of the men used to climb up on the roof to sunbath during the day and enjoy the cool ocean breezes at night.The reason for keeping them off the roof was the fear of someone falling asleep and rolling off into the water.
When I took my post with my trusty M-1 (no ammunition) that night, I was so seasick I could hardly stand up, and I didn't care if someone did roll off the roof into the ocean. (Poor attitude for a Marine). After a short while, I sat down on the deck with my back against the bulkhead. I heard someone walking along the deck. He went past me for a ways, and then I heard him coming back. I figured he must be the Sgt. of the Guard checking the Post. He nudged one of the guys sleeping nearby and asked him if he had seen the Sentry. The answer from that man wasn't too nice, x#*7%. I spoke up and said, "Here I am, Sarge". He said, "What in hell are you doing down there?" I told him that I was too sick to stand on my feet. He told me to stand up and lean against the bulkhead until he could get a relief for me. He came back in a short while with another unhappy Marine to take my place. And because I was on the guard roster that night I was given permission to go ashore on Christmas Day.
I recall that on Christmas Day '42 some of us were permitted to go ashore in Noumea for a few hours, and as we walked along the street, we came upon a Service Canteen serving various cold drinks. I had taken French as a language in high school, so I decided to ask for a glass of water (using my best French), but the girl behind the counter kept saying "non." I tried again and received the same answer "non," so then I said, "A glass of water." She replied "mais qui" and gave us the water. She understood my "Anglaise" better than my "Francaise."
written by Ernest G. Haff
November 1, 2003
The war began - after a fashion - for me when I shipped out of San Francisco at 11 a.m., Wednesday, December 3, 1942 on the Dutch icebreaker Bloemfontein. I don't know how many Marines - plus our VMD-154 contingent - were on board, but it was really crowded. Food was also lousy. Generally, oatmeal and an orange for breakfast and hot dogs or cold cuts for dinner - lunch was not included. We arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia, half starved, bedraggled and thoroughly pissed, on the 21st of December. I managed to join a shore party on Christmas day, so joined some other Marines in begging bread. No luck. The Red Cross gave me two chocolate bars - Christmas dinner! We left Noumea (without regret) on the 29th, and arrived at Espiritu Santo on the 31st. We all disembarked on January 1, 1943. Two Army pilots celebrating the new year in a B-17 crashed. One dead, one injured. We settled down to building Camp Elrod.
written by J. Reid Clark
"VMD-154 Newsletter" April 2000
There were some remembrances of the harbor at Noumea. We had a patient from another outfit with meningitis who was completely out of it. The night we arrived (after our morning arrival), we had to take him off the Bloemfontein for transfer to the Naval Hospital. It was fun being on the low end of a Stokes stretcher and making it down the ladder on the side of the ship. We also had a few other patients, but they were ambulatory. The meningitis patient recovered and visited us at Camp Elrod later.
Jack Parsons and I went to town Christmas Day. We spent about an hour in town and 3 hours trying to get back to the ship. We found a little stand in town that advertised milk shakes. What imagination. We did have entertainment. A drunk Melanesian couple was having a high time in the town square. As I recall it was some kind of hot day. Think we both got sunburned and hungry.
written by Raymond Walker
"VMD-154 Newsletter" July 2000
There's not a Christmas that my thoughts don't go back to Xmas of '42 on the Bloemfontein. I was five months out of high school and scared to death. I could shave just before any inspection and no one could tell the difference. I actually grew almost 2 inches.
written by Merl A. Baxter
"VMD-154 Newsletter" January 2002
Bob Powers made a warm and lasting impression on me. He played a red piano constantly for us on Bloemfontein luxury liner. He could play many requests. He was always a smiling man no matter where you saw him - except in his office - there he was and always will be "The Top Sarge" and meant business.
written by Wayne Shaffer
"VMD-154 Newsletter" November 2002
"Ed Klimes reports - the Bloemfontein was sold for scrap to Hong Kong in 1959. This report was from the Netherlands Ministry of Traffic and Waterways. NO TEARS PLEASE!"
"VMD-154 Newsletter" April 9, 1990