KNSM - M.S. Colombia 1930 to 1943

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Please Note: All ssMaritime and other related maritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned, thus ssmaritime is NOT associated with any shipping company or any other organisation! Although the author has worked and been involved in the passenger shipping industry for well over 60 years, but due to his old age and poor health, he was forced to retire. Yet, he has completed well over 1,355 Classic Liners, Passenger-Cargo Liners as well as humble converted C3 converted Migrant Liners, which has transported countless thousands folk to the new world, as well on vacations’. I trust the features online will continue to provide Classic Liner and Ship enthusiasts both the information they are seeking, but more so provide a great deal of pleasure and relive many happy memories!




Please Note: Postcards, photographs & other images are from the author’s private collection, unless stated otherwise.

A special thank you to Bertus van der Molen and Jeroen Bouwman for their images and other assistance.


At the bottom of the page is a link to a 14.21 min colourised film on YouTube of

the delightful M.S. Colombia sailing from Amsterdam to Tilbury, simply amazing!

Building, Launch and Maiden Voyage:

Welcome to the M.S. Colombia feature of the intimate 10,782 GRT (Gross Registered Ton) ship that was the luxurious flagship of the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company (KNSM).

KNSM ordered her to be built by the “P. Smit Jr” Shipyards in Rotterdam on April 16, 1929, and her keel was laid down in yard N 454 very early in 1930. On May 24, 1930, she was named “Colombia” and launched by Mrs. M.E. Giljam-Irens, and as soon she was in the water a tug towed her to the “P Smit Jr” fit-out berth where she would be completed.

The M.S. Colombia was completed and headed out for her deep sea trials on October 1, 1930 and she reached a respectable speed of 15.5 knots. She was delivered to KNSM on October 22, and having been fully manned, and stocked up, she finally departed on her maiden voyage on November 28, 1930.

An early M.S. Colombia promotional poster, although the ship image was rather overdone

Service and Facilities:

The Colombia was operated by KNSM as a mail, cargo and passenger liner operating between Amsterdam and the Caribbean and the USA. Her schedule was as follows:

Departing from Amsterdam and sailing via Dover (UK) to Funchal (Madeira), Paramaribo (Suriname), Demerara (Guyana), Trinidad (Jamaica), then 5 Venezuelan ports, being Carupano, Guanta, La Guaira, Maracaibo, Puerto Cabello, next to Oranjestad (Aruba), Willemstad (Curacao), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), then to New York (USA). This voyage usually took 28 days. Her return voyage to Amsterdam was the above in reverse.

KNSM Brochure and schedule October 1935 to May 1936


A fine stern view of the Colombia

However, she also operated luxury cruises to Norway and Iceland. There was no doubt, that she was a most luxurious ship for those days as both First and Second Class was of a very high standard, and for her Trans-Atlantic voyages her Third Class was mostly designed for the migrant service, but these accommodations and public venues were of a high standard. The ship even had a magnificent indoor swimming pool, as well as an elevator (lift) and accommodations for 312 passengers. The reason for her interior grandeur was due to her famous designer, being “C.A. Lion Cachet” who worked on many of the finest grand Dutch liners over the years.

The M.S. Colombia was especially built to operate a service from Amsterdam sailing via Dover to Madeira, Paramaribo, Demarara, Trinidad, Carupano, Guanta, La Guaira, Maracaibo, Aruba, Curacao, Puerto Cabello and Port-au-Prince, then to New York taking some 28 days. Her return to Amsterdam was in reverse.

She operated for 10 years and 19 days as a full time passenger liner, but World War II would change her role dramatically as well her long term future, and sadly all this is part of her history which she has become famous for!

M.S. Colombia Photo Album:

An excellent aerial view of the M.S. Colombia, showing her four holds and open decks



The very popular and long serving captain on the M.S. Colombia was Captain Daniel Klok, who served from 1930 to 1938

First Class

C Deck Lobby with a magnificent lead glass dome, Looking forward to the Lounge


Another Lobby on B Deck


The ships Elevator (Lift)


The Music Room


Gallery Reading and Writing Room with the entrance of the Smoke Room at the end



Above & below: the Salon and Bar



Close up of the Salon Bar seen in the photo above


The Pursers Office



Above & below: The Dining Room



A close up of the magnificent Buffet seen in the photo above this one


A buffet of the eating kind on the Colombia offered the very best cuisine at sea


Indoor Swimming Pool


A spacious Suite


A twin bedded Cabin


Afternoon Tea out on Deck


Captain Klok chats with the Passengers


Relaxing at sea


Playing sport up on Sports Deck aft


Even a simple version of golf was available on the Colombia


The M.S Colombia is seen on her starboard side as she arrives back to Amsterdam



Above & below: Here we see two views of M.S. Colombia at anchor at Funchal, Madeira in January 1934



Another KNSM promotional poster

Second Class

The Music Salon


Lobby with doors to the Smoke room


The Smoke Room



Above & below: This Lounge also contains a Reading and Writing section and is located next to the Dining room


Note the Dining Room on the top right


The Lobby leading to the Dining Room



Above & below: the Dining Room had fixed seating that swivelled



Highest grade Second Class Twin Bedded Cabin


The M.S. Colombia is seen departing Amsterdam in a rare colour photograph


Another stern view as the M.S. Colombia is seen departing Amsterdam


Overlooking her aft decks



M.S. Colombia the Cruise Ship:

The Colombia during her days frequently operated seasonal cruises to Scandinavia, which were very popular, this was done whilst she had her usual black hull but also she was painted with a grey hull for a short time during one of her cruise seasons as can be seen below.

M.S. Colombia is seen at Copenhagen during one of her cruises


A postcard of the cruise ship M.S. Colombia seen in one of the Scandinavian Fjords


She passes through the Ijmuiden locks, the first of which was completed in 1876

Ijmuiden means “Ij mouth”, as Amsterdam has the River “Ij”

However, with Germany having invaded Poland and the war having started the Colombia was repainted with a black hull again and as the Netherlands was a neutral country, the Dutch flag and “Holland” was painted boldly on both sides of her hull, proving the ships neutrality.

M.S. Colombia with her special markings before the Nazis invaded the Netherlands

M.S Colombia a WW2 Submarine Mother-Ship:

M.S. Colombia was requisitioned by the Royal Dutch Navy on November 8, 1940, for a special role, which was to become a submarine mother-ship. Her conversion from a passenger ship to submarine mother-ship was undertaken in Dundee, Scotland.

The Colombia arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, from Amsterdam in January 1941, where she remained until she was placed at anchor on the “Firth of Tay” just off Dundee on March 12. She then headed to the yard of the “Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company”. In the past, this yard had only built cargo ships, however since the outbreak of WW2, they also carried out maintenance and repair work for the Royal Navy, mainly on submarines and other small warships. Initially it was intended that the Colombia would undergo a limited conversion into an accommodation ship, but at the insistence of the British Admiralty it was decided to convert her into a fully-fledged Submarine Mother-Ship, and she was painted in a war grey. Work on her officially commenced on May 1, 1941 and she was completed on September 18, and she then became known as the “Hr.Ms. Colombia” and she was placed under the command of Captain Cornelis Hellingman DSO, RNN who served on her from May 1, 1941 to August 18, 1941. He was followed by Captain Lieutenant John Louis Karel Hoeke Cdr RNN from August 18, 1941 to February 27, 1943.

She was fitted with the following armaments. Two 7.5cm guns came from the Dutch mine-layer Hr.Ms. Douwe Aukes, and two British-made guns of the same kind were placed at her the stern.

The 7.5cm gun from the Hr.Ms. Douwe Aukes was fitted to the Colombia’s bow section

In addition an anti-aircraft battery was set up on the tent deck, consisting of eight 20mm Oerlikon, six 12.7mm and four 7.7mm machine guns. All of which were connected to a telephone network that could be operated centrally by the “fire leader”, for whom shelter was provided behind the gauge compass on the bridge. There was also an installation was installed on the barge for carrying two paravanes, being torpedo-shaped floats to which mine sweeping cables could be attached.

On the aft pit deck, lifting seats were installed on both the starboard and port side for the fast communication and auxiliary motor boats Hr.Ms. M 73 and Hr.Ms. M 74 that came from de Mok air base” located on the Dutch Island of Texel. These boats had been built in 1938 as aircraft assistance vessels for the Naval Aviation Service (MLD), had escaped to Englandearly in May 1940 and ended up with the Submarine Service in Portsmouth. After the relocation of the Submarine Service to Dundee, the boats followed by land, transported on trucks. On board the Colombia, the M 73 and M 74 would once again perform their duties as communication boats.

This is the Hr.Ms. M 73

In addition to the original living quarters for the crew, the Third Class passenger compartment was intended for troops and corporals. Room I was converted into a cafeteria and room II into a sleeping accommodation. The Second Class passenger compartment was predestined for the non-commissioned officers and thus this section hardly needed any adjustments. The Second Class Smoking Room functioned as a long room for the ten midshipmen who would follow the practical part of their training on the ship. The spacious Music Salon became the long room for the officers and the staff office was housed in the First Class Smoking Salon. Space III was converted into a torpedo workshop and in order to be able to make high pressure air for the torpedoes, the space was equipped with a Junkers compressor. The reserve torpedoes were stored in the lower hold, with a separate room amidships for the explosive torpedo warheads. The machine shop was housed in aft hold N IV and this space was equipped with lathes and other mechanical tools. Furthermore, some First Class cabins were converted into office spaces and the infirmary was enlarged to three times its original size. Finally, the Colombia was equipped with a distiller to supply the batteries of the submarines with distilled water, and the necessary piping was laid to supply the submarines with diesel oil as well as drinking water.

However it should be noted that due to the Colombia having few watertight compartments and the fact that only wood was used for the entire conversion into a submarine mother-ship, sadly this did mean that the Hr.Ms. Colombia was a very vulnerable warship from the moment she headed into war zone.


Above & below: The Hr.Ms. Colombia the submarine mother-ship with canons showing at her bow and stern


On January 5, 1942, Hr.Ms. Colombia departed Dundee and she sailed in convoy WS 15 which was bound for the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia). But, as the Japanese had taken the Dutch East Indies during Colombia’s voyage there the Navy rapidly decided to redirect her and station her in Colombo, Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka).The convoy arrived at Colombo on March 4, 1942.

In addition three Dutch submarines, the K XIV, K XI and the O 19 & the O 23 had now also headed to Colombo as they required maintenance to be carried out in nearby BombayIndia. Thus the Colombia remained at Colombo until May 13, 1942, when she headed for Bombay, yet she would only remain there for three months. For in August 1942 she headed to East London where she arrived on August 24, at 08:35 hrs and she served as a mother-ship supporting Dutch submarines operating to and from the Far East.

Above we see one of the Dutch submarines, the Mr.Ms. O 23

Due to a large part of the British Eastern Fleet being stationed in KilidiniKenya, and there was a shortage of mother-ships in the Eastern Fleet, thus the submarine mother-ship Hr.Ms. Colombia was transferred to Africa. Yet she was not stationed in Kilidini, but in East LondonSouth Africa. Here the ship supported submarines bound for the Asia as well as the United Kingdom and the United States. Local war ships were also supported.

On September 17, 1942, the Colombia received an unusual request from one of the officers of the Indian minesweeper the HMIS Orissa, and the request was if the Colombia would take over the Orissa and place it under Dutch command. The reason for the Orissa takeover was that a violent mutiny had broken out on the ship, which happened after news arrived from India that Gandhi had been arrested by the British. Thus a landing division consisting of 18 men from the Colombia and 10 men from the Nigella managed to capture the ship, and thankfully they did so without too much opposition and her crew was brought back into line.

HMIS Orissa was a “Bangor class” minesweeper

The Hr.Ms. Colombia’s Tragic End:

At the request of Admiral Helfrich, the Hr.Ms. Colombia would return to Colombo, but she first had to head to Simon's TownSouth Africa as she required maintenance which meant she needed to be dry-docked there.

On February 27, 1943, the Hr.Ms. Colombia with a complement of 318 on board was sailing on the Indian Ocean sailing from East London and heading for Simon's Town, she was being escorted by the HMS Genista and several RAF aircraft. However, not far from Simon's Town was the German U-Boat, the “U 516”, which was under the command of Captain Gerhard Wiebe and as soon as he Colombia came into his sights he commenced to fire a spread of three torpedoes from around 1,500 m distance. Four minutes later at 11:45 am, his last torpedo struck the forward section of the Hr.Ms. Colombia on her starboard side and it hit directly where the N2 hold was, suddenly a huge column of water arose beside the ship, while many of her teak deck-planks were thrown in all directions. Realising the ships situation Captain John Louis Karel Hoeke, very quickly announced “Abandon ship, abandon ship” and all hands rapidly left the ship either per lifeboat or simply jumped overboard. The Colombia sadly sank after some ten minutes, at position 3336'S, 2729'E, and the last torpedo had sadly killed eight of those precious lives who happened to be near the explosion.

I have been told that in one whaleboat there were some 60 survivors and they were later picked up by a RAF air-sea-rescue launch. The escorting Genista initially launched a counter-attack, but she returned soon after and picked up the remaining 250 survivors.

This is the German U-Boat, the U 516

The Story of an Amazing Hero:

During the horrid sinking of the Hr.Ms. Colombia, sailor Manuel Avelino had already boarded the portside N2 lifeboat and it was already away from the ship. However, as he looked back he noticed that three of the ships lifeboats were stuck in ropes and had not been launched from the rapidly sinking ship. Thus he jumped overboard and his lifeboat commander called for him to come back, to which Manuel shouted: “Go ahead, I’ll get off”. He climbed back on board the Colombia that was still above the waves and made sure that the three lifeboats were released and in the water and took on more lives that were now saved thanks to his amazing heroic act. Amazingly it was only seconds before the Colombia disappeared under the waves forever, that Manuel jumped into the sea from the stern of the ship that had risen high up, and he had to swim between the rudder and those still rotating propellers, yet he miraculously managed to get away from disaster and reach one of the lifeboats. Thanks to his remarkable actions, the number of victims of Wiebe’s evil torpedo attack were thankfully limited to eight souls that died in the blast, but all others on board managed to be saved!

The Heroic sailor Manuel Avelino

The survivors of the Colombia were later taken to England on the famous R.M.S. Queen Mary, as a troopship during the war she was known as the “Grey Ghost”.

It was on May 6, 1943, that Manuel Avelino was nominated by HRH Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and he was honoured with the “Cross of Merit” for courageous, competent and decisive action. The Portuguese born sailor who was in the Dutch service sailed for the rest of the war on other KNSM ships on which he brought, among other things, allied troops to Sicily. He was not reunited with his beloved wife and children until the summer of 1945. It was two years later, in 1947 that the Portuguese Cape Verde-born sailor was naturalized as a Dutch citizen. However, on March 23, 1953, Manuel Avelino was also awarded the most important of war awards the “War Remembrance Cross”. Sadly, Manuel Avelino passed away on June 8, 1980, at the age of 81 in Brielle, the Netherlands.

For a full list of all those on board the Hr.Ms. Colombia at This LINK.


M.S. Colombia Specifications & Details:

Manager & owner: “Koninklijke Nederlandsche Stoomboot-Maatschappij NV”, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Home Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Type: Passenger-Cargo Ship. 

Call sign: NKPD.

. PDLA after 1933.

Built by: P. Smit Jr” Shipyards, Rotterdam.

Ship ordered: April 16, 1929.

Keel laid: 1930.

Yard N: 454.

Material: Steel.

Deck Type: Open Shelter Deck.

Decks: 5.

Holds: 4.

Launched: May 24, 1930, she was named and launched by Mrs. M.E. Giljam-Irens.

Sea Trials: October 17, 1930.

Delivered: October 22, 1930 to the KNSM

Maiden Voyage: November 28, 1930.

GRT: 10,782 GRT, NRT: 6,336 NRT, 6,643 DWT.

Length: 130.9 meters overall.

Beam: 18.82 meters on the frames.

Draft: 8.1 meters (Summer) .

Passengers: 312 persons.

. 180 First Class, 66 Second Class & 66 Third Class.

Crew: 148.

Propulsion: Two 4 stroke single acting Werkspoor engines.

Type: 4t., Ew. 8,000 HP, MOT at 110 rpm.

Propellers: 2.

Speed: 15.5 knots.

Fate: Torpedoed on February 27, 1943 by U-Boat 516 and was hit to the starboard near hold 2. The ship vertical, the stern high in the air, rudder and propellers protruded 25 meters above the water. At 11:55 am the Colombia sank below sea level in loss of 33 36'S, 27 29'E.



The ssMaritime KNSM Index


Also visit the KNSM S.S. Cottica 1927 to 1958


The KNSM 1930 Flagship M.S. Colombia


Also view the YouTube Colourised Video of the M.S. Colombia

Crossing the North Sea on the luxury liner M.S. Colombia from Amsterdam to Dover


As well as 35 excellent KNSM-Passenger-Freighters


And the magnificent KNSM ships M.S. Oranje Nassau & Prins Der Nederlanden of 1957



 Remembering the Delightful KNSM Flagship - M.S. Colombia


A stern view of the M.S. Colombia


M.S. Colombia is seen departing Amsterdam Harbour


“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.


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Where the ships of the past make history & the 1914 built M.S. Doulos Story.

The Author has been in Passenger Shipping & the Cruise Industry for well over 60 years

In addition he was the founder of “Save the Classic Liners Campaign” in 1990.


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