Rear-Admiral K.W.F.M. Doorman, RNN

Karel Willem Frederik Marie Doorman

Born Utrecht April 23, 1889 - Died on board light cruiser De Ruyter February 28, 1942

Karel Doorman as a Lieutenant-Commander. Photo was taken in 1931

Although Karel Doorman was the son of an army officer, he joined the officer's course at the Naval Institute in 1906, which he completed successfully four years later. After some years in the Netherlands East Indies, he returned to Holland to become one of the pioneers in Dutch naval aviation. He earned his wings in 1915, and what followed was a turbulent period at the naval airfield De Kooy until 1921, during which he survived 33 emergency landings. Then, he went to the High Naval Academy to study the art of naval warfare. He was sent out to the NEI for the last time in 1937, where he became the Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Service during the last prewar years. Being an aviator himself, he understood the value of a well-trained and well-equipped Naval Air Service (the correct Dutch term is Marine Luchtvaartdienst, or MLD) and under his command, the MLD became just that.

In June 1940, he was given command of the Netherlands East Indies Seagoing Squadron, which normally included the bulk of the Dutch surface fleet. Although a neglected dysentery started to play up shortly before the start of the Pacific War, he retained command and was also given command of the Combined Striking Force on February 3, 1942. The idea was to use this scratch-collection of Dutch, American, British and Australian warships to attack and destroy Japanese invasion convoys. During the month of February, the force made a number of sorties, which were usually unsuccessful due to Japanese aerial intervention. It only came to blows during the Battle of Badung Strait, when a numerically superior Allied Force attacked four Japanese destroyers and a transport, unfortunately without much success. In return, the Japanese managed to sink the destroyer Piet Hein and damage several other ships.

After this battle, it was clear that the next step would be the invasion of Java island. In compliance with Admiral Helfrich's orders, Doorman continued to sweep the Java sea with his force, until the Japanese invasion fleet was finally sighted on February 27. Although the two forces were more or less equal in terms of strength, the Allied were handicapped by the lack of a good communication system, aerial reconnaissance and rest during the past few months. Both the light cruisers Java and Doorman's flagship, De Ruyter were hit and sunk by torpedoes, taking a heavy toll among the exhausted crews. It is believed Doorman, his staff and De Ruyter's commanding officer, Commander E.E.B. Lacomblé chose to remain on board as the cruiser sank.

In honor of Admiral Doorman, the only two Dutch aircraft carriers and lastly, a new frigate were named after him. In addition, he was one of only persons who were made Knights in the Military Order of William 3rd class. [1]

Midshipman 1st class [2] August 24, 1910
Lieutenant August 24, 1912
Lieutenant-Commander November 1, 1920
Commander February 1, 1933
Captain September 6, 1937
Rear-Admiral May 16, 1940

Postings [3]
Coastal defence ship Hr.Ms. Tromp and Hr.Ms. De Ruyter 1910 - 1913
Light cruiser Hr.Ms. Noord Brabant April, 1914 - 1915
Pilot Instructor 1916 - 1917
Commanding Officer, Naval Airbase De Mok August 18, 1917 -
First Officer, Naval Airfield De Kooy - 1920
Commanding Officer, Naval Airfield De Kooy 1920 - 1921
Student Netherlands Naval War College November 2, 1921 - 1923
Staff Officer, Ministry of Navy, Weltevreden (Java) 1923 - 1926
Gunnery Officer, coastal defence ship Hr.Ms. Zeven Provinciën May 14, 1926 - January, 1928
Head MLD Technical Department, The Hague March 12, 1928 - July 14, 1928
First Officer, Naval Airfield De Kooy July 14, 1928 - November 2, 1931
Commanding Officer, minelayer Hr.Ms. Prins van Oranje 1932 - 1932
Commanding Officer, destroyer Hr.Ms. Witte de With 1933 - 1933
Commanding Officer, destroyer Hr.Ms. Evertsen and Group Destroyers 1 1934 - 1934
Chief of Staff, Den Helder naval base June, 1934 - September 4, 1937
Commanding Officer, light cruiser Hr.Ms. Sumatra October 25, 1937 - June 15, 1938
Commanding Officer, light cruiser Hr.Ms. Java June 15, 1938 - August 13, 1938
Commanding Officer, Naval Air Service NEI August 17 1938 - May 5, 1940
Commanding Officer, NEI Squadron June 17, 1940 - February 27, 1942
Commanding Officer, Combined Striking Force February 3, 1942 - February 27, 1942

Dutch Knight in the Military Order of William (MWO.3)
Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion (NL)
Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau (ON.4)
Service Medal for naval officers, for 30 years' of service (XXX)
Mobilization Cross 1914-1918 (Mk)
Foreign Silver Cross 5th class, Order Virtuti Militairi (Poland)

[1]: The other was Captain J.P. van Helsdingen, a fighter pilot of the KNIL airforce. He was killed in action on March 5, 1942.
[2]: The rank of sublieutenant had not yet been introduced at this time.
[3]: For a more thorough, albeit romanticized, description of Doorman's career, the book "Ik val aan, volg mij"  by Anthony van Kampen (Published by C.V. Uitgeverij, Amsterdam, 1947), is recommended reading.









Klaassen/Van 't Haaff "Gedenkboek Adelborsten-opleiding te Willemsoord 1854-1954"
A. van Kampen "Ik val aan, volg mij"
"Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland", volume 1 (entry by F.C. van Oosten)

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