Naval Base Soerabaja

The Submarinebase

In 1921, work started on the first and only submarinebase in the Netherlands East Indies. In course of the years, the defence of the Netherlands East Indies depemded more and more on these important ships. It is not surprising that, in order to let the operate as effectively as possible, the Navy wanted to provide them with every type of care they needed. Workshops were erected where complex equipment such as dieselengines, periscopes and batteries could be repaired. In addition, two concrete docks were built, specially for the submarines. To accommodate the crews and maintenance personnel of the base, barracks, well suited for the tropical climate, were built. A torpedoworkshop, where torpedoes could be filled with compressed air and armed with warheads was constructed not far away.

When funds became available after 1940, much work was put into making the base even more effective, not only to provide services for the own navy, but also the expected arrival of foreign allies. In addition to the torpedoworkshops available, a new building was constructed where torpedoes could be stored. In December 1941, this building was not completed yet, but it was used for storage for some time.

When the U.S. submariners made use of the base, they were impressed by the service that was given to them and their boats.

Marine Vliegkamp "Morokrembangan"

The main base for flying boats was, like many facilities, located in the harbor of Soerabaja. Although this base had undergone continuous expansion since its erection in the late 1920s, much effort was undertaken in 1939 and 1940 to make sure it could better handle the tasks in wartime. New workshops, barracks, cranes and underground fueltanks were built, while radiofacilities, to maintain contact with the patrolling aircraft, were also added. At the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the base was probably the best of its kind in Asia, able to carry out virtually all repairs.

Morokrembangan in 1927But the situation of Morokrembangan in Soerabaja was in fact a strategical and practical mistake. The flying boats had to take off from the Westwater, where there were strong currents, while activities were also hindered by the intensive shipping in the area. In addition, the concentration of so many important facilities in one place made the city a very tempting target for enemy aircraft. Not surprising, Morokrembangan was one of the targets during the first airstrike on Soerbaja on February 3 1942, and she was hit hard by the Japanese bombers. Shore facilities were damaged, while flying boats on the water were strafed and sunk. More aircraft were lost in the following days before they could be moved to secret bases on inshore lakes. Morokrembangan was supported by a large number of smaller craft, to refuel and rearm the planes.


The largest drydock available in the NEI was a 15.000 ton drydock in Soerabaja. Although owned by the government, it was exploited the Soerabja Drydock Corporation, a commercial company, not an unusual legal construction for government property in the NEI. The board of directors of this firm was told to give warships priority when making schedules for docking. In addition, there was a 3000 ton drydock available.

Marine barracks "Goebeng"

This was the official home for the Dutch Marines in the NEI. Besides being the official home of the marines in the NEI, it also hosted other activities, such as giving new personnel their first military training.

Improvements after May 1940

When the war started for the Netherlands after May 1940, much effort and money was put into making Soerabaja a better and more efficient base of operations, but by then it was too late. Materials needed to build new facilities were scarce, and as a relatively safe area, the NEI had a low priority. Nevertheless, much was accomplished during the 1,5 years between the invasion of the Netherlands and the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. A few examples are:

  • The construction of a new harbor for small craft.
  • The building of a new, 2400 ton drydock. The construction was delayed and later stopped due to the shortage of metal plates. Fortunately, a factory in Broken Hill was willing to supply the necessary materials.
  • The expansion of the pyrotechnic workshops on Madura Island, where shells and seamines were fabricated. Despite the shortage of explosives, which had to be imported from the United States, much was accomplished.
  • The development of the Djamoeangreef near Soerabaja, about 600 metres offshore, where a coastal battery was planned. The idea was to install the former main armament of the cruiser Jacob van Heemskerck of 3 twin 5.9-inch turrets. The foundations were ready by December 1941, but it is unlikely any of the guns were installed.
  • The dredging of the Westervaarwater [1] to a depth of 9 metres. This was also done with an eye on the battlecruiser studies of 1940, in which 9 metres was the specified maximum draft for the ships. Obviously, many still hoped these vessels would someday be built.
  • The construction of a new storagefacility for the Torpedoservice. Although the building had not yet been completed by December 1941, it was used for storing torpedoes during the last months before the Dutch surrender. This facility has already been mentioned.
  • The development of the seaplane base Morokrembangan, which has already been mentioned.

    Unfortunately, many projects were never completed, one of which was the completion of a 40.000-ton drydock, meant for the proposed battlecruisers.


    After Allied forces failed to stop the Japanese thrust southward, the enemy troops eventually landed on several locations on Java. Overwhelmed by the Japanese, the Allied were forced to surrender on March 9 1942. By that time, much of the facilities in Soerabaja had gone up in flames, as the destruction parties had already begun their work in early March. The shore facilities and the numerous ships in the harbors were destroyed thoroughly. After this, the navy evacuated most of its personnel to Tjilatjap, where merchant ships waited to transport them to Australia or Ceylon. Unfortunately, not all ships would make it.........
    [1]: The Westervaarwater was the western entrance, giving access to the Javasea. Likewise, the Oostervaarwater was the eastern entrance, giving access to Madoera Strait. Unfortunately, the latter was too shallow to allow anything larger than a destroyer to pass.












  • Ph.M. Bosscher "De Koninklijke Marine in de Tweede Wereldoorlog", vol.2
    Unpublished manuscript about the struggle in the NEI by Tom Womack.
    P.C. Jalhay/J.J.A. Wijn "Ik nader ongezien!"

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