24 februari 2024

The Final Journey of the Steamship Groningen IV

The Groninger-Lemmer Steamboat Company was founded on July 9, 1870 by the brothers Jan, Geert and Reint Nieveen. Initially, its steam ships maintained a regular service between Groningen, Sneek, Lemmer and from there on to Amsterdam and carried people, cattle and goods.

Towards the late 1930’s, the company had 27 ships and maintained daily service from Groningen with Sneek, Lemmer, Amsterdam, Zaandam, Rotterdam and Den Haag. In addition, its ships sailed directly from Winschoten, Scheemda, Zuidbroek, Hoogezand-Sappemeer and Martenshoek to Amsterdam (see postcard shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1: Private postcard of the Groninger-Lemmer Steamboat Company, detailing its route. (source: www.spanvis.com )

The newly-built steam ship Groningen IV was added to the fleet in 1877 and is shown anchored in the harbor of Lemmer in Figure 2. The company continued to grow and regularly added ships to its fleet. In the 1920’s the company started to renew its fleet and in 1928 added the passenger ship Jan Nieveen (see Figure 3) which was considerably larger than the Groningen IV.

Figure 2: s.s. Groningen IV in the harbor of Lemmer.

The evening of January 8, 1945, the Groningen IV departed from Lemmer towards Amsterdam under the command of Captain Arjen van der Meer. One of the crew members, 22 year old Tiemen Bouwhuis – a waiter, later reported that:

It was a cool, clear night and the salon and cabin were full with passengers. After one and a half hour on the job, I calculated that the Jan Nieveen [a sister ship of the Groningen IV, which had left Amsterdam for Lemmer the same night] could be close. A little later I heard a steam whistle, which surprised me as signs were rarely given when passing at night. I was near the stairs to look on deck, but an enormous blow threw me and the people around me to the floor. I was the first one up and realized that this must be a disaster as we were in fairly deep water. The engine had stopped and we were bobbing on a calm sea, but I felt that the ship sloping forward. Without having seen anything, I understood there had been a collision between us and the Jan Nieveen. After I had gotten Yme [Bosma – also a waiter] out of his crib, … we convinced the passengers in the cabin to go to the deck. A difficult task, because the people wanted to bring their luggage (food) and that was not possible because of the narrow stairwell. … We were able to get all passengers on deck. In the mean time, the Jan Nieveen had come alongside and passengers started to transfer to this ship. … It had become quiet and dark on the Groningen IV, the generator had stopped working and the prow was under water but we were moored to the Jan Nieveen. … The crew was the last to transfer to the Jan Nieveen, which shortly thereafter turned full steam towards the Noordoost Polder dike, with the intend to put the Groningen IV somewhere on the dike … but the ship showed signs of capsizing, taking the Jan Nieveen with it, and the cables were cut. The wreck floated away and capsized within five minutes. … We saw in the light of the floodlights the wheelhouse, chimney and deck salon falling in the sea. … With the ship, thirteen passengers disappeared in the waves; there were hopelessly locked up in the cabin on the fore ship, because the entrance had been blocked by the collision.
Figure 3: The passenger ship Jan Nieveen

Newspapers reported that the collison between the Groningen IV and the larger Jan Nieveen had occurred near Urk. Initially, there was uncertainty about the number of dead, but eventually it was determined that there were thirteen victims. The disaster took place during the ‘Hunger Winter’ when the ferry service was frequently used by people from the west of The Netherlands to search for food in Friesland. In fact, all of the dead were from Amsterdam.

Figure 4: Het Nationale Dagblad, Jan. 12, 1945

The wreck was raised on September 4, 1946 and brought to Enkhuizen. The remains of the dead were recovered and identified, and the ship was auctioned off for scrap (Figure 5).

A committee of the Shipping Council (“Raad van de Scheepvaart”) issued a verdict on September 7, 1946, immediately after the Groningen IV had been raised. On the basis of statements made by the captains and crew of the two ships involved it was found that the Groningen IV had sailed with uncovered lights, because the lamps were fed with gas oil, which does not burn brightly. The Jan Nieveen sailed with covered electrical lights. The two ships met between the buoy of the Enkhuizerzand and the Frisian light heading (nearly) opposite courses.

Figure 5: Auction of the raised Groningen IV

The Groningen IV sees at some point the green side lantern of the Jan Nieveen and steers one compass point (11¼ ͦ ) to port. The Jan Nieveen sees a fuzzy red light and deviates three compass points to starboard, resulting in a collision under an almost 90 degree angle. Neither ship had a look out on the prow, nor were there four crew members in the wheel house. Both captains shared blame for the disaster, with the captain of the Groningen IV carrying most of the blame because he altered course to port instead of starboard, thus causing the collision.

Figure 6: “Nieuwsblad van het Noorden” reporting on Jan. 14, 1947 on the recovery and delivery of mail from the Groningen IV

The Groningen IV had carried mail, most of which were packages with food that had perished by the time the ship had been raised. However, three small bags with mail and news-papers had been recovered, and the “Nieuwsblad van het Noorden” reported on January 14, 1947, that these items, after drying, had been delivered at last (Figure 6).

Figure 7a: Back of envelope recovered from the Groningen IV.

Figures 7 shows the front and back of one such (badly damaged) envelope in my collection. The front shows a postmark Bussum, December 21, 1946. The letter was ad-dressed to Miss Joustra, Sanatorium “Hoog-Blaricum”, Bus-sum. The address has been struck out and replaced by the handwritten “Hoofdvaart, Dedemsvaart (dorp [village]).” The back has a label from the PTT, stating that the piece is from the s.s. “Groningen IV” which sunk in the IJsselmeer at the end of 1944 and has now been raised. The original stamp has been soaked off and the departure cancel has been erased by the water. The intended recipient was no longer at the address on the envelope as the cover was forwarded to Dedemsvaart on December 21, 1946 according to the Bussum departure cancel.

Figure 7b: Front of envelope recovered from the Groningen IV.

Thus the label on the back of the cover is incorrect regarding the time of the sinking. Also, the punctuation is incorrect; the period after Groningen IV must be a comma. Interestingly, labels with the correct punctuation exist as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8: Label with comma instead of period after Groningen IV (collection Willem Pasterkamp).

The Amsterdam Children’s Sanatorium Hoog-Blaricum was built in 1911, and expanded and remodeled in 1921 and 1931. It is situated along the Crailoseweg in Huizen, just outside Bussum. The building still exists and serves as a school for physically-handicapped children and revalidation center “de Trappenberg.”

Netherlands Philately magazine and the ASNP
This article was originally published in Netherlands Philately, 42/1, pages 13-16, 2018; published here with kind permission of the editor of NP magazine.
Ben Jansen

Ben Jansen

My current collection focus is on (correctly addressed but) undeliverable Netherland's mail. I am also the Editor of Netherlands Philately, the Magazine of the American Society of Netherlands Philately.

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Eén gedachte over “The Final Journey of the Steamship Groningen IV

  1. In a 2019 NPV auction a cover from the Groningen IV was sold. It was dated 31 December 1944 and sent from Uithuizermeeden in the north of Groningen province. Apparently the letter was still in the envelope, because the auction description states the letter was about the Germans and difficulties because of the war.

    Here is the cover:

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