The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

The forgotten fleets that fought the Japanese in the Pacific and Indian Oceans



Hospital Ship

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Battle Honours







Builder: NV Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw-Maatschappij , Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

Displacement: 4,120 Gross tons

Length: 370 ft

Beam: 51.5 ft

Draught: 20 ft

Propulsion: 2 x 8-cylinder Stork diesel engines, twin propeller, 4,600 bhp

Speed: 15 Knots

Armament: None

 Crew complement: 162 Dutch merchantmen


Commanding Officers




Senior Medical Officer

Surg. Capt A. H. Harkins, MB, chB (act) Sept 1942

Surg. Capt. F. L. Cassidi, MB, Bch RNVR  Jan 1945





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The Dutch passenger/cargo vessel OPHIR

Early history

The M.S. OPHIR was a 4,070 Gross Tonnage Passenger/cargo vessel ordered by the Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) shipping company for service in the Dutch East Indies. She was ordered from Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Maatschappij, Amsterdam, and laid down as yard number 190 .She was launched on September 1st 1927. On completion of builders sea trials and fitting out she was delivered on January 11th 1929. Passenger accommodation consists of 62 first class berths, 48 second class and 1,749deck passengers could be accommodated in the upper 'tween-decks. On January 19th 1929, the MS OPHIR sailed for Batavia, the Dutch East Indiesto begin operating on the companies Palembamg-Batavia-Cheribon-Semarang-Surabaya-Bali-Makassar line.

With the Japanese entering the war she was operated by by the Netherlands Ministry of Shipping and Fisheries, in January 1942 she was in Bombay. On the 17th she sailed for Oosthaven carrying 285 Netherlands troops, she arrived on the 26th, and Batavia- on the 27th.


Leased to the Ministry of War Transport February 1942

On February 5th 1942, OPHIR along with another KPM vessel, the SS MELCHIOR TREU sailed from Batavia for Colombo, arriving there on the 11th. On the 19th OPHIR sailed for Karachi where, on February 25th she was leased to the British Ministry of War Transport for use as a troop transport. She entered a Karachi Dockyard to undergo conversion work which was completed on March 25th.

OPHIR was to make only one voyage as a Troop Hip; she sailed from Karachi on April 10th and proceeded up the Persian Gulf to call at Basra on the 14th and arriving at Bandar Shahpur on the 15th. She sailed the next day for Port Suez, calling at Aden on the 23rd and arriving on the 28th. After disembarking her troops she sailed for Bombay on April 30th, arriving on May 10th.

Requisitioned by the Admiralty for use as a Hospital Ship

Upon arrival at Bombay OPHIR was requisitioned by The Admiralty for use as a Naval Hospital Carrier and entered a Bombay Dockyard for further conversion work which commenced on May 25trh. She remained in Dockyard hands until July 7th and sailed for Colombo on July 9th as part of Convoy BM.2, arriving on the 13th. Two days later she sailed for Calcutta arriving on the 21st to continue her conversion work. Progress was very slow, mainly due to a shortage of materials; it had been expected that she would be operational by November and was earmarked to temporarily take up the duty of Base Hospital Ship at Addu Atoll but this had to be cancelled when it became clear she was far from ready to enter service.

On December 3rd, the still unfinished OPHIR was ordered to return to Colombo Where eon December 9th she entered another Dockyard where her conversion to be finished; work was completed by January 21st 1943. Unlike other, similar vessels converted in India she was not allocated a Hospital Ship number; although technically outfitted with the required departments and staff OPHIR was considered too old and too small to be an effective Hospital Ship and she was therefore classified as a ‘Hospital Carrier’.

On becoming operational OPHIR had accommodation for 346 patients, including twelve officers. She initially carried a medical staff of four medical officers, one dental officer, one warrant wardmaster, a matron, and five nursing sisters, under the command of Surg. Captain A. H. Harkins, MB, ChB who had joined her in September 1942. The ship retained her complement of Dutch Mercantile officers and crew.

Examples of passenger decks converted into Hospital Wards.  Left fixed single and double cots,  right: gimbaled cots able to keep patients on an even keel in conditions were the ship would roll.   Items P1892_05 & P1892_06 fro atom.drisa.co.za

Base Hospital Ship at Addu Atoll January – May 1943

The shortages which had delayed her completion also limited her storing and the strength of her medical complement; the need for her at Addu Atoll was now urgent but she had not yet receive her full medical staff and some of her equipment. Emergency stores were obtained locally and on January 21st the ship sailed from Colombo. She arrived at Addu Atoll on the 23rd to undertake the duties of base hospital ship.

Addu Atoll had a tented Naval Field Hospital which had been established in September 1942 to provide medical facilities for the Royal Marines of the maintenance parties of the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (M.N.B.D.O.) which had built facilities including a port and an airfield at the Maldives and Diego Garcia. This hospital consisted of 9 tents and a number of wooden huts, the latter containing operating theatre, X-ray room and store, laboratory and galleys. The islands had a history of diseases and conditions which plagued those stationed there; the temperature varied between 75° and 95° F. and heavy rain storms were a frequent feature, ten days being the longest rain-free period meaning the climate was continually damp and warm. Mosquitoes were common as were tree rats and flies resulting in Gastro-enteritis, Scrub Typhus and Malaria.

OPHIR’s main function was that of providing convalescent accommodation for cases of scrub typhus in the vicinity, and the shortage of nursing staff was solved by employing most of the sick berth staff of the Naval Tented Hospital. However, that shortages of equipment did not permit the ship to undertake any effective general hospital work. he was to spend the next 3½ months in the Maldives Islands before she was released to return to Colombo, she arrived there on May 10th, at which time her stores, equipment and nursing staff were brought up to full strength.


Carrier voyage to Port Suez and loan to Levant Command June – August 1943

On May 30th OPHIR sailed for a Hospital Carrier voyage to Port Suez via Kilindini where she arrived on June 7th to embark invalids for onward passage. On June 10th she sailed for port Suez arriving on the 19th. She remained here until July 4th when she transited the Canal to arrive at Port Said later that day. OPHIR was now on loan to Levant Command for operations in the Western Mediterranean, arriving at Tripoli on July 9th.

She was joined the hospital Ships VASNA on the 11th and VITA on the 11th to provide support for Operation HUSKY, the Allied invasion of Sicily which began on the night of 9–10 July 1943 and ended on August 17th. These three ships were of similar size and age, but VITA and VASNA were coal fired steam ships whereas OPHIR burnt oil. OPHIR remained at Tripoli until July 28th before sailing for Alexandria where she arrive on the 31st. on August 6th she sailed to return to Bombay and re-join the Eastern Fleet.


Carrier voyage to, and Base Hospital Ship duty Kilindini, October 1943 – January 1944

She arrived at Bombay on August 21st and sailed again on September 1st for a carrier voyage to Kilindini via Durban, South Africa, calling t Colombo, Addu Atoll, Diego Garcia, and Mauritius arriving at Durban on September24th. On the 29th she sailed for Diego Suarez, calling three on October 5th before arriving at Kilindini on the 8th to take station as the Base Hospital Ship. She resumed Carrier duties on New Year’s Day 1944, calling first at Mombasa then Diego Suarez on the 4th before arriving at Durban on January 10th, Here she underwent repairs before sailing on the 20th for Bombay calling at Mauritius and Diego Garcia, arriving at Colombo on February 7th. She spent a week at Colombo before sailing for Bombay, arriving on the 18th. Since leaving Bombay on August 21st 1943 until arriving back there in February 1944 OPHIR had steamed some 25,000 miles and 3,035 patients, mainly of Army invalids, including 30 cases of leprosy, were carried during the period.


Carrier duties in the Bay of Bengal March – October 1944

On February 19th OPHIR entered Dry-dock at Bombay and was under repair until March 16th. On March 19th OPHIR left Bombay and after calling at Colombo, arrived at Calcutta on March 23. She now performed carrier duties under Army direction, and transported casualties between Chittagong and Calcutta, occasionally calling at Sandheads. She continued this work until October 24th when she was realised and sailed for Colombo; during this period 7,418 patients were carried, 2,532 were battle casualties.

On November 5th the ship arrived at Bombay and underwent refitting and repairs until December 7th, while she was dockyard hands the Eastern Fleet was renamed as the Eat Indies Fleet, OPHIR now being on that unit’s strength, she arrived back at Colombo on December 11th.


Continuation of Carrier Duties, Red Sea and Bay of Bengal January to June 1945

OPHIR was again allocated to Hospital carrier duties, sailing for Port Suez on December 15th, arriving on the 27th. She sailed for Bombay on New Year’s Eve 1944, arriving there on January 11th 1945, and sailed for Colombo the next day and arriving on the 16th. Surg. Captain F. L. Cassidi, MB, Bch RNVR assumed the post of Senior Medical Officer during January.

Sailing from Colombo on the 23rd she returned to the Bay of Bengal making a carrier run to Chittagong arriving on the 27th before continuing on to Calcutta arriving on the 30th. She was to remain at Calcutta for the next 18 days before sailing to return to Chittagong on route to Madras where she arrived on February 21st.

She was now based out of Madras, putting to sea for short patient carrier trips to Chittagong and Calcutta with a week or more in port between voyages. This routine left little opportunity for continuous professional work on board, and the interim periods involved many weeks of idleness and monotony for the medical and nursing staffs.

On April 29th OPHIR sailed from Madras for Kyaukpyu, Ramree Island, Burma arriving on May 2nd having embarked as many medical stores as she could muster She was part of the support forces for operation DRACULA, the airborne and amphibious attack on Rangoon by British and Anglo-Indian forces launched on May 2nd 1945. The amphibious assault was unopposed; the Japanese had left Rangoon. The first troops landed in Rangoon Town at 17:00 on May 3rd. HMHS VITA was also part of the force, she arrived at Rangoon on May 9th to evacuate casualties, and OPHIR however sailed on the 6th to return to Madras, via Chittagong, arriving on May 11th. The next day she sailed for Bombay via Trincomalee and Colombo, arriving at Bombay on June 1st 1945. During her second tour of duty in the Bay of Bengal OPHIR carried a total of of 2,822 patients, of whom 768 were Asiatic and 1,099 East and West African Army casualties; 32 cases of leprosy were carried and 131 cases of pulmonary tuberculosis.


Carrier voyage to the Mediterranean theatre, June – July 1945

In June 1945 OPHIR was despatched to Taranto, Italy to embark casualties for transfer to the fat East. She departed from Bombay ono the 5th calling at Aden, Port Suez and Port Said, arriving at Taranto on June 23rd. Here she embarked 234 Indian Army patients and sailed a week later on July 1st for the return voyage. On clearing the Suez Canal she embarked a further 72 Indian Army patients at Port Tewfik on the 7th sailing for Aden the same day. She arrived back at arrived at Bombay on July 17th, where all patients were transferred to hospitals ashore.


Japan surrenders and allocated for support for reoccupation of Malay August – October 1945

Leaving Bombay on July 25 she arrived at Trincomalee on August 3rd, and temporally relieved VITA as base hospital ship for ten days. On August 15th Japan surrendered and the focus of the East Indies Fleet switched to reoccupation and liberation of former British colonies. PPlans to accept the surrender of Singapore were put into action; originally this was part of Operation ZIPPER but political constraints meant that no landing could take place until after the signing of the main surrender in Tokyo on September 2nd, 1945. The delays meant that all plans were now to change; thus, the reoccupation of Malaya would take place in three phases. Phase one would be the recapture of Penang Island (modified Operation JURIST). Phase two would be the recapture of Singapore (Operation TIDERACE). Phase three would be the sea borne assault of North West Malaya in the Port Dickson, Port Swettenham area ( modified Operation ZIPPER), carried out as planned and rehearsed, but the covering air and sea bombardment had been cancelled. Operation ZIPPER, the sea borne assault of North West Malaya in the Port Dickson, Port Swettenham area with landings near Morib with the 25th Indian Division and the 37th brigade of the 23rd Indian Division had been carried out on the morning of September 9th.

OPHIR was allocated to the follow up forces for Operation ZIPPER and once relieved of her duty in Trincomalee began preparation for her next duty. On September 3rd she left Trincomalee to rendezvous with convoy JMA.1F which arrived off the Malayan coast on the 12th. OPHIR was to ne the Base Hospital Ship at Port Swettenham, and entered the harbour as part of the re-occupation of Malaya. The official surrender of Japanese forces in Malaya was signed on September 12th in Singapore. OPHIR remained at Port Swettenham for the next month before being released to take passage to Batavia.

Calling at Singapore on the 15th she arrived at Batavia on October 19th. The main object of this journey was to enable the Dutch officers and crew of the ship to search for their families who had been in the hands of the Japanese. The search was successful, and seven wives and thirteen children were brought on board where they were traced and accommodated in comfort. OPHIR returned to Singapore, and after a short period of general duties carried invalids from Port Swettenham and Madras to Calcutta, arriving on January 3rd 1946.


Released from Naval Service

By the time OPHIR arrived at Calcutta the Netherlands Government pressed strongly for her release from War service and be returned to her owners. No longer required for service with the Naval Medical Transport organization work began to decommission the Naval Hospital and by the end of January the medical personnel were appointed elsewhere, and her medical stores had been removed. The ship now underwent a two months dockyard refit and was handed back to the custody of Dutch State on April 8th, 1946.

She remained in the Far East for the remainder of the year having been leased from KPM and operated by the Dutch East Indies government. On completion of the lease term she sailed to return to Amsterdam arriving there on January 16th1947 where she entered her builder’s shipyard (NDSM) for a full conversion back to her original condition. On completion of this work in May of that year the MV OPHIR was chartered by Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland. On completion of this charter in 1948 she returned to the KPM with Amsterdam as her home port. She continued in service until 1959 when she was scrapped in Hong Kong.

During her service as a Naval Hospital Ship OPHIR approximately 12,111 patients were admitted to the ship, in addition to which large numbers of out-patients attended the ship for various reasons.


Last modified: 12 June 2023


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

BT-389/40/242 Ship's record card held by the UK National Archive

(1954) Surgeon Commander J. L. S. COULTER, D.S.C., R.N., ‘THE ROYAL NAVAL MEDICAL SERVICE’ London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office - Volume 1'Administraion'  & Volume 2 'Operations'




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