The ship was built in 1907 at Rotterdam, Holland. Owned by the Dutch, K. P. M. with Malaysian crew. Commandeered by the U. S. Army and pressed into service as a transport.
Captain was J. J. R. H. Zomer.
During February 1943 s'Jacob departed Sydney, stopping briefly at Townsville and Cairns before arriving in Port Moresby in late February, then proceeding onward to Milne
On March 8, 1943 the s'Jacob was transporting supplies from Milne
Bay bound for Oro Bay as part of a convoy during "Operation Lilliput". At 1:00pm, the convoy was attacked by G4M1 Betty bombers from the 751 Kokutai and 705 Kokutai. One squadron attacked an AK and corvette, but scored only near misses. One squadron attacked s'Jacob. An American pilot claimed a Betty shot down but misidentified escorting fighters as Ki-43 Oscars.
During the attack, an aerial bomb hit the s'Jacob number 3 hatch causing major structural
damage, listed to starboard then rolled over sinking bow first.
During the sinking, Pvt George
Watson, instead of seeking to save himself, remained
in the water assisting several soldiers who could not swim to
reach the safety of a life raft and saved several of his comrades before he became weakened from exhaustion and drown.
Sgt. James E. Guilford, Jr writes in "The George Watson Saga":
"Their airplanes appeared suddenly on the scene in a 'V' formation. Several bombs were dropped on our freighter in that pattern. Without any warning the bombs hit their mark. One bomb went down front hatch and another bomb went down the smokestack and exploded everywhere. The Malaysian sailors were screaming and bleeding. There was panic and pandemonium. Watson and I were on topside at the stern relaxing in the sun. We both didn't know how badly the ship had been damaged. We saw the Dutch Captain standing up in a life boat. He was yelling orders, while lowering himself and part of his crew into the ocean. Watson did not put on a life jacket, but I hurriedly put one on. He was such a strong swimmer, he felt that he did not need one. Knowing that the ship was going to sink, the crew released all floatable materials, such as hatch covers, rafts and barrels for life saving aids...
...We were 14 miles from Oro Bay. Land was barely visible on the horizon. Watson knew that I could not swim... Watson and I jumped into the ocean towards the rope raft. As I jumped I held my breath. I went so far down in the water, I thought I would never come back to the surface. Watson was there to assist me to the raft... with his help and God's help, I did not take another breath until I reached the raft with my hands.
Later Watson was brining more soldiers in distress to the raft. I yelled at him to put some of the soldiers on some of the other floating material. That was the last time I saw George Watson alive. There was debris all over the ocean. The huge freighter had taken on a lot of water. Within minutes after the bombs hit the ship, it listed to starboard and rolled over. It pitched forward. Its bow dipped into the water. Then it took a vertical position and gradually disappeared into the ocean.
Within minutes everything was tranquil and peaceful again, as if nothing happened.
All of us, including Pvt George
Watson, were rescued by the Australian corvette, our escort. Watson had been pulled out of the ocean unconscious and exhausted. I knew nothing of his rescue or condition at this time. While the crew was trying to revive him, they kept what happened to me. When the found out he could not be revived, they finally told me. George Watson was buried at sea with full military honors. I was amazed at the number of soldiers he helped and saved, before he succumbed himself from exhaustion. Even the white Lieutenant, who was in charge of our detail related how George Watson rescued him.
Of the 158 crew, five were killed during the sinking. The remaining 153
were rescued by the RAN Corvette HMAS Bendigo.
of Honor Pvt. George Watson
African American Pvt George
Watson was one of those who died in the sinking. In 1997, he was posthumously earned the Medal of Honor for his efforts
rescuing crew members that day. The medal was awarded decades later in an attempt
to honor minorities who had never received proper recognition during the war.
In 1986, the shipwreck of s'Jacob was discovered by MV Barbarian by divers Shane Croley and Allan Jaminson during a search funded by Rod Peace. The s'Jacob lies nine nautical miles off Porlock
Harbor at a depth of 160'. During 1987, Rod Peace dove the shipwreck at night and recovered the ship's bell, confirming the vessel was s'Jacob.
Lying upright on the bottom, few divers go to this wreck. Thousands of
fish that inhabit the wreck including mantas, whale sharks, giant
groper and sharks. The
funnel is the most predominant feature towering above the rest
of the vessel. Divers from this vantage point can look down on
the rest of the ship and admire the fish life and soft corals. The
Jacob's wheelhouse has been fortified against attack and her
telegraphs and bridge machine guns are as they were when she sank. Her propeller is still intact.
The cargo holds are full of timber, ammunition,
weapons, food and fuel. Crockery is scattered throughout the wreck, several pieces showing
the Dutch shipping company's emblem KPM. And below decks, Coca
Cola bottles showing their place of manufacture and dating from 1938 to 1942.
The ship's bell and maker's plate were donated by Rod Peace to the Lae Yacht Club where they are displayed near the bar.
Watson was officially declared dead the day of the mission and is listed as buried at sea. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Oliver s'Jacob (great great grandson of s'Jacob)
"My great great grandfather was s'Jacob. The s'Jacob was named after my great great grandfather, F. B. s'Jacob, who was the burghermeester (mayor) of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and whose father F. s'Jacob had been governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, modern Indonesia."
The Private War of the Spotters page 143
"Aboard were 11 Australians and a number of American Negro soldiers... Among the Australians aboard were three members of the spotters' unit, Jack Barclay and the two already mentioned [Ted Cosstick and Bill Churcher]."
Honor Deferred profiles George Watson and the s'Jacob
"The George Watson Saga" by James E. Guilford
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - George Watson "Buried at Sea"
George Watson (photo, tablets of the missing photo)
Thanks to Rodney Pearce and Don Fetterly for additional information
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May 22, 2017