O16 was commissioned in 1936, and shortly thereafter involved in a scientific research programme led by Vening Meinesz, who used the submarine to conduct gravity measurements in North American waters. That same year, O16 carried a famous passenger, Prince Bernhard, husband of the Dutch Queen Julianna, as he took a short trip on board the vessel.
World war II
The first active combat seen by O16 and her crew followed the declaration of war on Japan by the Netherlands on 7 December, 1941, following the declaration of war upon the United States by Japan and the attack on Pearl Harbor. The very next day, O16 began attacking the Japanese forces invading North East Malaysia, and managed to damage several vessels and sink the troop ships Tozan Maru, Asosan Maru, and Kinka Maru. After this successful campaign, she began to head for her home port of Singapore, where she had previously been stationed. On the night of 15 December, 1941, as O16 was exiting the Gulf of Thailand, she struck a mine, broke nearly completely in half, and sank with 41 members of her crew. Only one man survived, boatswain Cornelis de Wolf, who reported later that he drifted for over thirty hours at sea before reaching land. After the report of de Wolf was analyzed, it was concluded that the submarine had struck a known British minefield, which placed the blame for the loss of the ship, and the lives of 41 men, squarely with the captain of O16. For over fifty years, it was assumed that it was this navigational error that resulted in the loss of the men and their vessel.
In 1995, Sten Sjöstrand, a former shipbuilder and highly experienced shipwreck researcher living in Singapore investigated a shipwreck 34 km north-east of Tioman Island. The wreck turned out to be a badly damaged submarine, and, knowing the history of O16, he contacted a Dutch journalist who put him through to the Royal Netherlands Navy. The Navy, which had been looking for the wreck site of O16 for many years, quickly sent a group of investigators, including retired navyofficers Hans Besçon, who had personally locatedhis father's ship, the K-17.
O16 rehabilitates name of commander
The wreck was found lying at a depth of 53 meters, which required long decompression times for the divers. Despite the difficult diving conditions, two days after beginning, the net cutters and two retractable A-A guns typical of the O16 were found at the site, and the layout of the bridge visually corresponded to the construction drawings of the Dutch sub. The wreck site of O16 was officially identified, some 70 km north of her assumed position. The news of O16's final position turned out to be quite important, and, combined with Japanese information that revealed that achain of mines had been placed north of the British minefield, exonerated the captain of O16. Some fifty years after his death, the world finally knows that he truly held no fault in the loss of his men and his ship.
Name: Hr.Ms. O16.
Navy: Koninklijke Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy).
Built: 1933, Koninklijke Maatschappij de Schelde, Vlissingen.
Commissioned: 26 October, 1936.
Length: 76.5 m.
Commander: A. J. Bussemaker.
Width: 6.6 m.
Beam: 4 m.
Armament: 8 x 53 cm torpedoes, 1 x 8.8 cannon, 2 x 40 mm anti-aircraft.
O Class: O 16 was a unique member of the Royal Netherlands Navy, as the only submarine belonging to the O Class.
Condition: Until recently, the wreck of O 16 was largely preserved in situ, although the present state of the wreck is unknown. See status for more information.
Status of the wreck site
In October 2013, disturbing news about the wreck of O16 came from Malaysia. At the location of the final resting place of O16, along with the 41 sailors that sunk with her, an Indonesian crane ship was sighted carrying a load of rusty scrap metal. Whether or not the war grave has been the victim of illegal commercial salvage is, as yet, unclear.