On December 31, 1949, after four years of bitter struggle, the sovereignty of the Dutch East Indies is transferred to the Republic of Indonesia, which covers (almost) all areas of the former Dutch colony that have ceased to exist. All of India? No, a small piece of land in New Guinea remains Dutch territory.
Many books have been written about how and why, and they will not be discussed here. But in the newly created geopolitical situation in Southeast Asia, the Netherlands had to reposition itself. One of the actions that resulted from this was the establishment of a local airline, which would be called “Kroonduif”. This was important as New Guinea had few roads and in many places could only be reached by ship or canoe. The choice of name is a little strange: the crowned dove is a tropical bird, but a bad fly. Not exactly a model for aviation, one might say.
De Kroonduif (Dutch New Guinea Aviation Company) was founded on 14 July 1955 as a subsidiary of KLM to provide air services in the Dutch territory of New Guinea. In 1950, a few years before the company was founded, KLM already stationed its first Douglas DC-3 at the Mokmer air base on the island of Biak, built by the Japanese in World War II. He flew from Biak to the places Holland, Merauke, Tanah Merah, Sorong and to the island of Numfoor. Originally, the services were operated with Canadian De Havilland DHC-2 Beavers (on fleet), later supplemented with two DC-3s and two Scottish Aviation Twin pioneers and another Grumman Mallard. Twin Pioneer was not a great success: Two engines, three tail planes and a pair of terribly small wheels (Scottish economy?) After an accident with a Twin Pioneer in 1957, the wing was changed, after which the plane was safer.
After World War II, the Americans had built many military camps and three airfields on Biak. All three fields had only one runway and were roughly parallel to each other: from southeast to northwest: Mokmer, then Boruku, then Sorido. After the war, Mokmer was made suitable as a civilian airport and was also home to the first KLM Dakota, Boruku was used by the Naval Aviation Service (MLD), which stationed Lockheed SP-2 Neptunes there, and the Navy is establishing a barracks at Sorido. with the barracks and storage sheds. MLD’s Neptunes and Catalinas also often flew domestic routes for much-needed connection.
Kroonduif was supposed to fly on routes that MLD had previously flown. Captain Carl Mattern was the leader of the NNGLM and also served as chief pilot. The two beavers did well in the rugged landscape, so two more specimens were purchased in September 1956. The flights with the single-engine Beavers (450 hp) were exceptional pioneering work. On flights to Wisselmeren, when reaching the mountain ridges, it had to be decided whether to continue flying. The clouds near the lakes could close very suddenly. The pilot had to assess the situation himself because there was almost no meteorological information for the area. The pilot also acted as a handyman, hauling luggage, repairing the engine and acting as a source of information.
From 1 September 1952, flights were flown three times a week from Biak-Mokmer to Hollandia (now Jayapura) on the north coast, twice a week to Sorong in the west, twice a week to Merauke in the south and once every two weeks. the island of Numphoor. In addition to delivering mail and clothes, food stools were also carried out over distant places. These flights were flown at about 30 meters altitude and at low speed, otherwise the jute sacks with rice and the like would explode. These were thrown out without parachutes. Each time the Dakotas brought in about three tons of cargo and more runs were needed to unload everything. The defecation took place, for example, in Enarotali near Wisselmeren, which is located at an altitude of 2000 meters and surrounded by high mountains. A true piece of art for the pilots.
Domestic scheduled services
In addition to the many regular services, Kroonduif performed countless charters to the most impossible places with the most diverse cargo. All in all, the airline was terribly busy. Towards the end of the 1950s, regular Dakota services were flown from Biak to Holland, Manokwari, Ransiki, Sorong, Kebar, Kaimana, Numfur, Merauke and Tanah Merah. KLM-Aerocarto borrowed one for a period of five months for a major air mapping task. If a Dakota were to fly from Holland to Merauke, the pilot could follow two routes depending on the cloud cover: directly, ie directly over the high, snow-capped mountains, or navigate low between the mountains. With no or light clouds, the flight was not too high between the mountain tops. In heavy clouds, they tried to fly over it, at about 3,000 meters or higher.
International airline only
After a test flight in June 1959, Kroonduif opened its first and only international airline to Lae in Australian New Guinea on July 2, 1959. Captain (and also the new head of the air service) Leen van Rijswijk departed with a Dakota from Holland and returned next day. It was the only line on which a flight attendant flew.
KLM service to New Guinea
While Kroonduif took care of domestic flights, KLM maintained international flights with the rest of the world. In the years following Indonesian independence, ties with the Dutch motherland were, of course, very important. At that time, KLM regularly operated routes from Amsterdam to Biak-Mokmer. This happened initially with the Lockheed (Super) Constellation, later with the Douglas DC-7Cs and from 1960 with the Douglas DC-8-30 jet. To accommodate these larger aircraft types, the Mokmer runway was expanded to 3,570 meters. Unfortunately, on July 16, 1957, KLM lost one of its L-1049E Super Constellations in an accident near Mokmer.
End at Kronduen
Since independence in 1949, Indonesian President Sukarno has pursued an increasingly harsh confrontation policy against the Netherlands over Dutch New Guinea. His policy became increasingly an open struggle, which was also fought in the air. The Netherlands carried twelve Hawker Hunter fighters, which had been transported east aboard the “HMS Karel Doorman” to Biak to prevent possible airspace violation. Meanwhile, Kroonduif’s flights continued. An MLD Neptune shot down an Indonesian Dakota on May 17, 1962, transporting infiltrators to New Guinea. This led to a diplomatic incident. Tensions between the Netherlands and Indonesia continued to rise, but the Dutch government did not want to be involved in another colonial war and agreed to hand over the area to Indonesia.
The end of Dutch New Guinea was in sight, and the government decided to repatriate all Dutch. No small task indeed: With all the flying material that KLM and NNGLM could provide, a shuttle was made between Biak and Bangkok to fly Dutch soldiers and civilians back to Holland due to the impending transfer of New Guinea to Indonesia . In 1962, 3,000 people were evacuated in twenty days. KLM flew a total distance of 260,000 kilometers during the operation. By the time the airlift operation ended on November 21, 1962, approximately 13,400 Dutch had flown back to the motherland.
When western New Guinea was annexed to Indonesia on January 1, 1963, De Kroonduif’s activities were taken over by the Indonesian state airline Garuda, which a year later entrusted it to Merpati Nusantara Airlines, a company wholly owned by Garuda since 1978.. All Kroonduif aircraft, except one Dakota, passed into Indonesian hands.
The airline “Kroonduif” was a typical example of the pioneering work of Dutch aviation in postcolonial Asia. An impressive performance given the circumstances and limited resources. The short lifespan of this achievement was the result of higher-level geopolitical input, but it does not diminish the respect we owe to those involved.
Merpati Nusantara Airlines was officially established by the Indonesian government on September 6, 1962 and organized services from Jakarta from September 11, 1962. It thus continued the services of De Kroonduif. While Garuda took care of the international air traffic from Indonesia, Merpati made this the domestic destinations. Later, more domestic companies were added, such as Sempati, Buraq and Mandala. Merpati has used a large number of Fokker F-27 Friendships, a very reliable aircraft under the sometimes difficult conditions in Indonesia. Flights were suspended on February 1, 2014 for financial reasons.
They were hoping to restart in 2017, but it did not happen. A promise of financial support received from a domestic investor was to no avail. In 2018, Merpati Nusantara signed a letter of intent for 10 Irkut MC-21-300 aircraft. On September 29, 2020, it was revealed by Erick Thohir, Indonesia’s Minister of State-owned Enterprises (SOEs), that Merpati is one of 14 state-owned enterprises he planned to liquidate, in part due to a huge bad debt in the company. The future of air traffic around New Guinea is now entrusted to airlines such as Garuda, Sriwijaya and Lion air, all three of which fly to the destinations Sentani and Jayapura from Jakarta and Bali. Wings Air and Trigana Air are the two airlines that operate the route from Jayapura to Wamena, among others.