Triumph & Tragedy ~ The story of the KLM DC-2 Uiver (Part 3)

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The Uiver’s first — and last — commercial flight

For KLM’s President Albert Plesman, the MacRobertson International Air Race had apparently been a prelude to the Uiver’s next showstopper — a “fast Christmas flight” to inaugurate a new weekly passenger and airmail service between Amsterdam and Netherlands Indies, made possible by the Uiver.

The DC-2 could carry 14 passengers, but to ensure their maximum safety and comfort just three would be embarked. Besides, KLM didn’t need the passenger fares: the subsidy it received for transporting mail made the flight a very profitable proposition. KLM promoted the flight heavily. Mobile post offices topped with a wooden stork made it easy for people to post letters, and post them they did: The Uiver’s cargo consisted of 52,893 postal items weighing a total of 348.325 kg, for an average weight per piece of 6.6 grams. Many of the letters were written on KLM rice-paper stationery dedicated to the flight; both envelopes and writing paper feature a printed cachet showing the Uiver flying between branches of holly.

All of the Christmas-flight covers received a special red hand-stamped cachet showing a stork flying through a Christmas wreath, and all were franked with the obligatory Netherlands 30-cent triangular airmail stamp, plus stamps to pay for the basic international rate. KLM’s covers were designed to be returned to their senders, franked with Netherlands Indies stamps, including the colony’s nearly identical triangular airmail stamp.

The Uiver leaves Amsterdam

The Uiver left Amsterdam before dawn on December 19, 1934. On board were the crew — Captain W.O.A.M. Beekman, co-pilot J. van Steenbergen, aircraft mechanic H.A. Waalewijn, and radio-telegraphist G. van Zadelhoff, all veterans of many KLM flights in Asia — and passengers D.W. Berretty, founder and managing director of the Dutch East Indies Press Bureau, in Batavia; Dr. F.W. Walch, professor of biology at the University of Batavia, and J.T. Kort, a Dutch businessman.

Despite the aircraft’s fame, fast airmail flights to Asia had become commonplace; only a small crowd cheered the Uiver’s departure, to the stirring notes of the KLM march. After scheduled stops at Marseilles, Rome and Athens, the Uiver crossed the Mediterranean and landed that evening at Cairo. It departed for Baghdad at 9:30 p.m. local time.

The Uiver’s mail would include many letters on stationery produced by KLM; the covers were designed to be returned to their senders, franked with Netherlands Indies stamps. Displayed as the background of this page is an unused sheet of the KLM stationery; the word Kerstvlucht in the letterhead means “Christmas flight”. The stationery sheet was enclosed in the cover shown below, which was not posted.

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