On May 10, 1940, massive Nazi forces invaded the Netherlands, overrunning the neutral nation within five days. Among the few naval units escaping under fire to England were 9 submarines, joining 16 other Dutch submarines stationed in the Netherlands East Indies. Of these 24 boats, 22 were capable of conducting war patrols (in some cases after a major refit). Three additional submarines were made available by the Royal Navy for operation by Dutch crews. Over the next five years the 25 submarines of the Royal Netherlands Navy conducted 184 war patrols in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific submarine campaigns, carried out 82 special missions, and sank 42 confirmed enemy naval and merchant vessels totalling 115,198 tons; 13 additional vessels totalling 86,952 tons were damaged. Of the 25 operational boats, 12 were lost with 255 men.
The Dutch submarines were sturdy boats with such innovative features as the first snorkels, traversing torpedo tubes, and dry 40mm gun mounts. The 0-class were designed for North Sea service, and the K-class for defense of the Netherlands East Indies, but after the early 1930s the 0 designation was used for all submarines. Dutch naval strategists believed that a powerful under-sea force made economic sense for a smaller naval power. The Netherlands Submarine Service was well-equipped, and manned by professionals with a centuries-old naval tradition and a magnificent fighting spirit.
Operations in the European Theater
Dutch boats based principally in Dundee fought under British control from Gibraltar to North Cape. They protected convoys against major enemy surface raiders, landed agents on enemy-held beaches, carried out other intelligence missions, and joined Royal Navy submarines in futile attempts to intercept high-speed German warships. No damage was inflicted on enemy ships in these patrols, and 0-13 and 0-22 were lost with 83 men in German minefields off the Norwegian coast.
In the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Aegean Seas, Dutch submariners achieved greater tactical success, interdicting vulnerable Axis supply lines with gun and torpedo attacks. Initial problems encountered in firing British torpedoes from Dutch tubes were quickly analyzed and fixed by the crews themselves, supported by H.M.s. MAIDSTONE at Gibraltar. Enemy vessels destroyed included two submarines: U-95 east of Gibraltar by 0-21, and the Italian MAJ.ACHITE off Corsica by DOLPHIN. Before she encountered DOLPHIN, the veteran MALACHITE had sailed more than 29,000 miles in 36 war patrols. After Italy surrendered, DOLPHIN intercepted the submarine CORRIDONE off Corsica on September 9, 1943. The Italian boat was not flying the prescribed surrender signal, so DOLPHIN was suspicious, but reluctant to sink her after the armistice. Invoking a time-honored Mediterranean naval tactic, DOLPHIN skillfully rammed the CORRIDONE aft to disable her stern planes, neatly putting her out of action. With 2 other enemy warships damaged and 10 vessels sunk, DOLPHIN was one of the Allied aces of the Mediterranean. In that campaign 4 Dutch boats in 26 war patrols sank 20 vessels totalling 59,353 tons, without suffering a loss.
Operations in the Southwest Pacific Theater
When news arrived of the Japanese air strike against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, seven Dutch submarines on patrol moved rapidly to intercept anticipated invasion fleets driving southward toward Singapore and Java. The Allied submarine campaign against Japanese supply lines was launched four days later in the Gulf or Siam when K-XII sank the freighter TORO MARU (1932 tons) anchored off Kota Bharu, and on the following day sank the tanker TAIZAN MARO (3525 tons). 0-16 in a brilliant night attack in shal-low water off Sungei Patani on December 12th torpedoed and damaged the transports TOSAN MARU (8666 tons), SAKURA MARU (7170 tons), ASOSAN MARU (8812 tons) and AYATA MARU (9788 tons). Three days later 0-16 was lost in a newly-laid enemy minefield, which may also have claimed K-XVII. K-XIV struck invasion forces off Kuching, Sarawak, on December 27th, sinking the big transports KATORI MARU (9848 tons) and HIYOSHI (or HIE) MARU (4943 tons), and damaging HOKAI MARU (8416 tons) and NICHIRAN MARU (6503 tons). On January 10th 0-19 sank the transport AKITA MARU (3817 tons) in the Gulf of Siam.
Warships were also attacked with determination. On the night or December 19th 0-20 was lost in a spirited gun and torpedo battle with destroyers in the Gulf of Siam; next morning 32 survivors were picked up by the Japanese. Her loss was avenged on December 24th by K-XVI in a bold attack on the 1940-ton destroyer H.I.J.M.S SAGIRI, which became the first or 50 Japanese destroyers, destroyer escorts and torpedo boats to be sunk by Allied submarines in World War II. To put this into context, the first of the 48 sunk by u.s. submarines was the 1900-ton destroyer NATSUSHIO, torpedoed by the USS 8-37 (LT James C. Dempsey) in a night surface action off Makassar City on February 8, 1942.
These initial battles demonstrated the high degree of combat readiness of the intrepid Dutch submariners, and their worth as comrades in arms. Their effectiveness was a welcome contrast to the ineffectual efforts of other Allied forces in the opening weeks or the Pacific war.
Although the Dutch undersea corsairs harried enemy sea lanes with skill and determination, their handful of boats could not block the overwhelming invasion forces. Nor could the 29 submarines of the u.s. Asiatic Fleet prevent the ~all o~ the Philippines. On December 25th, 1941, Manila was declared an open city and evacuated by u.s. forces; Hong Kong fell the same day. On February 15, 1942, Singapore surrendered, and the Netherlands East Indies was overwhelmed in early March. The battered Dutch submarine force retreated with Allied boats to Western Australia and Ceylon to continue the fight. From submarine bases at Fremantle and Colombo they fought beside American and British submariners for the rest of the war.
Many examples of aggressive Dutch war patrols could be cited. A determined submerged attack on six-ship enemy convoy in shallow waters near Penang by D-23 demonstrated the utility of traversing torpedo tubes. which could be swung for broadside shots to port or starboard from their location in the superstructure forward of the conning tower. Avoiding an 0-23 fired her last 2 forward torpedoes at the leading MARU from 1000 yards, but the first torpedo hit bottom with a devastating explosion. 0-23 was severely shaken up, and a huge column o~ water and mud soared skyward to alert the convoy With his traversing tubes already trained 90 0 to port, Captain Valkenburg coolly fired them at the second ship as be swung the boat to starboard, continuing his swing to ~ire two stern torpedoes as they came to bear on the fourth ship.Three solid hits sank the passenger-cargo ships ZENYO MARU (6411 tons) and OHIO MARU (5893 tons). On her next patrol in the same area, D-23 sank SHINYU MARU (4621 tons) and barely missed a second ship in the convoy — but the miss turned out to be providential when intelligence discovered that the surviving MARU was bound for a Burmese prison camp with 1700 Dutch prisoners in her holds.
An incident in the Java Sea illustrated Dutch chivalry. ZWAARDVISCH departed Fremantle on September 7, 1944, for her fourth war patrol. On October 6th she sank the unescorted U-168 (1140 tons) with three torpedo hits — two of which were duds. Twenty-seven German survivors were fished from the water, after which three officers and a badly wounded sailor were stowed below and the rest transferred safely to a nearby fishing vessel. But chivalry did not interfere with aggressiveness: in the same patrol ZWAARDVISCH sank KAIYO HARU (143 tons) with gunfire, and on October 17th torpedoed two Japanese minelayers, sinking ITSUKUSHIMA ( 2330 tons) and severely damaging WAKATAKA (1990 tons) — an outstanding patrol.
With intimate local knowledge of the East Indian Archipelago and its people. the Dutch boats were adept at landing missions, minelaying, and clandestine inshore operations. In 84 war patrols in the Southwest Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Dutch submarine force completed 50 special missions and sank 22 enemy ships totalling 55,845 tons. Of the 17 Netherlands submarines operating in the Pacific campaign, 9 were lost with 136 men.
The combat record of the Dutch submariners in World War II, and the price they paid for their valor, are summarized in this table:
Perhaps the best professional commentary on our Dutch submarine allies in the Pacific War was made by the late Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, u.s. Navy. In a letter published in Veertig Jaren Onderzee-Dienst, be declared:
“We remember the hospitality and assistance rendered by the Royal Netherlands Submarine Service at Soerabaja when our submarines were forced out of the Philippines and based temporarily at that place early in 1942. We can never forget the valiant fighting spirit exhibited by Royal Netherlands submarines during the remainder of the war in our operations through the Malay Barrier from south-west Australia. and their full cooperation with our own submarine service.”
A fine tribute indeed, from a great Submarine Admiral to a gallant Submarine Service.