Luctor et Emergo certainly is an appropriate name for a country’s first submersible. Translated from Latin, it means Struggle and Emerge. This is the story of a small country’s struggle through submarine history, and its triumphant emergence from tough times.
The first submarine in the Royal Netherlands Navy did not get accepted into the fleet roster without its share of difficulties. A Dutch shipbuilding yard, De Schelde in Vlissingen, approached the Dutch Navy in 1903 to enquire if the Navy would be interested in purchasing a submarine. Many nations were then getting into the submarine game, and The Nether-lands should not fall behind. The Navy, however, was not fully convinced. Since De Schelde thought it could convince the Dutch Navy if it actually had a working sub, the company started construction anyway. Plans were purchased from the U.S. Electric Boat Company, and construction was started June 1, 1904. After about a year of construction, the privately owned and funded LUCfOR ET EMERGO was launched on July 8, 1905.
A crew was brought in from the Electric Boat Company to test the boat, and acceptance trials were set up by the Dutch Navy. All De Schelde had to do was show the boat lived up to its promises, and the State would purchase and commission iL The test runs, however, were disappointing, and as a result, the sub failed to qualify. De Schelde blamed the failure on the U.S. crew men who, though experts in their respective technical fields, were not seamen, and therefore were not able to show the operational value of the submarine. The yard did not give up that easily. They went through the Navy ranks to find volunteers to crew the boat. After months of training and practicing, the Dutch sub commander felt confident that they could go through the paces again, meet the standards set by the Navy, and get the submarine accepted into the Dutch Navy. In December, 1905, the boat passed inspection, and was commis-sioned as ONDERZEEBOOT 1 (0-1).
After commissioning, the Navy was quite impressed by the performance of this little craft It was observed, however, that there were no spare parts available, no blueprints, nor were there any instructions regarding battery operations available. In early 1906, while running at periscope depth, the periscope collided with an ice floe, and was bent out of shape. Since there was no spare periscope available, De Schelde bent it back as well as it could, and it stayed like that until the boat was scrapped many years later. One additional problem is interest-ing to note: 0-1 had a petrol motor for surface propulsion, but since petrol was deemed too volatile to store in the shipyard or the Navy Yard, it had to be delivered in small quantities every time the boat had to be refueled.
Despite the various problems encountered with their first sub, the Dutch Navy was now convinced that it should build submarines, since they had enormous potential as weapons in the defense of Dutch neutrality. The 0-2 was built in 1907, and commissioned in 1908. This sub was built to plans purchased from Whitehead and Co., since the Dutch wanted some other designs to evaluate and experiment with.
The Dutch had only five or six submarines in service when World War I broke out. During this war, however, The Nether-lands remained neutral, and as a gesture of goodwill, halted the construction of all submarines during this period. When the war ended in 1918, the Dutch Yards were allowed to continue construction, and finish building the boats that had been started before the war.
After the First World War the Dutch expanded their submarine fleet to include their overseas possessions of Indonesia. In order for submarines to make the voyage half way around the world and patrol an area with a hot climate, a new class of submarines were designed and built. These boats carried the designation “K” (for “Koloniaal”, or colonial), followed by Roman numerals. In 1922 a submarine pier was added to the Navy Yard in Surabaya, Java, where the Dutch had had a naval presence since the 1600’s. In early 1923 the K-II. K-VII and the K-VIII began the voyage from the Den Helder Navy Yard to Surabaya, escorted by the submarine tender HMNLS PELIKAAN. 1924 saw the establishment of a permanent submarine squadron based from Surabaya. The first K-Boats to be permanently assigned to this squadron (as opposed to being based from the Netherlands) were K-111, K-V and K-VII.
The period after the First World War was an exciting time for the Dutch Submarine Force. During this time the very first courtesy visit to foreign countries was made by the 0-6 and the K-111, when they visited Norway and Sweden. As mentioned, new designs were entering the fleet for service overseas. 0-class subs underwent changes and updates also. One experi-ment got worldwide attention at that time: K-XIII’s voyage half way around the world to Show the Flag and conduct gravity experiments. Professor F. A Vening Meinesz was a well known gravity expert, who accompanied the sub on its voyage, conduct-ing experiments and recording observations along the way. K-XIII left Den Helder May 27, 1926, and travelled, unescorted and without incident, through the Panama Canal to Surabaya, arriving December 12, 1926. When the sub arrived at the Panama Canal, the American submariners enviously inspected this 670-ton craft’s air conditioning unil It was only in 1934 that the first U.S. fleet sub was outfitted with an air condition-ing unit.
The 1930’s were a quiet time for the Dutch Submarine Force. Though faced with cutbacks in naval spending due to increased security for Holland and its colonies, there were a number of expansions planned. A few more 0-class subs were built, and a number of K-type submarines were commissioned for service in both Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) and Netherlands West Indies (now Netherlands Antilles and Aruba). In 1934 there was another trip around the world, this time the honors fell to K-XVIII, to follow up on the gravity experiments of the previous decade. The major port of calls were St. Vincent, Dakar, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, CapeTown, Durban, Mauritius and Fremantle. K-XVIII served as a radio beacon between St. Vincent and Dakar for the first trans-atlantic K.LM (Royal Dutch Airlines) plane flight to the West Indies.
The 0-13 and 0-14 had a few interesting patrols in 1939, when they were called upon to serve as patrol vessels, and participate in convoy duties in the Straights of Gibraltar at the start of the Spanish Civil War. These patrols, however, were only limited to passive observations, and when it was deter-mined that the Spanish Civil War would not interfere with the general operation and safety of traffic using the Straights, the patrols were stopped. The subs involved had not fired a shot in anger.
New technology was also put to work in Dutch submarines. As mentioned previously, air conditioning was installed in all boats serving overseas. One of the best known Dutch inven-tions was the Snorkel, which will be discussed later, and the poppet-valve, an ingenious device that vents air used for torpedo firings into the submarine, rather than letting the air bubbles rise to the surface. At this point the Dutch Navy decided that it would be more economical, more versatile and efficient to have only one type of submarine, so that all subs built after 1936 would have the “0” designation.
When Germany declared war on Poland in September, 1939, the Netherlands again announced its neutrality. As Hitler became more aggressive he would not accept Dutch neutrality, and invaded Holland May 4, 1940. An executive order was given to the armed forces to surrender with their weapons intact. The Queen and government evacuated to England. The majority of submarines that were on the building slips were demolished so that they were of no use to the Germans, offices and documents were destroyed as much as possible under the hurried conditions, and any submarines that were able to do so slipped away from the Dutch yards and ports, and made it to British ports. The boats stationed overseas remained there as transit time to the Netherlands was too long to use the subs in the defense of Holland, and there was an ever increasing threat of Japanese hostilities in the Far East. When on December 7, 1941 the Japanese declared war on the United States, the Dutch submariners were involved in a two-theater war: the Atlantic war against Germany and the Pacific war against Japan.
Dutch involvement and successes during the war were varied. The normal chains of high command were destroyed by the German invasion of Holland, and the boats that made it to England would be under British command. The boats in the Antilles, since there were no proper submarine piers and facilities, were to sail to England by way of teaming up with a UK-bound convoy from Canada. The boats in the East Indies were to remain there under local Dutch control for the defense of the colony.
The most spectacular success came at 4:30AM on November 28, 1941, when the 0-21 sank the U-95, just off the Spanish Coast. The U-95, under the command of KapitanLeutnant Gert Schreiber, was on its way from its base at Lorient to the Mediterranean. At about 4:30 AM it spotted the silhouette of a submarine off the bow, and tracked it for about two hours. Although the distance between the two subs had decreased, it was still impossible to identify the other sub. It could be another U-Boat on its way to the Mediterranean, it could be an Italian ally or an enemy sub. To find out for sure, the captain of the U-95 decided to challenge the unidentified boat for the proper identification signal. With the torpedoes ready, the deck gun and machine guns manned and ready, they sent the signal. The Dutch captain immediately recognized the signal from the enemy, and fired a torpedo from one of the stem tubes. This torpedo missed, and just grazed the U-95’s rudder as it started to tum. The 0-2 started to tum also, and, realizing that their first shot was going to miss the U-Boat, they fired again, two-degrees off the U-Boat’s bow. This torpedo hit, blew the bow off the U-Boat, and the U-95 sank in about thirty seconds. The 0-21 picked up twelve survivors, and took them to the British base at Gibraltar.
The 0-15 was in the Netherlands Antilles when hostilities broke out. In March, 1942, it was decided to send this sub for refit in Philadelphia, from where it would travel to Halifax,
Nova Scotia. When the 0-15 arrived at Halifax, it was decided that the old boat would not be able to cross the Atlantic, and it was decided that the sub should stay in Halifax for training of Canadian Navy ASW units.
When war broke out in the Far East, Britain decided to send a number of submarines to Singapore in defense of British and Dutch possessions in that area. Among them were a number of 0-Boats that were placed under the command of the Cin-C Singapore.
When Surabaya fell to the Japanese in March 1942 a number of the subs there were not in any shape to leave, due to the fact that no spare parts had been shipped from Holland for about two years. The submarines that could, fought for several weeks around the East Indies, but when they ran out of supplies, and when most of the islands were taken by the Japanese, the submarines went to Fremantle, Australia.
Some of the boats that did make it out to Australia were not deemed to be in any fighting shape. The K-VJII and the K-IX were pressed into service to supply power to a shipyard; the K-IX was used for hauling larger ships from the water onto the slipway. Towards the end of the war, the RAN commissioned the K-IX into their navy for training purposes.
The 0-16 was able to sink a few Japanese ships, but was lost December 15, 1941, after it ran into a British minefield on its approach to Singapore. There was only one survivor. The 0-20 was scuttled December 19, 1941, after it was disabled by the Japanese destroyer it had attacked. The Japanese destroyer SAGIRI was sunk with a single torpedo from K-XVI. The returning depth charging by other escorts, however, spelled the end for the HMNLS K-XVI. Some others were met with this same fate. The K-xvn did not return from her patrol off the Malay coast in December ’41.
The mine-laying sub 0-19 had a number of kills to her name. This boat was equipped with a snorkel, which was praised as an essential piece of equipment during pursuit of the enemy. On January 10, 1942, it sank the TANYU MARU and the AKITA MARU with a spread of three torpedoes. In the same month it also damaged a number of Japanese ships. The K-XIV was another successful boat. On December 21, 1941, it had sunk the 9800-ton cargo ship KATORI MARU, and damaged three other marus. On January 23, 1942, she again struck it big when she sank the JUKKO MARU. When U.S. destroyers heard reports of the attack, they rushed in, the K-XIV withdrew in a hurry in order not to be confused with a Japanese boal An incident that happened in November 1943, however, serves as a reminder of bow difficult it was to recognize a submarine. The K-XII was on its approach to Perth Harbor when shortly after surfacing, it was attacked by a U.S. patrol plane. Fortu-nately all the bombs missed. No damage was done, other than a few shattered nerves on the sub.
The Dutch government in Britain received an additional submarine from the British government in November of 1943. The tide was turning in the Atlantic war, and now the American and Allied forces were on the move in the Pacific as well. The British government recognized the many services rendered by the Dutch submariners, and in return wanted to show their goodwill. So the ex-HMS TALENT was commissioned as HMNLS ZWAARDVISCH (a name rather than a number, to show that it was not built by the Netherlands!). The ZWAARDVISCH was also a very successful submarine. In her short one-and-a-half year war career, despite a reduced number of targets left in the Pacific, she managed to damage a Japanese aircraft carrier and cruiser, sink four Marus, a Japanese minelayer and another U-Boat! On October 5, 1944, the U-168 was on the homeward voyage from Japan to Germany with much needed supplies. In the Java Sea, the ZWAARDVISCH spotted her, made her attack, and sank her.
During the war, Germany was able to repair and commission five Dutch submarines that had been scuttled or destroyed on the building slips. These were commissioned as UD-1, UD-2, and the 0-25, 26, and 27 as the UD-3 to 5. One interesting story to note about the UD-4 is that it was used for official testing of underwater replenishing in the winter of 1943. The UD-4 met another U-Boat on the surface, the fueling hoses were connected, both boats submerged to a depth of about 100 feet, and refueled for about four hours at a speed of four knots.
Of the 27 submarines the Dutch bad in service when the war broke out. only 14 survived, and of these only 5 were kept on the fleet roster. Towards the end of the war, two more “T” class submarines were provided by the British Navy, and for a number of years these formed the backbone of the Dutch Navy. In the late 40’s, however, the Dutch government realized that a new class of submarines had to be built, and four Triple-Hull design subs were buill These were the first submarines commissioned that bad a name, rather than just a hull number, and replaced the old 0-Boats still in service from before the Second World War. For a detailed description of these boats (the HMNI.S DOLFIJN class) please refer to the article The Dutch Triple-Hull Design Revisited, in The SUBMARINE REVIEW, January 1991.
In the 1960’s yet another design was completed. The design was based on the USS BARBEL class, but was envisioned to have a small nuclear reactor for primary propulsion. Public opposition against nuclear powered ships forced the Dutch government to reconsider their plans, and the design was left intact. but with standard diesel-electric propulsion. This class became the ZWAARDVIS-class, with the ZWAARDVIS and TUGERHAAI replacing some of the old British wwn boats. This design was very efficient. quiet and reliable, and the Dutch government allowed the yard that built the first two units to build two for export to Taiwan, with an option for a further two units. The Taiwanese units were commissioned as the SEA-DRAGON class, but mainly due to pressures from the Chinese government the Netherlands prohibited the yard to build the two follow-up units for Taiwan.
Then in the early 1980’s it was decided to start work on a replacement class for the aging DOLFIJN class submarines. The Dutch again looked at their own yards for designs, and the WALRUSIZEELEEUW class was born. Most of the compo-nents and electronics were supplied by Dutch companies. Due to a fire in 1986, the lead ship of this class, HMNLS WALRUS was delayed, and on June 20, 1987, the HMNLS ZEEI EEUW was launched as first ship in this class. When it entered service, it replaced HMNLS DOLFUN, which was then purchased by the Rotterdam Drydock Co. (RDM), for trials with a Dutch version of an Air Independent Propulsion (AlP) unit.
Although the Netherlands is only a small country, with a population of about 15 million people, it has a long shoreline along the North Sea. Holland has a long seafaring history, with many famous explorers and a large naval presence in the 1600’s. The Netherlands maintains a modem and well balanced fleet. Modem submarines are a small, but essential part of this. The WALRUS class submarine now coming into service presents the Royal Dutch Navy with a strong backbone for its defense in the next two decades. What the future holds as far as expansion of the current class of design of new classes will depend greatly on the stability of global peace. With the Cold War over, this will certainly be reflected in the defense budgets of the next few years. But one thing is sure – with a proud naval tradition spanning several hundred years, and a continuous submarine force since 1908, the Royal Netherlands Navy will be a strong and modem force until well into the next century!