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When Hitler invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, the Dutch Navy had 30 submarines afloat or under construc-tion. Following longstanding practice, the boats were divided between home waters and the East Indies. Until1937, Dutch submarines were designed specifically for service in one area or the other, with the home boats assigned Arabic numbers in the “0” (Onderzeeboot) series and the overseas ones Roman numerals in the “K” (Kolonial) series. The latter were usually somewhat larger and had a longer operating range, better ventilation, and stronger gun armament In 1937 it was decided that all future submarines would be fitted to serve in either area; consequently, the K-XIX and K-X{C then under construc-tion were renumbered 0-19 and 0-20, which left a gap after the 0-16, which had been the highest numbered in that series. In 1940, all of the existing K-boats and three of the newest 0-types were based at Surabaya, Java.

Of the 15 boats in the Netherlands itself, six were seized by the Germans, but nine escaped to Great Britain and continued to fight. Their history will be covered in a separate article. The 15 boats in the Far East, except for the four oldest in reserve, were kept in readiness for the conflict that was seen as inevita-ble. When word was flashed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, seven Dutch submarines were already on or en route to stations in the Gulf of Siam and South China Sea to inter-cept the invasion convoys headed for the British and Dutch colonies. Four more boats deployed a few days later, and steps were taken to activate the last four in reserve. The war for these boats had begun in earnest.

The Dutch submarines consisted of several types, the oldest dating back to the early 1920s. They were efficient, well-built boats, as would be expected of a navy that had operated submarines since 1905. Typical of the more modem types were the K-X.IV and 0-19 classes, which were, respectively, 242 and 265 feet in length with surface displacements of 771 and 998 tons. They had six internal torpedo tubes, four forward and two aft, and a pair of trainable deck tubes in the superstructure. Their deck annament consisted of a 3.4″ gun and two 40-mm guns in disappearing mounts. The 0·19 and 0-20 were also fitted to carry 40 mines, a feature that made them particularly useful in the East Indies. The 0-21 class was slightly smaller and not equipped to lay mines, but these boats were built with experimental air-breathing ‘schnorcheJs’ that were adopted and improved by the Germans in 1943.

Reflecting Dutch monarchist traditions, many of the sub-marine officers had aristocratic or upper-class backgrounds and have been descnoed as rather authoritarian in their relations with the enlisted crewmen. The boats in the East Indies also included a number of Indonesian natives in their crews; these were berthed and messed separately from their European shipmates. All in all, the Dutch boats were the equal L ~ their contemporaries in other navies and their crews were experi-enced and well trained.

By 12 December 1941, as prearranged, seven of the Dutch boats had come under operational control of the British Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet and were patrolling in the South China Sea. (There were then only two British subma-rines in the Far East.) Three more were stationed off Borneo under Dutch control, while K-XVIII was under refit at Surabaya. In aggressive attacks between 12 and 25 December, four of the Dutch boats drew blood, sinking or damaging 10 or possibly 12 Japanese ships. Unfortunately, two of these submarines and two others were lost: 0-16 to a Japanese mine on the 15th, 0-20 to gunfire from the destroyer URANAMI on the 19th, K-XVII to a mine or Japanese depth charges some time after the 14th, and K-XVI to the submarine 1-66 on Christmas Day. Also, K-XIll suffered a battery explosion at Singapore on the 21st after returning from patrol~ although towed to Surabaya for repair, the boat never returned to action.

As the Japanese continued their advance southward, the Allied submarines tried with little success to counter them. Between January and March, 1942, only two or possibly three ships were torpedoed. When Singapore became untenable, the submarines all fell back on Surabaya. Many had suffered damage or material casualties, but conditions at the base went from bad to worse as repair facilities came under incessant Japanese attacks, spare parts and munitions were used up, and crews approached exhaustion. By late January the British had relinquished operational control of all submarines back to the Dutch. K-VIII, K-IX, and K-X were recommissioned by crewmen from the base and boats under repair and used for local defense, but the obsolete K-VII was sunk by Japanese aircraft while submerged at Surabaya. When Java could no longer be held, the British submarines and four of the remain-ing Dutch boats withdrew to the British base at Colombo, Ceylon; but K-~ K-XIII, and K-XVIII were inoperative and had to be scuttled on 3 March 1942. K-XII, the last boat to escape from Surabaya, went to Fremantle, Australia, with the Dutch admiral and staff. The obsolescent K-VIII and K-IX bad already been sent to Australia, where efforts were made to use them as anti-submarine trainers. However, K-VIII, with a mixed Dutch and Australian crew, was fatally damaged at Fremantle by a battery explosion. K-IX was transferred to the east coast but was torpedoed in Sydney Harbor by a Japanese midget subma-rine on 31 May 1942. Both boats were scrapped as beyond repair.

The destruction of the Allied defense forces in the Dutch East Indies, along with the other catastrophes suffered by the United States, left the Japanese Navy in almost unchallenged domination of the Western Pacific and Eastern Indian Oceans in 1942 The four Dutch and two British submarines that had escaped to Ceylon were badly in need of major refits. The Dutch boats in particular were handicapped by a shortage of torpedoes and the lack of spare parts for their engines and machinery. K-XV made one patrol, a special intelligence mission to western Sumatra, then left for the U.S. K-XIV was unable to operate until November, when she also was sent to the U.S., pausing briefly off the Cape Verde Islands for guard duty during the Allied invasion of North Africa. Both these submarines were under overhaul at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for more than a year before returning to the Far East. 0·19 made two patrols out of Colombo, then went to Grangemouth, Scotland, for a long refit. The elderly K-XI also made two patrols in the Indian Ocean, but was then shifted to Fremantle to serve as an anti-submarine trainer until worn out and paid off in 1944.

Of the two British boats, TRUANT suffered from many machinery defects and soon returned to the United Kingdom for overhaul. TRUSTY remained until April 1943 and was joined during 1942 by the Dutch 0·23 and 0-24 from Europe. 0·21 followed in March 1943, but soon left for Australia. For most of 1942 and 1943 there were never more than three submarines based at Colombo; often not a single boat was fit for offensive patrol, and for much of the time until October 1943 the only boats present were Dutch. Despite the problems, the three Dutch newcomers accounted for five Japanese ships sunk and two or three damaged, before they too were with-drawn for overhaul. 0-23 returned to Great Britain in Septem-ber, while 0-24 went to Philadelphia in December. This essentially ended Dutch operations out of Ceylon, except for a few patrols by boats returning from overhaul and making the passage to Fremantle. However, British submarines operated from there in increasing numbers from late 1943 until the end of the war.

The final phase of the Dutch submarine war in the Far East was conducted from Australia, mainly under operational control of the U.S. Commander, Submarines, Southwest Pacific. Old K-Xll had been there since 1942, making five intelligence runs for the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS) between extended upkeep periods. For a time, several U.S. submariners were attached to her crew until she was retired in early 1944. 0-21 moved over from Ceylon and made one patrol out of Fremantle in 1943 before returning to the United Kingdom for refit. K-XIV, K-XV, and 0-19 were based there after returning in 1944 from their long overhauls. These boats were joined by ZWAARDVISCH, the former HMS TALENT, that came down from Europe in August 1944 after making three Atlantic patrols. 0-21 and 0-24 returned from overhaul in 1945 but were able to make only a few patrols before the end of the war. 0-23 completed her overhaul too late to participate further in the hostilities.

In addition to completing 13 hazardous special missions for NEFIS, in which agents were landed on or picked up from various enemy-occupied islands, the Fremantle boats sank or damaged the German submarine U-168, a Japanese cruiser, three minelayers, two or three naval auxiliaries, three or four small merchant ships and 19 or 20 junks or coasters. Many daring attacks were made on the surface in extremely restricted locations. 0-19’s eighth patrol was particularly harrowing. After laying 40 mines off Batavia, Java, and sinking the naval auxiliary SHINKO MARU #1, the sub hit bottom in very shallow water and was heavily depth charged by a Japanese sub chaser. Carbon dioxide from the ruptured air conditioning plant seeped through the boat, forcing the crew to evacuate several compartments and don emergency breathing masks, while the engine room flooded up to the deck plates. After two hours of this, the boat was brought to the surface long enough to see that the Japanese were still in sight, then bottomed again while preparations were made to destroy all secret books and papers. In a final desperate effort, the engine crewmen succeeded in getting back into the engine room and preparing to surface in order to make a run for safety. Although sickened or tempo-rarily overcome, they got the engines running again and managed to repair the worst damage as the boat made its way back to base.

After two months under repair, 0-19 made another success-ful patrol, but was then declared unfit for further combat. Loaded with spare equipment and stores for the new base being established in the Philippines, the worn-out boat left Fremantle on 25 June 1945 for Subic Bay. On 8 July, however, she ran hard aground on Ladd Reef in the South China Sea. The U.S. submarine COD (SS-224) was sent to the rescue but failed to budge the Dutch boat, so took off the crew and demolished the wreck. This was the last Allied submarine to be lost in the Far East during the war.

A bizarre footnote was provided by the British submarine HMS TACITURN. Patrolling off Surabaya on 16 June 1945 in water too shallow for diving, she encountered a strange collection of craft consisting of an armed trawler and a sub chaser towing two hulks, the smaller of which was clearly that of an old and rusty submarine. The larger hulk was torpedoed, the trawler driven off, and the sub chaser and submarine hulk sent to the bottom by gunfire. Dutch sources later identified the bulk as the former K-XVIII which had been scuttled in 1942 but raised by the Japanese and used as an air warning picket platform in Madoera Strait!

All told, 19 Dutch submarines participated in the war in the Far East. Nine were lost by enemy action, scuttling, or ground-ing and four others were paid off before the end of the war because of damage or excessive wear. At least 136 crewmen were killed, plus more who were lost when transports returning them to Europe were torpedoed and sunk. The boats made 84 patrols: 28 in the early fighting before evacuation of the Dutch East Indies, 29 from Ceylon, and 27 from Australia. Included in these patrols were 50 special missions, in two of which 80 mines were laid by 0-19. Confirmed or possible sinkings included 19 ships and 18 small craft totaling approximately 51,900 tons; another 16 ships and two small craft of about 113,200 tons were damaged to various degrees. The small but valiant Dutch submarine force had avenged its early losses and made a significant contnbution to Allied victory in the Pacific.

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