The German invasion of the low countries in May 1940 caught the Dutch submarine force unprepared for war.
The country, although hoping to stay neutral, had initiated steps to strengthen its navy by authorizing a substantial shipbuilding program that included seven modem submarines, the 0-21 to 0-27. but their construction was far from complete. Although efforts had been made to expedite work on these submarines, two were still on the building ways, one was fitting out and not yet in commission, and the other four, although in commission, had not yet time to become combat ready.
The 12 serviceable submarines in Dutch ports ranged from the obsolescent 0-8, a 343/443 ton former British H-Class boat built in 1916, to the brand new 0-24. The 0-9 to 0-11, of 1925-26 vintage, were also small-483/647 tons-with a mixed armament of two 21″ and three 17.7″ torpedo tubes and a single 88mm (3.4″) deck gun. The next most modem group, the 0-12 to 0-15, built in 1931-2, were of 546/704 tons and had five 21″ torpedo tubes and two 40mm guns in unique disappearing mounts. The latest boats of the 0-21 Class were technologically equal or superior to their contemporaries in other nations, with such innovative features as the first underwater air induction tubes or schnorchels. With the length of 255 feet and displacement of 881/1186 tons, they were heavily armed with eight 21″ torpedo tubes-four forward and two aft in the hull itself and two on a trainable mount in the superstructure. They also carried an 88mm deck gun for surface action and two of the disappearing-type 40mm anti-aircraft guns. Because of the rapid but incomplete buildup of the fleet in both home and Far Eastern waters, trained and experienced personnel were still in short supply.
The German blitzkrieg overwhelmed the Dutch defenses in less than a week, and the naval base at Den Helder was overrun on 14 May 1940, trapping the old 0-8, 0-11, and 0-12, and the incomplete 0-25. Efforts to scuttle these boats were only partially successful. Similarly, the hulls of the 0-26 and 0-27 on the building ways were damaged by explosives but not so badly as to preclude their repair by the Germans. (The fate of the boats that fell into German hands is summarized in Appendix 1.)
Nine boats were able to escape to England, some under tow, in various stages of readiness. – The 0-9, 0-10 and 0-13 made brief patrols in the English Channel during the evacuation of Dunkirk, although not fully operational at that time. The 0-13 was the first to set forth on a combat patrol on 12 June 1940, only to be lost on a mine in the Skagerrack a few days later, with her entire crew of 40. The modem 0-21 and 0-22 started patrolling in July, and the 0 -23 and 0-24 in August and September, respectively. (Their schnorcbels were found to be unreliable and were removed.) The older boats needed much work before they could be brought into service: the 0-9 and 0-10 in March 1941, the 0-24 in August 1941, and the 0-15 not until October 1942.
The early patrols of all boats were of relatively short duration and were concentrated in the North Sea, the waters around Norway, and the Bay of Biscay. They performed such tasks as reconnaissance, blockage of ports, convoy escort, and commando-type operations, but made few contacts. Only four attacks on German ships were reported, all unsuccessful, during these operations. Worse, the 0-22 was caught off Norway on her fifth patrol and sunk on 8 November 1940 with all 43 crewmen by the German auxiliary subchasers UJ177 and UJ1104.
The first Dutch successes, all listed in Table 1, came when the surviving modem boats were shifted to operations in the Mediter-ranean, Ligurian, and Tyrrhenian Seas. The 0-24 drew first blood, sinking the 6,600 ton Italian tanker FIANONA with a single torpedo. The 0-23 soon claimed another Italian tanker, CAPACITAS of 5,479 tons. The 0-21’s first confirmed victim was the 5,738 ton Italian freighter, ISARCO, but her most spectacular success was in downing the German submarine U-95. However, after the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies these three boats were transferred to the Far East. (‘Their operations in that theater were described in the April 1983 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
The older boats suffered from a shortage of torpedoes and spare parts as well as old age, and spent more and more time under repair. The worn out 0-9, 0-10 and 0-14 were decommis-sioned after short periods of service and were scrapped in 1944; the 0-15 was retired in 1944 but not scrapped until after the war. The demise of these boats made crews available to take over newer and more capable submarines that the British Navy was glad to provide.
The first of these was the DOLFUN, the former U-Class P-47, which had a very successful career in the Mediterranean. Probably the most important of her 11 victims was the Italian submarine MALACHITE. Her skipper also intercepted another Italian sub, the CORRIDONE, on the way to port after Italy’s surrender, and rammed the latter’s stem planes to make sure she was really out of action. The DOLFDN remained in Dutch service until scrapped in 1947.
The older British S-Ciass STURGEON became the ZEEHOND in 1944, but made only two patrols in northern waters, with no sinkings. This boat was returned to the Royal Navy in 1945.
The ZW AARDVISH (ex-TALENT}, a larger submarine of the T-Class, also made three uneventful patrols in the North Atlantic before transiting to the Far East, where she enjoyed considerable success against the Japanese. A final boat, the TIJGERHAAI (ex-TARN), was completed too late to see action in the war. Both of these boats continued to serve in the postwar Dutch Navy until the 1960s.
A summary of the Dutch submarines’ patrols in the European theater, with the names of their Commanding Officers, appears in Table 2. All told, they carried out 100 patrols, which included 32 special missions, and sank or damaged 21 enemy ships totalling nearly 54,000 tons-a highly creditable record for the submarine force of an occupied nation operating under serious material and personnel handicaps.