Warship Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018: The wandering Dutchman of the Baltic
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018: The wandering Dutchman of the Baltic
Here we see the Holland-class Pantser-dekschepen (protected cruiser) HMNLS Gelderland of the Royal Netherlands Navy (who else?) at the Jamestown Exposition Naval Review, Jamestown, Virginia, 12 June 1907– with her laundry out to dry as a schooner passes. Designed before the 20th Century, she would go on to have the longest life of her six pack of sisters and, modernized to fight a very different war than she was intended, suffer a curious fate.
The Hollands were the Dutch answer to the Royal Navy’s Apollo-class second-class protected cruisers (3,600-ton, 19.75 kts, 6×6-inch, 6×4.7-inch) and the class leader was ordered in 1894. The first flight of three cruisers (Holland, Zeeland, Friesland) had a displacement of 3,840-tons while the second batch (of which Gelderland was the lead followed by Noord Brabant and Utrecht) went 4,100-tons as they held 12 Yarrow boilers as opposed to 8 in the original design and went just a couple feet longer. Speed was 20-knots on the latter trio while the ships were armed with a pair of 149mm/37cal singles fore and aft and a half-dozen 120mm/37cal guns in broadside as well as smaller guns, all made by Krupp. The “protected” in their designation came from a thin coating of Harvey nickel armor.
They were handsome craft and could both show the Dutch flag in the Caribbean-protecting the Netherlands Antilles, the Pacific where Holland held the sprawling Netherlands East Indies, and of course in metropolitan waters in Europe.
The subject of our tale, Gelderland, was laid down at Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij, Rotterdam in 1897. Commissioned 15 July 1900, our new cruiser, on the orders of Queen Wilhelmina herself, was dispatched to carry the former Transvaal president “Oom Paul” Kruger into exile from Portuguese Mozambique, through British sea lanes, to the French port of Marseille.
She left Africa with Kruger on board in October, arriving in France on 22 November where a crowd of 60,000 awaited.
From the Med, Gelderland proceeded to her first posting, the Dutch East Indies, where she served until rotating back to Europe in 1905.
She was off again in 1907 to represent the Netherlands at the Jamestown Exposition Naval Review in Hampton Roads.
Then came a sortie to Curacao in 1908-09 along with her sister Friesland in response to a brush war from Venezuelan strongman Cipriano Castro who was pissed that his political rivals were being sheltered by the Dutch in their Caribbean colony offshore.
Castro sent his small naval forces to meet the much more imposing Dutch fleet and Gelderland promptly captured the Venezuelan coast guard ship Alix off Puerto Cabell on 12 December 1908. The Venezuelans offered no resistance and the Gelderland towed the Alix as a prize into Willemstad, making headlines around the world. The Dutch then proceeded to effect a naval blockade of the South American country’s coastline. The crisis only ended when vice president Juan Vicente Gómez, with U.S. help, seized power and Castro fled to Germany.
Returning to Europe, Gelderland was rushed to the Bosporus in 1912 to protect Dutch interests during the Balkan Wars, and a 100-man landing force from her crew along with Korps Mariniers of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps defended the legation area in Constantinople.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands was a well-armed neutral during World War I, though the Germans occupied neighboring Belgium and the country absorbed a million refugees (as well as 30,000 escaped Belgian soldiers and the majority of the British 1st Royal Naval Brigade). Though spies from all sides swarmed across the country and German U-boats and mines sank numerous Dutch merchantmen and fishing craft, the Dutch Navy, though mobilized, escaped conflict.
After the war, the class was considered obsolete and whittled down. To be sure, two units, Friesland and Utrecht were decommissioned in 1913 before the conflict and had been scrapped already. Another pair, Holland, and Zeeland, were decommissioned in 1920 and 1924 respectively. Noord Brabant was disarmed in 1920 and used as a barracks ship and hulk at Vlissingen while only Gelderland was retained in service– as a gunnery training ship.
She undertook regular training missions and was often seen in warmer waters.
In 1939, the pivotal year that the Netherlands would try to escape a Second World War, Gelderland was armed with some additional .50 cal and 8mm machine guns in preparation for the conflict.
When the Germans swarmed into the country in May 1940, the Dutch managed to scuttle Noord Brabant at her moorings, but Gelderland was captured at Den Helder. Renamed by the Germans as Niobe after the figure in Greek mythology, the nearly half-century-old cruiser was heavily modified to serve as an anti-aircraft cruiser (flakschiff), she was given a FUMO 213 Würzburg radar, searchlights, and outfitted with a mixed battery of eight 105mm, 4 40mm, and 16 20mm guns.
The Germans sailed the old Dutchman (slowly) to the Baltic in 1941 where she served as a floating AAA battery to protect key coastal points from the Red Air Force.
Niobe notably fought off Soviet swarms at the Finnish city of Kotka where the Russians thought she was the Finnish coast defense ship and former Warship Wednesday alum Väinämöinen. At Kotka, she was attacked by waves of more than 150 Red A-20 and Pe-2 bombers on 16 July 1944, sending her to the bottom that night after 9 bomb hits.
She suffered 70 casualties from her crew of 397 men from Marine-Flak-Abteilung 282.
In 1953, the German firm of Taucher Beckedorf from Hamburg raised her, and she was scrapped shortly after.
Gelderland is well remembered by a dedicated website (Dutch).
Displacement standard: 3,970 tons, 4100 full
Length: 94.7 meters
Beam: 14.82 meters
Draft: 5.4 meters
Engineering: 2 x triple expansion steam engines, 12 x Yarrow boilers, 9,867 hp
Maximum speed: 20 knots on trials
Bunker capacity: 930 tons of coal max
Range: 4500 nautical miles at 10 knots
Armor: 50mm deck, 13mm gun shield, and 100mm tower armor
Armament upon delivery:
2 x 149/37 Krupp
6 x 120/37 Krupp
6 x 75/37 Krupp
8 x 37mm Hotchkiss
2 x 7,5cm mortars,
2 x 450mm torpedo tubes (bow, stern)
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