Warship Wednesday, June 1, 2022: Old Amsterdam in New Amsterdam
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, June 1, 2022: Old Amsterdam in New Amsterdam
Above we see the Dutch Atjeh/Aceh-class schroefstoomschip (screw steamer) 1e klasse Hr.Ms. Van Speyk (also seen as Van Speijk) during the Naval Rendezvous parade portion of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing, on 27 April 1893. Van Speyk was the only Dutch vessel among the assembled 38 warships from ten countries, the greatest international accumulation of warships since Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887. A rare period of enlightened peace among civilized nations.
The eight intended vessels Atjeh class (Atjeh, Tromp, Koningin Emma der Nederlanden, De Ruyter, Van Speyk, Doggersbank, Kortenaer, and Johan Willem Friso), all built at the Rijkswerf in Amsterdam, were considered for their time to be unprotected cruisers by everyone but the Dutch, who had ordered them to replace seven smaller 2,000-ton, 16-gun Djambi/ Zilveren Kruis-class flush-deck steam corvettes whose muzzleloaders and circa 1860s steam suites capable of 8 knots weren’t going to cut it in 1875. Larger vessels than they were replacing, the Atjehs were 3,425 tons and went 301 feet overall (262 at the waterline) with iron hulls sheathed in wood and zinc/copper and a sexy length-to-beam ratio of 7:1. As often seen with ships of the era, there were enough minor dimensional and constructive differences between the ships of the class to make them more half-sisters than full-sisters, but they all shared the same rough profile and layout.
The first three ships completed used two reciprocating engines generating 2700 ihp and with a raisable prop while the last three (Van Speyk included) completed had compound steam engines generating 3300 ihp on a fixed prop, and all carried four boilers. This allowed for speeds between 13.5 and 14.8 knots under steam, carrying between 440-580 tons of coal, and with a three-masted auxiliary ship rig that allowed a speed of up to 8 knots on canvas alone.
Armament, as completed in the 1880s, was a half dozen 6.7″/25cal and eight 4.7″/17cal Krupp breechloaders– but still on gun decks with port and starboard gun ports they were a circa 1870s design– to which eight 1-pounders and six 1-pounder revolvers were added for defense against torpedo boats and launches. Speaking of the latter, they carried four such steam launches equipped with spar torpedoes, a lesson learned from the successful use by the Russians of such craft against the Turks in their 1877 war.
Our ship was named for Dutch naval Lt. Jan Carel Josephus van Speijk, a hero during the blockade of Antwerp in 1831 who elected to blow up his gunboat via firing his pistol into the powder magazine rather than surrender his command as Belgian rebels swarmed his ship, taking 28 of 31 crewmembers with it into the sky.
King William I in 1833 decreed that if there was a Dutch Navy, it would always have a warship named for Van Speijk. This included two small corvettes (kuilkorvet) prior to our schroefstoomschip and for generations, the rallying cry of Dutch naval cadets has been “Het voorbeeld door Van Speijk gegeven, volgen wij met hart en hand” (“We follow the example set by Van Speijk with heart and hand”) and the country’s naval officers have shown a willingness to ride their ships into near-certain death in years since.
After seven full years under construction, Hr.Ms. Van Speyk commissioned 1 March 1887, the next to the last of her class completed, followed only by Hr.Ms. Johan Willem Friso the next year. Two sisters, Kortenaer and Doggersbank, were destroyed by a yard fire in 1883 before they could be launched.
Van Speyk and her completed sisters had a happy, if short (15-20 year) active career, spent patrolling far-flung colonies in the Caribbean, South America, and the Southwest Pacific, and showing the flag throughout the world to prove the Dutch could project enough power to protect the same.
Van Speyk’s moment in the sun was her involvement in the 1893 Columbian review.
Her officers and men, especially when the naval review fleet reached New York, were the toast of the town and attended a cycle of events hosted by such organizations as the Holland Society of New York, the Orange Club, and the St. Nicholas Society, with the latter presenting the ship with a silver cup “as a token of the gratitude and goodwill of the new Netherlands to the Old Netherlands.”
However, the sun always sets
The class– complete with a trio of masts, an auxiliary sail rig, and gun ports– was downright quaint as a naval force by the late 1890s at a time when warships were all-steel and swathed in armor, with turret guns. This saw the six completed Atjeh-class cruisers taken offline and either disposed of or converted to accommodation ships.
Atjeh, Van Speyk, and Koningin Emma der Nederlanden were so hulked, losing their guns, engines, and masts and gaining a topside house structure by the early 1900s.
On 14 May 1940, Van Speyk was captured by the Germans and the occupying forces had the ship transferred to Kattenburg, Amsterdam in 1943 to continue to function as an accommodation ship there for Kriegsmarine personnel– subject to RAF raids.
Liberated by Allied forces in 1944, the Dutch sold the hulk to be broken up at Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht in March 1946, the final member of her class afloat.
Of Van Speyk’s sisters, Tromp, De Ruyter, and Johan Willem Friso had escaped the barracks ship life and had all been scrapped by 1904. Class leader Atjeh was out of service by 1922. Meanwhile, Koningin Emma der Nederlanden went out with a bang. Like Van Speyk, she had been captured by the Germans in 1940 and repurposed to then suddenly sank at her moorings in 1942, sabotaged by the Dutch Resistance.
Keeping with William I’s decree, the Dutch named a K-class sloop (Kanonneerboot K3, later F805) after Lt. Van Speyk which was captured on the builder’s ways in 1940 and then used by the Germans. Surviving WWII, she continued to serve the Dutch, classified as a fregat, until 1960.
The fifth Van Speyk was the renamed Flores while the sixth Van Speyk, F802, was the lead ship of her class of new frigates and served from 1967 to 1986, then in the Indonesian Navy for another 35 years.
The sixth was an experimental fuel ship converted from a minesweeper while the seventh and current, F828, is a Karel Doorman-class multipurpose frigate that has been active since 1995.
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