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, Oct.19, 2022: Baron Carl’s Commando Taxi Service
Above we see the K XIV-class submarine (onderzeeboot) Hr.Ms. K XV of the Royal Dutch Navy (Koninklijke Marine) during an exercise in the Dutch East Indies, shown transporting V-2, a Fokker C-VII W light naval reconnaissance floatplane, on her deck on 29 June 1935. Built expressly for overseas service, she would round the globe, sideline one of the emperor’s tankers, and deliver sneaky commando types behind enemy lines throughout the upcoming war.
Paid for by the oil-rich government of the Dutch East Indies in 1930 to serve as “colonial” submarines with the “K” for “Koloniën,” the five K XIV-class boats were designed by Dutch Navy engineer J. J. van der Struyff, who already had the smaller 0 9 and K XI-classes under his belt.
A bit larger and more modern than previous Dutch classes, they leveraged input from across Europe. Using a pair of 1,600 hp German-made MAN diesel engines and two 430 kW domestically built Smit Slikkerveer electric motors lined up on two shafts, these 1,045-ton vessels could push their 241-foot welded steel hulls at speeds approaching 17 knots on the surface (they made 19 on trials) and nine while submerged. The plant enabled them to cruise at an impressive 10,000nm at 12 knots, ideal for West Pacific patrols.
Using double hulls with a test depth of 250 feet, they carried both search and attack periscopes provided by Stroud and a periscopic radio antenna that could be used while submerged. Ideally, for their intended use around the 18,000-island East Indies archipelago, they could float in just 13 feet of water and submerge in anything over 50.
When it came to armament, they were outfitted with help from the British, including tubes for a batch of 200 Weymouth-built dialed-down Mark VIII torpedoes (dubbed II53 in Dutch service) that could hit 42 knots and carry a 660-pound warhead– not bad performance for the era.
The torpedo tube layout in the class was interesting, and not repeated in another Dutch class. They mounted eight 21-inch torpedo tubes–four bows (two on each side of the hull), two in the stern, and a twin external trainable mount forward of the conning tower– with room for 14 fish.
Besides their torpedoes, they were armed with a Swedish 88mm/42cal Bofors No.2 deck gun and two British Vickers 2-pdr QF Mark II (40mm/39cal) large-bore AAA machine guns, the latter contained in neat disappearing installations, a novel idea for guns that weighed over 500-pounds including a water-cooled jacket.
The first three boats– K XIV, K XV, and K XVI— were ordered from Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij on the same day in 1930 as Yard Nos. 167-169. The final two– K XVII and K XVIII— were ordered in 1931 as Yard Nos. 322 and 322 from neighboring Wilton-Fijenoord, Schiedam. All five were complete and ready to deploy by early 1934.
With the class complete, they self-deployed as a unit some 9,000 miles for the East Indies, stopping along the way at Lisbon, Cádiz, Palermo, Port Said, Suez, Aden, and Colombo. In theory, they could have done this on one tank of diesel oil without having to refuel.
The sisters spend the lead-up to World War II in a series of exercises and drills, their history noting the most important occasion in the “happy time” being the 23-ship September 1938 naval review associated with the 40th coronation Jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina held in Soerabaja for the benefit of visiting French and British admirals.
On 10 May 1940, German swarmed over neutral Holland’s borders and, within a week, had overrun the country despite the best efforts of the Dutch Army and the Queen joined the government in exile in Britain. This left the Dutch East Indies in an odd place, as the country was at war with Germany but largely on its own as there were few Germans to fight in the Pacific. The closest thing was the scare later that year that the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer would transition to the area, one that would not materialize. One that did was the deployment of five auxiliary cruisers (HSK) — Orion, Pinguin, Komet, Atlantis, and Michel —although only one, Komet, would capture a Dutch ship, the freighter Kota Nopan, near the Galapagos Islands.
Then came the increasingly close encroachment of the Japanese including moving into Vichy French-controlled Indochina in September 1940. This was obviously a springboard for further aggressive expansion.
On 25 November 1940, K XV would welcome her fourth and final skipper, Luitenant ter zee 2e klasse Carel Wessel Theodorus, Baron van Boetzelaer. Born in 1905, the good baron had received his commission and spent 11 years in the navy before arriving on board. He would remain her commander throughout the war.
By November 1941, it was clear to everyone across the Pacific that the Japanese– cut off from American commodities including av gas since June 1940– were preparing to take the East Indies from the Dutch.
With that in their mind, DOZ 3 was sent from Soerabaja to guard the oil fields off Tarakan along the coast of Borneo against supposed Japanese intrusions on 18 November 1941. There, the trio of submarines received the flash at 08:07 on 8 December that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and both the U.S. and the Dutch government in exile– to which the Dutch East Indies was loyal– had declared war on the Empire.
Ordered to remain submerged as much as possible during the day and maintain a brisk patrol schedule, the Dutch subs, working in conjunction with Dutch Navy Dornier Do 24 flying boats and Dutch Army Martin B-10 bombers, were soon sinking Japanese transports and small craft in the South China Sea. The first Japanese ship to feel Dutch lead was the fishing lugger Celebes Maru No. 3, forced to beach on Tobi Island on the afternoon of 8 December after being strafed by a Dornier, while the first submarine kill was of the transport Awajisan Maru (9,794 GRT) sent to the bottom on 12 December by the old Hr.Ms. K XII off the Malayan coast.
Before the year was out, Dutch subs in the region would account for 21 Japanese warships and auxiliaries (78,639 tons all told) exchanging four of their own number (O 16, O 20, K XVI, and K XVII) in the process.
K XV achieved the last significant success of the KM in East Indian waters during the Indonesian campaign when, during her 4th war patrol on 1 March 1942, she attacked the 15,400-ton Japanese Navy Notaro-class oiler SS Tsurumi just after the Allied defeat in the Java Sea and the withdrawal from the Dutch East Indies.
From Combined Fleets:
Bantam Bay, E of Nicholas Point. That same day, Dutch Ltz/II Carel W. T. Baron van Boetzelaer’s submarine Hr.Ms. K-XV attacks TSURUMI. Van Boetzelaer fires two torpedoes. At least one hits and damages TSURUMI. This causes a hole with a length of 12.5 meter and depth of 5 meter below the waterline from ribs [frames] 108 to 128 on the port side, a square 1.5 meter hole from ribs 109 to 111 on the starboard, other small holes below the waterline and over a dozen points of breakage and distortion of the inner partition wall rib material.
Tsurumi would have to spend two months in occupied Singapore before she would sail again and K XV, who survived a 60-depth charge attack directly after the tanker was hit, would live to fight again.
While the Dutch subs had inflicted lots of damage on the Japanese, the fall of the Dutch East Indies to the onslaught left the remaining boats without a home. Sisters K XV and K XIV made it out and, along with the three smaller boats K VIII, K IX, and K XI, would retire to Ceylon and operate from there. The four boats would remain there alongside their depot ship Colombia. Meanwhile, the larger oceangoing (and snorkel-equipped) “O” boat Hr.Ms. O 19, which had made for Australia, was sent to Britain for extensive work (and so that the Brits could examine both her snorkel and German-made Atlas Werke sound gear firsthand).
Getting back in the fight, K XV would embark on her 5th War Patrol from Ceylon and conduct her first “special mission” landing one LT Henri Emile Wijnmalen on the West coast of Japanese-occupied Sumatra on 12 May with an aim to link up with guerilla groups inland. Wijnmalen never made his planned rendezvous with the Dutch sub 12 days later, having been captured by the Japanese on the 16th and allowed to commit suicide after an extended period of torture and interrogation. He would be posthumously awarded the Bronze Lion in 1951.
While K VIII, K IX, and K XI would remain with the British in the Indian Ocean, conducting local patrols and training duties, it was decided to send the newer K XV and K XIV to the U.S. for extensive modernization.
This saw K XV leave Colombo on 1 August for Philadelphia via the Cape of Good Hope and a slow South Atlantic cruise, arriving at Philly on 1 November. The subsequent update saw her equipped with a new sonar fit, and the deletion of her topside torpedo tubes and an escape hatch in the interest of hull integrity. Also gone were her complicated 40mm Vickers mounts, replaced with simpler “wet” 20mm Oerlikons.
While in post-refit shakedown, one of her officers, Ltz. I Dirk van Beusekom, was killed in a torpedo accident at New London and buried at Arlington with full military honors.
Then came a trip to Dundee, Scotland for more updates and to pick up a British Type 291W radar and take on a load of Mark VIII torpedos.
On 4 November 1943, K XV pulled out of Holy Loch, bound for East Asia once again via the Med and Suez, arriving at Colombo on Christmas.
She was soon back in the special mission business, working with the Australian-based Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service, or NEIFIS, whose business was running resistance and surveillance networks in the Dutch East Indies. This saw K XV busy schlepping Indonesian commandos around the islands and generally avoiding all contact with the Japanese.
K XV participated in at least six operations, typically landing small parties by folbots under the cover of darkness and beating feet, a task that was often impossible if local patrols were encountered or the beach was not suited. Sometimes, the mission would involve landing a shore party in the pre-dawn morning, submerging, and moving back in the following night to exfil the commandos, only to drop them a few miles further down the coast the next morning. Other times, a two-man recon team would be put ashore for the day, then make contact later that night via blinker lamp to either land the rest of the party and supplies for an extended stay or pick up the two men and keep looking for a better spot.
It must have been an interesting spectacle to see the good Baron Boetzelaer, clad in tropical whites, reeking of diesel, and pouring sweat, anxiously peering out over those enemy-held beaches for signs of either returning commandos or rushing Japanese as he puffed away on his pipe.
- Operation Prawn. April 1944. Landing seven commandos at the coast of Sorong, New Guinea.
- Operation Apricot. January 1945. Landing 10 commandos at the coast of the Djiko Doped Bay, northeast Minahassa, in the Celebes.
- Operation Firtree/Poppy. February-March 1945. Involved a 5-man NEIFIS team landing on the Soela Islands to access the situation there. The detailed report on the Firtree shore party by its English-speaking Christian Ambonese commander, LT (and future Indonesian minister) Julius Tahija, shines a light on the types of operations these groups conducted. The companion 5-man Poppy team tried repeatedly to land at Wijnskoopbaai on Java.
- Operation Parsnip. June 1945. K XV attempted three times to land a NEFIS shore party on the coast of Mandalika, the north coast of Java.
- Operation Inco I. July 1945. Landed a shore party at six separate places along on coast of the Damar islands.
She also got a couple of kills, such as while on her 8th War Patrol in April 1944 when she sank a small Japanese patrol vessel off Waigeo Island by naval gunfire and fired a small coastal sailing ship. In all, she would complete 13 war patrols.
In September 1945, following the Japanese surrender, she was one of the only pre-war Dutch naval vessels to return to the liberated Dutch East Indies.
Conducting the occasional post-war sovereignty patrol, by April 1946 she was laid up at Soerabaja, used as a floating generator.
K XV‘s British style Jolly Roger, or bloedvlag in Dutch parlance, is preserved.
Of her four sisters, all gave hard service in East Asia in WWII, opposing the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies. Three were lost during the conflict.
Hr.Ms. K XVI sank the Japanese Fubuki-class destroyer Sagiri on Christmas Eve 1941 then was, in turn, sunk by the Japanese submarine I-66 on Christmas Day, lost with all hands.
Hr.Ms. K XVII was believed lost in a newly laid Japanese minefield on or about 21 December 1941 in the Gulf of Siam and is still on patrol with 38 crewmembers. There are wild rumors she was lost in the “cover-up” in the Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory, but they are, most assuredly, groundless.
Hr.Ms. K XVIII in January 1942 sank the Japanese transport Tsuruga Maru (7,289 tons) and just missed the cruiser Naka but was crippled in a depth charge attack the next morning. Scuttled in Surabaya when that key Dutch stronghold fell in February, she was later refloated by the Japanese and put back in service as an air warning picket hulk in the Madoera Strait, then sent to the bottom a final time in June 1945 by the British submarine HMS Taciturn.
Class leader Hr.Ms. K XIV (N 22) was the most successful when it came to chalking up “kills,” is credited with three Japanese troopships — SS Katori Maru (9,848 tons), SS Ninchinan Maru (6,503 tons), and SS Hiyoshi Maru (4,943 tons)– sunk along with a fourth — MS Hokkai Maru (8,416 tons)– damaged in late December 1941 alone. Updated in America like K XV, she spent the rest of the war in Freemantle and would damage the 4,410-ton Japanese minelayer Tsugaru and bag numerous small vessels. She was retired in 1946, having completed nine war patrols. Also, like K XV, she languished in Soerabaja during the Dutch war against Soekarno, then was towed out and sunk in deep water following independence.
In all, “Free Dutch” submarines accounted for 168,183 tons of enemy shipping and warships between May 1940 and August 1945, sinking no less than 69 ships– a figure that doesn’t count the myriad of small craft they also sent to the bottom. They also lost 16 boats, with seven on eternal patrol.
As for Baron Boetzelaer– the only Dutch officer to remain in charge of his warship throughout the war– he went on to become an aide-de-camp adjutant and chamberlain to Queen Beatrix, later serving as naval attaché in London and commanding the cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp in the 1950s. He would retire as Chief of Staff Inspector General in 1958 and pass in 1987, aged 82.
LTZ.I Dirk van Beusekom, KMR, killed at New London in 1943, remains one of the few Dutch military figures buried at Arlington, forever 35.
Displacement: 865 tons surfaced; 1045 tons submerged
Length: 241 ft 7 in
Beam: 21 ft 4 in
Draught: 12 ft 11 in
2 x 1,600 bhp diesel engines
2 x 430 kW electric motors
Speed: 17 knots surfaced, 9 submerged
Range: 10,000 nmi at 12 knots on the surface
4 x 21-inch bow torpedo tubes
2 x 21-inch stern torpedo tubes
2 x 21-inch external-traversing torpedo tubes forward of the conning tower
1 x 88 mm gun
2 x 40 mm guns (replaced with 1 x 20 mm gun during WWII)
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