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Koninklijke Marine - World War II

By the 1930s Japan's ultimate aim was complete hegemony in Asia and unchallenged supremacy in the western Pacific. Her strategic objectives were the subjugation of the Philippines and the capture of the immense natural resources of the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya. The abundant supply of oil, rubber, and other essential products in the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya which Japan needed for her vast war machine was another lucrative prize. The Japanese planned to isolate this region by destroying Allied naval power in the Pacific and Far Eastern waters, thus severing British and American lines of communication with the Orient. The unsupported garrisons of the Far East would then be overwhelmed and the areas marked for conquest quickly seized. Air attacks launched from progressively advanced airfields would prepare the way for amphibious assaults.

Allied strategy envisaged holding the Malay barrier (Malaya, Sumatra, Java, and northern Australia) while re-establishing communications with Luzon through the Netherlands East Indies. But it was evident that Japanese seizure of the entire region from Burma to Australia could not be long delayed; at every point the Allied forces were inferior in strength. A desperate but futile effort to halt the Japanese was made in the Java Sea on 27 February 1942. An Allied force of five cruisers and nine destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Karel W. F. Doorman of the Royal Netherlands Navy moved out to intercept the approaching invasion forces. In the resulting action, the Allied fleet suffered a crushing defeat. The enemy immediately proceeded with landings on Java and overcame major resistance by 9 March 1942. Tokyo thereupon announced the completion of the conquest of the Netherlands East Indies. The announcement followed by one day the fall of Rangoon and the cutting of the Burma supply line to China.

The ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy that continued the fight against the Japanese aggressors operated mainly from the West Australian port of Fremantle near Perth. Dutch naval vessels arriving in Australia operated mainly from the West Australian port of Fremantle near Perth. Their missions included escort services to protect tankers, freighters and troopships.

At the start of World War II in the Pacific, the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNN) had a sizeable fleet of 15 submarines based at Surabaya. These were: O-16, O-19, O-20, K-VII, K-VIII, K-IX, K-X, K-XI, K-XII, K-XIII, K-XIV, K-XV, K-XVI, K-XVII, and K-XVIII. The "O" boats were the larger and more modern vessels, mostly dating from the late 1930s, while several of the smaller "K" (for "Kolonin", or "Colonial") boats dated from the First World War period. The later "K" boats (XIV-XVIII) were considered to be reliable and fairly modern seagoing craft. The RNN submarine fleet fought bravely against the Japanese invasion, and in fact scored the first Dutch success of the war when K-XII sank the transport Toto Maru off Kota Baru on 12 December 1941. Several other vessels were also damaged or sunk during these early weeks, but the cost was high. O-16, O-20, K-XVI, and K-XVII were all lost before the end of the year. K-VII was later sunk in harbor by Japanese bombs, and K-X, K-XIII, and K-XVIII were scuttled at Surabaya to prevent their capture.

The remaining vessels of the fleet escaped to Colombo in Ceylon or to Australia, where they were based at the Western Australian port of Fremantle. The older boats, K-VIII and K-IX were not considered suitable for operational use, and were consigned to training duties. The larger "K" boats continued in operational service, their tasks including the dropping and (less frequently) the recovery of NEFIS reconnaissance parties in the occupied NEI.

After an extensive refit in Britain, O-19 returned to Australian waters and had some success against Japanese shipping in 1944-45. Unfortunately, in July 1945, she ran aground on Ladd Reef in the South China Sea, and could not be refloated. The crew were rescued by the US submarine Cod, and O-19 was disabled and abandoned.

The most successful Dutch submarine to operate out of Fremantle was the Zwaardvisch (Swordfish). Built for the Royal Navy as the "T" Class HMS Talent, it was transferred to the RNN in 1943, and began operations in Australian waters from September 1944. A large number of Japanese transports and several minelayers were attacked and sunk, but the highlight of Zwaardvisch's operational career was undoubtedly the sinking of the German U-boat U-168. The German submarine was on her its to Surabaya to join the small German flotilla there when it was sighted in the early morning of 6 October 1944. Six torpedoes were fired by Zwaardvisch, and U-168 sank, with the loss of 23 lives. Another "T" Class submarine, HMS Tarn, was lent to the RNN, becoming the Tijgerhaai (Tiger shark), but it did not arrive in Fremantle until August 1945, too late to see active service.

The three Dutch submarines, K VIII, K IX and K XII, which arrived in Fremantle after the evacuation from the Dutch East Indies, met with little success. In late 1944, the O19 and the Zwaardvis arrived in Fremantle. Unlike the other Dutch submarines in Fremantle, made no use of US facilities. The patrols of both ships were highly successful. Nearly all merchant vessels that went to Australia after the fall of the Dutch East Indies were leased to the British Ministry of War Transport and the US War Shipping Administration.

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