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Submarine Service


Submarines are able to stay under water without assistance or supplies for long periods of time. The motto of the Submarine Service is therefore 'To see without being seen'. In peacetime or during peace operations, the submarines of NATO countries are mainly deployed in a reconnaissance role. They are also deployed in special operations and they are particularly suited to support amphibious reconnaissance operations. In wartime, submarines provide a significant part of the striking power and of the protection of maritime task groups.

The RNLN has a long tradition of operating submarines that continues into the modern age. 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 service has four Walrus class submarines and a torpedo training ship. The submarines have state-of-the-art electronics and advanced sensor and weapon systems that are fully integrated. This ranks the Walrus class as one of the most modern diesel-electric submarines in the world. The Walrus class is conventionally powered (in other words, not nuclear powered like the submarines of the USN, RN and FN). Although nuclear power offers some obvious advantages in range, speed and stealth, SSKs are still an important and valuable part of the NATO fleet. SSKs are particularly adept in costal operations and in the insertion of Special Forces. They can also be very stealthy-stealthier than most SSNs-between the mandatory charging of batteries.

Along with German SSKs, the Walrus SSKs are among the most advanced in NATO. This means, during war, they would regularly be used: ahead of amphibious forces, in strategic shallow areas like the Straights of Gibraltar and in the insertion of Special Forces. In peacetime, the Walrus submarines are vital to both the RNLN and allied navies for training purposes. Without the practice gained working with the Walrus SSKs and German SSKs, NATO fleets-especially the RN, the USN and the FN-would be ill prepared to meet the threat posed by the proliferation of SSKs around the world.

The Walrus class is a heavily modernized version of the Zwaardvis class (the last two of which were sold to Malaysia). The Walrus program had a rough start when Hr. Ms. Walrus suffered a fire on August 14, 1986. Walrus would not enter service for another six years (It took 13 years from the time Walrus was laid down in 1979 to when she finally entered service in 1992). As a result of the fire, and other costly delays, the Walrus Class became infamous in the Netherlands in much the same way the Collins SSKs are now infamous in Australia. Once in service, though, the Walrus class proved to be very capable platforms. Significant improvements over the Zwaardvis class include decreased noise, the X stern, HT Steel hull (which allow the 300 meter diving depth), and a reduced crew.

The Walrus SSKs proved to be the last class of Dutch designed and built submarines. Following the delivery of Hr. Ms. Bruinvis in 1994, the Netherlands did not receive any further orders. The government of Taiwan attempted on several occasions to purchase submarines from the Netherlands, but was denied every time. A spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry said this year, "The Netherlands maintains a one-China policy," to dispel suggestions that the Netherlands might provide SSKs to Taiwan through the US. The chance of a future Dutch-designed and built submarine becomes more and more unlikely every year. Future efforts will probably involve Germany.

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Page last modified: 01-12-2011 13:31:13 ZULU