Dutch Submarine Flotilla, 1941-42
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When the Japanese attacked the Netherlands
East Indies in December 1941, the Royal Netherlands
East Indies Navy had 17 submarines in the
theater, three of which were under repair.
Far from the “irrelevancy” claimed
by the ignorant, these
would prove to be extremely effective weapons
in resisting the subsequent invasion.
World War at Sea: Strike South the
Dutch submarines appear in most of the operational
scenarios (they’re not present in those
concerned with the invasion of the Philippines).
Most of the losses inflicted on the Imperial
Navy during the campaign came from Dutch torpedoes.
The senior submarine skipper, Lt. Cdr. A.J.
Bussemaker of O-16, also served as flotilla
commander. The submarines were headquartered
at the Soerabaya naval base, along with their
When the Dutch began building submarines
in the years before the First World War, they
gave them two different designations: O-numbered
boats (carrying Arabic numerals) were generally
smaller and intended for service in home waters.
K-numbered boats (with Roman numerals) were
for service aboard, meaning the Dutch East
Indies. These subs almost always were larger
and had greater range. The split continued
until the late 1930s, when the Navy realized
it wanted to use the same types on both stations.
Starting with O-16 launched in 1936, all Dutch
submarines had O-numbers.
Dutch naval architects carried a great international
reputation, and their well-designed submarines reflected
this. Several of the Dutch boats at Soerabaya
in 1941 were 20 years old and intended only
for training and point defense of the Java
base. The striking power came from the five
800-ton boats of the K-XIV class and the similar,
larger O-16. Two minelaying submarines, O-19 and O-20, had completed in 1939 and among
their other modern innovations were fitted
with schnorkel breathing masts allowing them
to run their diesels while under water.
When Japan drew the Netherlands into the
war, Bussemaker’s O-16 struck back quickly.
At Singapore when the attacks began, Bussemaker
took his boat along with K-XVII into the South
China Sea on December
6th, as soon as the war warning sounded and
before the formal declaration, in search of the Japanese invasion
fleet believed headed toward Malaya. On the 8th O-16 made an unsuccessful attack on the troop
convoy, and two days later she torpedoed a
large transport but did not sink it. On the
12th Bussemaker found the submariner’s
dream shot: the invasion transports arrayed
motionless in the Bay of Soengei Patani. O-16 sank three of them: Tozan Maru (8,666
tons), Asosan Maru (8,812 tons) and Kinka Maru (9,306 tons). Returning
to Singapore after this attack, the two Dutch
boats ran into a minefield on 21 December. K-XVII exploded and was lost with all hands
while O-16 broke in half and sank quickly,
with only Seaman Cornelis de Wolf swimming
Highly successful Dutch submarine O-16.
The war warning sent K-XIV west of Borneo,
and on 15 December she received a new skipper,
Lt. Cdr. C.A.J van Well Groeneveld. On the
23rd he spotted a Japanese invasion convoy
anchored at Kuching and sank the transports Katori Maru (9848 tons) and Hiyoshi
Maru (4943 tons), damaged two others and
missed a freighter and a destroyer. She had
no other successes, heading to Ceylon after
Van Well transferred to K-XVIII on 4 January
and took her to sea two days later. On the
night of 23-24 January it was his submarine
that sank the Japanese patrol ship Hishi and troop transport Tsuruga Maru (6988
tons) off Balikpapan. Japanese destroyers
badly damaged the boat during a subsequent
depth-charging, and were still torturing the
Dutch sub when four American destroyers burst
onto the scene and launched 48 torpedoes at
the startled Japanese (this action is depicted
in Strike South as Battle Scenario
One), sinking three more transports. She also
sank a Dutch lightship that had continued
to give navigational aid despite the war situation.
She was under repair in Soerabaya when the
naval yard was evacutaed, and was scuttled
Dutch submarine K-XVIII.
Lt. Cdr. L.J. Jarman and K-XVI sank the Japanese
destroyer Sagiri off Borneo on Christmas Eve,
1941, but was herself torpedoed and sunk by
the Japanese submarine I-66 later that day.
The modern K-XV damaged a tanker but the older
Dutch submarines reported no successes during
the campaign. All of them suffered engine
problems of one sort or another, though their
crews very bravely tried to get them into
action. One suffered a battery explosion while
operating from Singapore.
The two modern minelaying submarines did
somewhat better: Lt. Cdr. H.F. Bach-Kolling
in O-19 sank the freighters Akita Maru (3817
tons) and Tairu Maru (4994 tons) on 10 January.
But O-20 unsuccessfully attacked a Japanese
destroyer on 19 December and was hunted by
three destroyers until the crew scuttled her
off the east coast of Malaya.
Minelaying submarine O-19, the first
operational sub with a schnorkel device.
Strike South’s scenario listings
separate O- and K-type submarines; this was
an error and all Dutch submarines are of the
K-type (numbers are correct). There should
also be twice as many listings for them, to
allow up to four Dutch submarine flotillas
rather than two. In all scenarios where Dutch
submarines appear, they receive the Ace Commander
die roll modifier for ASW.
You can download an updated
Dutch submarine hit record for Strike
South here. The Strike
South hit records have also been updated.
you can order Strike South right now by clicking
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.