The Dutch Connection - Our Fourth Ally
by Doug Hurst
Such was the scale of the Battle for Australia that many smaller contributions have been absorbed into the broad sweep of greater events, or simply lost in the mists of time. So it is with the Dutch. They too fought from Australia against the Japanese during the dark days of 1942-43 and continued the fight until the Pacific War was over, but their contribution is largely forgotten today.
Most came from Indonesia (then the Netherlands East Indies) following the Japanese invasion in early 1942, but men from occupied Holland and elsewhere also contributed. Although numbering just a few thousand, these Dutch forces fought above their weight in some vital areas.
The cruiser Tromp,one of four Australian-based Dutch warships that operated with Allied navies in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in WW II
Dutch merchant ships in the Battle for Australia
Dutch military support in the Battle for Australia
The Dutch Government-in-exile in Australia
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The most important Dutch contribution was ships, especially merchant ships. The geography of the war made merchant ships a critical factor for both sides. The Japanese had to re-supply forces spread over a vast area, much of it thousands of kilometres from Japan and other supply sources. Some Allied supply lines were even longer - much of their military hardware came from the USA - and the Allies were using an island continent as a base from which to fight a war in islands and countries spread throughout a vast ocean. To win, the Allies needed many ships of all kinds, including the humblest of merchantmen.
r Picture of the Dutch liner Oranje.
Even today, aircraft could carry only the tip of the iceberg of military needs to a Pacific war. This was even more so sixty years ago with the tiny transport aircraft of the times. Merchant ships carried virtually everything. Passenger liners were pressed into service as troop ships; their speed and capacity becoming a key part of the Allied capability. Some liners become hospital ships. The Oranje, a Royal Netherlands Line ship, is one of the best remembered, carrying 32,461 sick and wounded Allied patients on over 40 voyages and operating from a number of Australian ports.
Indeed, almost everything that went to and from the Pacific War went by ship. In 1942, that most critical year, 19 of the 27 merchant ships that sailed to and from Australia were Dutch. Most were from KPM, the East Indies shipping line that had grown to more than 150 ships by the late 1930s. KPM had lost 79 ships during the Japanese invasion, and was now continuing operations from safer allied ports throughout the world.
Initially concentrated in Sydney where the company already had a base, KPM ships operated from most east coast ports, carrying some 100,000 Allied troops and over a million tons of cargo to the Pacific War during 1942-43. They remained a vital part of the Allied war effort until the end of the war.
(On the web-site this page becomes: DutchMilsupport.html)
For protection, merchant ships were formed up into convoys whenever possible and escorted by warships. In Australia's case, convoy escort included everything from protecting oil tankers crossing the Indian Ocean, to looking after troop ships headed into the Pacific, and much in between. Warships were also needed for general sea control over large areas and offensive operations against land targets. As a result, the allies needed warships in large numbers to fight and support the Pacific War.
The Dutch contributed a cruiser, three destroyers, a minesweeper and varying numbers of submarines. The first to arrive - in late February 1942 - was the light cruiser RNN Tromp, then one of ten Royal Netherlands Navy (RNN) warships in Indonesia, along with 15 submarines, 13 motor torpedo boats, some mine warfare craft, and 64 flying boats.
Tromp was sent to Australia for battle-damage repairs just before most of the RNN surface fleet and eight submarines were destroyed in the Battle of the Java Sea and its aftermath. A minesweeper, disguised as an island during the day, escaped to Fremantle - as did three submarines, all much in need of repairs. One submarine was scrapped. The other two were repaired and operated from the big Allied submarine base at Fremantle, mostly on covert support of clandestine operations in occupied Indonesian territory.
The flying boats fared better. Many had joined an air-shuttle flying key personnel out of Indonesia to Australia via Broome. Fifteen flying boats were in Roebuck Bay near Broome on 3 March 1942 when Japanese Zeros from Timor attacked. All the flying boats and some other Allied aircraft were destroyed, and a hundred or more people killed. The remaining RNN flying boats mostly made it to Australia, some going on to RAAF service, and others relocating to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to fly Indian Ocean sorties to help protect oil convoys and Allied shipping in general.
As a result, Tromp was the only RNN surface warship from Indonesia able to relocate to Australia. This good fortune held for the entire war, during which she survived many battles and become known to her crew as "the lucky ship". Perhaps her most remarkable survival was during an attack on Sabong Island, just north of Sumatra, on 25 July 1944. Tromp entered the harbour with orders to destroy port installations and oil tanks. The battle was fierce, with Tromp taking three hits from enemy shells. Remarkably, none exploded and the crew wrapped two of the still hot shells in blankets and dumped them overboard. Her prolonged survival against such odds seems to have got under the skin of the Japanese who claimed (via Tokyo Rose) to have rid themselves of her a number of times, but never did.
Following repairs, in mid-1942 she was sent to Fremantle for Indian Ocean convoy duties, adding further to Dutch warship numbers sailing with Allied fleets. Most were RNN ships from the Netherlands that had escaped to England ahead of the German invasion. Three such ships, the destroyers Jacob van Heemskerk, Van Galen and Tjerk Hiddes, joined Tromp soon after her arrival in Fremantle. Like Tromp, they served throughout the war on escort duties and offensive operations against the Japanese.
Also, military aircraft bought and paid for, but still in the pipe-line when the Japanese invaded, began arriving in Australia during the first half of 1942. Along with the aircraft flown in from Indonesia by Dutch aircrew relocated to fight on, this gave the Dutch more than 120 aircraft in Australia. Support personnel were too few in number, however, for the Dutch to quickly form effective squadrons. They reluctantly transferred most of their aircraft to their US and Australian allies soon after arriving - a frustration for the Dutch, but a most welcome boost to Allied airpower at a critical time.
The biggest purchase was 162 B-25 Mitchell bombers, the first of which began arriving in Australia during the first months of 1942. Early arrivals were commandeered by the Americans for immediate duty in New Guinea, but by mid-year the Dutch were establishing a B-25 bomber squadron in Canberra. An RAAF squadron, No. 18, it was commanded by Dutch officers, but part manned by the RAAF who also exercised operational control. Orders were printed in Dutch and English, and such was the mix of personnel that at one parade the CO addressed the squadron in English, Dutch and Bahasa (Indonesian).
Despite some language difficulties, the squadron was very effective. For most of the war it operated from the Northern Territory, mainly from Batchelor airfield just south of Darwin, attacking Japanese ground targets around the Timor Sea and specialising in anti-shipping operations, often in conjunction with other RAAF squadrons. In mid-1945, the squadron transferred to Balikpapan in eastern Borneo and was there at war's end.
r Picture of Dutch-owned and manned B-25 Mitchell bomber from RAAF No. 18 Squadron operating from a Northern Territory base.
A Kittyhawk fighter squadron, No 120, was also formed in Canberra the next year (1943) along with a unit to provide training for and support to northern operations. Like No. 18 Squadron, both were RAAF units commanded by Dutch officers, flew Dutch-owned aircraft under RAAF operational control and were part manned by RAAF personnel. The Kittyhawks were stationed in Merauke, on the south side of Dutch New Guinea (West New Guinea) for most of the war. They often operated with RAAF squadrons in the area and moved north to Biak in mid-1945.
Two transport flights were formed in Melbourne and Brisbane respectively, flying mostly C-47 Dakotas, Lockheed Lodestars and some converted B-25s to support the Dutch operational squadrons and the Allies in general. The two flights were merged late in the war to become No. 19 Squadron, again with RAAF support.
The Dutch Army in Australia numbered just a few hundred for most of the war, and concentrated on specialist areas such as intelligence and interpreter services to the Allied forces operating in reclaimed Dutch territory. The intelligence work often involved operating within occupied territory or supporting those who did, and casualties in both roles were high. Like their colleagues in the air and at sea they also took the fight to the enemy.
A memorial to the Dutch is located in Blamey Square, in the Defence Complex in Canberra, a site it shares with the much better known American memorial with its eagle atop a soaring column. This siting symbolises the fact that the Americans and the Dutch were the only non-Commonwealth countries that fought from Australia in the Pacific War. Hopefully, the siting will also ensure that the contribution of the Dutch to the Battle for Australia is better known in the future than it is today.
(On the web-site this page becomes: DutchinExile.html)
The Dutch Government also fled the German invasion, relocating to England to form a government-in-exile. Small in number, they reluctantly gave up much control of the East Indies to the colonial government. With the Japanese invasion, the colonial government also had to flee, mostly to Australia, where they had already prepared the ground by pre-positioning key personnel and considerable wealth. Eventually, a government-in exile was also formed in Australia, operating mainly from Wacol near Brisbane. The two governments-in-exile used funds transferred before the respective invasions and tapped into Dutch wealth in Allied and neutral countries to fund their war efforts. As a result, Dutch forces in Australia largely paid their own way.
A more detailed account of the Dutch forces in Australia is available in the book "The Fourth Ally". Written by retired RAAF Group Captain, Doug Hurst, it may be obtained from the author at 143 Percy Crescent CHAPMAN ACT 2611 for $30, which includes postage and packing to any Australian address. For details regarding commercial orders, multiple order discounts and overseas orders,
contact the author on phone/fax: 02 6288 6195, or