“The Terrible Twins”

“During the war, many newspaper articles were written about courage under fire, and the navies in exile were of special interest. The Royal Netherlands Navy was no exception and as a result we are incredibly fortunate that we have the following article from the newspaper “Voice of the Netherlands", dated August 7, 1943.

“The newspaper's special correspondent in the Mediterranean described the part which ships of the Dutch Navy were playing in the operations off Sicily. The gunboats he describes are Flores and Soemba which became known in the Royal Navy as the “Terrible Twins”.

From “Voice of the Netherlands”
published between August 1941 and September 1946

From our special correspondent in the Mediterranean; 7th August, 1943:

Squat, camouflaged fighting ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy are playing a considerable part in the operations off Sicily. Two gunboats in particular have been bombarding enemy gun positions and troop concentrations on the eastern beaches, non-stop day and night, since the start of the invasion.

Like terriers chasing rats, they refuse to leave them alone. They pour in shells so fiercely and with such grim determination that it is no exaggeration to say that they steam up and down the coast leaving a long snaking trail of empty, cordite-blackened shell cases floating astern. They show complete disregard for personal danger and never miss an opportunity to bombard at close range.

The two gunboats’ exploits made one British gunnery officer say: “It is fantastic how these little ships sail in to attack with the Netherlands Ensign flying cockily at the masthead. Their gunnery officer, dressed in khaki, unconcernedly stands on the bridge, calmly surveying the coastline.”

In the early stages of the campaign the Dutch gunboats took on eight strong Axis batteries on the top of a hill. The boats dashed in, and in an incredibly short while secured direct hits on three of the shore batteries. They killed the gun crews, and when our forward troops reached the position they found the five other batteries abandoned. At one stage of the land battle for the Catania plain, the Germans, harassed and confused by the Navy’s persistent sea bombardment, brought up an enormous gun and started a terrific barrage, throwing up gigantic columns of water. The Dutch gunboats were completely outranged, but they overcame that by rushing in, firing salvos all the time, and then twisting and turning out again, only to repeat the manoeuvre.

Another British officer said: “These Dutchmen have the right fighting spirit. Nothing will stop them, and they won’t cease firing. The only rest they had during the nights of unceasing bombardments was when they ran out of ammunition, and then they returned, reshelled and refuelled, and were off again. They will take on anything. Last Friday, when we knew them to be some distance away, they came rushing in at the sound of firing and went full speed ahead into the fray. Their shells roared overhead, straddling us. We could not make out where the firing came from until someone said ‘It’s those damned Dutchmen again; you can’t keep them out of anything!’ And he was right."

HNMS Soemba mod

HNMS Soemba (pronounced ‘Soomba’), sister ship to the Flores

Ralph Smith, author or these memoirs, was on board Flores when the above article was written and it paints a vivid picture of what was happening during the time on board which he describes in Chapters 14 and 15.

This page describes Flores and Soemba in action in 1943. It’s an amazing account which I found on the excellent website, Royal Netherlands Navy Warships of World War II.
I am grateful to its webmaster, Jan Visser, for permission to publish the information here and in this format.
The original page from which this information was obtained is part of
“Royal Netherlands Navy Ships of World War II” and can be found at http://www.netherlandsnavy.nl/Special_twins.htm

Next Page: Return to Britain

Or return to Chapter 15: Invasion of Anzio

You may also enjoy these pages:-
The career of the Flores

The Soemba Docket

Website © Brian Smith 2015