Friday, 5 May 2017

The Dutch never built battle cruiser at the Dutch shipyard De Kon. Mij. De Schelde at Vlissingen, Netherlands in 1939/1940

German battle cruiser Scharnhorst

In the 1930s became it more and more clear that Japan was increasing her influence in the Far East and a threat for the Dutch East Indies with the oil resources. It was believed that Japan would use her capital ships against the navies of England and USA and just heavy cruisers against the Netherlands. The Dutch answer was the 1047-batlecruiser designed with German support especially from the notorious NV Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw (INKAVOS) at The Hague. In February 1940 was a rough design presented followed by a new design on 19 April. The design of the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau is used for the Dutch design. The first ship was to be completed in 1944. With a displacement of 27.988 tons were the dimensions 236 (between perpendiculars)-241,2 (over all) x 30,85 (upper deck) x 7,8 (trial) metres or 774-791 x 101.2 x 26 feet. The armament was to consist of 3x3/28,3cm/11.1” guns, 6x3-12cm/4.7” guns, 7x2-4cm/1.56“guns and 8x1-2cm-0.4“ guns. Speed with 180.000 shp was estimated to be 34 knots. The ships were never built due to the German invasion of 10-15 May. The Dutch cabinet planned to build 3 battle cruisers but there were 4 major shipyards in the Netherlands. The result was that one shipyard would remain empty-handed.

Just a small correspondence between Kon. Mij. De Schelde director H.C. Wesseling and former minister of defence dr. J.J.C. van Dijk dealing with the issue is preserved although giving an interesting view in the world of Dutch shipbuilders and their mutual relations.

In mid 1930’s decided 4 of the major Dutch shipyards to sign an agreement dealing with building warships for the Royal Netherlands Navy. The Dutch department of Defence supported this agreement while she in the crisis of the thirties wanted to keep a group of shipyards in existence. If there were naval orders were the orders to be divided equally over the four shipyards (the Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Maatschappij was a combination with Werkspoor). The shipyards would sent one joint proposal without influence of the Royal Netherlands Navy with the Department to decide regarded the equal quota. If there was not joint proposal then still had the Department to guard the quota. It was understood that not at all times such a quota could be practised. If so was the next time that to be compensated. The problems came when there were just 3 battle cruisers to be built. The Royal Netherlands Navy suggested as shipyards the Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Maatschappij at Amsterdam and Wilton-Fijenoord and Rotterdamsche Droogdok-maatschappij both at Rotterdam. The fourth shipyard the Kon. Mij. De Schelde was the looser. The De Schelde protested while the Rotterdamsche Droogdok-Maatschappij had already a huge advance with a value of more as 10 million Dutch guilders. To give her such a new large order would enlarge her advance even more which was at that moment around 10 million guilders. Orders for machinery would not compensate this advance. Furthermore was a shipyard and engine plant a twin. It was not done to pay too much attention to one part (engine plant) and neglect the other part (shipbuilding). The latter would harm the reputation of the shipyard and in the past showed De Schelde to be able to build submarines, destroyers and a cruiser (Hr.Ms. Java). Since then were the orders for new cruisers given to the other shipyards. It would be unreasonable to give not an order for building a battle cruiser to De Schelde. The Commissaris der Koningin in the province Zeeland, J.W. Quarles van Ufford discussed the matter with the minister of foreign affairs and he believed that Vlissingen would get the order. The shipyard was to be reorganized, had financial problems and in fact desperately needed (naval) orders to survive. She loaned from the Dutch cabinet in the past 3,5 million guilders and was at that moment overdue with paying more as 300.000 guilders interest.

In a meeting with rear admiral L.A.C.M. Doorman (not identical with rear admiral K.W.F.M. Doorman killed on 28February 1942 in the Battle of the Java Sea) on 26th January 1940 in presence of Mr. Damme as chairman of the Nederlandsche Vereenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaux stated Doorman that the De Schelde was able to build a battle cruiser but nevertheless the big cities had the advantage of a much larger potential of workers. Due to the political influences was at least one battlecruiser to be built at Amsterdam. Regarded the usual quota had Amsterdam also the right on such order. In his letter to commissar dr. J.C.C. van Dijk wrote De Schelde director Wesseling that it was far from sensible to protest against Amsterdam the order.

Dealing with the potential of workers it was estimated that for such a ship in the shipbuilding maximum 1.200 men were needed and the De Schelde possessed over 1.600 men. Rotterdam on the other hand already transferred labourers at the Noord, which was a threat for the smaller yards. Doorman wanted to compensate the De Schelde by other orders. Under the budgets for 1941 and 1942 were totally 7 submarines and destroyers to be built and De Schelde could delivery 2 sets of machinery for the battle cruisers. If there were 4 battle cruisers to be built then was one ordered at Vlissingen. Two ships built in one city was less complicated for the supervision than when the ships were built at 3 different cities. The machinery was to be built at Vlissingen while this could not be done at Rotterdam, just was done for the cruisers. Furthermore was an acceptable compensation in shipbuilding orders for submarines and so on to be given. The De Schelde board had still their reservations and feared that also in the future the quota would be influenced by the politics or that the yards at Rotterdam again followed their own policy. Wesseling believed that Doorman could not appreciate the insights of De Schelde lacking knowledge over the internal relations within the world of shipbuilders. On the other hand seemed that although Doorman without much conviction accepted the insight of preferable building of 2 ships at Rotterdam not would change his point of view. The De Schelde was, although she really want to build a battle cruiser, realistic. Starting with the building meant that the yard on the island in fact was to be closed lacking work and being too precious for small ships everyone could built. On the slips [in the Dokhaven] was it not possible to build at the same time a large cargo ship. So unless the yard was enlarged on short notice could during 2 years no orders for larger ships accepted. It was doubtful if it was possible to realize at time a dock on the Island in which the battle cruiser or another large ship necessary to keep the men at work could be built. That dock was in any way needed. The board was well aware of her problems. Her yard was too small and orders were accepted even it was financial not interesting fearing to loose personnel. Still her reputation was more important as all reasonable considerations. If the order was not acquired was the propaganda that De Schelde was no longer part of the major Dutch shipyards to become accepted by the public opinion. The board wanted still to get the order but preventing that she had at the end nothing: no ship and no compensation. With the building on the Island was to be started on short notice. Van Dijk was asked for advice how to handle further.

In the meantime wrote Wesseling a letter to the Commissaris der Koningin supplying interesting details what the order for his shipyard meant. The building costs of one battle cruiser including machinery excluded armour, armament and further equipment were estimated to be 30 million guilders divided over 3,5 million for main machinery and boilers and 26,5 million for hull, engine room, fitting of armour etc. The estimated wages were 4,3 million for the hull and machinery and 0,5 million for machinery and boilers which was the so-called productive wages. To this was 1 million to be added what he called unproductive wages for labourers operating cranes and transport means, working in workshops, maintenance of building, electricity and so on, totally wages 5,8 million guilders.

In 1939 paid the shipyard totally ƒ 3.150.000 of wages. The order meant 20 months of wages for the shipyard. Before the trials was 90% or 18 months to be paid disregarded a gradual increase of the personnel strength. It was reckoned that the ship was to be built within 4 years before the trials begun, using each year around 33% of the yard capacity. In reality during 2 years 0,50/66% and the remaining 2 years maximum 33%. Including other orders was the shipyard able to work 4-5 years profitable and could yearly the personnel be increased by skilling hundreds young lads. At that moment were around 4.000 persons in service of the yard, the major part living in Vlissingen.

Despite her financial problems the Kon. Mij. De Schelde survived the Second World War and even her biggest rivals after the war. In fact she is the only survivor becoming the major naval shipbuilders in the Netherlands. Nowadays she is part of the Damen Shipping Group under the name Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding.

Archive Kon. Mij. De Schelde 1875-1970 (Municipality Archive Vlissingen, Netherlands) 214. 225.