Road to Strength: Battleshipplan 1912
Before the Great War, the bulk of the Dutch surface fleet was formed by a series of armored ships, which can best be described as seagoing coastal defence ships. They were armed with two 240-mm and four 150-mm guns. Laid down between 1898 and 1905, these ships just predated the famous HMS Dreadnought, the ship that would spark a revolution in warship design which would last four decades. The placement of a large number of heavy-calibre guns as on Dreadnought, rendered the Dutch designs obsolete. Nevertheless, an improved version, the Zeven Provinciën, was completed in 1910 with a heavier armament of 2 280-mm guns and 4 150-mm guns.
In early 1912, the Dutch minister of navy J. Wentholt proposed to build a ship which was a continuation of the pre-dreadnoughts built during the previous years. The design, labelled Pantserschip 1912, was to displace 7600 tonnes, and to have an armament of four 280-mm guns in two twin turrets, a secondary battery of 10 single 105-mm guns behind shields and three torpedo tubes of 53 cm. Speed was set at approximately 16 knots. This initial design was submitted to parliament for review, but was rejected on several grounds: the secondary battery of 105-mm guns were judged too light; 120-mm guns behind thicker armor were preferred. An extra torpedo tube in the stern and increased speed and bunkerage were also deemed necessary.
Wentholt ordered a new design to be prepared which included the proposed modifications. In all, the increase in weight totalled some 1000 tons, thus increasing the size of the ship to about 8600 tonnes. But this presented another problem: traditionally, the larger warships had been built at the State Dockyard  in Amsterdam, which was at that time too small to handle a ship this size. In addition, the size of Dutch warships was also limited by the shallows near Surabaya. Furthermore, it was clear that the design, even with modifications, was rather weak even for pre-dreadnought standards.
At this time, members of parliament spoke out in favor of a larger, more modern ship. They were supported by a group of naval officers, lead by Captain J.J. Rambonnet, who advocated a design similar to the Spanish Espana-class of 15.700 tonnes. This type was armed with eight 305 mm guns and had a top speed of 22 knots. The national press picked up on this conflict, and soon the topic became the subject of a national debate. After a repeated rejection by parliament in May of 1912, Wentholt was forced to leave office, and was replaced by H. Colijn, minister of war at that time. 
Colijn wasted no time. Less than a month after Pantserschip 1912 had been rejected, he formed a State Committee which was to investigate the possibilities for a stronger maritime defence of the Netherlands East Indies against Japan, which was considered the most likely enemy. A quick glimpse in "Weyer's Taschenbuch der Kriegsflotten 1911-1912" showed (erroneously) that Japan would soon have a fleet primarily consisting of 9 battleships and battlecruisers. This lead to the belief that the Netherlands Navy should have nine battleships as well! By late July, the Committee had formulated the specifications for the new design. The most likely adversaries for these battleships were the new battlecruisers of the Kongo-class. These dreadnoughts of 27.000 tons were armed with 345-mm guns, eight in total, and had a maximum speed of some 27 knots. Therefore, the armament of the battleships was to equal that of the Kongo's: 8 guns of 343 mm. The size and speed of the new ships was to equal that of their Japanese counterparts completed in 1912: 21.000 tons and a speed of 21 knots.
The specifications for armament were sound, but those for armor were not. A belt armor of 250 mm was called for, whereas most battleships and some battlecruisers had 300 mm. The reason for this was that the Committee estimated that any fight between the Dutch and Japanese capital ships was probably going to be just outside torpedo range, which was estimated at 4.000 metres or less. This figure was based upon the Dutch 450-mm torpedoes of those days. In reality, the most common battle ranges varied between 8.000 and 18.000 metres, as was demonstrated during World War I. The reasoning behind the thin armor was that no armor would be able to defeat the heavy 345-mm shells with armor penetrating capabilities at such short distances. It would however be able to withstand 343-mm high-explosive shells and fire of any secondary battery. In contrast to this logic, the armor of the main turrets was set at 300 mm. Later, the battleships were armed with 53-cm torpedoes, which implied larger battle ranges, but strangely, this didn't have any consequences for their armor. 
The Friedrich Krupp-Germania design
Colijn asked the Friedrich Krupp-Germania dockyard to design three variants for review: a fully oil-fueled design, a fully coal-fueled design and a mixed oil-coal design. It took the dockyard two months to come up with the designs and they were presented by the yard on September 25, 1912. They envisioned a ship of about 21.300 tons standard displacement, with an armament of eight 343-mm guns and twelve 150-mm guns. Also included were fourteen 75-mm guns, of which 6 were positioned on deck behind shields and the remainder in the hull. Last but not least, four underwater torpedo tubes were present. The German designers had investigated the possibilities of the three required designs for 100% oil-driven, 100% coal-driven and a mixed fuel-driven propulsion plant. They felt the fully oil-driven version was most promising, even though oil was still scarce in most ports. Only a well-equipped base, which the Dutch didn't have at that time, would be able to adequately support these ships. A ship fueled by coal wouldn't have this problem, but it had the major disadvantage that loading coal in port was very time consuming, not even taking into account the many discomforts for the crew. The most ideal choice under these circumstances was the mixed version.
An important conclusion from this was that 21.000 was too small to combine all the features of a modern battleship. An example was the underwater subdivision, which was not implemented effectively, and the disposition of the boilers and turbines. The turbines were placed in three turbine rooms, whereas the contemporary German Kaiser-class had their three sets split between six compartments. The Dutch design had 12 boilers, divided between three boiler rooms, whereas the Kaiser had 16 boilers in 10 compartments. The less adequate subdivision was probably an attempt to save weight, so that this could be used elsewhere in the design.
Even though this design was better than the original, especially in armament, there were still many improvements to be made. Subdivision still gave way to armament and the propulsion system. The Dutch apparently clung to the 21.000-ton figure, which was too small to base a well-balanced design upon. Germania was ordered to revise their designs, this time to include a fully oil-driven propulsion plant. The result was a two-turret design with four guns in each turret. Although this would indeed save the weight of two turrets, it left the ship vulnerable; in the worst case, a single hit could disable half of the main armament! The guns themselves were shorter, 45 calibres instead of 50, apparently another attempt to save weight.
In August 1913, a new cabinet presented itself to the public. The new Minister of Naval Affairs was the naval officer Captain J.J. Rambonnet, the same man who had opposed the inferior Pantserschip 1912 so vigorously the year before. Rambonnet's input led to a revision of the specifications. On November 13, 1913, the Committee again met. The results of this meeting were specifications along the lines of the Krupp designs. Displacement was set at 22.000 tons, with a main armament of 8 x 343 mm L/45 guns, and a secondary armament of sixteen 150 mm L/50. Twelve 75 mm L/55 guns were included, as were two torpedo tubes. There was a possibility that the latter would have to be increased to four tubes, with an additional in the stern. Belt armor was set at 250 mm, thickest over the machinery spaces and thinnest in the bow and stern. Conning tower and turrets were protected by 300 mm of armor, and the casemates for the 150 mm guns had 150 mm. Turbines were preferred, but triple-expansion engines were also considered for financial reasons. This propulsion plant would have to generate enough power to provide a speed of 21 knots and an endurance of at least 5000 miles at 12 knots. The crew numbered 860, of which 110 were officers and non-commissioned officers. In March 1914, eleven dockyards were asked to produce designs.
That same month, the Commission again revised the specifications. Displacement had risen to 25.000 tons , with a maximum speed of 22 knots. Endurance was increased to 6000 miles and the calibre of the main armament to 350 mm. The main reason to increase the guns' calibre was that by that time, it had become known that the Japanese battlecruisers of the Kongo-class were to have 356 mm guns. In addition, this calibre was manufactured by the preferred supplier, Germany. The thickness of the upper belt and side armor of the casemates was increased to 180 mm. In comparison to foreign designs such as the British Royal Sovereign, the Dutch battleships were about the same size, but inferior in armament and especially armor thickness.
This dockyard worked relentlessly to make improvements and came up with the most effective design. They proposed a ship with two high funnels and the eight L/50 main guns in twin turrets, two forward and two aft. The 150 mm guns were placed well above the deck, with a wide arc of fire. It had seven boilers, which produced steam to gear three turbine sets and three shafts. They thought to be able to deliver this ship in 28 months, and to impress Dutch officials, the company showed a readiness to work with the Dutch industry extensively. That was very important, since there were plenty of supporters for the idea to construct these ships in the Netherlands. It is unlikely it would have come this far, the Dutch shipbuilding companies didn't have any experience with building warships of this size.
Blohm & Voss design 733 A, B & C
The Blohm & Voss dockyard in Hamburg came up with a design which included four instead of three shafts. Since they had gained a lot of experience with building battleships and battlecruisers (they were also designing the battlecruiser Mackensen at the time), the company thought they could deliver in 27 months. The main battery would consist of 350 mm guns with a length of 45 calibres, mounted in four twin turrets. Like the Germania design, it included many technical innovations. The readiness to work with Dutch companies was demonstrated by this dockyard as well.
The Vickers designs 694 and 695
The Vickers counted on the Dutch desire for German guns on their ships, and designed their turrets in a way, that both British and Krupp guns could be placed in it. In case of Krupp guns, the magazines had to be altered and enlarged. Design 694 was a two-funnel design, the 695 had only one. The Vickers company also thought to be able to deliver their design in 28 months, which had a displacement of about 22.750 tons.
By July of 1914, all Ministries and institutions had agreed on the financial scope of Fleetlaw 1914, which included four or five battleships, several cruisers and supporting vessels. Minister of Naval Affairs Rambonnet wanted to start construction of the first ship in December of that year. But unfortunately, the start of World War I interfered with all plans. Even though the cruisers would reach completion (their designs were developed into the Java-class), the capital ships were put on hold, at least for the moment. How feasible was Fleetlaw 1914 in reality?
The Dutch strategic basis for constructing these capital ships was that their presence would alter the strategic picture in the Pacific. Faced with another powerful navy, it was thought that the Japanese wouldn't take the decision to go to war too lightly, as attacking one naval power would leave it vulnerable to another. In addition, the Dutch thought the presence of battleships would make them an attractive ally for Great Britain and the United States. Now, Dutch authors contest the underlying strategy, arguing that if Japan would attack, it would only do so when its forces were not needed elsewhere. This statement was first proven in 1905, and later in 1941.
Another consideration was the inferiority of the Dutch battleships. In comparison to its counterparts abroad, the armament of the Dutch design was rather light, and its armor too thin. This would mean that in case of an attack, the Imperial Japanese Navy could counter the Dutch threat with older dreadnoughts, keeping its most modern in reserve.
Besides these doubts about the underlying strategy, more practical problems come to light. Recruiting and training enough personnel to man these ships would have been a serious problem. In addition, Dutch flag officers did not have any experience with operating such large vessels.
So was the Fleetlaw a complete waste of time? Hardly, it showed to the world the Dutch readiness to defend the Netherlands East Indies. Later, in the 1930s, the Dutch would again try to build capital ships, this time battlecruisers to a German design. One would have thought the Dutch had learned their lesson in 1914. Then, the completion of the battleships was interfered by the outbreak of a world conflict. The same thing happened in 1940, leaving the Netherlands East Indies open to an attack by Japan in 1942.
: In Dutch: Rijkswerf
: Colijn would later become Prime Minister, heading up several cabinets in the 1930s.
: Penetration power of AP-shells decreases as distance increases. Keeping the larger battleranges in mind, the Dutch could have made an attempt to specify an armor thickness which could withstand AP-shells at these larger ranges.
: In January 1914, the Ministry of Colonies already knew size had to be increased to at least 24.000 tonnes.
J. Anten "Hr.Ms. Kruisers Java en Sumatra", Asia Maior, 2001
A. van Dijk "The drawingboard battleships for the Royal Netherlands Navy", Warship International No.4, 1988
Drawings scanned from the article by A. van Dijk in Warship International
Thanks to Dan Muir for supplying information and Jaap Anten for giving feedback on the original article