The Soemba Docket

Of all the remarkable papers which have at one time or another circulated through the Admiralty, it is doubtful if there has been anything to compare with the Soemba Docket. It stands alone as the only one - so far as is known - in which all the comments are in verse, and thanks to Rear Admiral A.D. Nicholl, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., who obtained its release from archival oblivion, it can now see the light of publication.

Rear-Admiral Nicholl writes: "The matter of the Soemba's gun was raised in the first instance by a signal from the ship to the Admiralty, reporting the damage to the gun and requesting that a new one should be fitted or the damaged one repaired.

As Director of Operations Division (Foreign), I was responsible for bringing the matter to the attention of those Departments in the Admiralty who would examine the question, and, if thought appropriate, propose action to meet the Soemba's request. Soemba's signal was received about a month before D-day, 1944, a period of as great activity as the dockyards and ship-fitting firms of the country have ever experienced. I therefore knew that the Soemba had little chance of being ready in time to take part in th D-Day bombardments unless she were given special priority. Purely from the point of view of the bombardment operation, the Soemba was not of outstanding importance; but as one of the few Netherlands ships available for Operation ,,Overlord" she was most important from the political point of view. It would mean a great deal to Dutch morale that one of their warships should be in front line of the allied forces on the Great Day. So, as I have often found that a few lines of doggerel will ring a bell where prose knocks in vain, I started the docket off with a Limerick.

Everyone played. The docket went round to the various Departments in the orthodox way, the First Sea Lord approved action being taken, the Soemba got her new gun and was there on D-day.

The Dutch themselves regarded the whole thing with delighted astonishment. They marvelled that, at such a time, Heads of Departments and members of the Board of Admiralty should amuse themselves writing rhymes and deal with a serious matter in such an apparently frivolous way. One of the Dutch officers commented, "No wonder the English win wars"!

As regards the rhymes themselves, Soemba is, of course pronounced "Soomba"; the Emergency "Despair Section" is the Emergency Repair Section; and "E-Loemba" is Captain Evans-Lombe (now Rear Admiral), the Director of Gunnery. Admiral Cunningham's reference to "accommodation" is due to the fact that ships unable to take an active part in operations were in many cases allocated as "Accommodation Ships" - a necessary but undistinguished role".

H.N.M.S. "Soemba"
defective 5.9 Gun.

A report has come in from the Soemba,
That their salvoes go off like a Rhumba,
Two guns, they sound fine,
But the third five point nine,
He am bust and refuse to go boomba.

D. of P. and D.G.D. referred for information
D.D.O.D.(M) added to the marking as a mark of courtesy.

A.D. Nicholl,
Director of Operations Division (Foreign)

This is very grave news from the Soemba,
Whose guns are all needed to go boomba,
On a fast nearing day -
Though we cannot say
When exactly will rise the balloonba.

R.K. Dickson
Director of Plans.

Best Plans! Where childlike learning sits
Remote from worldly cares
And leaves to skilled Division its Administry affairs
(With apologies to Oriel College)

C.C. Hughes Hallett,
Director of Plans (Q)

These ersats-made guns of the Soemba's
D.G.D. has said times without numbers,
If OPS want nice pops,
At the Huns, then these guns,
Must be changed for some British made Boombas.

V.C. Begg
Gunnery and Anti-Aircraft Warfare

It is agreed (in every quarter)
That to get results you oughter,
Make the boomba under water.
As Gun-Boombas aren't my line
I suggest she tries a Mine.

John Cowie
Director of Operations Division (Mining)

To find any Yard for the Soemba
We've searched from the Clyde to the Hoomba
But we haven't got room
For Van Tromp's ruddy Broom
Much less for this useless old Loomba

Returned to D.O.D. (F) with the compliments of the Emergency "Despair" Section.
G.A. Bassett
For Director of Dockyards

This dreadful affair of the Soemba
Is really too hard for a "Plumber"
Referred with a laugh
Straight back to the Staff
for the personal care of E-Loemba.

Olivir Bevir
Director of Naval Ordnance

I hasten to say
In no uncertain way
That my personal cares
Are as few as my hairs.
With some satisfaction
I note proposed action
And pass for notation
With gratification.

E.M. Evans-Lombe
Director of Gunnery and Anti-Aircraft Warfare

Soemba has awakened the Staff from repose,
I am amazed, all the same, that they do not propose
To allocate Soemba with modification
(Soft velvet chairs the one stipulation)
To the "Overlord" plan for accommodation
Though some of the minutes are just on the verge
I note with regret no proposals emerge.
I can only assume that the Staff and Soemba
Have returned with with relief to their usual Sloemba.

A.B. Cunningham
First Sea Lord

To the foregoing notes on the Soemba
Which imply she is now a back Noemba
You must pay no regard, For she's got to bombard
(As is very well known to E-Loemba).

E.N. Syfret
Vice-Chief of Naval Staff.

After so much backchat it is but right
That Soemba should join in this fight
Because she loves very much
To be rude too, and in Dutch.
So no one can read it, serve you right!

Waarom wordt nog niet begonnen
Met verwisselen der kanonnen?
Rijmpjes maken helpt geen zier
Want met pen, inkt en papier
Werd geen oorlog ooit gewonnen

Van Holthe
Dutch Naval Liaison Officer in Defence of H.N.M.S. "Soemba"

Free translation by D.O.D. (F)
Temporary interpreter in Double Dutch (unpaid)

Oh why have you not yet begun
The exchange of (above-mentioned) gun?
How can rhymes help you when,
No ink, paper or pen
Have ever a (bally) war won.

--- end of article ---

This article is a reproduction of the entire original article published in The Navy of March, 1952. Alterations of the original article have only been made with regards to the lay-out, the contents above are otherwise original.

And the story continues ...
The Marine Museum in Den Helder has a printed poster in its collection, a gift from the British Admiralty in 1947, with all the rhymes of the article. See image below.

The Soemba was converted to a radar instruction ship in 1945-1946, and lost all its 5.9-inch guns in this conversion. In 1947, the Soemba encountered the British sloop Stork, during whcih the following message was sent by Stork:

To: Soemba
From: Stork

I did not know that the Final solution of Soemba's guns had been as to remove them alltogether.

Captain MacKay
(Thanks to Jaap van den Born for sending the story of the encounter with Stork and the poster).

May 12, 2014 Added poster and Stork story.

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