The Terrible Twins

During the war, many, often somewhat romanticized, newspaper articles were written about courage under fire. An especially interesting subject for reporters were the exploits of the navies in exile, and the Royal Netherlands Navy was no exception. The following article is from the newspaper "Voice of the Netherlands", dated August 7, 1943 [1]. The gunboats, or better sloops, in question are the Flores and Soemba, which became known in the Royal Navy as the "Terrible Twins".

A special correspondent in the Mediterranean emphases the part which ships of the Dutch Navy are playing in the operations off Sicily.

The First official announcement of their presence was contained in General Eisenhower's communiqué of July 10th. Then came the story of the Dutch gunboat, which silenced shore batteries during the landings. As the Allies disembarked in a small bay they found that certain shore guns had managed to get the range of the beach and were causing considerable trouble. The Dutch gunboat closed in to less than a mile off shore and put the batteries out of action with a few well-placed broadsides.

The short official information is amplified by the special correspondent who cables: "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.

[1]: The "Voice of the Netherlands" was first published in August 1941, and last in September 1946.













Thanks to Bob Hornsby, whose father, Anthony Henry Hornsby, was assigned to the R.N.N. as a reporter for some time during the second world war. Apparently, he wrote the article in question.

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