On the eve of the Second World War, the Royal Netherlands Navy was divided into two forces with very different missions. The fleet in home waters (apart from ships under construction or refit) consisted largely of mine warfare ships, torpedo boats, gunboats and miscellaneous patrol vessels, the old coast defense battleships having been decommissioned or converted for other purposes. The Navy's main strength was deployed in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia), consisting at any given time of two light cruisers, a destroyer flotilla and a strong force of submarines. It had long been recognized that the main threat to the Dutch colonial possessions in the East Indies was posed by Japan, and that a Japanese attack would most likely occur in the context of a larger war. The mission of the East Indies Squadron was, therefore, to delay a Japanese advance until allied (British and US) assistance could arrive. In the course of the 1930s, as the Japanese Navy began to commission large, modern 8-inch gunned heavy cruisers, the Dutch planned a reply in the form of a pair of battlecruisers or large cruisers armed with 11-inch guns. The projected design was somewhat similar to that of Germany's "Scharnhorst"-class battlecruisers and in fact the main armament gun mounts were ordered from Krupp, but the outbreak of war in 1939 put an end to the project.

War came to the Dutch homeland in May 1940 and to the Dutch East Indies in December 1941. The results in both cases were calamitous for the Royal Netherlands Navy. With the exception of a handful of ships that escaped to Britain, all Dutch warships in home waters were sunk, scuttled or captured by the invading Germans. In the Dutch East Indies US, British and Australian help arrived as expected, but the Allied fleet met disaster in the Battle of the Java Sea (27-28 February 1942). On the first day of battle both Dutch cruisers (Java and De Ruyter) were torpedoed and sunk, the British cruiser Exeter was damaged by gunfire (and was later sunk by bombing) and several Allied destroyers were also lost. The US cruiser Houston and the Australian cruiser Perth were sunk the next day. This overwhelming defeat cleared the way for the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies.

The few Dutch warships that escaped from the Germans and Japanese sailed to Allied ports, and many continued the struggle. Prominent among them were the flotilla leaders Tromp and Jacob van Heemskerck. The former, commissioned in 1938, was with the East Indies Squadron in December 1941. Damaged in action with Japanese destroyers on 20 February 1942, she was sent to Australia for repairs. Tromp subsequently served in the Far East until the end of the war. Her sister ship, Jacob van Heemskerck, was nearing completion in the Netherlands in May 1940. Hastily commissioned by her executive officer, she was sailed to Britain, eventually being refitted as an antiaircraft cruiser and serving with distinction in Far Eastern waters. The surviving Dutch warships were supplemented by transfers from Britain and the US, enabling the Royal Netherlands Navy to play its part in the defeat of the Axis.

The ensign, jack and rank flags used by the Royal Netherlands Navy during the Second World War were similar to those in use today, except for the orientation of the stars on the rank flags. Bevelhebber van een eskader (commodore) was not a rank but rather an appointment. The government minister responsible for naval affairs had a distinctive flag that was hoisted by any ship on which he was embarked.

Flag Proportions: The Netherlands naval ensign and jack were (and are) made in 2:3 proportions. Rank flags were square.












FLEET ADMIRAL  •  Admiraal van de vloot


LIEUTENANT-ADMIRAL  •  Luitenant-Admiraal


VICE-ADMIRAL  •  Vice-Admiraal


REAR-ADMIRAL  •  Schout-bij-nacht


Bevelhebber van een eskader





The flotilla leader HNLMS Tromp entering Freemantle (Australia) harbor in early 1945. Wartime modifications included a revised bridge, radar, additional light antiaircraft guns and British torpedo tubes in place of the original Dutch installation. However, she retains her original main armament of six 5.9-inch guns in three twin turrets. The ship is finished in standard Royal Navy two-tone gray. During the war Tromp, which served mainly with the RN, was assigned the pendant number D28 and in this photo she is shown making her number with a signal flag hoist—standard practice when entering harbor.