Historical story

75th anniversary of D-Day:Abominable Gemini goes on a rampage. Dutch gunboats breach the Atlantic Wall

Last updated:2022-07-25

The Dutch gunboats Hr.Ms. Sumba and Hr.Ms. Flores were there on D-Day. These aging sister ships supported the Normandy landings. They were even nicknamed The Terrible Twins, due to their versatile deployment on the world's seas and the assertive behavior of their crews.

On June 1, 1944, the Terrible Twins received instructions for their participation in Operation Neptune, the naval component of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. De Flores came into action off the British landing beach Gold Beach near Arromanches. De Soemba joined a US Task Force for the Utah Beach landing beach near Pointe du Hoc.

The evening before D-Day, the Dutch sister ships made the crossing to France with the invasion fleet, only to open fire on the German defenses in the early morning of 6 June from 06:15. They fired twelve to eighteen shells per bombardment in a few minutes.

“It was a deafening noise,” wrote an editor on the Sumba later. “Behind us was a battleship and ahead of us a heavy cruiser which was breaking out fire and of course ourselves with our 6 inch guns. At times it seemed as if we were drifting from the coast due to the heavy setback of our artillery.”

After the preliminary shelling, the Terrible Twins also provided regular fire support throughout the day. In the evening only half of their ammunition stock remained. This fulfilled the fervent wish to make a breach in the Atlantic Wall, which was declared invincible, the more than 5000 kilometers long German defense line along the European coast. The performance matched the offensive mentality that commanders and crews had exhibited for a few years, and was a worthy highlight for both ships in a long career at sea.

Old Clogs

The Terrible Twins were old veterans in June 1944, at the respectable age of 18 years of service. Like the majority of the Dutch fleet, the warships were intended for the defense of the colony of the Dutch East Indies, today's Indonesia. From 1926 they conducted patrols in the archipelago and took part in various exercises. Incidentally, the Soemba and the Flores (because of their 'clumsiness') were given the unflattering nickname 'de Klompen' by the crews.

On March 15, 1944, the gunboats arrived in Portsmouth. In this port city, the Dutch sister ships received bad news. As for the replacement of the worn-out 15cm guns, the British officer dealing with this file foresaw that it was doubtful whether this order could be completed in a timely manner; the shipyards and factories were extremely busy in the run-up to D-Day. By putting the matter on the agenda in an unusual way, he still hoped to arrange replacement gun barrels in time; he decided to open his application with a limerick:

A report has come in from the Sumba
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.

The action was successful. The whole further settlement now took place, until the British First Sealord Admiral A.B. Cunningham, everywhere with limericks. The fleet guardian noted:

Sumba has awakened the Staff from repose
I am amazed, all the same, that they do not propose
To allocate Sumba with modification
(Soft velvet chairs the one stipulation!)
To the 'Overlord' plan for accommodation.

The gunboats quickly received new 15cm guns, from the old Dutch cruiser Hr.Ms. Sumatra. On June 1, the commanders received instructions for Operation Neptune, the naval unit of Operation Overlord. De Flores became part of the Eastern Task Force that would take action off the British landing beach Gold Beach near Arromanches. The Sumba made her appearance with the US Navy Western Task Force off the American landing beach Utah Beach.

Invasion of invasions

On June 5, the sister ships with the invasion fleet undertook the crossing to Normandy. The next morning they took up their bombing positions in the early hours. From 6:15 am they opened fire on the German positions. In an hour and a half, the Soemba and Flores fired 155 and 154 shells respectively. Even after that, they gave regular volleys. As a result, only half of their ammunition stock remained in the evening.

The Flores had sailed back to Great Britain late in the evening of 6 June. In Portsmouth she stocked up on ammunition and oil. The ship set course again for the Normandy coast and then bombed for days on end German coastal batteries and fortifications in the British sector at Houlgate, Cabourg and Dives-sur-Mer.

The Sumba returned to Plymouth on June 12. To the dismay of the crew, she remained at anchor here until June 28, because the Americans gave no orders to return the ship to Normandy. On June 29, the gunboat was returned to British command and relieved Flores, which again suffered from wear on the gun barrels.

Last Acts of War

In the British sector, the Sumba bombarded German troop concentrations near Bavent and Robehomme, and a coastal battery at Dives-sur-Mer, between 2 and 10 July. In total, the ship fired 446 shells. It turned out to be the gunboat's last war action. Also for the Sumba it was true that the cannon barrels needed to be replaced again due to these actions. The warship was ordered on 11 July to set course for Portsmouth. Dutch-made barrels were no longer available. Given the age of the ship, the decision of the British and Dutch admiralty not to equip the vessel with British guns and to land it in the Shadwell Basin in London fell.

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De Flores saw action in July 1944. After the stay in Portsmouth she anchored at Juno Beach on 22 July. In the following days, the Dutch ship fired on enemy batteries that were still operational from this position. On July 26, one of these bombings was carried out with the assistance of a British observation aircraft. To the delight of the Dutch, this aircraft reported:“Your fire exceptionally accurate. I think four direct hits on actual gun. This was the best combined Army and Navy shoot I have seen.”

Between 2 and 6 August, part of the ship's crew visited the coastal batteries bombed by the Flores at Arromanches and Longues-sur-Mer. It offered the opportunity to see the effect of their own efforts. They also searched ashore for suitable gun barrels, but in vain. De Flores left for Spithead on August 7, where she stayed for a month without seeing any action. In early September the gunboat sailed to London to moor in the Shadwell Basin next to the Sumba. The Second World War ended for The Terrible Twins.

After the German surrender in May 1945, both gunboats returned to the Netherlands. In the early post-war years, the Flores fulfilled various roles, such as that of a 'ferry ferry' between Rotterdam and London, artillery training ship, fisheries inspection vessel and training ship for midshipmen. In 1951 she was given the designation frigate to enter service as a guest ship four years later. The vessel was laid up in 1963, followed by scrapping in 1968. The Soemba was converted into an aircraft management vessel and radar training vessel after 1945 and served as an accommodation ship from 1956, until the demolition hammer waited in 1985.