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HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (1909)
COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM 'Het schip 'De Zeven Provinciën' in de Straat van Malakka met erboven een vliegtuig' TMnr 10002144.jpg
De Zeven Provinciën with an airplane flying by.
Name: De Zeven Provinciën
Namesake: Seven Provinces
Builder: Rijkswerf, Amsterdam
Laid down: 7 February 1908
Launched: 15 March 1909
Commissioned: 6 October 1910
Renamed: Soerabaja (1936)
Fate: Sunk by aerial attack 18 February 1942
Career Japanese Navy Ensign
Name: Unknown
Acquired: Salvaged in 1942 and used as a battery ship
Fate: Sunk in 1943 by Allied aircraft
General characteristics
Type: Coastal defence ship
Displacement: 6,530 tons
Length: 101.5 m (333 ft 0 in)
Beam: 17.1 m (56 ft 1 in)
Draught: 6.15 m (20 ft 2 in)
Propulsion: 8,000 hp (6,000 kW), two shafts
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h)
Complement: 452
Armament: 2 × 11.1 in (28 cm) (2 × 1)
4 × 15 cm (5.9 in) (4 × 1)
10 × 7.5 cm (3.0 in) (10 × 1)
4 × 1pdr (4 × 1)
Armour: 2 in (5.1 cm) deck
5.9 in (15 cm) belt
7.75 in (19.7 cm) barbette
8 in (20 cm) conning Tower
9.8 in (25 cm) turret

HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (Dutch: Hr. Ms. De Zeven Provinciën, Dutch pronunciation: [ˈhaːrər ˈmaːjəstɛits də ˈzeːvə(n) proˈvɪnsiə(n)][1]) was an armoured warship (pantserschip) of the Royal Netherlands Navy from 1910 to 1942.

De Zeven Provinciën was a pantserschip (or "coastal defence ship"), a warship built for the purpose of defending the seas close to land, defined as a "a small cruiser-sized warship which sacrificed speed and range for armour and armament". To the chagrin of the Dutch, the construction of such ships was ascribed by bigger naval powers to "nations which could not afford battleships or which needed specially-suited shallow-draught vessels small enough to operate close to their coasts".[citation needed] She was armed with two 283 mm (11.1 inch), four 150 mm (6 in), ten 75 mm (3 in) and four 37 mm (1.5 in) guns. Additionally she also had a 75 mm mortar.[2] She was 101.5 m long, had a beam of 17.1 m, a draft of 6.15 m and displaced 6,530 t. She had a crew of 448 and was able to reach 16 knots.

She served part of her career in the Dutch East Indies, from 1911–1918 and from 1921 onwards. During the 1920s, her crew included the future Rear Admiral Karel Doorman.[3] She suffered a high profile mutiny on 5 February 1933, which had far-reaching implications for politics in the Netherlands. She was renamed HNLMS Soerabaja in 1936.

On 18 February 1942, De Zeven Provinciën was sunk by Japanese bombers. The Japanese raised her and used her as a battery ship until she was sunk again by Allied aircraft in 1943.

Mutiny on De Zeven Provinciën

More than any event in its career,[citation needed] including even her demise in active fighting, this ship is remembered especially for the mutiny which broke out on board on 5 February 1933.

Mutiny in the Indies

While the vessel was off the northwest tip of Sumatra, part of the mixed Dutch and Indonesian crew seized control of the ship, keeping it in operation and sailing it southwards along the Sumatran coast. After six days during which the mutineers remained defiant, the Dutch Defence Minister Deckers authorized an attack by military aircraft. One of the bombs dropped struck the ship, killing twenty-three mutineers, whereupon the others immediately surrendered. In the fierce controversy which broke out immediately afterwards, it was asserted that this outcome was not deliberate, and that the only intention was to intimidate the mutineers. (Incidentally, this was an early demonstration of the revolution in naval warfare due to the vulnerability of surface ships to aerial bombardment, of which this ship itself was to be a victim ten years later. However, at the time naval experts in the Netherlands and elsewhere paid little attention to this aspect, the whole event being mainly discussed in terms of the putting down of a mutiny.)

The cause and motivation of the mutiny was the focus of considerable debate, both in the Dutch public opinion and political system at the time, and among historians up to the present. Dutch researchers such as Loe de Jong believe that there had been an active communist cell among the sailors—which was asserted in a highly inflammatory manner by nationalist right-wingers at the time, while in later periods Dutch and Indonesian communists were happy enough to be credited with what became a heroic myth in left-wing circles. However, J. C. H. Blom asserts that the mutiny was essentially spontaneous and unplanned, resulting from protest at pay cuts and bad working conditions, as well as a generally poor morale in the Dutch Royal Navy at the time.[4] From that point of view, the case of De Zeven Provinciën is reminiscent of the Invergordon Mutiny of sailors in the Royal Navy a year and half earlier, which ended without the use of lethal force. Indeed, Dutch sailors may have been inspired by their British counterparts' mutiny, which had been international news at the time.

The harsher stance of the Dutch Government in relation to the mutineers might be partially attributed to the British mutiny taking place in Britain itself, while the Dutch one happened in the context of a restive colony where an independence movement was already active but which the Dutch contemporary political establishment was absolutely determined to retain. Peter Boomgaard links the mutiny with a relatively high level of social unrest and strikes in the Dutch Indies during the 1932-1934 period, which the colonial authorities attempted to suppress by force.[5]

Upheaval in Dutch politics

In the Netherlands, both the mutiny itself and its bloody conclusion had a deep impact, a blot on the record of Defence Minister Deckers and Prime Minister Ruijs de Beerenbrouck. Historian Louis de Jong accounts it as among one of the most significant Dutch events in the 1930s.[6] As J. C. H. Blom notes, the main effect of the spectacular incident - at least in the short term - was to cause a shift to the right, clearly manifest in the general elections two months later, in April 1933. The government proceeded to root out social-democratic influences among naval unions and civil servants, since "such 'unreliable elements' threatened the loyalty of the armed forces and with it the nation's hold on its seemingly indispensable overseas possessions". In this it was supported, as Blom notes, by the officer corps as well as by the predominantly burgerlijk[Note 1] sociopolitical groups in the country (Calvinist, Catholic, and liberal). Apprehensive of appearing "unpatriotic", the Social Democratic Workers' Party was unable to offer an effective defence, and in the April elections lost two seats - setting back (though, as it turned out, only temporarily) their march towards strength and respectability in the political mainstream).

Conversely, the Anti Revolutionary Party which ran a strong "law-and-order" campaign gained two seats and its leader Hendrikus Colijn - himself with a bloody past in the colonial army at the Indies - became the next Prime Minister. Moreover, in the direct aftermath of the mutiny a new party known as the "Alliance for National Reconstruction" (Verbond voor Nationaal Herstel) suddenly emerged, with firm defence of the eastern colonial empire as its main elections plank, and with only two months' existence won thirty-thousand votes and a seat in parliament. Moreover, a report by the Dutch Intelligence Service quoted by Blom attributes the meteoric rise of Anton Mussert's "Nationaal Socialistische Beweging", from one thousand members in January 1933 to 22,000 a year later to the both Hitler's coming to power in neighbouring Germany and to the uprising on De Zeven Provinciën - the two events being virtually simultaneous. The effect turned out to be short-term, however, with the Dutch Nazi Party politically moribund by 1937.

The single voice in Dutch politics to clearly and outspokenly support the Zeven Provinciën mutineers was the left-communist Revolutionary Socialist Party (Dutch: Revolutionair Socialistische Partij), whose leader Henk Sneevliet had been among the founders of what was to become the Indonesian Communist Party, and who was sentenced to five months prison term for hailing the mutiny as "the beginning of the anti-colonial revolution".[citation needed] Sneevliet's outspoken position was used in the aforementioned right-wing campaign. However, for its constituency - mainly left-leaning intellectuals, especially in the more cosmopolitan capital Amsterdam - the RSP raised a large and effective campaign with such slogans as: "From the Cell to Parliament", "Make Sneevliet the public prosecutor in the Second Chamber" and "I accuse" (a clear reference to Émile Zola's "J'accuse"). The campaign worked and the party won a single parliamentary seat, the only such success in its history, and thus got Sneevliet released from prison. (No one at the time could imagine that ten years later the radical Sneevliet would die heroically, fighting the Nazi occupation, and enter the pantheon of Dutch national heroes.)

A change of name

Meanwhile, the actual ship from which the whole imbroglio began was in July of that year taken out of service and modified to serve as a training ship. In 1936 she was renamed HNLMS Soerabaja. It might be no accident that the purely Dutch name De Zeven Provinciën was changed to the name of a major city of the Indies.[Note 2]


On 18 February 1942, a few days before the outbreak of the Battle of the Java Sea, the Surabaya was sunk by Japanese G4M bombers in the harbour of city whose name she bore - Surabaya, headquarters of the Dutch Navy in the Indies.[7]

Unlike most of the other Dutch ships, sunk far from any shore battle of February and March 1942, the Surabaya lay in shallow enough waters that - once they were in control - the Japanese were able to salvage and raise her up. In the Japanese service she was used as a battery ship (her name in this period not being on record).

In the following year, 1943, she was hit by Allied aerial bombardment and sank to the bottom, this time a permanent loss.

See also


  1. Burgerlijk translates roughly as "bourgeois", though with specific untranslatable overtones
  2. The British also changed the name of their Atlantic Fleet, in which the Invergordon Mutiny happened, to the Home Fleet, ostensibly to purge the memory of the mutiny


  1. Avoid saying: proˈvɪnʃə(n), which is not recognized
  2. "Koninklijke Marine - "Geschiedenis Hr.Ms. De Zeven Provinciën"" (in Dutch). Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  3. Biography of Rear-Admiral Karel W.F.M. Doorman
  4. J. C. H. Blom, "De muiterij op De Zeven Provinciën (The Mutiny on The Seven Provinces), a comprehensive monograph, originally a doctoral dissertation at Leiden University; reviewed by Lawrence D. Stokes, The American Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 2 (Apr., 1977), p. 377.
  5. Peter Boomgaard, Labor in Java in the 1930s, KITLV, Leiden (part of the "Working Papers on Asian Labor" published by International Institute for Asian Studies
  6. "The Kingdom of the Netherlands During the Second World War" (Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede wereldoorlog), Volume I, Voorspel (Prelude),The Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature [1]
  7. Shores, Cull and Izawa 1993, p. 201.
  • Shores, Christopher; Cull, Brian; Izawa, Yasuho (1993). Bloody Shambles: Volume Two: The Defence of Sumatra to the Fall of Burma. London: Grub Street. ISBN 0 948817 67 4. 

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