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The Netherlands Naval Aviation Service (Dutch language: Marine-Luchtvaartdienst

MLD) is the naval aviation branch of the Royal Netherlands Navy.


World War I

Although the MLD was formed in 1914, with the building of a seaplane base at De Mok, Texel, it developed slowly in the inter-war years due to limited budget. After the graduation of the first pilot group in 1915, on August 18, 1917, the MLD was founded under official decree and the De Mok became the main base. At this time, the emphasis was on seaplane operations in the Dutch East Indies where Dornier Wal aircraft enabled patrols of the large archipelago in 1926. The perceived threat from Nazi Germany in the 1930s accelerated the development of air capability and the purchase of new equipment.

World War II

The German invasion of the Netherlands on May 10, 1940 rapidly overwhelmed Dutch resistance and the MLD aircraft were redeployed to France before the Dutch formally surrendered on 15 May. Shortly after, the MLD was ordered to Britain, where Dutch personnel formed No. 320 Squadron RAF, in Coastal Command, in June 1940. A second squadron, 321 Squadron, was also formed, but later merged with 320 Squadron. Other MLD personnel served on MAC ships as Fleet Air Arm 860 and 861 squadrons, flying Fairey Swordfish.

At this time efforts were made to strengthen the MLD in the Dutch East Indies. When the war started in December 1941, the MLD numbered 130 airplanes. The main types were 37 each Dornier Do 24 K-1 flying boats and 36 each Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina flying boats.[1] The major base was at Naval Air Station Morokrembangan near Soerabaja on eastern Java Island. The MLD had secondary bases as well as seaplane tenders that enabled it to spread out and cover the entire Netherlands East Indies. It was organized into 18 squadrons (GVT, Groep Vliegtuigen) of about three airplanes each to provide reconnaissance, anti-submarine patrols, convoy escort in support of Dutch forces. The MLD did not have radar. The MLD fought about 95 combat actions, sank one Japanese ship (destroyer Shinonome), damaged some others, shot down a few Japanese airplanes and inflicted some casualties on Japanese personnel on the ground.[2] That was not enough to stop the Japanese, and eventually the MLD was forced to evacuate to Ceylon and Australia. They lost 95% of their aircraft and 50% of their personnel.[3]

On March 3, 1942, nine MLD Dornier and Catalina flying boats were destroyed in the Japanese air attack on Broome, in Australia. About 58 MLD personnel were killed, wounded, or missing.[4] Later that year, on July 1 in Ceylon, 321 Squadron was re-formed under the command of Willem van Prooijen, with MLD Catalinas. The PBYs in Australia were transferred to Ceylon, and the surviving Dorniers were sold to the Australian government. The flight school was relocated to the US.

The Royal Netherlands Military Flying School was established in the United States, at Jackson Field (also known as Hawkins Field), Jackson, Mississippi, operating lend-lease aircraft, training all military aircrew for the Netherlands. The intention was to return to the Netherlands and to participate in the war against Japan. After liberation, the main MLD base was established at Valkenburg, with De Kooy as the overhaul and repair base.


Fairey Firefly FR.4 of the MLD in 1952

The British escort aircraft carrier HMS Nairana was obtained on a two year loan from the Royal Navy and renamed HNLMS Karel Doorman. In March 1948 a light fleet carrier, HMS Venerable, was purchased from the Royal Navy to replace the loaned one, and also renamed Karel Doorman. Aircraft carried aboard included the fighter-reconnaissance and anti-submarine Fairey Firefly. The main roles of the MLD were maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue. From 1953, with the creation of NATO, the MLD received substantial aid from the USA, including PV-2 Harpoon, P2V Neptune and TBF Avenger aircraft.

Squadron 320 and 321 were stationed at NAS Valkenburg and was known as the group airplanes. Helicopters were stationed in NAS de Kooy and on ships and were known as the group helicopters. Squadron 860 will remain in service and operate the remaining NH-90 helicopters, but as part of the DHC.

In the late 1960s, the aircraft carrier was replaced in the anti-submarine role by a squadron of Westland Wasp helicopters operated from anti-submarine frigates. These helicopters were replaced by Westland Lynxs and these will be replaced themselves by NH-90 helicopters. Squadrons 320 and 321 operated Neptunes and the Breguet Atlantic, which were later replaced by the Lockheed P-3 Orion, the CUP variant.

In 2003, it was announced that NAS Valkenburg would close in 2006. All Orions were sold to the German and Portuguese Navies. Naval squadrons 320 and 321 were disbanded.[5]

In 2008, the navy helicopters (Westland Lynx) and crew of naval squadrons 7 and 860 based at NAS de Kooy were transferred to the defence helicopter command (DHC) as were the Dutch air force helicopters. All Dutch military helicopters are now under one single command which is neither navy nor air force. Squadron 7 is to become a small training squadron, squadron 860 will become much larger and is designated DHC's maritime squadron with a large navy component. NAS de Kooy was renamed Maritime Airstation de Kooy.[6]


  1. Tom Womack, The Dutch Naval Air Force against Japan; The Defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1941, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2006, 164, 165.
  2. Tom Womack, The Dutch Naval Air Force against Japan; The Defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1941, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2006, 55-56, 147.
  3. Tom Womack, The Dutch Naval Air Force against Japan; The Defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1941, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2006, 148, 152.
  4. Tom Womack, The Dutch Naval Air Force against Japan; The Defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1941, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2006, 138.
  5. Press release by the Royal Dutch Navy (in Dutch)
  6. Press release by the Royal Dutch Navy (in Dutch)

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