After the passengers and crew of the Zeemanshoop had transferred to HMS Venomous it was photographed being towed by the Amsterdam harbour tug Atjeh towards the English coast. AB Harold Knapton was given the job of taking the Zeemanshoop to Ramsgate:
was put in charge of the lifeboat and another AB and Stoker were sent
to join me in the boat. The Captain called me from the bridge and asked
me if I knew where Ramsgate was. I pointed in the general direction of
England and said “Yes Sir”. The Captain then said “take her there and
rejoin the ship at Dover the following day”.
We arrived at Margate
where we had a bit of trouble with identification as we were still
flying the Dutch flag. We were then re-directed down the coast to
Ramsgate. Again, we took a little time convincing the shore personnel
that we were English – not German. As they had us covered with Lewis
guns and rifles we were uncomfortable for a while and if our answers to
their challenge had not carried credibility we were convinced they
would open fire. However, we were well looked after and rejoined our
ship the following day.”
Their passengers have been transferred to HMS Venomous and the tug Atjeh is towing the Zeemanshoop with its temporary crew to Ramsgate
Photographed from the paddle steamer mine sweeper, HMS Sandown, a former Southern Railway's ferry on the Portsmouth to Ryde service
From: De Nederland in de Tweede Wereldoorlog; by J.W. de Roever (1951)
The lifeboat crew at Scheveningen did not know whether the Zeemanshoop had reached England or been lost at sea, sunk by a German warship or aircraft.
The first indication that it had reached England safely was the receipt by the Royal Dutch Lifeboat Association, the KNRM (Koninklijke Nederlandse Redding Maatschappij)of a donation of 25 guilders from the father of one of the passengers for the aid given to his son. Confirmation came when H. Th. de Booy, the
Secretary of the KNRM received
a telegram via the Red Cross from his brother, First Lt A. de Booy, the
Dutch Liaison Officer at the Admiralty in London that "Brother of
Dorus, Arthur and Hilda is here and making himself useful". Dorus, Arthur and Hilda
were the names of Dutch lifeboats so the meaning was perfectly clear.
What de Booy could not have known was that one of the student crew
members, Sub Lt Karel Kahmen, by now an officer in the Royal Dutch Navy, was working for his brother at the Admiralty. A voyage from Ramsgate to Falmouth - and Dunkirk?
AB Harold Knapton and his crew left the Zeemanshoop at Ramsgate on the 16 May to rejoin HMS Venomous at Dover. By the 23 May German
forces had reached the coast at the mouth of the Somme, encircling the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and cutting them off from French forces. The only
way the BEF could escape was by sea. The
evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk began on the 26 May and continued
until the early hours of the 4 June. It was directed by Vice-Admiral
Ramsey from his headquarters in Dover Castle and the lifeboats of the
Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) played a significant part.
The Royal Netherlands Navy had succeeded in bringing most of their ships to England and laid claim to the Dutch lifeboat. On the 25 May Ltz. I Dirk van Beusekom KMR OV on SS Westernland at Falmouth was ordered to take three young midshipmen to Ramsgate and bring the Zeemanshoop
to Falmouth. He welcomed this break in routine and described
the voyage in his journal. They travelled overnight by train to London and arrived at Ramsgate on the 27 May and reported to the NOIC (Naval Officer in Command) before
spending the night at the Castle Hotel. The problem with the diesel
engine's ignition system was repaired on the 28th and at 4 am the
following morning, Wednesday the 29 May, they left Ramsgate for
Newhaven, 75 miles to the south west.
Ltz. 1 Dirk van Beusekom made only one passing reference to Dunkirk in the 4,500 word
account of of the eight day voyage along the coast from Ramsgate to
Falmouth but must have known that the largest evacuation in history of troops from an enemy shore was taking place.
Vice Admiral Ramsey was directing Operation Dynamo from Dover Castle and as they passed through the swept channel at Dover, fifteen miles along the coast from Ramsgate, he
noted the large
number of ships and British aircraft flying overhead. They reached
Newhaven at 16.00 but were refused permission to enter the harbour and
spent a sleepless night in bad weather. They finally entered the
harbour the following afternoon and Ltz Beusekom went ashore to
complain indignantly to the senior officer at the treatment they had
By now the port of Dunkirk was impossible to enter; the troops could
only be taken aboard ships moored alongside the North Mole, a wooden
breakwater, or by small boats from the beaches to the north. At 1.15pm
that Thursday while Zeemanshoop
and its crew were at Newhaven the Ministry of Shipping phoned the RNLI and asked
them to send as many of its life-boats as possible to Dover:
soon as the Institution received that call it telephoned to its
eighteen stations from Gorleston in Norfolk, 110 miles north of Dover,
to Shoreham Harbour, in Sussex, 80 miles to the west. Each station was
asked to send its life-boat to Dover at once for special duty under the
Admiralty. She was to take a full crew, full fuel tanks, and a grass
warp for towing."
The NOIC Ramsgate had already asked the Ramsgate lifeboat, Prudential (built in 1925, the same year as the Zeemanshoop) to help. She
left Ramsgate at 2.20 pm on Thursday - the day after the Zeemanshoop - with Coxswain Howard Primrose
Knight in command of a crew of eight. "She took in tow eight boats,
most of them wherries, manned by eighteen naval men, and when she
reached Dunkirk her part was to tow the wherries between the beaches
and the waiting ships." During three sleepless days
and nights she brought 2,800 men from the Dunkirk beaches to the ships
The role of the RNLI lifeboats in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk is described in Storm on the Waters: The Story of the Life-boat Service in the War of 1939-1945, by Charles Vince (Hodder and Staughton, 1946) but can also be read on the WW2Talk Forum.
The Dover flotilla of minesweepers, the two requisitioned Southern Railways ferries which Venomous was escorting when the Zeemanshoop was spotted on the 15 May, also played their part in the Dunkirk evacuation:
"The senior ship of the flotilla, the Sandown
(Commander K.M. Greig, R.N.) had a dachshund who became known as
'Bombproof Bella'. The ship was bombed repeatedly on every passage, but
was never hit, and the ratings ascribed her preservation to their
mascot."His Majesty's Minesweepers (HMSO, 1943).
The crew of the Zeemanshoop
booked into a hotel to catch up on their lost sleep and left Newhaven
for Portsmouth at 6 am on Friday 31 May. Shortly after midnight that
morning HMS Venomous made its
first trip to Dunkirk and finding it almost impossible to take men off
the beaches (there were too few small boats) was ordered to berth
alongside the North Mole.
spent two nights at Portsmouth before continuing to
Falmouth vis Weymouth and Dartmouth (where Ltz Beusekon was taken round
the Naval College by its commanding officer). Venomous
returned from its fifth and final trip to Dunkik in the early hours of
the 4 June with 1,100 French troops and on the 5 June the Zeemanshoop arrived at Falmouth.
It was disappointing to discover that the Zeemanshoop took no part in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk as claimed by Loet Velmans in his book, Return to the River Kwai.
Ltz Derk van Beusekom, a career officer in the RNN, carried out his
orders to the letter but whoever gave those orders showed a distinct
lack of imagination. Dunkirk was a defeat for Britain but today the
story of how the small boats helped the Royal Navy bring the troops
back from the beaches is remembered with almost as much pride as the Battle of
Britain. Karel Dahmen, the only surviving member of the student crew,
commented "I wish our crew had stayed with the Zeemanshoop in Ramsgate. We would have gone to Dunkirk with the Ramsgate lifeboat.”
The Zeemanshoop at Holyhead
Several of the smaller ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine)
which escaped to England were based at Holyhead in Anglesey which
became the Headquarters of the Militarised Dutch trawlers,
Western Approaches and the training base for the Sailors and Marines
serving in the Irish Sea. First to arrive was the Stuyvesant, a liner which served as an accommodation vessel. The minelayer, Medusa, acted as a guardship for the liner and for the depot ship, Oranje Nassau, which replaced it in August 1941.
The Zeemanshoop is thought to have arrived in August 1940 and was used as a communications launch with Minesweeping Group 67,
three minesweeping trawlers. During
its service there it was known as the 'T bug' because of the 2 Cylinder
sound it made in the inner harbour: 'T bug, T bug, T bug' ... It
transported sailors and marines to the various Dutch Naval vessels in
the Outer Harbour and was photographed below alongside the Mackenzie
Pier embarking marines with LTZ Dirk van Beuskekom at the wheel.In 1944 the Zeemanshoop was moved to Harwich on the east coast, another long coastal voyage for the small Dutch lifeboat.
Left: The Zeemanshoop at Mackenzie Pier with Dutch marines boarding Right: The Mackenzie Pier today and in the background Holyhead Breakwater Courtesy of Graham van der Weet and Holyhead Maritime Museum
Some of the men who served there married local girls and remained there with their families after the war. One of these, Graham
van Weert, is writing a book on the Dutch Navy at Holyhead and has
supplied the photographs and most of the information given here. The Holyhead Museum is in one of the oldest lifeboat stations in Wales and has a permanent exhibition about the wartime presence of the Koninklijke Marine in Holyhead in a former air raid shelter near a cafe where the hundred or more Dutch Marines based at Anglesey used to meet.
At the end of July 1945 the Zeemanshoop
was towed by a Dutch mine sweeper to Ijmuiden to be used as a
communications vessel for the mine sweepers operating off Terschelling.
The diesel engine was in such bad condition that the mechanics working
on it renamed the Seaman's Hope the "Seaman's Despair".
It was was towed to the 'millioenenhoek' of the Rijkswerf at
Willemsoord to await scrapping. The Dutch Navy came up trumps and gave
instructions that it was to be restored to its original condition and
returned to the KNRM.
Where is the Zeemanshoop now?
was built in 1925 and Wybe van der Wal has charted its history on his
web site about the lifeboats of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Redding
Maatschappij (KNRM) which includes a large number of historic photographs of the Zeemanshoop.It remained in service as a lifeboat until 1976 and
then, instead of being scrapped, was converted into a private motor
launch. It was bought in 2014 by Jaap Boersma, a lifeboat enthusiast
and friend of the previous owner. He lives on the island of Ameland and
restored the Zeemanshoop
to its condition in 1940 and brought her to Scheveningen on the 14 May
2015, the 75th anniversary of the voyage. The families of the men and
women who escaped on the Zeemanshoop on the day the Netherlands surrendered met at Scheveningen on the 14 May 2015 to commemorate the voyage.
Top: The Zeemanhoop when it returned to Holland (top left) and back in service (right) Bottom: The Zeemanshoop before it was restored by Jaap Boersma and the Foundation which now owns it
The new lifeboat named Zeemanshoop at Breskens on the Scheldt
When Wim Belinfante and his sister Ada left Scheveningen aboard the Zeemanshoop on the 14 May 1940 he was 36 and she was was 29. When Wim Belinfante died he left a legacy
to pay for a new lifeboat named Zeemanshoop.
It was launched at Breskens in 2000 by his other sister, Dora
Belinfante, who was sent to the Thersianstadt concentration camp - but
Breskens is in the province of Zeeland in the south west of the
Netherlands opposite the town of Vlissengen (Flushing) at the mouth of
the river Scheldt. The new Zeemanshoop is a very different type of lifeboat from the one which took 47 men and women to safety in England in 1940.
The new Zeemanshoop at KNRM Breskens was paid for by a legacy from one of Engelendvaarders who escaped to England on its predecessor
Left: Dora Nellie Belinfante, the 93 year old sister of Wim Belinfante, at the launch of the new lifeboat in 2000 Courtesy of KNRM Breskens