Isaac Sweers file photo [30653]

Isaac Sweers

Ship ClassGerard Callenburgh-class Destroyer
Hull NumberG83
BuilderKoninklijke Maatschappij De Schelde
Laid Down26 Nov 1938
Launched16 Mar 1940
Commissioned29 May 1941
Sunk13 Nov 1942
Displacement1,604 tons standard; 2,228 tons full
Length351 feet
Beam35 feet
Draft9 feet
Machinery2 shaft, Parsons geared turbines, 3 Yarrow type boilers
Power Output45,000 shaft horsepower
Speed38 knots
Range3200nm at 15 knots
Armament6x4in Mk XVI QF Dual purpose naval guns, 4x40mm radar stabilised Bofors anti-aircraft guns, 8x.50 Vickers machine guns, 2x4x21in torpedo tubes, mines and depth charges


ww2dbaseHNLMS Isaac Sweers was one of four Gerard Callenburgh-class destroyer ordered for the Royal Netherlands Navy just before World War II. The keel was laid on 26 November 1938 and the ship was launched on 16 March 1940. Almost complete at the time of the German invasion the Isaac Sweers (named after a 17th century Dutch Admiral who fought in the Anglo-Dutch wars) was towed to Southampton, England, United Kingdom on 11 May 1940, where she was completed at the Thorneycroft shipyard, and duly commissioned into the Royal Navy on 29 May 1941 with the Pennant Number of G83. The Isaac Sweers was modern for her time. She was fast with a top speed recorded of 37.5 knots. Armed with six British 4-inch dual purpose guns (instead of the planned five 120-millimeter guns) and two fully stabilised 40-millimeters Bofors anti-aircraft guns, each with its own top secret "Hazemeyer" fire control system - a unique Radar combination, and the first on the world, which ensured that the anti-aircraft guns were automatically aimed in the direction of incoming enemy aircraft. Serving with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla commanded by Commander G. H. Stokes the Isaac Sweers was to have a distinguished career with the Royal Navy, operating largely in the Mediterranean Sea.

ww2dbaseThe Battle of Cape Bon

ww2dbaseTowards the end of 1941, the British Admiralty decided it must reinforce the 14th Destroyer Flotilla at Alexandria, Egypt. So it came about that on 11 December 1941 the Destroyer Flotilla consisting of HMS Sikh, Legion, Maori and the Dutch Isaac Sweers sailed from Gibraltar to make the eastward journey through the Mediterranean to join Admiral Andrew Cunningham's Fleet.

ww2dbaseMeanwhile information had been received at Malta, that the Italian cruisers Alberico Da Barbiano and Alberto Di Giussano were loading cased petrol at Palermo for delivery to Tripoli. Both Italian cruisers displaced 5,200 tons and were armed with eight 6-inch, six 3.9-inch, eight 37-millimeter, eight 13.2-millimeter guns, and four torpedo tubes. They were accompanied by the torpedo boat Cigno, displacing 789 tons and armed with three 3.9-inch guns, torpedo tubes and a number of automatic weapons. The Italians sailed at dusk on 13 December 1941, proceeding via the Sicilian Narrows to Cape Bon off the Tunisian coast, intending to reach Tripoli before sunrise.

ww2dbaseBut since June, the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Britain had been reading not only Luftwaffe's traffic, which highlighted Erwin Rommel's critical poor fuel position in North Africa, but also an increasing stream of signals revealing Axis Mediterranean convoy movements. Alerted to the activities at Palermo, Italy, torpedo-bombers and Force K (the Malta striking force of cruisers and destroyers) were ordered to intercept the Italian ships at sea, while the eastbound Destroyers of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla would act as a longstop should the Italians turn back.

ww2dbaseIn the event Force K's sortie was cancelled and the four Royal Navy destroyers, racing in at their fastest speed, arrived just too late to catch the enemy ships before they disappeared behind the Bon lighthouse and headed south along the Tunisia coast. But, at 0245 hours, twinkling lights were spotted as the Italians carelessly signalled each other by light. A moment later, their silhouette, with Cigno in the lead, could be dimly seen. It took the Allied destroyers just four minutes to reach Cape Bon. Hugging the eastern coast of Tunisia they turned close round the point to chase after the Italians to the south. Then to their surprise the Italian ships were seen to be coming back towards them. With Barbiano now leading with the Giussano astern. Admiral Antonino Toscano suspecting that he might not be able to reach Tripoli, Libya unmolested by dawn and fearing a heavy air attack at daylight, had made the fateful decision to return immediately to Palermo. The Cigno must have turned late and was still some distance to the south, hurrying to catch up to take her position at the head of the line.

ww2dbaseCommander Graham Stokes RN, on Sikh, found himself, much sooner than he could have expected, ideally placed to launch a torpedo attack. Reducing speed and steering to pass about half a mile inshore of the still unsuspecting Italians, he kept his destroyers hidden against the land which also prevented the enemy from seeking shelter in the shallower coastal waters. Sikh, followed by Legion, fired four and two torpedoes respectively at Barbiano, hitting her between them three times within moments of sighting her. Mortally damaged, her inflammable cargo at once turned the decks into a sea of flame into which the two leading ships, followed by Maori and Isaac Sweers, poured a murderous fire with every weapon that could be brought to bear. The execution was swift and terrible and, at 0335 hours, the cruiser sank in a ball of fire.

ww2dbaseHMS Legion, carrying twice as many torpedoes as the remainder, shifted target to fire her remaining six at Giussano, at which Maori also launched two torpedoes. Only one hit the Cruiser in the vulnerable position amidships on the bulkhead between Nos. 2 and 3 boiler rooms. Raked by machine gun and 4.7-inch fire at short range from both Legion and Isaac Sweers as they swept past. Bursting cans of fuel spread flaming petrol across the decks and through her compartments. Giussano somehow managed to loose off a couple of salvoes in passing which overshot their target to make their mark on Tunisian soil. Minutes, later, Cigno flashed past, firing a torpedo that missed, and had a brief ineffectual exchange of small arms fire with Isaac Sweers who unsuccessfully launched four torpedoes in return before the torpedo boat vanished into the night; returning later to pick up survivors. An hour after the action Giussano broke in half and sank. In this brief encounter, lasting five minutes and all over within 20 minutes of the first sighting, the British destroyers had suffered no damage or casualties. Of the Italians, 645 sailors survived while 920 were lost including the admiral and both captains.

ww2dbaseIt is certain that Rear-Admiral Toscano had made a serious misjudgement in turning back when he was so near to reaching Tripoli. The Italians, who were not trained for night action and had no radar, seem to have been quite unaware of the presence of the British destroyers. It is also thought that Admiral Toscano may have concluded that he was unlikely to reach Tripoli before dawn and fearing a heavy air attack in daylight decided to abort the mission and return to Palermo to try again on another night. It seem likely, however, that had he maintained an even modest speed of 23 knots he might actually have avoided destruction.

ww2dbaseWithin several minutes the four Allied destroyers had won a spectacular victory; in one stroke, destroying two powerful enemy warships and robbing the enemy of a large quantity of vital fuel. It was a well-deserved welcome the destroyers received as they steamed into Grand Harbour later that day. For his part in the action, Commander Jacques Houtsmuller RNLN would be awarded the Distinguished Service Order.


ww2dbaseOn 30 December 1941 Commander Jacques Houtsmuller handed over command of the Isaac Sweers to Captain Willem Harmsen, RNLN.

ww2dbaseOn 17 January 1942 while escorting convoy MW 8B to Malta the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Gurkha (F63) was torpedoed off Sidi Barani by U-133. Coming quickly to her assistance Isaac Sweers gallantly towed the stricken destroyer clear of burning oil, so saving nearly all of the Gurkha's 240 crew who were ultimately disembarked at Tobruk, Libya.

ww2dbaseIn April and May 1942 the Isaac Sweers briefly served in the Indian Ocean with Admiral Sir James Somerville's Eastern Fleet before returning to Southampton for a refit. With her refit completed, Isaac Sweers sailed from Portsmouth on 25 September 1942 bound for Scapa Flow in Scotland, United Kingdom for a post refit work-up. Late in the evening of 19 October, the Isaac Sweers and HMS Escapade sailed from Scapa Flow for Londonderry, Ulster, where they arrived on the next afternoon. Departing later that same day together with HMS Marne the three destroyers were tasked to rendezvous with the carrier HMS Furious and escort her to Gibraltar.

ww2dbaseArriving at Gibraltar on 25 October 1942 the three destroyers were ordered to depart on the next day and sail to Ponta Delgada, Azores, where they were to refuel before proceeding to a rendezvous with convoy KMF 1, which they joined on 2-3 November. Isaac Sweers stay with the convoy would be short lived. On 5 November Captain Harmsen received new orders to join the escort with the battleship HMS Nelson (Force H) which was en-route to Gibraltar.

ww2dbaseOn the 8th November the Isaac Sweers left Gibraltar for a patrol returning three days later. Almost immediately she was ordered out again with HMS Porcupine and HMS Albrighton to go to the aid of the Dutch troopship Nieuw Zeeland, torpedoed by the U-380, about 80 miles east of Gibraltar. The three destroyers helped rescue 241 survivors who were taken back to Gibraltar where they arrived around 2115 hours.

ww2dbaseThe next day Isaac Sweers and Porcupine were despatched again with new orders to fuel at sea from Force R's tankers and then join with Force H. But, north-west of Algiers, Isaac Sweers was hit and sunk by two torpedoes fired from U-431 (Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Dommes). Sadly, of her crew of 220 only 82 (including Captain Harmsen) survived.

Martin H. Brice: The Tribals (Ian Allan, London, 1971)
Gregory Haines & Commander B. R. Coward RN: Battleship, Cruiser, Destroyer (The Promotional Reprint Company Ltd., 1994)
Wikipedia - HNLMS Isaac Sweers (1940)

Last Major Revision: Sep 2020

Destroyer Isaac Sweers (G83) Interactive Map



Isaac Sweers Operational Timeline

26 Nov 1938 The keel of Isaac Sweers was laid down by Koninklijke Maatschappij De Schelde in Vlissingen, the Netherlands.
16 Mar 1940 Isaac Sweers was launched at the Koninklijke Maatschappij De Schelde shipyard in Vlissingen, the Netherlands.
11 May 1940 Isaac Sweers arrived at the Thorneycroft shipyard in Southampton, England, United Kingdom by tow.
29 May 1941 Isaac Sweers was commissioned into service with Commander Jacques Houtsmuller in command.
13 Dec 1941 British destroyers HMS Sikh, HMS Maori, and HMS Legion and Dutch destroyer HNLMS Isaac Sweers defeated Italian light cruisers Alberto da Giussano and Alberico da Barbiano and torpedo boat Cigno off Cape Bon, Tunisia at 0325 hours. The two Italian cruisers sank (1,020 killed, 645 survived) with nearly 2,000 tons of aviation fuel meant for Axis forces fighting in North Africa.
17 Jan 1942 Isaac Sweers picked up about 240 survivors of HMS Gurkha 30 kilometers northeast of Sidi Barrani, Egypt while escorting Allied convoy MW 8 to Malta.
25 Sep 1942 Isaac Sweers departed Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom for Scapa Flow, Scotland, United Kingdom.
19 Oct 1942 Isaac Sweers departed Scapa Flow, Scotland, United Kingdom late in the evening for Londonderry, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.
20 Oct 1942 Isaac Sweers arrived at Londonderry, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom in the afternoon. Before the end of the day, she departed to made rendezvous with carrier HMS Furious.
25 Oct 1942 Isaac Sweers arrived at Gibraltar.
26 Oct 1942 Isaac Sweers departed Gibraltar for the Azores.
2 Nov 1942 Isaac Sweers made rendezvous with Allied convoy KMF 1.
5 Nov 1942 Isaac Sweers was ordered to escort HMS Nelson to Gibraltar.
8 Nov 1942 Isaac Sweers departed Gibraltar for a patrol.
11 Nov 1942 Isaac Sweers arrived at Gibraltar. Immediately, she was sent out to rescue the survivors of Dutch transport ship Nieuw Zeeland, which had been torpedoed by German submarine U-380 about 80 miles (130 kilometer) east of Gibraltar. The survivors were disembarked at Gibraltar later on the same day.
13 Nov 1942 German submarine U-431 (Wilhelm Dommes) sank Dutch destroyer Isaac Sweers in the Mediterranean Sea with two torpedo hits; 108 of the crew of 194 were lost.

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