Dutch tank history ends with a bang


With four shots fired on Range 6 at the Bergen-Hohne firing range in Germany, the Dutch Defence organisation said farewell to the Leopard 2A6 main battle tank on May 19. Dutch tank history ended on the same German firing range where the Dutch Leopard fired its first shots.


The farewell ceremony was tough for the many tank personnel present, according to the Netherlands Ministry of Defence. Commander of the headquarters and headquarters company, Captain Johnny Romein sai,: “This feels like a funeral. The tank is part of our lives.” In his speech, the Senior Officer of the Cavalry, Major General (ret’d) Harm de Jonge, praised the deployment of the tank during the peace operation in the former Yugoslavia and the deployment of the personnel during the recent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that no tanks were deployed during the latter two missions mainly had to do with the image projected towards the civilian population. After all, the Leopard 2A6 main battle tank is still considered to be a highly modern weapon system with unequalled armour and fire power.

Although the personnel understand the need for cutbacks, there was no sympathy for this measure among those present. The commander of Bravo company of 11 Tank Battalion, Captain Chiel Nieuwenhuis, pointed out that as a result the army can no longer implement its current doctrine. “Without the tank, manoeuvres such as a breach or a turning movement are no longer possible.”

Now that the battle tanks are being disposed of completely, some 90 years of Dutch tanks history have come to an end. The first tank was introduced shortly after the First World War. At the height of the Cold War, the Netherlands had almost 1 000 battle tanks at its disposal. They formed the backbone of the Netherlands armed forces.

In the event of an attack by the Communist Warsaw Pact, the Dutch tanks were to engage the enemy on the North German Plain. The objective was to slow the enemy advance in order to allow Allies, the US in particular, to mount a counterattack. After the end of the Cold War, the number of tanks was quickly reduced to the most recent number of 60.

Apache attack helicopters and light armoured vehicles will take the place of the Leopard tanks. The recently upgraded tanks will be sold, together with six PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers. The army will be left with 18 front-line howitzers, which will be brought together with the 120mm mortars under a single field artillery battalion.

The Dutch defence force has been hit hard by defence cutbacks in the wake of the global recession, making the government force the Ministry of Defence to save nearly a billion Euros. The cuts include the disbandment of the two tank battalions, the elimination of all 17 Cougar helicopters, half a dozen fewer ships for the Navy and 19 fewer F-16s.

The wide ranging ‘Defence after the Credit Crisis’ paper was published on April 8. According to information released by the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, the Royal Netherlands Navy will reduce the number of Almaar-class minehunters from 10 to 6. Two of its four new Holland-class offshore patrol vessels being built and outfitted will not be taken into service and will instead be sold to another country immediately after being constructed. One of the two supply ships will be phased out. The oil replenishment vessel HNLMS Zuiderkruis will be taken out of service at the end of this year, after the planned deployment as part of the European Union’s operation Atalanta. HNLMS Amsterdam will remain in service until 2014 and will be replaced by the Joint Support Ship.

The construction engineers capability and the armoured engineers capability will be reduced, as will air defence capabilities and the number of Medium-Range Antitank systems on Fennek vehicles. The maintenance capability will also be decreased. Personnel reductions at the headquarters of the German-Netherlands Corps will be agreed with Germany.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force will reduce its number of F-16s from 87 to 68. All 17 Cougar transport helicopters will be phased out, putting more emphasis on the introduction of six CH-47F Chinooks and 20 NH90. The third DC-10 will not be taken into service. The air force will also disband two Ground Installation Defence platoons and one of the four Patriot batteries will be taken out of service.

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee paramilitary police will cancel the purchase of the vessel intended for use in the Zeeland waters. As a result of the reduction of the armed forces, the RNLM police tasks for the armed forces will also be reduced.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Defence, cutbacks amounting to 617.5 million Euros will be made in administration and management, support and operational logistics. The staffs will be reduced by 30 percent, and administrative and management relations and processes will be simplified. The number of top-level positions will be reduced from 119 to 80. One thousand civilian service cars will go, and VIP transport will be scaled down.

On May 9, in preparation for the reorganisation process, most of the operational units and systems which are being discontinued will be deactivated or taken out of service.

In July, a detailed plan will be produced regarding the reorganisation and the reduction of the administration of the organisation (particularly the Central Staff and the staffs of the other elements of the Defence organisation). By then the Strategic Infrastructure Plan should be completed, detailing which locations will remain in use and which will be closed. Lastly, more information will become available on the maximum number of personnel in various ranks, and their distribution in the organisation, so that it will become clear what room there is for throughflow and how experience will be retained and guaranteed for the future.

The Dutch government is reducing spending by 18 billion Euros in the wake of the recession, of which 635 million Euros must be saved by the Ministry of Defence. Additionally, the military must save another 175 million Euros, and another 150 million Euros in the longer term, in order for the defence budget to become financially sound again, the Dutch MoD said.