Operation XD-the naval contingent in Holland 1940

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by Andrew Wilkinson, Feb 4, 2021.

  1. Just before the evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940, there were numerous targets identified that shouldn’t fall into German hands. From what I can gather all of the raids to accomplish this came under the heading of Operation XD; many of these exploits were carried out by army units, in particular the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers. I am trying to establish what role was played by the Royal Navy, but have yet to find corroborating evidence, which is a shame as my father took part in this campaign. He was Lieutenant CRG Wilkinson at that time, and his Commanding Officer was Commander M Goodenough; they must have achieved something as both Goodenough and a Lieutenant Madden were awarded medals; the DSO and the DSC respectively. All I can find is that their target was at Ijmuiden in Holland, but no more. Does anybody have any more information on this subject?
  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    These documents might help resolve your query

    Record Type: Conclusion Former Reference: WM (40) 118 Attendees: N... | The National Archives
    Reference: CAB 65/7/10
    Record Type: Conclusion
    Former Reference: WM (40) 118
    Attendees: N Chamberlain; J Simon; K Wood; O Stanley; Halifax; W Churchill; S Hoare; Hankey; J Anderson; J Reith; A Cadogan; D Pound; A Eden; H Wilson; W Ironside.
    Agenda: 1. Belgium - Belgian request for British and French assurances as to air action; 2. Air Action - German action in France, Holland and Belgium - Allied policy: employment of the heavy bomber force; 3. Netherlands and Belgium - Invasion by Germany - Arrival of Dutch Ministers in this country - Appeal to the Pope and the King of Italy - Sir Roger Keyes; 4. The Netherlands and Belgium - Denial of Dutch and Belgian resources to Germany - Co-operation of our forces with Dutch and Belgian Governments - Operation X.D. - Operation Lyster - Aircraft and aerodrome facilities - Shipping - Magnetic mines - French responsibilities - Wireless and broadcasting stations; 5. Civil Defence Measures - B.B.C. announcements regarding A.R.P. measures - Refugees from Holland and Belgium - Asylum for the ex-Kaiser - Evacuation scheme - Evacuation from special areas; 6. Air Situation - Mine-laying operations; 7. France - Internal political situation; 8. Italy - Probable intentions
    Date: 10 May 1940
    Held by: The National Archives, Kew
    Former reference in its original department: WM (40) 118

    Report on operation XD, party D (Antwerp) | The National Archives
    Reference: PREM 3/324/4
    Report on operation XD, party D (Antwerp)
    Date: 1940 May

    Mss. jottings by Commander PGC re Operation "X.D." | The National Archives
    Reference: PGC/1/2
    Title: Mss. jottings by Commander PGC re Operation "X.D."
    Date: n.d
    Held by: Imperial War Museum Department of Documents, not available at The National Archives

    ACTIONS WITH THE ENEMY (3): Operation `XD' (Party D Antwerp): report | The National Archives
    Reference: ADM 1/10573
    ACTIONS WITH THE ENEMY (3): Operation `XD' (Party D Antwerp): report
    Date: 1940
    Held by: The National Archives, Kew
    Former reference in its original department: Admy631/1940

    Ms. diary kept by Commander PGC during Operation "X.D.", with list of telephone numbers attached. | The National Archives
    Reference: PGC/1/3
    Title: Ms. diary kept by Commander PGC during Operation "X.D.", with list of telephone numbers attached.
    Date: 10.5.40 - 17.5.40
    Held by: Imperial War Museum Department of Documents, not available at The National Archives

    Tss. orders for Officer-in-Charge of party proceeding to Flushing in Operation "X.D." | The National Archives
    Reference: PGC/1/1
    Title: Tss. orders for Officer-in-Charge of party proceeding to Flushing in Operation "X.D."
    Date: n.d
    Held by: Imperial War Museum Department of Documents, not available at The National Archives

    Ms. draft report by Commander P. G. C. on the activities of Party "C" in Operation "X.D." | The National Archives

    Ms. draft appendix to Commander P. G. C.'s report on the activities of Party "C" in Operation "X.D." | The National Archives

    Ts. report by Commander P. G. C. on the activities of Party "C" in Operation "X.D." | The National Archives


    So it seems quite a few documents are at IWM and some at TNA Kew

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  3. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    I havent read this book but I believe it contains information relevant to your question
    Hold the Narrow Sea, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945. by Smith, Peter C.: (1984) | Kerr & Sons Booksellers ABA


    Theres also - XD Operations: Secret British Missions Denying Oil to the Nazis by C.C.H. Brazier: Very Good Hardcover (2004) 1st Edition | Vickers

    Kent Fortress Royal Engineers - Wikipedia
    XD operations
    In May 1940, the German Army invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. The British military authorities were determined that the large oil installations at the major ports should not fall into enemy hands. The KFRE were despatched in secrecy on 11 May to Amsterdam to negotiate with the local commanders and destroy the installations and the large oil stocks and assist with dockyard demolitions; these were called "XD Operations". They were successful in spite of the lack of planning and specialised equipment. After Amsterdam, detachments carried out more oil demolitions at Rotterdam and Antwerp, and assisted with the evacuation of 40 tons of Dutch gold from Rotterdam. At times they exchanged fire with German advance patrols.[39]
    The German advance continued into France, and KFRE were sent to destroy the oil depots along the lower Seine. Initial, but understandable, French reluctance dissipated as the Germans reached the area, and the installations at Rouen, Le Havre and Honfleur were all destroyed. In addition, a large British military fuel dump near Saint-Nazaire was destroyed. A British general ordered that no demolition was to be done at a refinery at Donges; the supplies were subsequently thought to have been used to re-fuel U-boats.[39]
    As an afterthought, detachments were sent to destroy smaller depots at Dunkirk, Boulogne and Calais. These were abortive, however; those at Dunkirk were destroyed by German bombs, Calais' facilities were unapproachable due to the heavy fighting and Boulogne, in fact, had none.[39]
    Further oil demolition operations were attempted at Caen, Cherbourg and St Malo, but only St Malo was successful. The installations near Caen were captured before the British arrival, and the French authorities prevented demolition at Cherbourg; KFRE assisted with the general harbour demolitions there.[39]
    Although these actions remained secret at the time, there was official appreciation. At the time, the KFRE became the most highly decorated unit in the British Army. Major Brazier received an OBE, three officers (Captains R Keeble, T F TGoodwin and B Baxter) received DSOs, Second Lieutenant B J Ashwell received the MC. A DCM was awarded to Corporal J T Hearnden and three NCOs (Staff Sergeant A H Smart, Sergeant A R Blake and Corporal J Matthews) received Military Medals.[39]
    During the British evacuations from western France (Operation Ariel), the final KFRE detachment lost seven men on the Lancastria when it was sunk at St Nazaire. One more went "missing, presumed dead" during the destruction of the British dump near St Nazaire and another died of wounds sustained at Boulogne.[39]
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2021
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  4. Hello Tricky Dicky
    Thanks for your very comprehensive reply with enough reading material to keep me going through lockdown! Sadly the NA at Kew isn't open during this crisis. Everything I previously read about Operation XD involved the KFRE, and couldn't track down any references to the Royal Navy being part of the plan. Did any of your information refer to the destination of IJmuiden, which was where my father went? I'm not expecting miracles and at times like this I wish I had asked him more questions on the subject. I have a letter from his CO, then Commander (later Rear Admiral) Goodenough in which he implies there should have been more credit apportioned to those who took part; he got the DSO and someone called Madden got the DSC. His handwriting wasn't the easiest to read so I've tried transcribing it here, but even though its a jpeg the system won't allow me to upload it. Any further info gratefully received.
  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hi Andrew

    I guess during lockdown obtaining a copy of the book "Hold the Narrow Sea......" is possible, I have obtained a couple of books recently and they have arrived within a couple of days

    I would also think that for this operation to take place the Royal Navy would indeed be heavily involved due to the locations of the targets, but all of that would be borne out hopefully in the TNA documents

    Have you seen/read
    HMS Venomous, Dutch tug Atjeh, and Cdr Goodenough's demolition team

    HMS Whitshed

    There are references to IJmunden here Holland and Belgium, May 1940 (use Ctrl F and insert IJmunden)

    Madden, Colin Duncan (Oral history)
    Recollections of operations as officer with Royal Navy Demolition Party A during Operation XD to IJmuiden Harbour, Netherlands, 5/1940: instructions to proceed to Netherlands; orders to block Ijmuiden harbour; voyage in HMS Whitshed; officers on board; air attacks; casualties; disembarkation at IJmuiden; manner of Commander Michael Goodenough; contact and relations with Dutch; his mission to fetch diamonds from Amsterdam; sight of refugees on road; burning fuel tanks; his briefing on the object of his mission; embarkation of Princess Juliana.

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  6. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    TD - Good find. Don't know if you missed it but in your link to HMS Venomous there is a link to a report by Cdr Goodenough - Report of Operation XD.A (Ijmuiden) - 13 pages and Lt Wilkinson is mentioned.

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  7. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hi Tim

    Thanks for looking deeper, I have been busy helping some other members offline so havent had the time but now I know how badly England play Rugby it seems I may have more time on my hands

    I also note that particular operation is noted as 'XD A'


    should say off forum rather than offline
  8. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

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  9. Hello Andrew,

    Looks like pretty much all of the English language references that I am aware of have been covered. Might be an idea to double up searches using "Ymuiden", which was a common alternative spelling at the time in both UK and NL.

    I have, in the past, downloaded after action report type documents and other recollections from the NIMH (Netherlands Institute of Military History), for the "IJmuiden Position" (Positie IJmuiden). This was actually under the command of a Dutch naval officer, Cdr Hellingman. Positie IJmuiden was part of the Westfront (i.e. coastline) of Fortress Holland. I will have a look through and come back with any direct references to the RN shore party or interactioin therewith.

    The Dutch Army destroyed as much documentation as it could upon the capitulation - the above documents were all written days if not years after the event whilst in either occupied NL, somewhere in Britain or when the Dutch Army tried to bring the stories together post-war, including well into the 1950s. Naval logs of shore establishments, and here the naval base in Amsterdam would be relevant, are with the Nationaal Archief and, unfortunately, are not on line.

    However, in the course of my research, I have come across one surviving order to a civilian, Mr. Johan J Smit, owner of Smit & Zonen diamond merchants. This basically authorised him to travel to IJmuiden, with (what turned out to be his first batch of) diamonds and report to Captain [sic] Goodenough who would insure a place on a departing vessel. Quite clearly, Cdr Goodenough and his men were busy with much more than demolitions.
    Mr Smit declined his reserved space. His son turned up from Britain the next day and took the rest of the industrial diamonds back to London (see also the HMS Walpole page on the V&W website), but that's an aside.

    Below is a list of links showing the results of some of the blocking attempts, which I believe would have been join RN and KM (Dutch Navy) enterprises. One of those ships you can see, my father-in-law used to swim out to as a boy post-war.

    Finally, unfortunately AB Gray of the Whitshed, despite what was said in Cdr Goodenough's report, did not survive the attack on the ship. I visit his grave whenever I go to visit my mother-in-law, who rests in the same cemetery. Alongside AB Gray are five other Allied graves, four known only to God. They were all moved there post-war at the expense of the local council. Up to this day, the default position of this privately-run graveyard, unless families request otherwise, is that all flowers from cremations are laid there and at six neighbouring Dutch memorial stones to locals rounded up by Germans during the occupation, never to return.

    Again, I'll come back to you on what or if I find anything (I'm hopeful though). Although rugby's rubbish at the moment, there is cyclo-cross today, so might take a while...


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  10. Hello to all of you. Most grateful for all the information which will take me a while to get through, especially if the rugby gets any worse (our cricketers are doing ok at present). Several of the ships I have never heard of and I thank those who have given me these pointers; with the obvious databank at the NA in Kew being temporarily out of reach I will see if I can find out more online. By a bizarre coincidence Commander Goodenough was sent out to the Far East where he was my mother's CO; she was a WRN 3rd officer and didn't meet my father until after the war. This was his letter to my father:-

    31.7.40 Plans Division

    My dear Wilkinson,

    I was glad to see your name
    mentioned in despatches but I was bitterly
    disappointed that you and the others were not
    decorated. I suppose it is inevitable that the head
    boy should be the Aunt Sally for praise or for
    blame, but I feel pretty mean when I think
    of how any fool could have taken any place
    and how few have done your fine work
    at all, far has done it brilliantly as you did.
    Madden was lucky in that his job of closing
    the gate was more spectacular. But in my
    report, which I think I showed you at
    Chatham, I stress that I cannot differentiate
    when each one did what I asked him
    equally well. Certainly my gratitude to you
    all is equally great.

    Tell me about yourself. I saw
    someone the other day who said you had
    been hurt later at Boulogne, and when I
    rang up CW a few days ago they
    confirmed that you were still on sick leave.
    I do hope that it is not bad whatever
    has happened. If you are on leave you
    might be in London & if so perhaps you
    would sup or lunch with me. I should
    very much like to see you and hear
    how you are.

    Some day we may be together
    again. I hope so. In that case we may not
    be so successful and I shall then be as
    proud to act as your lightning conductor
    as I am now to carry for all my
    party the major share of this communal

    Michael Goodenough

    There are tantalising hints about what they did without going into specifics, such as Madden "closing the gate". Was this a flood gate or something more ingenious? I don't wish to take up anyone else's time but am always curious to know more; also worried that I will interupt Darron's cyclo-cross!
    Thanks again.
    timuk likes this.
  11. ... Or alternatively the family goes hungry (I am on cooking duty today)...

    Three RN captains actually made surreptitious reconnaissance trips to NL in late 1939 to check out Flushing, Rotterdam/the Hook and The Hague/Scheveningen with a view to future sabotage work. IJmuiden was also meant to be visited but was missed out for a variety of reasons. Two of their reports are located in CAB 63/129 at The National Archives. It's a huge document [56Mb]. However, the first twenty pages cover orders for the XD operations. Attached are some other pages from that file that might be of interest (and save you having to go through 270-odd pages all told).

    From the Dutch archives, Cdr Hellingman's [undated] report confirms the arrival of Whitshed and the demolition party as at 1630 10MAY40. In his entry for 14MAY he suggests that the RN scuttled Wijsmuller tugs in the small lock (kleine sluis) in error as an unnecessary action. Another report from the commandant of the naval depot in IJmuiden, Lt.Cdr. T.F. Walma van der Molen, puts Whitshed's arrival at around 1800/10MAY (confims the penant number of D77 rather than ship name). He states that there were 120 members of the demolition party, under the command of Cdr Goodenough, around forty of whom proceeded to Amsterdam by train (!).

    Below is a link to the NIMH archive that relates best to events at IJmuiden in May 1940. It's a list of 64 documents, nearly all of which are in Dutch though, with only a few making reference to the XD parties.

    Gevechtsverslagen en -rapporten mei 1940

    Pp 13-14 cover Walma van der Molen's statements on the British demolition parties (throughout, the Dutch say Engelsche when they mean British); the references Hellingman made are on pages 20, 26 and 30. However, pages 37-50 and, bonus, in English, are an extract from the dramatised story of HMS Whitshed published in 1942 (?) as "HMS Wideawake". This extract also covers this voyage and makes reference to the demolition parties.

    Elsewhere in this wider section of the NIMH archive are numerous eyewitness accounts to the arrival of Whitshed, in particular the air attack it suffered as it approached the harbour that led to the loss of a gun crew.

    Finally, regarding the letter your father had from Adm. Goodenough, I'm sure Bill at the V&W site would be delighted to see it. He's very approachable and doesn't bite!

    Again, yours,

    snow-covered in NL

    Attached Files:

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  12. IJmuiden is a fishing, passenger and steel harbour. It also controls the lock gates to the Noordholland Kanaal, the ship canal to AMS.
  13. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member


    Open the link HMS Venomous, Dutch tug Atjeh, and Cdr Goodenough's demolition team provided by TD then open the highlighted link in the text 'his lengthy report dated 17 May'. This will tell you that your father was a last minute addition to the Party to replace the original demolitions officer, who had been injured. The report also gives details of your father's involvement and what he did.

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  14. Andy H

    Andy H Member

    Hi Andrew Wilikinson

    Apologies if these have already been stated:-

    May 10th Destroyers WHITSHED and VERITY were recalled from patrol to embark demolition parties for the Dutch ports.

    Destroyer WHITSHED departed Dover with the demolition party XD.A (commanded by Cdr M. G. Goodenough) of 158 naval ratings and sappers for the locks at Ijmuiden and the oil reserves at Amsterdam.

    In numerous air attacks at Ijmuiden, destroyer WHITSHED was damaged by near misses and set afire. Four ratings were killed and one officer and seven ratings were wounded. She departed Ijmuiden that night for Dover, arriving at 0530/11th.

    Destroyer WHITSHED was repaired alongside depot ship SANDHURST in twenty four hours.

    In Operation XD, departing Dover at 1200/10th were destroyers VERITY carrying demolition party XD.C (Cdr P. G. L. Cazalet) for the port of Flushing, WILD SWAN with XD.B (Cdr J. A. C. Hill) for the Hook of Holland, BRILLIANT with XD D.(Cdr A. C. Stanford) for Antwerp.

    Holland and Belgium, May 1940 (naval-history.net)


    Andy H
  15. Venomous

    Venomous Junior Member

    I have been contacted by two of the contributors to this topic and thought I ought to chip in with a couple of comments. The page about the harbour tug ATJEH and the KFRE team from Ijmuiden is on the website of Holywell House Publishing, the publisher of A HARD FOUGHT SHIP: THE STORY OF HMS VENOMOUS (20120, 2017). I use the website to extend the story told in the two editions of the book and include live links from the Notes at the end of chapters to PDFs of some of the documents mentioned in this discusion including Cdr Goodenough's Report. See this page for the links to the XD Operation at Ijmuiden: A Hard Fought Ship (3rd Edn, 2017)- Chapter5: Calais and Boulogne, 2 - 26 May 1940

    Note 7 to chapter 5:
    Half the Dutch navy went to Britain when Holland surrendered, many in their own ships. Cdr Goodenough’s Report on Operation XD.A (Ijmuiden) is contained in Operations off Dutch, Belgian and French coasts: reports, 1940 (NA ADM 199/795). For a more general account of Cdr Goodenough’s mission and the work of the KFRE “demo teams” see: HMS Venomous, Dutch tug Atjeh, and Cdr Goodenough's demolition team

    I moved on from publishing A HARD FOUGHT SHIP and adding new material found after the book came out to the website to developing a website about all the V & W Class destroyers for the V & W Destroyer Association: V and W Destroyer Association

    The KFRE teams were taken to the ports in the Netherlands to destroy fuel reserves to prevent them falling into German hands by V & W Class Destroyers, including HMS WHITSHED, VERITY and WILD SWAN. Each of these destroyers has its own website under the umbrella of the V & W Association and I am (very) slowly adding stories to their pages about events in the Netherlands and France. Some of these have been researched for me by fellow enthusiasts, including Darron Wadey who posted above about the role of HMS WALPOLE in retrieving industrial diamonds from Amsterdam and Daniel Brabander who lives in a house overlooking the quayside where WILD SWAN berthed at the Hook of Holland.

    My father served in HMS VENOMOUS, a V & W Class destroyer, and this was the initial inspiration for the book and the websites which followed. The V & W Destroyer Association website is being archived by the British Library so should outlive me and keep alive the memory of the V & Ws and the men who served in them.

    Bill Forster
    V & W Destroyer Association
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  16. Hello again
    More thanks to those who have helped me expand my knowledge of what went on in 1940, and I have a bit of reading to catch up on. In one comment Darron suggests I send Bill a copy of the handwritten letter that Goodenough sent to my father, and whilst I'm happy to do this, as previously mentioned it won't upload to this site. Its on a PDF and has just loaded so my previous attempts at uploading the jpeg version were incorrect in some way, or the system is unreliable (I hate arguing with a computer). I hope it helps. Good luck in reading it as it made me struggle.

    Attached Files:

  17. Hello
    I have done my reading of the report which clarifies quite a bit for me; I'm very grateful for the information and wouldn't have got there without your assistance. In the article headed HMS Venemous, there are several photos including one of Goodenough and his team; my father is the man on the extreme left of picture. Thanks for all your help.
  18. HMS_Venomous

    HMS_Venomous Member


    Just to clarify, is your father on the left standing? Or on the left of the short row of men crouching? I shall add his name to the caption. And, perhaps, at some future time add more about him. If you can provide the details.

    I could send you a person higher res version of the photo if you let me have your e-mail address.

    Do any of the contributors to this list have the reports at the IWM by Sir Peter Cazalet?

  19. Hello Bill
    My dad is the one a bit obscured by the funnel/vent leaning back against the rail; my sister and my cousins all agree it is him. As to what he did next was influenced by events at Dunkirk which are still a bit obscure to me. His ship was HMS Keith and she was attacked by German land forces on 23/5. the captain killed and one officer (dad) wounded. His wounds were the loss of two fingers on his left hand and he was sent back to the UK to get treatment. 23/5 was also his 29th birthday which must have been a killjoy moment. I read somewhere that it was a mortar attack but now can't find where I read that. How do I give you my email address without giving it to everyone else? Have had enough spam to last me a lifetime so would prefer not to invite more. Those that run this site must have come across this dilemma before and they could pass on my details without going public, and I'm happy to give them permission to pass them on.
  20. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    If you click on the persons avatar you have the option to 'Start a conversation' follow this as it is not in the public domain therefore and details etc you pass via this option is private between those you wish to include in the 'conversation'


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