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Cold War Dutch Armor

GM Otter Light Reconnaissance Car in Dutch Service

The Netherlands (1945-1972)
Armored Car – 300 Acquired, Circa 120 Operated

With the end of the Second World War, large amounts of worn out Allied materiel were amassed into dumps in Europe. Some of these dumps were located in the Netherlands and mainly consisted of former British and Canadian materiel and vehicles. As the Dutch Army had to be completely rebuilt, it was considered a good start to acquire the surplus materiel from the dumps. This way, the Dutch laid their hands on some 300 Otters, although a much smaller number was actually taken into service with the Royal Marechaussee (Dutch gendarmerie force with both military and civil duties), while others were used for training. Some were also sent to Indonesia in 1949 and Suriname in 1960.

An Otter of the Royal Marechaussee in March 1949 at the training facilities in Apeldoorn. Note the marking on the front and the early pattern registration number, in this case ‘37236’. Source: Nationaal Archief 2.24.01.09

The Canadian GM Otter

By 1941, the British and Commonwealth Forces were in need of light armored reconnaissance cars. To meet the demand, a new production line for this type of vehicle was set up in Canada. The design principles of the British Humber Mk.III LRC were taken and modified to fit on the Canadian-built Chevrolet C15 Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) trucks. Compared to the Humber, the Otter was a bit longer, higher, and a ton heavier. Although powered by a 104 bhp General Motors petrol engine, it performed worse than the Humber, but to a certain extent still satisfactorily. During the war, the Otter was deployed by British, Greek, and Commonwealth Forces, like South-Africa, New-Zealand, and Canada, in the Mediterranean and Europe. Production started in 1942 and a total of 1,761 were built, although fewer than 1,000 actually left Canada to see combat.

The Otter featured a crew of three, with a driver in the front right, a commander to his left, and a gunner manning the centrally mounted turret. By default, a Bren machine gun was mounted in the turret, while a Boys anti-tank rifle was fitted through a hatch in the front armor plate. Otters in Dutch service never featured the Boys rifle. In terms of armor, the Otter was protected by plates between 8 and 12 mm thick.

A row of demobbed Canadian Otters in the Deelen dump. Source: Canadian Army Newsreel
A Dutch parade in in May 1946 at the military range of Soesterberg. A Humber Mk.IV and two Humber Mk.II Scout Cars are followed by several Otters. Source: NIMH 2155_031451

Dumped Armor

On 4th December 1944, the Centrale Intendance- en Cantine Dienst (Eng: Central Intendance and Canteen Service, abbreviated to CICD) was established. This new branch of the Dutch Army became responsible for the various tasks related to equipping and maintaining the Dutch Army. However, the Allies still largely supplied the Dutch Army until 1st November 1945. By then, the CIDC became fully responsible and took over all supply tasks. Consequently, the name was changed to Dienst van de Kwartiermeester Generaal (Eng: Service of the Quartermaster General, abbreviated to DKMG or KMG). The tasks of the KMG were described as “managing, distributing, and repairing materiel that was needed for the Army”.

In the Netherlands, large war materiel dumps and storage depots were located near the cities Deelen, Enschede, Grave, Alverna, and Nistelrode. British and Canadian materiel was stored here, although vehicles were only stored in Deelen and Enschede. Initially, it was the KMG that placed individual orders with the Canadian government to buy material from these dumps, including roughly 100 Otters. But, on 2nd January 1946, a special commission, known as the Bijzondere Aankoop Commissie (Eng: Special Purchase Commission, abbreviated to BAC) was established, which was specifically tasked with ordering and taking over materiel bought from the Canadian Department of Reconstruction & Supply. Earlier acquisitions by the KMG were also handled by the BAC. Most of the materiel that was bought by BAC came from the dumps in the Netherlands, but also the United Kingdom and Belgium, among other places. The order for 100 Otters was also further handled by the BAC.

A stark contrast. Otter ‘37322’, next to a Marechaussee in traditional uniform on a horse. This photograph probably dates from the 1950s. Source: Jan Schenkel (manning the turret) via the Nationaal Militair Museum
Apart from training, the Otter saw also extensive use as a parading vehicle. A whole platoon is seen here during a parade in the city of Breda in 1948, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the reign of Queen Wilhelmina. Source: Nederlands Fotomuseum LDH-43873-5

In May 1946, the Dutch and Canadian governments concluded a so-called ‘Overall Deal’. Among other things, this deal agreed that the vehicle dumps of Deelen and Enschede would be fully taken over by the Dutch government. The transfer took place on 23rd May, and the Dutch became the owners of roughly 34,000 demobbed vehicles from the Deelen dump and another 3400 from the Enschede dump. Some 300 Otters were located at the Deelen dump, including the 100 that had already been ordered earlier.

In total, the Dutch Army and Police took over some 12,000 of these vehicles. All the armored vehicles, tracked vehicles, and artillery vehicles were transferred to a new vehicle pool in the city of Stroe, initially known in English as the 2nd Netherlands Vehicle Pool. It was later renamed in Dutch to 2e Voertuigenpark, meaning the same.

Otter ‘56507’ in use as a training vehicle, as indicated by the large L painted above the grill, with L standing for LES (lesson). The photograph was taken in 1947. Source: NIMH 2001_N0000081-04

Rebuilding the Dutch Army and its Cavalry Branch

With the defeat of the Dutch Army in May 1940, the government went into exile in Britain. During the war, plans were drafted for the rebuilding of the Army once the Netherlands was liberated. Generally, it was thought to reform the Cavalry into a reconnaissance force. The actual rebuilding of the Cavalry and equipping it with armored vehicles can mainly be credited to Major J.J.G. Beelaerts van Blokland. He had been a commanding officer in the Princess Irene Brigade, a small Dutch unit that played a small part in the Allied war effort.

After some fruitless efforts to establish a new armor school in 1945, Beelaerts was offered space at the Cort Heyligers Barracks, an infantry depot, in the city of Bergen op Zoom. The establishment was approved by the Bevelhebber Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten (Eng: Commander of Domestic Forces) and officially founded on 18th June 1945. On 25th June, the first officers assembled. With help from Prince Bernhard, who had good relations with Beelaerts, the first armored vehicles were loaned from the British/Canadian Army. This included three Staghounds, three Humber LRCs, six Universal Carriers, four motorcycles, and two trucks. More vehicles were acquired in the following months. In December 1945, the Armor School relocated to the Willem III Barracks in the city of Amersfoort. Here, they would also go on to acquire Otters for training from the Deelen dump. In May 1946, the school used 61 Otters, while another 24 were present but out of use. The Otters that were used by the Cavalry Armor School came from the Koninklijke Marechaussee (Eng: Royal Marechaussee, shortened to KMar) reserves.

Otter ‘56539’ is seen here guarding the Dutch-Indonesian conference at the hunting lodge Hubertus in April 1946. Source: Nationaal Archief 2.24.01.03
Dutch troops training with an Otter at Storm School Bloemendaal on 26th August 1947. Source: NIMH 2001_N0000149-14

Use by the Dutch Army

The initial order of 100 vehicles was placed in the interests of the KMar. In January 1946, these Otters became available, although they were lacking part of their ancillary equipment, such as headlights and toolboxes. Near the end of 1946, another twenty followed. They were acquired to equip eight squadrons, including three for the Mobile Brigade of the KMar. The Royal Marechaussee was responsible for providing support to the regular police forces in case of national unrest, which was expected by the Dutch government in the immediate postwar era. One such squadron consisted of a Command Group with two Otters, four platoons with three Otters each, one storm platoon with four GM C15TA armored trucks, and a supply train with two trucks. With three of these squadrons, there would have been 42 Otters in operation. The remainder was placed in reserve and used for training.

In May 1948, the Dutch Army had 356 light armored cars of the Humber Mk. III LRC, Standard Beaverette Mk.IV LRC, and GM Otter Mk.I types. In 1949, 21 Otters were shipped to Indonesia. By April 1951, the total number of all vehicles combined had been reduced to 105 vehicles, including 1 Humber, 11 Beaverettes, and 93 Otters, while the single Humber was planned to be scrapped that same year. In November 1954, the total number of Otters had been reduced to just 60.

Some Otters of the Armor School. The men in training are members of the 5th Armored Car Squadron that would soon head to Indonesia. Source: indiegangers.nl

Shortly after 1948, the Mobile Brigade was disbanded and the Otters were reformed into eight platoons which were then divided over the various divisions. Another platoon was added later and in 1955, there were nine platoons, numbered from 951 to 959. Such a platoon consisted of two motorcycles, one C15TA armored truck used as a command vehicle, six Otters, and a Dodge 3-tonne truck. In total, 54 Otters were operational. In 1958, the platoons were renumbered from 461 to 469, but apart from that, nothing changed. However, two years later in 1960, five platoons, namely 462, 463, 467, 468, and 469, were disbanded. This reduced the total number of operational Otters to 24. Of the other 30, 7-8 were sent to Suriname, while the remainder were cannibalized for spare parts. At least two hulls are known to have ended up as military range targets.

In 1966, the Dutch government placed an order for 266 new tracked M113 C&R vehicles (known as M113 C&V in the Netherlands). Sixteen of these were transferred to the Royal Marechaussee, allowing the Otter to be gradually taken out of service. In 1971, the last ones retired, marking the end of 25 years of service with the Marechaussee.

In Action

Security, Strikes, and Protests

In April 1946, the Otters were deployed for the first time by the Marechaussee. On 14th April, a conference was held in hunting lodge ‘Hubertus’ between the Dutch and an Indonesian delegation regarding the conflict in Indonesia. The conference was guarded by the Marechaussee and Otters were deployed. Directly thereafter, the Otters were redirected to the city of Rotterdam. Near the end of April, sailors had gone on strike in Rotterdam and Amsterdam because one of their labor unions was not involved in new collective agreement negotiations. Dockworkers joined the strike, up to a point when just 10% of them were still going to work. The severity of the strike caused such problems that the Mayor of Rotterdam asked volunteers to assist in the unloading and loading of ships. To protect those volunteers, help from the Marechaussee was called in by the Mayor. These protected the volunteers by patrolling with Otters and also enforcing gathering restrictions. This duty would linger on for two months.

A row of Otters that were deployed to Rotterdam in 1946 during a strike of sailors and dockworkers. Source: marechausseesporen.nl

On 26th September 1961, four Otters were deployed to clear a road barricaded by the farmer and politician Hendrik Koekoek and his followers, so-called ‘Free Farmers’. He refused to pay overdue levies to the Landbouwschap (Eng: Agricultural Authority), causing the Authority to sell part of Koekoek’s land. In protest, Koekoek barricaded a major road between the cities of Vaassen and Epe. The barricade was successfully removed, partially thanks to the deployment of the Otters that were attached to the 3rd Division Royal Marechaussee. The Otters blocked several roads, locking down many farmers. The police managed to force the farmers away.

Seen here are all four Otters that were deployed against the Free Farmers on 26th September 1961. Note the presence of armament and the special helmets and boiler suits of the crews. Source: Nationaal Archief 2.24.01.03

Anti-Smuggling Operations

In the post-war period, the Dutch border guards were troubled by smugglers. Especially on the Belgian border, smugglers made extensive use of armored vehicles taken from Allied Army dumps. The border guards had little means to stop these vehicles, which were often modified M3A1 White Scout Cars that could easily break through barricades. To counter these smugglers, Dutch customs called in the help of the Royal Marechaussee with their armored cars. In February 1948, one Otter was stationed at the Belgian-Dutch border near the city of Moergestel. After several nights of fruitless waiting, the guards finally heard a vehicle approaching on the night of the 24th, which was heading to the Belgian border. Without any other means to stop the smugglers, the Otter accelerated and rammed the M3A1 of the smugglers. Baffled by the sudden collision and unable to get out of the distorted armored compartment, the smugglers were apprehended. The cargo, this time consisting of seven living cows, was confiscated.

Two M3A1 White Scout Cars were confiscated from smugglers and seen here at a depot of Dutch Customs. The right vehicle was rammed by an Otter of the Royal Marechaussee on 24th February 1948. Source: Trouw 26-02-1948

In Indonesia

During the Indonesian Independence War (1945-1949), Dutch forces made extensive use of armored vehicles, including many C15TA ¾ tonners. There was a great demand for these armored trucks by the infantry, but by 1948 and 1949, many were lost due to mines and IEDs. To compensate for their losses, an attempt was made to repurpose pre-WW2 Overvalwagen hulls that were still available in a decent quantity, spread over various dumps in Java. One old hull was placed upon a 3-tonner truck by the Centrale Werkplaats LTD 90 (Eng: Central Workshop) but, although successful, the idea was not further pursued.

A modified Overvalwagen. It is possible that this is the Overvalwagen that was experimentally converted to meet the demand for C15TAs. Note the similarities with the C15TA and the modifications, like the two large frontal hatches and the front grille. Source: Hans Heesakkers / Overvalwagen.com

In 1949, Deputy Commander of the Dutch General Staff in Indonesia, Colonel A.A.J.J. Thompson, visited the Netherlands. He established contact with the Dienst Kwartiermeester Generaal of the Koninklijke Landmacht (KMG/KL). This branch was willing to help out with the bad situation in Indonesia. Further contact was established between the KMG/KL and the KMG/Indië (the KMG responsible for the equipment of the Dutch Army and Colonial Army in Indonesia) and for this occasion, Lieutenant-Colonel J. Hoytema van Konijnenburg was dispatched to the Netherlands. As it turned out, the needed spare parts to repair C15TAs were not available, but some scrap vehicles could be sent to Indonesia to provide some spare parts for the short term.

This photograph was taken on 17th March 1950 in Bandung, during an inspection in front of the Armor Training Center, performed by both Dutch and Indonesian officers. Newly trained Indonesian crews stand in front of the vehicles, which still bear their Dutch registrations. Source: Nationaal Militair Museum

More promising was the offer to supply 21 completely refurbished Otters. Since they were easy to operate and maintain, like the C15TA, the offer was accepted and they were shipped to Indonesia near the end of 1949. However, they came too late to ever see active service with Dutch troops, as they only arrived after sovereignty was transferred on 27th December 1949. The vehicles, presumably all of them, were therefore handed over to the Indonesian Army. Any Indonesian records about their use appear to be non-existent. At least one of the Otters survived in Indonesia as a monument in Cimahi, a city in the Bandung metropolitan area, at the Pusdikpom Kodiklatad military school.

A former Dutch Otter, in use by Indonesian Forces. This photograph was probably taken in the 1950s. Source: warwheels.net
One Indonesian Otter was placed as a monument in front of the Pusdikpom Kodiklatad military school in Cimahi, Bandung. This photograph was taken in 2012 and its current condition is unknown. It may be the only surviving Otter in Indonesia. Source: Nanang Pudjo Bintoro / panoramio.com

In Suriname

Until its independence in 1975, Suriname was part of the Dutch Kingdom. It was defended by the Troepenmacht in Suriname (English: Force in Surinam, abbr. TRIS), a special unit of the Dutch Royal Army. In terms of armor, Surinam had received 73 Marmon-Herrington tanks in 1942. They were of dubious quality and, by 1954, only ten were still operational. This number dropped to two in 1956, causing them to be retired in 1957. The TRIS was now left without any armored vehicles. This situation was rectified in 1960, when seven to eight Otters were shipped from the Netherlands.

Otter KN-50-23, located in Nickerie, Suriname, near the end of 1967. Note the small Dutch flag that is painted above the grille. Source: surfacezero.com

The Otters were used for patrolling and parading. For instance, when the neighboring British colony of British Guiana became independent in 1966, unrest along the border with Suriname caused two Otters to be dispatched to the region of Nickerie.

Near the end of the 1960s, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the Otters. By 1971, just five were still in service and reportedly only seen during parades. Their combat value was also very low, due to their age of more than 25 years. When it was realized that the Otters had become useless, five DAF YP408 APCs were sent in January 1972 to replace the Otters. No attempts were made to ship the Otters back because that would be too expensive. Instead, one ended up on display at Fort New Amsterdam in Paramaribo, while the others were discarded. Two wrecks were eventually recovered in the 2000s by members of the TRIS museum in the Netherlands and shipped back. Both appear to still be in the museum’s collection. It is unknown if the other four to five vehicles remain as wrecks in Suriname or if they have been scrapped completely.

Known registrations are: KN-50-01; KN-50-10; KN-50-17; KN-50-23; KN-50-91; KN-50-93; KN-50-99.

Close-up on the turret of an Otter in Suriname. Photo taken in 1965. Source: troepenmachtinsuriname.nl
A photograph from the 1960s, showing four Dutch Otters parading through Paramaribo, Suriname. Visible registrations are KN-50-17 and KN-50-91. Source: uhlenbeckholding.nl
Two Otters are used during a riot control training exercise in Suriname. Source: Nationaal Militair Museum via Klaasm67

Surviving Otters In The Netherlands

Compared to other types of armored vehicles, quite a large number of Otters still survive in the Netherlands, although some of them are not former Dutch vehicles, while actual former Dutch vehicles have been sold abroad. Of all Otters that have survived worldwide, roughly half of them are former Dutch vehicles.
* Two wrecks, recovered in 2006 from Suriname, are located at the TRIS museum in Zwijndrecht. By 2019, one was restored to running condition. The other has been fitted with new wheels and axles. Former TRIS vehicles.
* Otter ‘37208’, located at the Cavalry Museum in Amersfoort. It is in drivable condition and painted in regular Army colors. Former Dutch vehicle.
* Otter ‘290435’, former gate guard at the Willem III Barracks in Amersfoort, currently located inside the Marechaussee Museum in Denekamp. Former Dutch vehicle.
* Otter ‘57062’, located at the National Military Museum in Soesterberg. Although painted in Dutch colors, it was not used by the Dutch. Provenance unknown.
* Otter ‘CF150626’, Overloon War Museum, World War 2 markings, provenance unknown.
* Otter ‘F210158’, formerly owned by the late private collector Dirk Leegwater, was sold to a private collector around 2009. Painted in Canadian Army markings, no turret. Provenance unknown.

Surviving Dutch Otters Outside The Netherlands

* Otter ‘CZ4288021’, restored for the Belgian Dieffenbach Collection, sold to Wheels of Liberation, Pennsylvania, in 2019. Former Dutch vehicle.
* Otter ‘CM4647296’. Stored for a long time in the Netherlands and sold to the Czech reenactment group Ocelová pěst (Hand of Steel) in 2015. Resold to the Canadian RHLI museum in 2019. Former Dutch vehicle.
* Otter ‘KN-50-99’, located at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, Paramaribo, Suriname. Former TRIS vehicle.
* Otter, located at Pusdikpom Kodiklatad military school in Cimahi, Indonesia. Former Dutch vehicle.

The two former TRIS Otters which were repatriated by the TRIS-museum from Suriname, photographed in 2020. One has been completely restored, while the suspension of the other has been improved to ‘rolling condition’. Source: Ruud Boots

Registrations

In Dutch use, the Otters were initially registered with a five-digit number. Based on the few known registrations, these numbers generally started with 12, 31, 33, 36, 37, 56, or 57. Around 1960, the vehicles were renumbered and fitted with proper registration plates. These consisted of two letters, followed by two sets of two numbers. Generally, the number plates of the Otters started with KN-40 and KN-50, followed by a unique two-digit number.

Five Otters of the TRIS in Suriname. The Otter in the front bears the registration KN-50-10. Source: dafyp408.nl
Another shot from the same parade. Source: Pieter de Wit / 45painfbat.nl

Conclusion

The GM Otter was a valuable asset for the Dutch Army, especially in the immediate post-war period. It was extensively used by the Royal Marechaussee, and also for training cavalry units. It was generally well-liked by its users, thanks to its ease of operation, maintenance, and its simplicity, although visibility was considered rather poor. Compared to other armored vehicles of World War 2 vintage that were taken over by the Dutch Army, the Otters remained in service for a long time, since most of the others were already taken out of service and replaced in the 1950s.

Illustration of the Otter in Dutch service. Original by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet with modifications by the excellent Octo10, funded through our Patreon campaign.

GM Otter Mk.I specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.496 x 2.134 x 2.438 m
Wheelbase 2.565 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 4627 kg
Crew 3 (Driver, Commander, Gunner)
Propulsion GMC model 270, 4-stroke, 6-cylinder petrol engine with 91.5 hp at 2750 rpm, 106 hp at 3000 rpm
Max. speed 75 km/h
Cruising speed 40-60 km/h
Range 350 km
Armament Bren
Armor 12 mm front and roof, 10 mm rear, 8 mm sides and turret
Radio Wireless set no.19
Fuel 140 liters
Total Production 1761, circa 120 used by the Dutch

Sources

Nederlandse Pantservoertuigen, Dr. C.M. Schulten & J. Theil, Van Holkema & Warendorf Publishing, 1979, p.32, 53.
De Koninklijke Marechaussee en de Pantserwagens voor de Bijstand, 1st Lieutenant H.J. de Vries, Stichting Vrienden van het Marechausseemuseum, 2015, p.7-9.
Vier Eeuwen Nederlandse Cavalerie Deel 2, J.A.C. Bartels, Uitgeverij de Bataafsche Leeuw, 1987.
Wheels & Tracks, no.55
Wiel en Rups: Voertuigen van de Landmacht 1945-2015, Sander Ruys, Uitgeverij JEA, 2020, p.28-35 & 54-59.
AFV Weapons Profile 30, Armoured Cars – Marmon-Herrington, Alvis-Straussler, Light Reconnaissance, B.T. White, Profile Publications, June 1971, p.236.
Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie, Den Haag, Dekolonisatie van Nederlands-Indië (1945 – 1950), Toegang 509, inventarisnummer 3.4.2.6.407, Leger Pantsertroepen Commando 1 januari 1949 – 1 januari 1950.
Pantserauto’s in den smokkelstrijd, Trouw, 26th February 1948, delpher.nl.
Mapleleafup Forums.
Otter (pantservoertuig), Tris Online – Troepenmacht in Suriname, trisonline.nl.
Troepenmacht in Suriname TRIS, Suriname krijgt 5 DAF YP-408, dafyp408.nl.
Suriname, 1972 Troepenmacht in Suriname krijgt vijf YP-408, dafyp408.nl.
Surviving Otter Light Reconnaissance Cars, the.shadock.free.fr, surviving panzers.