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Douglas 8A-3N


The Douglas 8A-3N [or Northrop-85] was the only non-Dutch plane in the Dutch airforce that had an operational role in May 1940. And what a tragic fate this plane would await in Dutch service ...?!

The purchase history

In 1938 the Dutch military command grew increasingly worried over the hesitant governmental defence purchasers and the limited capacity of the indigenous industry to design and produce modern and capable planes. Especially when the 2nd Air Regiment [Field Army Air Group] was not provided yet with suitable light assault planes in 1938, the military command started issueing strong protests in The Hague. The Field Army was in desperate need of two-crew planes that were able to take a role of both light ground support and strategic reconnaissance. Their complaints landed this time.

Dutch models failed to meet the (high) specification requirements and out of little available foreign designs only three matched the spec: Northrop-Douglas 8A, Seversky 2PA and the Caprioni 134. Due to immediate availability of the Douglas, this model was selected. Intention was to procure 36 planes which would form two squadrons [of 2 x 12 plus 6 spare].

The Douglas was an all metal plane that was capable of reaching a top speed of 416 km/hr [in recce role]. Moreover it could carry up to 600 kg ordinance under the wings. The design had been laid-out as an assault-plane. It was fitted with a radial Pratt & Whitney [Twin Wasp] 1065 hp engine [R-1830-SC3G]. It had [in the Dutch configuration] four rapid fire 7.9 mm machineguns in the wings, and one 7.9 mm manually operated machinegun in the rear that was operated by the observer/bomb-aimer. Furthermore the Douglas was fitted with a retractable cupola for observation and bomb-aiming.

An order for 18 off Douglas DB8A-3N assault bombers was placed in March 1939. The planes would be registered as 381 u/I 398. In August 1939 the 18 planes were crated and shipped to the Netherlands. In September they arrived and in November 1939 they were almost all [hastily] assembled and tested. The hurry to get the delivered planes assembled instantly was caused by the November alarm in 1939.

The Dutch also tried to buy a large amount of suitable [parachute and shrapnel] bombs in the United States, which endeavours all seem to have failed. The last known efforts to convince the US Government to supply these projectiles was noted in April 1940 when a Dutch purchase committee met with the US defence department in relation to delivery of Curtiss CW-21B interception fighters. There is no proof that the Dutch had a large supply of bombs for the Douglas in May 1940; it is however certain that 72 off 50 kg bombs for these planes were stored at Halfweg [large ammo depot near Amsterdam] in the morning of the 10th. It is not traceable where these bombs came from or if these bombs were modified Dutch bombs. It is also obvious that the amount of bombs available was just enough to have every plane fly exactly one assault mission.

The fact that the bomb supply had posed an unexpected hick-up and the fact that the Dutch lacked a sufficient number of fighter planes resulted in a tragic decision at the Dutch Air Force command. It was decided that since the Douglas planes [without the availability of bombs] were hardly usable as assault planes, they would be assigned a fighter role! Although the commander-in-chief of the Dutch airforce had proven himself a very capable officer, this decision may be addressed as a huge blunder. The Douglas was totally unfit to perform a fighter-role. Its airframe was designed for heavy duty rather than low drag and low wing pressure. It was a slow manoeuvrable plane that was unable to climb quickly; poor features for a fighter that are deadly during dog-fight. Still, it was decided so ...

May war

In May 1940 12 off DB-8A were stationed at Ypenburg AFB and 5 were parked at Ockenburg [auxiliary] AFB as full reserve [without engine sparks ...]. One plane had crashed in March 1940, after which it had been scrapped. The unit at Ypenburg AFB was designated as the 3rd JaVA [3rd Fighter Squadron - 2nd Air Regiment].

When the German invasion unleashed and the Luftwaffe appeared over Ypenburg AFB, 11 out of 12 DB8A-3N's took off. One plane was in maintenance. The 11 planes formed four patrols. The tragic events of this very unfortunate squadron are briefly drawn up in below listing:

381: Shot down by three Bf-110's over the Northsea. Crew perished.
382: Shot down a Ju-52; crashed at Honselersdijk [Delft]. One crew member killed.
384: Crash landing at Rozenburg [Rotterdam]. Heavy damage; Crew survived.
385: Shot down and crashed at Kijkduin [The Hague]. Crew perished.
387: Shot down at Nootdorp [Delft]. Crew survived.
388: Shot down by three Bf-109E's and two Bf-110's at Voorschoten. One crew member killed.
389: Landed at Ockenburg AFB. Later destroyed on the ground by German fighter.
390: Shot down a Ju-52. Emergency landing at Schipluiden [near Delft]. Crew survived.
391: Landed at Ockenburg AFB. Later destroyed on the ground by German fighter.
392: Crash landed at Zoetermeer. Destroyed by German fighters. Crew survived.
393: Shot down and crashed in burning oil vessel at Vlaardingen. Crew perished.

All planes were lost after their first mission, and out of 22 crew members 8 had died and several had been wounded. Since the German airbornes also landed at Ockenburg AFB, the 5 reserve planes [plus the two more that landed during the first hour of the invasion] were also lost. None of the Dutch planes - not even the older planes - shared the tragic loss ratio the DB8A-3N suffered after five days of war. But after one hour of war none of the 17 Douglas planes was operational anymore.

Should the DB8A-3N have been assigned a fitting role it would probably have been able to contribute a great deal more to the Dutch effort. Unfortunately it was assigned a role for which it was hopelessly unsuitable, and combined with the German airlanding operation that included Ockenburg AFB this resulted in a total loss of a capable squadron.


Type:  Light assault plane / strategic reconnaissance
Manufacturer:  Northrop-Douglas [USA]
Crew:  2 [pilot and observer/gunner/bomb-aimer]
Size:  Wing span: 14.05 m
  Length: 9.06 m
  Height: 2.97 m
Engine:  Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, 1065 hp
Max. Speed:  416 km/hr [cruising speed 330 km/hr]
Weight:  2,390 kg [empty]
3,580 kg [loaded, full ordinance]
Ceiling:  assault: 7,700 m [25,500 feet]
recce: 8,800 m [29,250 feet]
Max. range:  2,000 km
Armament:  4 off 7.9 mm machineguns in the wings
1 off 7.9 mm manually operated machinegun rear
600 kg bombs, in following configurations:
- 20 x container of 13 parachute bombs
- 2 x 200 kg
- 4 x 100 kg
- 8 x 50 kg
- 2 x 300 kg
In service:  November 1939 - 1940
Number in service:  17 [12 operational; 5 in stock]