Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema

Dutch hero of the Second World War

Born: 3 April, 1917, in Indonesia.

Died: 26 September, 2007, in Hawaii, aged 90.

ERIK Hazelhoff Roelfzema won the Netherlands' highest military honour in the Second World War after leading 15 small-boat spying missions to the shores of his Nazi-occupied homeland in 1942, then flew 72 sorties in small plywood planes over Germany to point British bombers toward their targets.

Acclaimed in the Netherlands as one of the nation's greatest Second World War heroes, Hazelhoff Roelfzema gained international recognition after he wrote an autobiography, Soldier of Orange (1971 and 1972). The book offers gripping accounts of coastal landings on moonless nights near Nazi headquarters in the Netherlands, and of dodging splays of tracers and anti- aircraft fire over Berlin.

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Soldier of Orange, titled in deference to the Dutch royal dynasty has sold more than a million copies. In 1977, it was made into a movie by the director Paul Verhoeven, with Rutger Hauer as the 23-year-old Hazelhoff Roelfzema.

"Tracers criss-crossed over our heads like monstrous party streamers," Hazelhoff Roelfzema wrote of the last of his 15 spy missions, on 11 May, 1942, aboard a motorised dinghy that had been slipped over the side of a British gunboat near Noordwijk.

The dinghy came under withering fire after delivering radio transmitters to Dutch resistance fighters who would use the devices to relay information about German installations and troop movements.

Hazelhoff Roelfzema wrote of the gunboat: "Crewmen crouched on the foredeck and along the sides. Finally, they pulled us aboard without stopping, abandoning the dinghy. Then, rearing up under full power, the 320 roared out to sea."

Born in 1917 in Indonesia, when it was under colonial rule as the Dutch East Indies, Hazelhoff Roelfzema was the son of a coffee plantation manager. The family later returned to the Netherlands.

Days after the Nazis invaded, in May 1940, Hazelhoff Roelfzema boarded a Swiss freighter bound for New York. When a British cruiser stopped the freighter, he persuaded the captain to take him to Britain. Once in London, Hazelhoff Roelfzema volunteered for the Dutch section of MI6, the British intelligence service, and was soon assigned to dinghy missions to his homeland.

"He used to joke, 'Wait a minute, I just left'," his wife said. Besides carrying transmitters to the resistance, Hazelhoff Roelfzema and his crew ferried spies to and from the Netherlands.

Despite the success of those missions, Hazelhoff Roelfzema ran foul of Col Mattheus de Bruyne, the newly appointed leader of the Dutch intelligence section, after he refused to provide information to another branch of the Dutch government in exile for fear it had been infiltrated by Nazi sympathisers. Court-martial proceedings were dismissed after the exiled Queen Wilhelmina recommended him for the Militaire Willemsorde.

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The Militaire Willemsorde (the Military Order of William) was bestowed on Hazelhoff Roelfzema in summer 1942 by Queen Wilhelmina, who had fled to London and established the government in exile after the Germans occupied the Netherlands.

Hazelhoff Roelfzema joined the RAF. He learned to fly a De Havilland Mosquito, the twin-engined spruce and balsa plane of the elite Pathfinder Force. The light, agile Mosquito was used for, among other duties, firing flares at potential bombing targets. Lt Hazelhoff Roelfzema's 72 flights into German air space included 25 over Berlin.

Describing a night flight over Berlin, Hazelhoff Roelfzema wrote: "Hundreds of searchlights pierce the cloudless sky, rigid, motionless, like quills of the giant porcupine - Berlin." The RAF awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In April 1945, Hazelhoff Roelfzema was appointed aide-de-camp to Queen Wilhelmina and accompanied her as she returned from exile to the liberated Netherlands.

He moved to the United States in the early 1950s and became a citizen. He was a writer at NBC and for Radio Free Europe. Then, in 1971, he retired to Hawaii, where he was named to the board of Barnwell Industries, an oil and gas exploration company.

Last July, in an interview with De Telegraaf, the Netherlands' largest daily newspaper, Hazelhoff Roelfzema said he had received too much recognition for his wartime exploits. "I became a war hero because I stuck out, because I wrote about my experiences," he said. "But behind every soldier decorated with military honours there are 100 anonymous heroes, some of them greater."

Besides his wife, Hazelhoff Roelfzema is survived by a son, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a great grand-daughter.