The HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen Escapes

The HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen was a Dutch minelayer, and found herself in the unenviable position as the last Allied ship in the Java Sea. She was supposed to accompany the Exeter for antiaircraft protection but once the boiler was fixed, the Crijnssen was left behind because she could only muster 15 knots at top speed. Her captain pulled her into a cove among some small off shore Javen islands. He knew that the Japanese planes would all be searching for the ships near the Sunda Strait for the rest of the day, but after that they would search for small craft attempting to flee, just like his. The Crijnssen’s slow speed meant she was sure to be spotted and promptly sank.

The captain called the 54 men of the crew together to discuss options. Surrender was out of the question; no rising sun ensign would fly from a Dutch ship. Scuttling was also out; the crew would still be stuck on Java and eventually captured. And everyone knew what the Japanese did to captives. For about an hour they brainstormed ideas. The eventually decided they would stealthily make their way to Australia by night, and hide among the thousands of small islands of the Indonesian archipelago during the day. To do so they needed to camouflage their ship.

So they turned her into an island.

They spent the day cutting down trees and arranging them on deck to look like the jungle. Any exposed portions were painted to look like rocks or cliff faces. On 1 March 1942, the Crijnssen started her long, slow, tortuous, and nerve wracking journey west then south to Australia. At night she steamed at full speed, and during the day she pulled as close to shore as possible and sat motionless. A single sighting by an inquisitive pilot as to why there was a new island where there wasn’t one yesterday, would have doomed the crew. During the eight day journey, the Japanese flew over at least two dozen times. They never noticed the new island below them.

On 9 March 1942, the Crijnssen steamed into the harbor at Freemantle, Australia: the last survivors of the Dutch East Indies campaign.

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