WWII History: The Ship That Fooled The Japanese By Becoming An Island

WWII History: The Ship That Fooled The Japanese By Becoming An Island | World War Wings Videos

Netherlands Indies Government Information Service - Australian War Museum / Public Domain

This is a story fit for a movie. The HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen was an underdog in a desperate situation. The solution was nothing short of genius. Here’s how it all went down.

In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time

(Star) Approximate location of the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen when Java was invaded by the Japanese. The ship had to escape to Australia (green) in order to be safe. | India_Indonesia_Locator.svg / Public Domain


A minesweeper of the Royal Navy, the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen and three other Dutch ships  were based in Surabaya (modern-day Indonesia) in 1941. This was a very unfortunate location to be when Japan invaded, especially because the HNLMS Abraham Crijnsenn was not a fast ship (17 mph at most) and could barely defend itself ( armed with just one 3-inch gun and two 20mm cannons). She was lucky though- the other three Dutch ships did not survive.

Surrounded By The Enemy

Japanese bombers over Corregidor. Bomber planes were a major threat to the ship’s survival. | Japanese military personnel / Public Domain

Crijnssen’s chances of survival were looking slim. The Java Sea and Sunda Strait were swarming with Japanese ships and the sky was buzzing with planes. It was only a matter of time before the Crijnssen was detected and destroyed. Where could they hide? How could they run?

A Brilliant Disguise

Close-up of the foliage used to camouflage the superstructure of the ship. | Netherlands Indies Government Information Service / Public Domain

They couldn’t hide or run as a ship. The captain thought, “What if they just became an island – a moving island?” There were so many islands in this part of the world, the resources to disguise the ship were plentiful, and it was definitely worth a shot.

So that’s exactly what they did. All 180 ft long and 25 ft wide of the ship was covered in foliage and the hull painted gray to look like rocks.

The rechristened HMAS Abraham Crijnessen serving as an Auxilary Anti Submarine Vessel after making it safely to Australia. | No.32. Squadron RAAF / Public Domain

The Crijnssen took the extra caution of only traveling by night. During the day, they quietly kept still next to the real islands. In this way, the ship miraculously escaped right out from under Japan’s thumb. After eight days, they were safe in Australia. The suspense must have been insane!

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