The WWII Dutch Warship That Pretended To Be an Island to Evade the Enemy

    The Dutch brought camouflage to a whole new level.

    Sometimes in life, the guy with the drunken, so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas hits one out of the park and saves the day. This is clearly what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, the last Dutch warship standing after the Battle of the Java Sea.

    Originally planning to escape to Australia with three other warships, the then-stranded minesweeper had to make the voyage alone and unprotected. The slow-moving vessel could only get up to about 15 knots and had very few guns, boasting only a single 3-inch gun and two Oerlikon 20 mm canons—making it a sitting duck for the Japanese bombers that circled above.

    Related: 13 Epic Battles That Changed the World 

    Knowing their only chance of survival was to make it to the Allies Down Under, the Crijnssen‘s 45 crew members frantically brainstormed ways to make the retreat undetected. The winning idea? Turn the ship into an island.

    You can almost hear crazy-idea guy anticipating his shipmates’ reluctance: “Now guys, just hear me out…” But lucky for him, the Abraham Crijnessen was strapped for time, resources, and alternative means of escape, automatically making the island idea the best idea. Now it was time to put the plan into action.

    abraham crijnssen
    A closeup of the foliage used to camouflage the superstructure of the ship
    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    The crew went ashore to nearby islands and cut down as many trees as they could lug back onto the deck. Then the timber was arranged to look like a jungle canopy, covering as much square footage as possible. Any leftover parts of the ship were painted to look like rocks and cliff faces—these guys weren’t messing around.

    Now, a camouflaged ship in deep trouble is better than a completely exposed ship. But there was still the problem of the Japanese noticing a mysterious moving island and wondering what would happen if they shot at it. Because of this, the crew figured the best means of convincing the Axis powers that they were an island was to truly be an island: by not moving at all during daylight hours.

    Related: A Soldier’s Story: 7 War Books Told by Those Who Were There 

    While the sun was up they would anchor the ship near other islands, then cover as much ocean as they could once night fell—praying the Japanese wouldn’t notice a disappearing and reappearing island amongst the nearly 18,000 existing islands in Indonesia. And, as luck would have it, they didn’t.

    The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces.

    • We Are the Mighty
    • Abraham Crijnssen
    • military history


    scroll up