History – WWII ship disguised as island

Neil Wilson - Sub Editor for the Bribie Islander

WWII. World War 2. Battleships. Pacific. History. Military. Navy. Navel.

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Tags: WWII. World War 2. Battleships. Pacific. History. Military. Navy. Navel.

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An island is a land mass that protrudes above the water line and normally consists of sand, rock and soil with either some or most of it covered in a variety of vegetation and, unless there is some type of seismological event that results in it sinking under the water, it can always be found in the same geographical position.

Right? Well, whilst this is certainly true in almost all cases, the following article is about an island that never stayed in the one place for more than one day. While based at Surabaya in the Netherlands East Indies in 1942 during the Allied defeat in the Battle of the Java Sea, the Royal Netherlands Navy’s minesweeper HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, was ordered to make her way, along with three other warships, to the safety of Australian waters but when the time came to commence the voyage, she found herself completely alone.

Featured Image(above): HMAS-HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen

There were several factors which meant that during the trip to safety, the minesweeper would be a very easy target for any Japanese aircraft in the area and not the least of these was her rather slow top speed of only fifteen knots.

She was also very poorly armed, being fitted with only one three-inch gun and two Oerlikon twenty millimetre cannons. Aware of their vulnerability, the forty five members of the ship’s crew knew that they had to come up with a way to minimise their chances of being attacked and so, after much deliberation, the decision was made to utilise one of the crew member’s suggestion and disguise the ship to make it look like an island.

After all the crew working hard ashore to cut down tree branches and shrubs, they all but completely covered the 156-metre vessel in vegetation and the parts that hadn’t been covered were painted to resemble rocks and cliff faces… Fortunately, in that part of the ocean there are nearly 18,000 islands of various sizes so the chance was that one more island was not going to be noticed in amongst the many.

However, what definitely would be looked upon with suspicion by any sharp-eyed Japanese airman was an island that could be seen moving through the water. With this possibility in their minds, the crew of the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen kept their ship in one location during the daylight hours and then sailed as far as possible under the cover of darkness.

The ship and her crew avoided detection by the enemy and after an eight-day voyage arrived at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia on March 20th in 1942. The MNLMS Abraham Crijnssen was built in Schiedam, South Holland, launched in March 1936 and commissioned in May the following year. She was the third of the eight Jan van Amstel-Class minesweepers constructed for the Royal Netherlands Navy and was named after a seventeenth-century Dutch naval commander.

WWII. World War 2. Battleships. Pacific. History. Military. Navy. Navel.

HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen disguised as a tropical island

After arriving in Australia in 1942, she was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy and named the HMAS Abraham Crijnssen. The ship was operated as an antisubmarine escort until her return to RNN control in 1943 and the crew of Dutch sailors was supplemented with survivors from the British destroyer, HMS Jupiter as well as Australian personnel. Following the end of World War II, the minesweeper was used on anti-revolution patrols of the Netherlands East Indies until returning to the Netherlands in August 1951.

After being converted into a boom defence vessel in 1956, she was removed from the navy list in 1960 and was donated to the Sea Cadet Corps for training purposes and in 1995, at the end of a long and varied period of service, was marked for preservation by the Dutch Navy Museum at Den Helder.

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