Stop That Island!

A daring escape from Java in March 1942

Surabaya, March 6, 1942

Darkness is falling over the almost empty naval base. A few smaller ships are swinging at their anchors, the crews morosely awaiting orders – probably to surrender. The Allied fleet has been sent to the bottom of the shallow Java Sea, the air force has been swept from the skies and Java has been invaded…

When total darkness has fallen there is furtive movement along the line of four small minesweepers anchored off shore. One of them seems to drift away slowly on the ebbing tide, soundless and without a visible light. Fifteen minutes later the small dark shape is lost to sight in the channel between Java and Madura and the engines start in earnest…

The atmosphere on the bridge is tense. Four lookouts are continuously scanning their sectors with night glasses. They curse the weird tangle of camouflage netting that has been draped over the ship, from crow’s nest to waterline to break up the regular outline of a ship of war. It makes their task difficult.

‘See anything’

‘Nothing sir’ is the constant reply.

The ship sails on through the darkness.  HMS “Abraham Crijnssen” is a small minesweeper launched on Sept 22, 1936, a relatively new ship with just a few years of far-east duty on its log.

And tonight, 1st Lt ‘Tony’ van Miert, her commander, has decided not to wait for orders to surrender but to escape with his crew of 45 and continue the fight from Australia. He knows the risks of detection by the ubiquitous Japanese air patrols from their new bases around Java. So he decides to sail only at night and hop from island to island; to anchor at first light and cover the camouflage nets around the ship with freshly cut branches and leaves until it looks like a floating island…

Floating_Island_1

“Abraham Crijnssen” at anchor as a floating island…

And so they crept away from the enemy, first stopping near Lombok, then onwards weaving between the myriad of islands that lay between Java and freedom in Australia. Until they turned into Port Geraldton, halfway down the coast of West-Australia, on their last gallons of bunker fuel…

island-disguise_close

A close look at the disguised bridge

The ship survived the war. It served as HMAS Abraham Crijnssen and was later returned to the Royal Dutch Navy. It now is an exhibit in the Netherlands Naval Museum in Den Helder.

ms_hnms_abraham_crijnssen

And what the ship really looked like…

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About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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