The Dutch ship that disguised itself as an island during World War II

An event as unprecedented as World War II is bound to be filled with stories of human resilience and ingenuity in the face of adversity.

One such story involves a Dutch ship, which came up with a pretty whack — but somehow successful — plan to survive the war.

A secret Dutch ship during World War II

The Dutch Navy had ships in the Dutch East Indies when the Japanese invaded back in 1941. The Japanese Army was ferocious in their attacks, as part of their broader plan to colonise most of the Pacific Ocean.

By 1942, the Japanese Army was clearly winning in South East Asia. Following Allied defeats during the Battle of the Java Sea and the Sunda Strait in February of 1942, all Allied ships in the region were ordered to retreat.

READ MORE | Van hier tot Tokio: a history of Dutch-Japanese relations

One of the Dutch ships on the retreat was the Abraham Crijnssen, a minesweeper built in Schiedam in 1936. The ship was supposed to retreat together with another three ships but found itself having to do the voyage alone.

The disguise of the Dutch Navy ship

It was quite a long trip to Australia and the ship was already in a lot of trouble with the waters filled with Japanese warships. Thankfully, the crew demonstrated some classic Dutch ingenuity and creativity.

They started to cut off trees and vegetation from nearby islands, added them on board, and proceeded to paint the boat in stone-like colours — deciding that the best course of action was to pretend the ship was just an island minding its own business.

Nothing to see here lads, just an oddly long island chilling during World War II. Image: Australian War Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

This is one of those plans that sounds so ridiculous on paper that it’s bound to work. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it did. The ship would pretend to be an island during the day, staying put and just, you know, do island things — like chilling and probably welcoming crabs on board.

During the night, the sneaky lads would sail closer to the destination, repeating the process until they managed to put a considerable distance between themselves and the Japanese Navy.

READ MORE | Photo report: the Netherlands at war, 1940-1945

The fact that the Japanese Navy seemed to have missed an island shaped like a boat that would change position every now and then is beyond all of us, and probably surprised the hell out of the Dutch crew as well.

We can only imagine a crew member wiping the sweat off their brow with their hand after they escaped, saying “Wow, that worked?!”

A happy ending for the Dutch island ship

For the remainder of the war, the ship stayed in Australia. Following the end of the war, it was used for anti-revolution patrols in the Dutch East Indies. The ship finally made its way back home to the Netherlands in 1951.

The wartime Dutch ship is not as exciting without the vegetation on and definitely easier to spot. Image: Nick-D/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

Removed from the Navy list in 1960, the ship moved ports across the Netherlands a couple of times, before finally settling down at the Dutch Navy Museum in Den Helder. You can go give it a visit (although no, unfortunately, it’s no longer disguised as an island).

Have you heard this story before? Tell us your thoughts on this ingenious Dutch plan in the comments below!

Feature Image: Australian War Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2020 and was fully updated in May 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad was born and raised in Brasov, Romania and came to the Hague to study. When he isn't spending time missing mountains or complaining about the lack of urban exploration locations in the Netherlands, you can find him writing at Dutch Review.

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  1. There has to be a film made of this somewhere, if not by hollywood, by a Dutch film crew. Probably a comedy in the class of Mr Roberts


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