Early March 1942 it was all too clear that the last stronghold in the Dutch East-Indies, Java, was to fall into Japanese hands very soon. The Battle in the Java Sea was lost and all capital Dutch Royal Navy ships were sunk including the Dutch flagship, the light cruiser Hr. Ms. De Ruyter. The remaining, smaller ships received the order to withdraw to Australia or Colombo, Ceylon. If this was, due to a short range capability, impossible the ships were to be destroyed. Not any ship was allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy under any circumstance.
Among the smaller ships in Java at that time, there were four steel minesweepers of the Jan van Amstel-class. Together they formed the 2nd Minesweeper Division under command of Lieutenant Commander J.R.L. Lebeau. The division consisted of Hr. Ms. Jan van Amstel, Hr. Ms. Pieter de Bitter, Hr. Ms. Abraham Crijnssen and Hr. Ms. Eland Dubois and was stationed in Surabaya, the main naval base in northeast Java.
As early as February 17th 1942, the 2nd Minesweeper Division had been issued the order by the Dutch navy commander, Rear Admiral P. Koenraad, to attempt to escape after receiving the code KPX. But early March the commanders of the minesweepers still had not yet received clear instructions what to do when the order KPX was given while the personnel of the navy establishment in Surabaya was already busy destroying the harbor facilities. There was tremendous chaos in Surabaya at that period. The Japanese controlled both the sea and the sky around and above Java and escaping became more difficult with every hour that passed.