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HMS Exeter Battle of the Java Sea and later loss

HMS Exteter spent most of 1941 on convoy escort duties before she was transferred to the Far East after the start of the Pacific War in December.

Exeter was generally assigned to escorting convoys to and from Singapore during the Malayan Campaign, and she continued on those duties in early February 1942 as the Japanese prepared to invade the Dutch East Indies. Later that month, she was assigned to the Striking Force of the joint American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), and she took on a more active role in the defence of the Dutch East Indies.

The culmination of this was her engagement in the Battle of the Java Sea later in the month as the Allies attempted to intercept several Imperial Japanese Navy invasion convoys.

Exeter was crippled early in the battle, and she did not play much of a role as she withdrew.

Two days later, she attempted to escape approaching Japanese forces, but she was intercepted and sunk by Japanese ships at the beginning of March in the Second Battle of the Java Sea.

HMS Exeter

February 1942

27th        In action against Japanese cruisers HAGURO, NAKA, NACHI, JINTSU escorted by 14 destroyers covering invasion ships with ESF ships.

Hit by 8in shell on the starboard side which exploded in Boiler. Speed reduced to 11 knots and ordered to return to Soerabaya for repair escorted by Dutch destroyer WITTE DE WITH.


Further damage by enemy destroyer torpedoes prevented in determined counter attack by HM Destroyers ELECTRA, JUPITER and ENCOUNTER. HMS ELECTRA was sunk.

Exeter, surface action Killed 27th Feb 1942

 ALLSOPP, William H, Engine Room Artificer 5c, D/MX 73060, killed

 BEASLEY, Ronald, Act/Engine Room Artificer 5c, C/MX 76959, killed

 BOWEN, William G, Stoker 2c, D/KX 111176, killed

 BRAY, Thomas S, Stoker Petty Officer, D/K 56364, killed

 COLLINS, Clement W, Stoker 1c, D/KX 108507, killed

 COPPERTHWAITE, Frederick, Stoker 2c, D/KX 113693, killed

 COX, Harry, Marine, PLY/X 518, killed

 JAMES, George E, Stoker 2c, P/KX 130578, killed

 KAY, James, Stoker 1c, D/KX 111152, killed

 LAMB, William, Ty/Corporal, RM, PLY/X 1780, killed

 MORGAN, Stanley L, Leading Stoker, D/K 65937, killed

 MULDOON, Clifford, Chief Stoker, D/K 62627, killed

 UPTON, Leslie G, Boy 1c, D/JX 180528, killed


28th        Ordered to take passage to Australia with HMS ENCOUNTER and US Destroyer USS POPE.

Destination changed to Colombo because ship’s draught too great to allow passage via Bali Channel and threat of air attacks from newly established airfields. Damage to boilers restricted speed to 23 knots.)


Sighted by Japanese aircraft soon after leaving harbour.


March 1942


1st           Ambushed by Japanese cruisers HAGURO and NACHI escorted by four destroyers which were engaged in a running fight.


Soon afterwards hit in boiler room and lost use of director control for main armament.


Despite smoke screens laid by destroyers received more hits. Fires broke out and all electrical power supplies failed.

Ship was abandoned after 3 hours in action.

Finally sunk by torpedo.

54 of the ship’s company were killed in this action and 651 were rescued by Japanese ships and became POW's

Although most of her crewmen survived the sinking and were rescued by the Japanese about a quarter of them died during Japanese captivity.

In September 1945 those who survived captivity were embarked in HM Depot Ship MAIDSTONE at Maccassar and arrived Fremantle on 30th for repatriation to UK.

Her wreck was discovered in early 2007, and it was declared a war grave, but by 2016 her remains, along with other WWII wrecks, had been destroyed by illegal salvagers.

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Further Reading/ References

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