News Article

World War II Royal Navy wrecks discovered in the Java Sea

A History and Honour news article

23 May 08

The wreck of HMS Exeter and the location of HMS Encounter, which both sank in 1942, have been discovered by a team of recreational divers in the Java Sea near Indonesia.

The White Ensign placed on the wreck

The White Ensign, provided by the current HMS Exeter, which has been temporarily placed on the wreck of the Second World War cruiser
[Picture: Stan Moderate]

The Royal Navy’s White Ensign now respectfully marks the final resting place of the two Royal Navy warships, the exact location of which has been a mystery since they went down following an encounter with a Japanese fleet off the coast of Indonesia.

54 officers and men perished in the sinking of the cruiser HMS Exeter and some 650 of the crew were made prisoners of war by the Japanese, of whom 152 subsequently died in captivity. A further eight men from the destroyer HMS Encounter died in the contact and 149 were made prisoner, of whom 38 were to die as Prisoners Of War.

The wreck of HMS Exeter was found by a group of recreational divers. They initially discovered her in February 2007, but have only just been able to confirm her identity after revisiting the site and obtaining high definition images. HMS Exeter was part of a squadron of American, British, Dutch and Australian warships. She sank on 1 March 1942 following an encounter with a numerically superior Japanese fleet in the Java Sea.

The destroyer HMS Encounter, whose location has also been found by the divers, together with the USS Pope, did their best to protect Exeter in the one-sided battle against the Japanese force, but eventually the stricken Encounter, stopped and with three out of four guns inoperable, was ordered to be scuttled by her captain.

WWII cruiser HMS Exeter sinking

The Second World War cruiser HMS Exeter sinking following an encounter with a Japanese fleet near Indonesia
[Picture: via Kevin Denlay]

The USS Pope, having survived the sinking of the British ships, fought gallantly, expending all of her torpedoes and much of her ammunition, but she was subsequently attacked and sunk by Japanese dive bombers. The wreck of the Pope has not yet been found.

The location of the the wrecks has now been officially presented to Her Majesty’s Government in a short ceremony on board the Type 42 Destroyer, HMS Edinburgh in Singapore.

Commanding Officer of HMS Edinburgh, Commander Gavin Young, said:

"I feel very privileged to accept this information on behalf of HMG and we welcome the discovery. The wrecks represent the last resting place of those who lost their lives in the sinking and it reminds us of their heroism in the face of overwhelming odds."

Commander Paul Brown, the Commanding Officer of the present day HMS Exeter, added:

"This is very much a reminder of the sacrifices made by our predecessors in these gallant ships. And although this battle took place 66 years ago, we should also remember that this news will undoubtedly have an effect on survivors and the families of the ships' companies involved."

Once approval from the Indonesian authorities has been obtained, it is hoped to conduct some form of commemoration service at the location. Clearly this will be done in close consultation with the veteran association.

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