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  HMS Exeter (68)
Dutch Navy
York Class Heavy Cruiser

8,390 Tons
540' x 58' x 17'
3 x 8" guns
4 x 4" AA guns
2 x 2 pdr AA guns
2 x triple 21" torpedo tubes
2 x aircraft catapults
2 x seaplanes

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RAN 1942

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RAN February 14, 1942

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Denlay/Skoglie Feb 21, 2007

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Kevin Denlay April 2008

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via Kevin Denlay July 2008

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Empress November 2016

Ship History
Built by Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth, United Kingdom. Laid down on August 1, 1928. Launched on July 18, 1929. Completed July 27, 1931. Named HMS Exeter (68) in honor of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet between 1931-1935, and assigned to the Mediterranean until 1939.

Wartime History
Part of the South American Division, on December 13, 1939 engaged German Admiral Graf Spee. During the battle, Exeter was hit seven times by 11" shells and several near misses. All three turrets were damaged and her speed reduced to 18 knots. During the battle, sixty crew were killed and twenty-three wounded. Afterwards, to the Falkland Islands for emergency repairs until January 1940 then to Devonport for fourteen months of additional repairs. Exeter returned to service escorting Atlantic convoys, then to the Far East.

On February 27, 1942 participated in the Battle of the Java Sea. Hit in the boiler room and ordered to Surabaya. During the battle, she was hit in the boiler room by an 8" shell fired by Haguro and ordered to withdraw towards the Sunda Strait to Surabaya. During this surface action, thirteen of her crew were killed. While covering Exeter's withdrawal, escorting destroyer HMS Electra was sunk by gunfire.

Sinking History
On March 1, 1942, intercepted by Nachi, Haguro and two destroyers. The battle was joined by Ashigara and Myoko plus three destroyers beginning the Second Battle of the Java Sea (The Battle off Bawean Island).

During the battle, Exeter was badly damaged by gunfire from the heavy cruisers and finally two torpedoes fired by Inazuma. She initially had listed well to port prior to sinking but then righted herself after the torpedo hit and sank to starboard before noon in the Java Sea at roughly Lat 5° 0′ 0″ S, Long 111° 0′ 0″ E. During this surface action and her sinking, forty-one of her crew were listed as killed or missing presumed killed.

Also sunk were her escorts: HMS Encounter, and about one and a half hours later USS Pope DD-225 was sunk.

Account of Lt Cmdr George Cooper sinking of HMS Exeter (War Illustrated, 1946)
"So I shall never forget the sight of Exeter going. It did not seem real. We had lived in that ship for a year. We had our cabins and messdecks there, all our private belongings and treasures, mementos of home, books, photographs. I remember throwing my large Barr and Stroud binoculars on the deck before I went over the side. What a waste, I thought, yet a bagatelle compared to the loss of a fine 8-inch cruiser with a score that included the Graf Spee off the River Plate."

Fates of the Crew
Forty of her crew died in the sinking. Approximately 600 survivors including Exeter’s commander became Prisoners Of War (POW). The Allies knew little about her sinking or the fate of her crews until the end of the Pacific War.

The captured crew members were transported to Banjermassen in southern Borneo before being transported to Makassar POW Camp where seven died in captivity. The senior officers were transported to Japan and interred at Zentsuji.

During October 1942 a group of 200 prisoners mostly from Exeter plus Encounter, HMS Stronghold, USS Pope and USS Perch with 800 Dutch prisoners were transported aboard the Asama Maru to Nagasaki then moved to Fukuoka No. 2 camp on Koyagi Island and forced to labor in factories. A total of seven died in captivity. During April 1945, the officers were moved to Hoten near Mukden in Manchuria until the end of the Pacific War.

During January 1943, 200 prisoners from Exeter were forced to to work in a nickel mine at Poemalla in Eastern Celebes (Sulawesi) then returned during September 1943 suffering serious casualties. Another group worked on Marros Airfield, details unknown. During 1945, a group officers and senior ratings were moved to Java.

At the end of the Pacific War, the surviving prisoners were liberated from Makassar POW Camp, Java in the Dutch East Indies and Fukuoka No. 2 and Zentsuji in Japan and Hoten in Manchuria.

Since 2002, the MV Empress repeatedly searched for the shipwreck of HMS Exeter, using side scan sonar to cover every official sinking positions (and several ‘unofficial’ ones), along with many other ‘possible’ sites without success. However scores and scores of other wrecks were discovered during this time.

Then, on February 21, 2007, MV Empress located the shipwreck approximately 90 miles northwest of Bawean Island which was about 60 nautical miles from her captain’s estimated sinking position. This particular expedition had been at sea specifically searching various locations for Exeter (as opposed to a regular dive charter just diving various wrecks) for almost ten days with only a skeleton ‘crew’ on board, and were on the very last legs (before heading for Singapore) of a ten square mile ‘box search’ when Exeter was discovered. The only divers on board where Vidar Skoglie (MV Empress owner / skipper at the time), Alice Skoglie (his wife), Phil Yeutter (Captain, USN Ret.) and Kevin Denlay (researcher / photographer).

The shipwreck lies in just over 200' / 60m, on her starboard side at the bottom of the Java Sea. Later that same day, the team also discovered and dived HMS Encounter several miles away. Although the participants knew exactly and without doubt ‘who’ the Exeter wreck was, news of the discovery was delayed until MV Empress could return to record high definition video footage and more photographs to confirm without doubt to the relevant authorities (and the public at large) that there could be no doubt whatsoever about the historic shipwreck's identity.

During April 2008, MV Empress and a group of divers, again including Kevin Denlay who carried an Explorers Club Expedition Flag – returned for the first time since the discovery, and some of the participants on that expedition helped Denlay survey the shipwreck. On departure they left a Royal Navy Ensign flying in the currents that sweep over the wreck in honor of her crew and those that perished.

The survey findings tend to verify Exeter's crew statements that her crew opened seacocks to prevent her capture and confirmed that, as the Tabular Record of Movement of Japanese destroyer Inazuma claims, she had hit Exeter with two - not just one as generally believed - torpedoes to her starboard side, one amidships, and one just forward of ‘A’ Turret!

Kevin Denlay adds:
"I was informed she was still completely intact in 2012 when Empress last visited the wreck site (prior to her November 2016 visit). And although there are some claims of her being striped bit by bit over the intervening years, I believe it was done in one massive operation, possibly over several weeks or so, or maybe even less, sometime between 2014 and 2016 (after the same salvors were kicked out of Malysian waters circa 2014)."

Between 2014 to 2016, the shipwreck was also dived by Indonesian salvage divers that illegally removed scrap metal and by November 2016 (when an expedition discovered the shocking evidence of their ‘doings’) illegal commercial salvors from outside Indonesia had completely removed the entire shipwreck. Today, the shipwreck is described as "totally removed", leaving only an indent in the seabed as to where she once lay.

During the evening of February 27, 1942 the thirteen crew killed during the surface action were brought ashore and buried at Surabaya. Postwar, the were exhumed and permanently buried at Jakarta War Cemetery.

The forty crew missing presumed killed March 1, 1942 are memorialized at Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon, United Kingdom. The seven that died in Nagasaki are memorialized at the Yokohama Memorial.

During the April 2008 expedition, the Royal Ensign left attached to the wreck was supplied by the then current HMS Exeter D89 to members of the 2008 expedition. Another RN Ensign, flown by Denlay during the initial 2007 discovery expedition, now resides in Exeter Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Saint Peter at Exeter) in Exeter, Devon in the United Kingdom. This flag is brought out on display during the yearly ceremonies held in Exeter City on the first weekend in March on the anniversary of HMS Exeter’s sinking.

On July 27, 2008, a memorial service was conducted aboard the British Type 23 frigate HMS Kent over the shipwreck that included five veteran's of Exeter's surviving crew. Kevin Denlay also attended the memorial service.

HMS Exeter (68) crew killed in action February 27, 1942 - March 1, 1942
War Illustrated 1946 "Lt Cmdr George Cooper account of HMS Exeter’s last action"
Makassar POW Camp Celebes (Sulawesi)
Makassar POW Camp Celebes (Sulawesi) - HMS Report
Robin Brooks - Official Media Release "Two Famous WW11 Warship Wrecks Discovered!" April 30, 2008 [PDF]
Robin Brooks - Java Sea 2008 War Grave
Robin Brooks - Memorial Service in the Java Sea HMS Exeter (1931-1942) Memorial Service
Royal Navy "Royal Navy Commemorates WWII Warships Sunk In Java Sea" 2008 via Wayback September 8, 2008
ANZEC Members - Mr. Kevin V. Denlay (International Fellow - 1998, Australian) via Wayback May 20, 2016
The Guardian "British second world war shipwrecks in Java Sea destroyed by illegal scavenging" Nov 16, 2016
"A preliminary report from an expedition to document sunken ships, seen by the Guardian, shows that the wrecks of HMS Exeter, a 175m heavy cruiser, and destroyer HMS Encounter have been almost totally removed."
History of War: "Java Sea Shipwrecks of World War 2: One of the men who found them reflects on their loss" by James Hoare November 23, 2016
YouTube "Al Jazeera: Indonesian Shipwrecks - WWII shipwrecks sold as scrap in Indonesia" November 23, 2016
Thanks to Kevin Denlay for additional research and analysis.

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Last Updated
October 23, 2019


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