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York Class Heavy Cruiser
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
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.
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.
Account of Lt Cmdr George Cooper sinking of HMS Exeter (War Illustrated, 1946)
Fates of the Crew
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.
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!
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 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.
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