The Sinking of HMS Exeter in 1942

Japan attacked British, American and Dutch territories across Asia and the Pacific during December 1941.  

After Japan declared war the navy sent HMS Exeter to join HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse but whilst en route news came through that the Japanese had attacked and sunk both ships.

This attack by land-based aircraft shocked the navy and showed how vulnerable the fleet were without adequate air support.  

HMS Exeter now diverted to escort duties in support of the Malaya campaign until assigned to the American British Dutch Australian Command (ABDACOM).

As part of this force Exeter set out from Surabaya on 27 February 1942 to engage the Japanese following reports that enemy ships were in the area.

The Allied navies suffered a disastrous defeat at the hand of the Imperial Japanese Navy. HMS Exeter hit early in the battle, withdrew. Two days later, she attempted to escape approaching Japanese forces but sank on 1 March in the Second Battle of the Java Sea.

The Japanese picked up 714 officers and men from HMS Exeter together with survivors from HMS Encounter and Pope and they became prisoners of war. 

These significant naval losses together with the fall of Singapore effectively forced British naval operations to the fringes of the Indian Ocean. Subsequently the British gave priority to the war in Europe until the establishment of the British Pacific Fleet in 1944 which was based in Sydney, Australia.

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