Shock of the Rising Sun
Following her exploits against Graf Spee in 1939 heavy cruiser Exeter was decommissioned for a lengthy refit. The ship recommissioned and returned to duty with a new crew in March 1941. It was against the backdrop of ever rising Japanese power and ambitions in Asia that Exeter was sent to Colombo in October. In December she was part of a troop convoy bound for Singapore when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and declared war against the United States and Britain. Exeter and the Singapore convoy were attacked by Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes, but the cruiser was not once hit. Her captain took it upon himself to lie down on the flat of his back in order to better see his attackers. His precise orders to the helm for evasive steering kept Exeter from harm. The gunnery department also used the tactic of firing the ship’s main battery of 8-inch guns at low flying torpedo planes. Instead of hoping to hit an oncoming plane, the gunfire was directed at a spot in the water ahead of the attacker. A heavy curtain of spray would be raised by the shell’s impact to either throw a pilot off course or misdirect an otherwise properly aimed torpedo.
The first two months of the Pacific war were busy and successful ones for the Japanese Imperial Navy. Following “Top Secret Operational Order No. 1,” it was intent on having Britain and the Dutch driven from the East Indies and America ousted from the Philippines. By mid-February 1942, Japan had either managed, or was well on the way to the following goals: the destruction of the American Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Siam, and the conquest of the Philippines, British Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. In addition to the fulfillment of her self-declared hegemonic destiny, Japan sought to establish a defensive barrier against any future American counterattack from the east. Tokyo expected that control of the region’s natural resources of oil, timber, rubber, and minerals would lead Japan to quick victory. 1.
The Allied response was to do whatever it could to halt the Japanese advance in the East Indies. They formed themselves into the nominally unified American, British, Dutch, and Australian, or ABDA command. Unfortunately, their military resources in the region were few in number, scattered, and operationally unfamiliar with one another. In February Exeter steamed south to Java where she joined ABDA. The command’s largest warships were Exeter and the American heavy cruiser, USS Houston which were backed by seven light cruisers, about 20 destroyers, a handful of submarines, and half dozen auxiliary ships. ABDA had no aircraft carriers and the availability of land-based air support was practically non-existent. Meanwhile, Japan’s forces in the area included some of her most modern and powerful ships: two battleships, 13 heavy cruisers, five light cruisers, two small aircraft carriers, four of the large aircraft carriers that had raided Pearl Harbor, and numerous destroyers. The warships were accompanied by an invasion force consisting of many troop transports and heavily laden supply ships. 2.
“We Went Into Action”– HMS Exeter and the Battle of the Java Sea
As ABDA was coming together, the Japanese launched an air attack against the port at Darwin in efforts to cut the sea link between Java and Australia. Oil rich Dutch Borneo had already fallen as had Bali off the eastern tip of Java. The next Japanese targets were the ports of Batavia (Jakarta) and Surabaya on Java’s northern coast. Late that month, an ABDA cruiser-destroyer force under command of Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman was ordered out of Surabaya to meet the oncoming Japanese invasion force. Doorman had overall command of Exeter and USS Houston, Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth, Dutch light cruisers HNMSs Java and de Ruyter, and 9 destroyers of mixed national origins. The Japanese force was about 50 miles north of Doorman’s position. The Imperial Navy steamed southward with two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 14 destroyers, and many heavily loaded troop transports and supply ships.
Admiral Doorman requested air cover but, unsurprisingly, was informed that there could be none. When the ABDA ships sighted the Japanese force on the horizon, Doorman’s ships were disposed in two columns: one of cruisers and the other of the destroyers. Exeter was the second in the line of five cruisers which sped ahead to meet the enemy. The two Japanese heavy cruisers opened fire first and the Japanese light cruiser, serving as a destroyer flotilla leader, brought her column of destroyers into action against that of the ABDA force. The Japanese light cruiser opened fire and immediately straddled a British destroyer. The opposing cruiser columns had been steaming on a parallel track, but the Japanese executed a turn to port that could have placed them perpendicular to the ABDA column. This would have allowed the Japanese to steam by the head of the column of ABDA ships to consume them with raking fire from all guns. The ABDA cruisers would have only been able to answer with their forward guns. Admiral Doorman took the advantage away from the Japanese, however, by making his own turn to port to bring his column back on parallel track with theirs. Exeter and Houston fired at their enemies.
Thomas Adams joined the Navy when he was 15 after seeing a former schoolmate who had joined earlier home on leave. He asked his friend if he could try on his uniform and, when he did, he was very taken with the way he looked. Just a week later, he had a uniform of his own. He began service as a boy seaman. He was 32 years old with over 15 years in the Navy as a gunner and gunnery instructor when he reported aboard Exeter when she recommissioned. He remembered the battle with the Japanese.
We left Surabaya on February 27th to intercept what a Dutch reconnaissance aircraft had reported as a convoy of merchant ships. When eventually we encountered them, we found that it was a very strong force of warships … We went into action led by the Dutch cruiser and the Dutch Admiral … who steamed into attack in line ahead. He opened fire at a range of about 24,000 yards when the maximum range of his guns was about 18,000 … we fought an action where all the shot from the Dutch cruisers was falling short so that the target was obscured from our controls. I was enclosed in the turret … we were informed by control of roughly what was happening. And then after about an hour we received a hit on S2 4-inch gun … that was the second of our antiaircraft guns on the starboard side which was manned by the Royal Marines. The shell which landed there went through the deck and down by pure bad fortune for us, good luck for the Japanese, it went down through the hatchway into the boiler room, and exploded in the boiler room bursting the main steam pipe in B boiler room. That meant that we lost all power; our dynamos were off the board and as all our main armament was operated electrically we were out of action … we were forced to reduce speed to six knots and (Australian light cruiser) Perth and (American heavy cruiser) Houston made a smoke screen and allowed us to escape out of the line and we limped back to Surabaya. We were to discover afterwards that the whole of our fleet was either sunk or dispersed … One English destroyer, the Encounter, and one American destroyer, the Pope, came back (with us)…. 3.
Even though the hit on Exeter did not actually explode as Adams stated, it nonetheless caused the ship to lose speed. In order to avoid being rammed from behind by Houston, Exeter turned sharply to port. This was interpreted by Houston as a maneuver to follow, which she did. The next two ships in line, Perth and Java, did likewise, and the ABDA line was now hopelessly out of formation.
Doorman ordered a destroyer attack to cover the broken line and to allow Exeter time to clear to safety, but the action was ineffective. The British destroyer Electra was sunk. Shortly afterward, another British destroyer, Jupiter, exploded and was lost when she hit what was probably a Dutch mine. Formation with the four as yet undamaged cruisers and a destroyer was eventually regained, but the Japanese launched a torpedo attack which sank the two Dutch cruisers. Before his ship went down, Admiral Doorman ordered Houston and Perth to turn for Batavia, but the Japanese caught up with them in the Sunda Strait and they were overwhelmed. The surviving ABDA destroyers straggled back to port, but the allies’ overall effort had been thoroughly futile. But for several hits on a single destroyer, the Japanese suffered no damage. The invasion convoy remained intact and was not at all delayed from its mission. 4.
“Abandon Ship!”– The End for Exeter
Exeter made port at Surabaya just before midnight of 27 February. The crew made what repairs they could, offloaded the seriously wounded, and buried the dead. As night gave way to light, Japanese aircraft appeared and made frequent attacks which Exeter managed to hold off with heavy fire from her 4-inch guns. When darkness fell on the 28th, Exeter, accompanied by her destroyer companions USS Pope and HMS Encounter, departed with the intention of making a break eastward to Colombo. 5.
Even as she was underway, Exeter’s engineering department worked with urgency on her damaged boilers. They had gotten the cruiser up to 23 knots when a lookout spotted the masts of two ships on the horizon. These were the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro. Nearby were two more hostile heavy cruisers, Ashigara and Myoko along with two destroyers. The Japanese opened fire first. Pope and Encounter made smoke to screen Exeter. Exeter returned fire, but electrical problems with her fire control systems caused her shells to fall off target. The Japanese were being spotted for by a plane overhead and their gunners immediately straddled the British cruiser. Exeter turned towards a rain squall in hopes that it could conceal her well enough to allow for an escape. Her main battery engaged the Japanese cruisers while her secondary battery, Pope, and Encounter dueled with the Japanese destroyers. Exeter also launched torpedoes at her tormentors, but she soon suffered a crippling hit to another of her boiler rooms. The ship’s electrical power went off so that none of her guns were able to fire. Encounter was soon hit and sunk. Pope would outlast her two companions only to succumb to dive bombers just a few hours later. Gunner Adams recalled the action.
We steamed through Saturday night and at first light on Sunday morning (01 March), sighted Japanese warships. Once again, I went to action stations in my turret … we engaged the first of the enemy … it was about 0900 on Sunday morning and we continued in action then until 1130 during which time A turret, of which I was captain … my position as gunnery instructor … had fired some 600 rounds of 8-inch ammunition at the Japanese, to what effect I wouldn’t like to say. I’ve read the Japanese account of it and we had only scored two hits according to them, but my talks with our gunnery officer … led me to believe that we did far better than that … once again the Japs had one lucky hit and that burst the main steam pipe in the other boiler room. We were then completely helpless … gradually coming to a stop … so the next thing I heard was over our tannoy system … was “Abandon ship! Sink the ship!” I was flabbergasted because at no time had I ever even dreamed we weren’t going to get out of it … the last thing that I thought was that my ship was going to get sunk, but that was a fact, and the captain ordered us to sink the ship … (We) proceeded to abandon ship. I … and some others attempted to get one of the whalers out … but I found myself in the water … I was swimming around … and eventually found some of the others in the water. The Japanese 6. were very close to us and they were beginning to pick up survivors … they picked up some and then steamed away and we were left there.7.
“It Seemed a Policy to Humiliate Us”– Prisoners
Exeter went down after her seacocks had been opened and explosive charges had been set in some of her propulsion spaces. Her captain could not risk that the enemy might salvage her for his own uses. The following day, a number of Japanese destroyers reappeared and took all the remaining survivors they could find. Those pulled from the water included men from Pope, Encounter, and Exeter. Although saved from the sea, none of the survivors were treated with any particular kindness. Most of the men who later spoke about the experience told of being left to sit on the open decks of the Japanese destroyers and of being hit when they could not move quickly enough to satisfy their captors. Exeter survivor, Cecil Rowse, who was a supply rating in his early 20s at the time, wrote a letter home that was made public by his wife in September 1945. A portion of the letter describes Rowse’s first days with the Japanese.
We drifted round all night and all next day, until four o’clock the following afternoon, when a Jap destroyer came into view and finally hauled us out of the water. Out of the original 16 (in Rowse’s group), two had died during the night – one had been wounded in the stomach by shrapnel from exploding shells while in the water, and the other had swallowed a lot of oil … It was difficult to hoist my hind quarters out of the water and when I did, I found that my legs were so thoroughly water logged that I could not stand. This inability did not go well with “Churchill’s funny little yellow men” who proceeded to plant a few hefty kicks in the ribs just by way of a greeting … However, I got planted on the forecastle of the ship with about 100 others who had been picked up previously. While sitting here I noticed that our guards were going round taking the rings, watches, etc. off of the fellows … (Rowse then deliberately threw his watch overboard) … this action was observed by one of the guards who gave me a wallop over the head with a rifle butt and laid me out … We were issued with two ship’s hard biscuits through the evening and some water … We arrived at Makassar (northeast of Java) on March 10th where we were marched about three miles bare footed over red hot roads in the middle of the day. We must have presented a lovely sight, with the captain in the front rank and us trailing behind, looking very bedraggled with oil covering us … We had received no clothes as yet (and) some of the fellows were negative trousers. It seemed to be the policy of the Japs to humiliate us as much as possible … for this I can never forgive them. 8.
Gunnery Instructor Adams was eventually picked up to spend a full day on a Japanese destroyer. He and his companions were taken to a captured Dutch hospital ship that was still staffed by Dutch personnel. After a week during which the wounded were cared for aboard the ship, the prisoners were transferred to the same Makassar camp that held Cecil Rowse. Adams’ group was placed into what had previously been a horse stable. The men were placed eight to a stall. The Japanese recognized that Adams was a senior rating so they assigned him to act as a kitchen supervisor. He took to the task and made certain that food rations were fairly and evenly distributed to his fellow prisoners. The typical food doled out was rice that had been cooked into a soft porridge accompanied by coffee for breakfast. Cooked rice and some greens made up the afternoon meal and, in the evening, there was a miniscule meat ration that often amounted to little more than a greasy liquid. Eventually, many prisoners would find or make items that they could barter through the fence with native Indonesians for a little extra food.
“A Handful of Rice and a Dried Fish Head”– Life in the Camps
Another Exeter crewman, Ordnance Artificer Doug Grant, was 18 when he was originally to have been posted to Glasgow in his native Scotland. It was a duty station that he did not relish.
… I told the lieutenant in charge – “you can’t send me there, sir. I joined the Navy to get away from the damn place.” And I was lucky. There was a young fellow who had just got married and was being assigned to Colombo to await posting. So I swapped with him. He went to Glasgow and I went to Colombo and was eventually assigned to Exeter. 9.
Grant was working in Y turret as his ship vainly fought for survival. One of the shell hoists to the turret had gotten jammed. He worked for what he felt was hours trying to free it so that its gun would be able to fire. He managed to free the jam, but was so exhausted by the effort that all he could do for a time afterwards was to lie atop a pile of shells that had accumulated in the turret. He could barely move. It was from that position that he heard the order to abandon ship. Not being a swimmer, Grant carefully inflated his life belt before jumping into the water after a Carley float. The ship was still making way forward as the Japanese continued to shoot at it. Grant was picked up several hours later to begin a three and a half year ordeal as a Japanese prisoner of war. Entries from Grant’s preserved diary provide a look at what life was like for some of Exeter’s men in prison camp.
March 9, 1942. Arrived off Makassar. Not much of a place to look at … Not bad as prison camps go. It was a native military camp before the Dutch ran to the hills … where 16 native soldiers lived, 80 (prisoners) live now … one thing in its favor … it’s all stone floors so we’ll be able to keep it fairly clean … at 6 PM we got two biscuits each, the first we’ve had since 8 AM and that consisted of about an eighth part of a biscuit and a watery cup of coffee so we didn’t hesitate digging into the hardtack … Turned in on the stone deck and I don’t mind telling you it’s bloody cold and on top of that we are practically eaten alive by mosquitoes.10.
Some of the prisoners were paid a small salary for being put to work. Others were able to sell their meager possessions to the locals for a few cents. Because food was scarce, the money would usually be spent on the purchase of extra rations from natives near the camp. Much of Grant’s diary contains entries that are centered on themes that are common to the memories of practically all of his fellow POWs: the scarcity of food and constant hunger.
Half a bun for breakfast this morning … At 5 PM we get our next meal … a handful of rice and a dried fish head … It’s the most awful looking thing I’ve ever seen … it stinks like hell and the flies have been crawling all over it ... but as I’m semi-starving it tasted delicious … Some prisoners are even boiling up grass to try to make soup and some are catching sparrows. You have to have about ten of them before you can taste anything. I sold my (navy issue) shorts for 35 cents. I bought four eggs and three small native buns. … Sold my breakfast this morning for 25 cents … Went working party and had a swell time in the grass cutting party. At stand easy the Jap guards opened up a case of ship’s biscuits and gave us three each. When dinner time came I was able to buy five cents worth of banana fritters (from local residents who were not prisoners) before the lorry came with dinner (consisting) of rice, greens and an egg – then the Japs brought down what had been left of their meal … I got a whopping big ladle filled with meat and greens and by God it was lovely. The finest thing I tasted since I left the ship. 11.
Grant, as did many other prisoners, worried that his family would not know what had become of him. He did not want them to worry or to think that he might be dead. In most cases it would not be until the end of the war before the ones left behind would know for certain how their sailors had fared. On the home front the sister, then a mere child, of an Exeter sailor recalled her family’s ordeal following the ship’s loss.
I was only three years old when the war started … My brother, Raymond, worked for the electricity company at the time but, knowing that he would get called up, enlisted in the Royal Navy … The first and last time I saw Raymond in his Navy uniform was at Christmas 1940 when he was home on leave. He made a very impressive sight for a four year old! On 1st March 1942 my brother’s ship … was … sunk in the Java Sea. My family was sent an awful telegram saying that he was “missing, presumed dead” … Some months later, another telegram arrived telling us that, in fact, Raymond was alive and living in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. We had no way of knowing what conditions were like in these camps and this gave us renewed hope … There was no more news until March 1945, when a further telegram arrived to tell us that Raymond had died. Now aged nine I screamed ‘blue murder’ when I heard the news and I was scared to sleep at nights. My other brother kept it all inside and my mother convinced herself that the telegram must be wrong and Raymond was still alive. There was no counselling available for anyone. A little while after the war, Dick Best, a (friend) of my brother’s on HMS Exeter and in the camp came to (our home). He remained in contact with the family until he died in 1992 and I still have contact with his wife … As a child, I was asked whether I felt any animosity towards the Japanese because of my brother’s death. At the time, my innocence led me to assert that I was not aware that any animosity should be felt or a grudge borne. However, when after my mother’s death, Dick told me how Raymond had died horribly at the hands of his captors, my feelings welled up. I have a strong Christian faith, however, and through prayer and reconciliation I was able to forgive and move on. 12.
The British prisoners were mixed in with those of other nationalities; notably Dutch and American. As they were all in the same situation, they tended to get on well together. They spent many hours talking to one another about the life and culture of their respective countries. Prisoners were organized into work parties that would spend early morning until about 6 PM at manual labor of various types. The Japanese allowed the men to organize themselves as they saw fit. The British developed a system in which every man would be able to rotate through a series of types of work in an equitable fashion. There was little, if anything, be it food, clothing, or medication that the Japanese would provide for the prisoners. Whenever possible the men would steal from the Japanese.
… stealing wasn’t theft as we know it now. It was stealing from the Japanese which was part of the war effort. We just stole anything and everything … Food, principally, if we could steal anything to eat, that was the main thing, but otherwise we stole anything we could use to barter with the natives for food … a working party one day, while they were unloading a ship, discovered a case of Gillette razor blades which they promptly confiscated and hid away until they could get them into camp … the Japanese never knew who took the razor blades but (they) were so sure it was us … (so) they issued an order for everyone to shave. 13.
Discipline was strict and punishment for even the most minor infractions against Japanese established rules was harsh. Any failing on the part of a prisoner was usually treated with a sound beating. A man would be stood up and hit across the buttocks with a baseball bat. A “light” sentence was 40 blows, but 200 were not unusual. There was also the withholding of food. On the other hand, good behavior or work well performed was sometimes rewarded with extra rations. Escape, while instilled by all branches of the military as an obligation of the fighting man, was not a realistic option. The prisoners understood that they were white men on an island of brown skinned natives. There would be no place to go or hide if they were to leave the confines of their camp. The closest friendly territory was in Australia, 600 miles away over water.
Although practically all of the Japanese guards were cruel, harsh, or, at best, indifferent there were some exceptions. Gunner Adams and some of his fellow prisoners were at work clearing a patch of jungle when one of the guards who had occasionally done little favors for them offered the prisoners a surprise. According to Adams,
… one day (the guard who had been kind) gave us a present … a yak, the Asian beast of burden. (It was) one that had gone past its useful working life … he brought this old yak into the camp and presented it to me. I promptly said, ‘Well, shoot it.’ He said that he’d never killed anything in his life. I said, ‘Lend me your gun.’ He gave me his gun … and I fired one round at it and I hit it fair and square between the eyes and the poor old yak just grunted and looked at me and didn’t flinch. I said, ‘Well give me one more shot.’ He gave me another shot and I fired and put another hole about an inch and half below the first one … the yak then went down on its front knees and spouted a little bit of blood out its nostrils … still very much alive … (the guard then) told me to take shelter behind some bamboo poles … in case the yak should charge me … I asked for one more shot, and with the third shot I killed the yak. The outcome of this was that we had so much meat we couldn’t eat it all. We lived like fighting cocks for a week or so … and I suppose it did quite a bit in keeping us alive. 14.
“A Colossal Sheet of Flame Shot Into the Air”– The Atomic Bomb at Nagasaki
After some time, a group of prisoners, Ordnance Artificer Grant among them, was sent to Japan to be used as laborers in a dockyard near Nagasaki. They would stay there until the war’s end. Grant witnessed to the dropping of the second American atomic bomb.
At 11 o’clock (on 09 August 1945), I was standing at the workbench when, from behind the hill in the direction of Nagasaki, a colossal sheet of flame shot into the air … followed almost immediately by the most terrific explosion … (it was) like the flash of a million photographer’s light bulbs at one time … (most thought) a concentration of oil tanks had been hit (by air raid) that caused the terrific sheet of flame, the heat of which we felt even though we were seven or eight miles away … I myself thought that they had struck a cordite dump because the flame was so intensely blinding … (Later) boatloads of injured severely burned (arriving) … hundreds of wooden caskets being made by girls for the dead … pretty grim … we have heard that between 50 and 60 thousand were killed in the explosion.
Grant and the other prisoners were freed shortly after the Japanese surrender. His diary entry for 25 August states,
My 23rd birthday today and I have the best present I have ever received: FREEDOM! This will be my fourth birthday in prison camp … the next one I will be having Mom’s famous treacle pudding and, oh boy, am I looking forward to that!
As glad as he was to be free and to have the war over, Grant made an undated entry to his diary in which he expressed some of his thoughts and feelings about the atomic bomb.
After a couple of days of medical and radiation checks we finally left our prison. I am sure it will affect the lives of all of us imprisoned there, both physically and mentally for the remainder of our lives … After our release from camp we were taken into Nagasaki (to) witness the awful destruction … Unbelievable … There are no words to describe that terrible scene. I will always wonder if we will ever be able to justify using such a terrible weapon against innocent civilians or even a cruel enemy such as the Japanese were.
Even in 2009, Grant maintained concerns that the atomic bombing of Nagasaki represented an unnecessary and excessive use of military power.
I can understand Hiroshima. It was first and it did end the war for which I must be eternally grateful. But, Nagasaki? I really don’t think that can ever be justified. The war was over with Hiroshima. That was enough. 15.
“I Can Never Forget … and I Can Never Forgive”
As the war dragged into its final year, the men held at Makassar began to die at higher rates than before. They had been weakened, injured, and made ill by the grind of manual labor, lack of food, shortage of medical care, and unhealthy climate. There were several doctors among the prisoners, but with no medication or medical instruments, there was little that they could do. Malaria and dysentery were two of the most common causes of death. At one point, the Japanese attempted to contain malarial outbreaks by assigning each man to a daily quota of 70 mosquitoes killed. They were issued strips of sticky paper on which to place any mosquitoes that they caught. Typically, any man who failed to meet his quota would be beaten. The men countered by breaking the mosquitoes into two or more pieces since the guards would usually count any part of one, no matter how large or small as a whole mosquito. As might be expected, the measure did nothing to contain the disease. Men continued to falter and die.
In the waning days of the war, there were frequent American air raids. Food supplies, even for the Japanese, dwindled. One day, a bomb struck a nearby pig farm. There were so many animals killed that the guards could even afford to bring carcasses to the prisoners. Many, because they were already suffering from intestinal disorders, became violently ill from overeating. Some even died. The uncertainty of future food sources and the persistent hunger compelled the men to bury what they could not immediately eat for later consumption. This ultimately caused as much harm as good.
The American airstrikes suddenly ceased without resumption for several weeks. The men, who had never gotten any news better than that created by rumor, surmised that the war might be nearly over. When the Japanese divided them into three groups of relatively healthy, partially ambulatory, and non-ambulatory men, the prisoners knew that the end had to be near. Some could communicate with their guards who told them that those prisoners who could not walk would be shot when the Americans landed. The others would be carried into the hills, possibly as hostages for bargaining. This did not happen as, before long, the Americans located the camp. They landed in large flying boats and removed the men from Pope along with all other American prisoners. Soon afterwards, Australian commandos entered the camp to liberate the British and Dutch prisoners.
He was 60 years old when Thomas Adams spoke of his post war condition:
I was invalided out of the service (in 1946) … with very bad eyesight … I was left with … very limited use of my limbs … I’ve got no feeling at all in my fingertips or on my face … and then I had so much dysentery that … I still have an awful lot of bowel trouble. However, there are a lot worse off than me … (As for my feelings towards the Japanese) … well, I bought a record player, and when I went into the shop to buy that, I told the assistant that I would buy any record player he had so long as it had no Japanese parts in it … no matter what anybody says … I can never forget and it is a certainty that I can never forgive … We have to accept that life has to go on but don’t ask me to be any part of it … If I saw (any Japanese) laying on the ground, he’d lay there; I wouldn’t pick him up and I wouldn’t expect him to pick me up. 16.
About 50 men were killed in Exeter’s two gun battles against the Japanese. Of the approximately 650 men who took to the water as their ship sank, 152 would die as POWs. On the home front, news about the loss of Renown and Prince of Wales in December 1941, the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore, and American disasters at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines had overshadowed reports about events in the Java Sea. However unknown or unheralded the actions of the men and their ship might have been, it is nonetheless clear that despite the overwhelming futility of Exeter’s final mission, her crew did not falter.