The wrecks of three Royal Navy and three Royal Netherlands Navy, sunk by the Japanese in the East Indies during the Second World War with very heavy loss of lives, are reported to have disappeared along with the wreck of a US Navy submarine in the same area.
The Royal Navy and the Dutch ships were lost in the Battle of the Java Sea, which began on Feb 27, 1942, when an Allied force set out from Sourabaya to attack a heavily-escorted Japanese invasion force heading for Java. Over two days there were long-range gunnery exchanges between the ships as well as torpedo attacks resulting in the six losses.
The three Royal Navy ships whose wrecks have disappeared are:
Exeter: The cruiser of River Plate fame, was sunk in an action with two Japanese cruisers on Mar 1 with the loss of 50 of her crew and 650 were taken prisoner of war, and of these 152 died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp;
Encounter: The destroyer, with the Exeter, suffered an engine room fire and had to be abandoned, sinking with the loss of eight of her crew and 149 were taken prisoner and of these 38 died in captivity;
Electra: The destroyer was sunk by enemy gunfire with the loss of 108 crew and of the 54 taken prisoner of war, seven died in captivity.
The wrecks of the Exeter and Encounter were only rediscovered in May, 2008, in Indonesian waters at a depth of about 200ft, 90 miles north of Bawean Island.
The three Dutch ships, in which some 900 crew died, were the cruisers De Ruyter and Java and the destroyer Kortenaer.
Two days after the battle ended, the US submarine Perch was damaged by Japanese warships north of Java and was scuttled by her crew on Mar 3. Her wreck has also disappeared.
The discovery that the wrecks were no longer on the seabed was made by an expedition during preparations for this year’s 75th anniversary of the battle.