Remains of warships of British Royal Navy,  Royal Netherlands Navy, and US Navy sunk by the Japanese during the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942, have been destroyed and almost vanished as a whole by illegal scrap metal scavengers. The fact is very serious if we considere that these shipwrecks contain human remains, as result of their sinking, and therefore war graves.

The warships at issue are the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter, destroyers HMS Encounter, and HMS Electra of the British Royal Navy; the light cruisers HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and destroyer HNLMS Kortenaer of Royal Netherlands Navy; and finally, submarine USS Perch of US Navy.

The Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Exeter sinking after the Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942 (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Bombs from a Japanese aircraft falling around the Netherlands Cruiser Java during the Battle of the Java Sea. Note: Java was bombed by Japanese B5N aircraft on 15 February 1942 without sustaining damage. On 27 February during the Battle of the Java Sea, she was struck by a torpedo fired from a Japanese warship and sank 15 minutes later. The photo could also show the impact of the torpedo, which struck aft, breaking off the stern (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The Battle of the Java Sea was a decisive naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. At the time, the battle was the largest surface ship engagement since the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

According to The Guardian and BBC reports, facts has been known thanks to a preliminary report from an expedition to document sunken ships using equipment that creates a 3D map of the sea floor. 3D images show there are "large holes" where HMS Exeter, HMS Encounter, HMS Electra, as well as US Perch lay. On the other hand, sonar images also show that HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have completely missing, and HNLMS Kortenaer has disappeared in part, although their imprints on the ocean floor remained.

A 3D map showing the seabed site of HMS Exeter after the ship had been removed (Via The Guardian)

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said it condemned the “unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains”. For his part, the Netherlands defence ministry said “the desecration of a war grave is a serious offence”. Both Goverments have launched different actions and requested Indonesian authorities investigate the facts reported.    

Veterans, historians and governments are very upset by the facts happened. They want to preserve the final resting place of sailors who went down with their ships. There is known to be illegal scavenging of these wrecks, often using explosives. 

Photograph of British E class destroyer HMS Encounter (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Allied navies suffered a disastrous defeat at the hand of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on 27 February 1942, and in secondary actions over successive days. The aftermath of the battle included several smaller actions around Java, including the smaller but also significant Battle of Sunda Strait. These defeats led to Japanese occupation of the entire Netherlands East Indies.

The wrecks of HMS Exeter and HMS Encounter was located and positively identified in February 2007. Most of their crew survived the sinking and were rescued by the Japanese. About a quarter of them died during captivity. 

British destroyer HMS Electra underway, at sea. Members of the crew are on parade on deck (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The wreck of HMS Electra was located in Ausgust 2003. 54 survivors of the 173 men on board were picked up by the United States submarine S-38, and were taken to Surabaya.

The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and Kortenaer were found by amateur divers in 2002. Some 900 Dutch sailors died in the battle, including Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, a war hero in the Netherlands.  

Dutch Amdiralen class Destroyer Kortenaer in the 30s (Via Wikimedia Commons)

A port side view of De Ruyter at anchor, shortly before her loss in the Battle of the Java Sea (Via Wikimedia Commons)

HNLMS Java steams at high speed in 1939, after her reconstruction (Via Wikimedia Commons)

In November 2006, Thanksgiving Day, the wreck of USS Perch was located by accident by an international team of divers off the coast of Java. Her entire crew was captured by a Japanese destroyer.

USS Perch (SS-176) (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Source: | | Wikipedia

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