River Plate......Java Sea.....Falklands War...................

Five ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Exeter after the city of Exeter in Devon.

HMS Exeter (1680) was a 70-gun third-rate launched in 1680. She was damaged in an explosion in 1691 and was hulked. She was broken up in 1717.

HMS Exeter (1697) was a 60-gun fourth-rate launched in 1697. She was rebuilt to carry 58 guns in 1744 and was broken up in 1763.

HMS Exeter (1763) was a 64-gun third-rate launched in 1763. She was burned as unseaworthy in 1784.

HMS Exeter (68) was a York-class heavy cruiser launched in 1929. She fought at the River Plate in 1939, and was sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942.HMS Exeter was planned as a Type 61 frigate. She was ordered in 1956, but cancelled in 1957.

HMS Exeter (D89) was a Type 42 destroyer, launched in 1979. She served in the Falklands War and the Gulf War, and was in service until she was decommissioned on 27 May 2009..

During the Falklands War, EXETER was credited with shooting down 2 x A4 Skyhawks, 1 x Canberra and 1 x Photo reconnaissance Lear Jet

Battle Honours

Sadras, 1782

Providien, 1782

Negapatem, 1782

Trincomalee, 1782

River Plate, 1939

Malaya, 1942

Sundra Strait, 1942

Falklands, 1982

Kuwait, 1991


Falklands War 1982

Listen to all 4 sections of this interview Here.

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13 Dec 1939
Battle of the River Plate.

The German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee intercepted what was thought to be a small convoy of merchant ships 150 miles off the River Plate estuary. The convoy turned out to be three British cruisers of Commodore Sir Henry Harwood's squadron. Consisting of the light cruisers HMS Ajax (flagship of Commodore Sir Henry Harwood, RN, Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN in command), HMNZS Achilles (Capt. W.E. Parry, RN) and the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, RN). They initially identified the Graf Spee's smoke as a merchant ship and HMS Exeter was detached to take a message to her, but soon the mistake was realised. With the British squadron now split (as planned before the battle) action commenced at with the Admiral Graf Spee opening fire at 0615 hours. The subsequent battle saw the cruiser HMS Exeter badly damaged with all her guns put out of action but still seaworthy, she suffered 61 killed and 23 wounded and was forced to make for the Falkland Islands to carry out repairs. HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles were both damaged and suffered casualties, HMS Ajax 7 dead and wounded and HMS Achilles 4 dead. They both shadowed the Admiral Graf Spee into Uruguay territorial waters where she entered the port of Montevideo. The Admiral Graf Spee suffered 36 dead and 60 wounded, hit by seventeen 6 inch shells and two eight inch shells, with water purification and desalination plant destroyed and kitchens wrecked she was allowed just 72 hours to make good her the damage that threatened her seaworthiness she was unable to do so. On the 17th December she left Montevideo with a skeleton crew, anchored just outside the 3 mile limit and after the crew left her she was blown up and scuttled to prevent her falling into British hands. Her captain later shot himself.

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Magazine article by Roger Paine (Cmdr RN Ret) (Who visited HMS Exeter D89 in Key West as part of FOF2 staff prior to our departure for the Falklands in 82.

Java Sea

The full story of H.M.S. Exeter's gallant end, fighting against impossible odds off the coast of Java, reached the Admiralty in December 1945. The cruiser, famous for her part in the glorious battle against the Admiral Graf Spee off the River Plate, was sunk on March 1, 1942.

She had already been damaged in the Battle of the Java Seas two days previously; but, with her escorting destroyers H.M.S. Encounter and U.S.S. Pope, she went down fighting four Japanese heavy cruisers and five destroyers. Her commanding officer, Caption O. L. Gordon, M.V.O., R.N., brought the official story of this action back with him from a prisoner of war camp; he made complete records while a prisoner and kept them from the Japanese by hiding them in a tube of shaving cream.

On February 27, 1942, she was at sea as part of an Allied force of five cruisers and nine destroyers. In the afternoon, an enemy force of four cruisers and twelve destroyers was encountered and engaged. Later the enemy was reinforced by several more cruisers. A series of actions developed in which the Exeter was damaged and two Allied destroyers and two cruisers sunk. An enemy cruiser was sunk, one probably sunk and one damaged and three enemy destroyers were seriously damaged.

H.M.S. Exeter returned to Surabaya. There was no time for proper repairs to her damaged boiler-room, and on February 28 she sailed at dark with six of her eight boilers out of action. She was accompanied by H.M.S. Encounter and U.S.S. Pope. At the time it was known that very powerful Japanese naval forces were in or near the Java Sea, but it was hoped to avoid them.

At first H.M.S. Exeter could only limp along at 15 knots, but superb work by engineering staff got two more boilers going and speed was increased at midnight to 23 knots. During the night the Exeter and her little company met an enemy force but managed to elude it. In the morning another enemy force was seen, and the Exeter doubled in her tracks, hoping she had not been seen. But two enemy cruisers began to bear down on the already crippled cruiser and her two destroyers. A little later a large enemy destroyer appeared ahead and almost immediately afterwards two other cruisers and more destroyers came into view.

All Power on the Ship Failed

The engineering staff at the last minute managed to repair one more boiler, and at 26 knots Exeter, with the two destroyers in station either side of her, steamed into action. She had only 20 per cent of her main armament ammunition remaining after the previous battle. The fight began at 09.35. The destroyers tried to ward the enemy off by firing torpedoes and to screen the Exeter by making smoke. One enemy cruiser was hit by torpedoes from the U.S.S. Pope. Several other ships were hit by gunfire from all three Allied vessels. But the end was not far off. As Captain Gordon reported, “A review of the situation at about 11.00 was not encouraging.”

At 11.20 the Exeter received a vital hit in “A” boiler room. Main engines stopped and all power on the ship failed. She was being straddled and hit by the enemy cruisers now, and orders were given to sink her and abandon ship. She sank at about 11.50. Shortly afterwards H.M.S. Encounter was also sunk. U.S.S. Pope remained at hand to the end, and then managed to escape in a rain squall, only to be sunk an hour later following an attack by Japanese bombers.

Java Sea

The cruiser HMS Exeter had sustained serious damage. On 28th she buried her 14 dead at sea and departed with the destroyers HMS Encounter and USS Pope. Between Java and Borneo they encountered eight Japanese warships – four heavy cruisers and four destroyers and the Second Battle of the Java Sea followed.

On Sunday, March lst, 1942, at 7.30, the topmasts of two Japanese heavy cruisers were sighted and Exeter turned south until they were out of sight, then resumed a westward course. At 9.30, they were sighted again to starboard with a large destroyer, and shortly afterwards two smaller cruisers with five destroyers appeared on the port side. Exeter turned to the eastward with her escorting destroyers, the British Encounter and the American Pope, to put the enemy astern.

For two hours a running fight ensued. The ship was straddled many times but never hit until at 11.30 one shell penetrated the boiler room. It was a shot in a million as it cut her one remaining main steam pipe.

The ship just came to a stop in all departments. The main engines stopped through lack of steam. The dynamos stopped. The turrets were motionless on different bearings. The steering failed. The inside became full of smoke as escaping oil fuel in the forward boiler room burst into flames. There was nothing that could be done do except sink her.

So the magazine valves were opened. The condenser inlets were allowed to flood the engine room, and watertight doors usually kept closed were opened. A pretty good inferno was going on down below as the fire spread. She started to list slightly to port, pouring black smoke out of her funnels. She looked defiant, like a stag at bay. Men were cutting down carley floats and flotanets, casting timber adrift, turning out boats.

The Japanese were starting to hit her now as the range closed in. The after superstructure caught fire and the whine of projectiles sounded like the Ride of the Valkyries. She was getting lower in the water and heeling more. The inside had been completely evacuated; no one could live down there. At the bottom of the ladder leading to the upper deck were a lot of people, all quite calm. She was very nearly stopped, and men were leaving in dribs and drabs. As they went they drifted away astern. 

A little later, a destroyer closing on the starboard beam fired a torpedo. It was a good shot as it hit her right amidships. The old dear shuddered a bit. She seemed to shake herself from bow to stern. She must have had very little positive buoyancy left as she went right over to starboard until her funnels and masts were horizontal. Then, heaving herself up in a final act of defiance, she disappeared in a swirl of water, smoke and steam.

Battle of the River Plate

The Battle of the River Plate took place on December 13th 1939. The battle in the South Atlantic was the first major naval battle of World War Two. Ships from the Royal Navy’s South American Division took on the might of Germany’s Graf Spee which was successfully attacking merchant shipping in the South Atlantic.

Great Britain’s South American Naval Division was made up of four cruisers. On Saturday, December 2nd,1939, HMS Ajax, commanded by Captain Woodhouse, was harboured at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Also at Port Stanley was HMS Exeter, commanded by Captain Bell. Two other ships made up the South American Division – HMS Cumberland, commanded by Captain Fallowfield, and HMNZS Achilles, commanded by Captain Parry. The commander of the South American Division was Commodore Harwood.

“Graf Spee” claimed three more victims to bring the total to nine ships of 50,000 tons, before heading for the South American shipping lanes off the River Plate. Cdre Harwood with Hunting Group G - 8in-gunned cruisers Exeter and Cumberland and 6in light cruisers Ajax and New Zealand Achilles - correctly anticipated her destination. Unfortunately “Cumberland” was by now in the Falklands. At 06.14 on the 13th, 150 miles east of the Plate Estuary, “Graf Spee” (Capt Langsdorff) was reported to the northwest of the three cruisers [1 - see map]. Faced with “Graf Spee's" heavier armament, Cdre Harwood decided to split his force in two and try to divide her main guns. “Exeter” closed to the south while the two light cruisers worked around to the north , all firing as they manoeuvred.

“Graf Spee” concentrated her two 11in turrets on “Exeter” which was badly hit . By 06.50 all ships were heading west , "Exeter” with only one turret in action and on fire. “Ajax” and “Achilles” continued to harry the pocket battleship from the north , but at 07.25 "Ajax" lost her two after turrets to an 11in hit  and “Achilles” already had splinter damage. HMS Exeter was forced to break off and head south for the Falklands , but "Graf Spee" failed to press home her advantage. By 08.00, still with only superficial damage, she headed for the neutral Uruguayan port of Montevideo, the cruisers shadowing. “Graff Spee” entered port at midnight. As other Allied hunting groups headed for the area, much diplomatic manoeuvring took place to hold her there. Finally, on the 17th, Capt Langsdorff edged his ship out into the estuary where she was scuttled and blown up. Only “Cumberland” had arrived by this time. Langsdorff then committed suicide.