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The Royal Netherlands Navy light cruiser Hr.Ms. De Ruyter was laid down on September 16, 1933 at the Wilton Fijenoord dockyard in Schiedam. She was launched on March 11, 1935 and commissioned on October 3, 1936 by Captain A.C. van der Sande Lacoste.

Hr. Ms. De Ruyter under construction.

She was intended for the defense of the Dutch East Indies and originally designed as a 5000-ton ship with a lighter armament, but due to the cost-cutting policy that went into her design, De Ruyter would prove not to be up to the task. Especially the ship's main battery of seven 150 mm guns was considerably under powered compared to other ships of the time. During World War II, the Netherlands Navy and De Ruyter stood no chance of warding off the Japanese Invasion of the East Indies.

Battle of the Java Sea

The battle of the Java sea (February 27-28, 1942) was an effort of the allied Combined Striking Force (ABDA) to prevent invasion of the Dutch East Indies by the Eastern Invasion Force of Japanese Imperial Navy. The allied combined striking force was under command of the Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman. The ABDA force consisted of two heavy cruisers (HMS Exeter and USS Houston), three light cruisers (Hr.Ms. De Ruyter (Doorman's flagship), Hr.Ms. Java, HMAS Perth), and nine destroyers (HMS Electra, HMS Encounter, HMS Jupiter, Hr.Ms. Kortenaer, Hr.Ms. Witte de With, USS Alden, USS John D. Edwards, USS John D. Ford and USS Paul Jones). The battle consisted of a series of attempts by Doorman's Combined Striking Force to reach and attack the invasion convoy; each was rebuffed by the Japanese Naval escort force with heavy losses being inflicted on the Allies.

The battle began ca. 16:00. Although the fleets were equally matched in numbers, the Japanese cruisers had better fire range and armour. In the first phase of the battle, the cruiser Exeter was hit and Hr.Ms. Kortenaer sunk by a torpedo. In the evening at about 21:30. The HMS Jupiter ran onto a mine and sunk. By now Doorman's command was reduced to four cruisers.

Sinking of the De Ruyter

At 23:00 they found the Japanese Fleet for the second time. Both columns exchanged fire in the darkness at long range. In this engagement Hr.Ms. De Ruyter and Hr.Ms. Java were sunk by torpedoes. The 168 m long ship disappeared into the waves along with 345 of its men, including Rear Admiral Doorman who chose to go down with his ship. The Japanese invasion fleet was delayed, but not prevented from making a landing on Java. Another four allied ships were sunk during the battle, which factually eradicated Dutch presence in South-East Asian waters and marked the end to the Dutch colonial age. The surviving cruisers, Houston and Perth, were sunk on the evening of the same day as they attempted to withdraw to Ceylon.

Survivors
109 survivors were taken as prisoners of war. Two people on board were doubly fortunate; sailor Klaas Leendert de Bruin (1914-1957) was rescued by an unknown ship and the American Marvin Edward Sholar (1912) was rescued by the USS S-37.

Description

This vessel was a De Ruyter Class light cruiser. It was built in 1933, launched March 11, 1935 and commissioned October 3, 1936.

  • Length: 170.9 m
  • Width: 15.7 m
  • Drought: 5.1 m
  • Propulsion: three Parsons geared steam turbines, six Yarrow boilers; 66,000 shp

Hr.Ms. De Ruyter.

Armament

The main armament of De Ruyter consisted of seven 150 mm cannons prepared in three double towers and one single tower, 7 x 150 mm, 10 x Bofors 40 mm guns, 8 x Browning .50- and 12.7-mm machine guns. Two aircrafts: 2 x Fokker C-11W float planes.

150 MM guns firing

150 mm guns firing.

Hr. MS De Ruyter (source: Australian War Memorial, ID nr. 305838)

A port side view of Rear Admiral Doorman's flagship, De Ruyter, at anchor shortly before her loss in the Battle of the Java Sea. Note the tall super structure and funnel and the two Fokker C14W aircraft midship. The cruiser is camouflaged in the two-tone grey splinter pattern common to Dutch ships, taking part in the defense of the Netherlands East Indies (source: Australian War Memorial, ID no. 305838).

Japanese forces bomb the Hr. MS Java (source: Australian War Memorial, ID nr. 305837)

Japanese forces bomb the Hr.Ms. Java (source: Australian War Memorial, ID no. 305837).

A Fokker C-11W floatplane takes off.

Discovery

On December 1, 2002 a group of international divers (searching for the HMS Exeter) found De Ruyter through Side Scan Sonar images. In 2004 she made the news when her ship bells were stolen and posted for sale on the internet. Both bells are now in the possession of the Royal Dutch Navy.

The ship's bell is now on display in the Kloosterkerk in the Hague (source: Wikipedia Commons).

The wreck of De Ruyter, as seen from the port navigation bridge deck wing (photo: Kevin Denlay).

The doorway on the port navigation bridge deck of De Ruyter (photo by Kevin Denlay)

People on board437
Speed32 knots (59 km/h, 37 mph)
Displacement6454 ton (3227 last)

Status

On December 1, 2002, both cruisers were found in the Java Sea, near the island of Bawean. An international group of divers looking for HMS Exeter stumbled upon Hr.Mr. De Ruyter during a search with sonar. The ship was at a depth of approximately 69 m, with a small side to starboard.

Divers were able to confirm that it was indeed the De Ruyter. The discovery received little attention outside diving circles, but once again made the news in 2004 when four ship's bells were stolen from the De Ruyter and the Java and offered for sale. The Royal Netherlands Navy owns the ship's bells again. One of the bells has been placed in Surabaya on the Karel Doorman monument. Two bells are in Den Helder, in the Naval Museum and in the Command building 'De Admiraliteit', and the fourth bell is on loan to the Kloosterkerk in The Hague.

On November 2016, 15, the Dutch government announced that the wreck had disappeared from its original site. It is assumed that the wreck was cleared by an Asian salvage company to sell the scrap iron.

Salvage

In 2016 it was discovered that the wrecks of De Ruyter and Java, and much of Kortenaer had disappeared from the seabed, although their imprints on the ocean floor remained. During a meeting on November 23, 2016, President Widodo of Indonesia and Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands agreed that the countries would work together to determine what had happened and to preserve their maritime heritage in the future. A three-tracked approach was agreed upon by both governments:

  • Verification of the disappearance;
  • Appreciation of what had happened; and
  • Future cooperation to manage remaining maritime cultural heritage.

For more information on this joint Dutch-Indonesian investigation see:
https://maritime-heritage.com/dossier-battle-java-sea

Image 5 : Location of De Ruyter

Location of the wreck site of Hr.Ms. De Ruyter and the Hr.Ms. Java.

References

Down on 28 September

Burgzand Noord

Dutch Presence in Cuban Waters

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World War II