Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 11

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When HMS Exeter steamed into the Invergordon anchorage several days after the mutiny began, crewmen from the other ships cheered her wildly instead of calmly manning the rails as they would have normally done. Her officers and crew had no idea what the hell was going on. HMS Exeter would gone on to gain fame in the Battle of the River Plate

British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter in March 1941 after an extensive refit. The ship was heavily damaged by the German warship, Admiral Graf Spee, in the Battle of the Rio Plata in December of 1939.

Because HMS Exeter had suffered such extensive damage in her fight against the German warship Admiral Graf Spee, the Admiralty decided to scrap the ship. However, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty (the civilian head of the Royal Navy), saw the Exeter as a symbol of victory in the classic British naval tradition over the Germans and ordered the ship completely rebuilt. Sadly, this gallant ship was later sunk by the Japanese off Sumatra.

HMS Exeter underway at speed circa late 1941.

After her extensive refit, Exeter was sent to join the China Force, a pitifully small group of Royal Navy ships later attached to the ABDA task force (American, British, Dutch, Australian). This hurriedly put together force tried in vain to halt the Japanese advance into the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

The victory of the Royal Navy over the Graf Spee in the Battle of the Rio Plata was a much needed boost for British morale. In this photo, officers and ratings from HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax march through London in February of 1940.

The ABDA naval task force was comprised of different types of ships from four different countries, all coming under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, who perished in the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. During that battle, most of the ships in the ABDA task force were sunk by the Japanese. HMS Exeter limped away but was caught and sunk two days later by the Japanese Navy.

British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter off the coast of Sumatra (Netherlands East Indies) in early 1942.

From the Daily Telegraph of London:

Fred Aindow, 88, of Preston, was a 21-year-old able seaman in charge of a gun turret on Exeter when it sank. “We were firing until the last moment,” he said. “I think we were the last to stop. Then it was over the side and I hung on to an oar for an hour until I was picked up. The next three years were sheer hell.”

The Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Exeter sinking in what historians now term the Second Battle of the Java Sea, March 1, 1942. This photo was taken by the Imperial Japanese Navy and captured by US Forces on Attu Island, Alaska in 1943.

Lest we forget: HMS Exeter was sunk in action on March 1, 1942 by the Imperial Japanese Navy. According to the Daily Telegraph of London, fifty members of Exeter’s crew were killed in action. Six hundred fifty were made prisoners of war by the Japanese. Of those, the Japanese beat, starved, or executed one hundred fifty-two.

The announcement that HMS Exeter had finally been located after a six year search was only made in 2008.

[Source: The Daily Telegraph. Images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Website, the Imperial War Museum Website, Ahoy-Mac’s Web Log, Wikipedia, and the World War Two Archives Website.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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