On 26th February 1942 a large convoy of Japanese ships was approaching Java with the intent of making three landings in the Javanese coastal waters. Due to prior fighting between Japan and Allied Naval Units, the Allies were now in a bad way as the battle for Java built up. They were in no state to hold the island's defences due to battle and bomb damage plus they were well overdue for refits and repairs before taking on a fresh, fully armed enemy.
However, two days earlier, the cruisers, HMS Exeter and HMS Perth, were ordered to leave Batavia along with the destroyers Electra, Jupiter and Encounter and head for Sourabaya (also known as Surabaya) as one of the Japanese group of ships had been sighted in the area.
On 27th February the full strength of the enemy force was now approaching, about 30 miles north west of Sourabaya preparing to make their landing. It comprised three separate units of destroyers and cruisers. With several American destroyers now on the scene, the resulting battle to save Java was inevitable - it became known as The Battle of the Java Seas. The Exeter and the USS Houstonbecame the enemy's main target as they bore the brunt of fire from three enemy cruisers. Eventually the shelling took its toll and the Exeter was hit and the loss of several boilers greatly reduced her speed. Badly damaged, the Exeter managed to escape the battle and headed for Sourabaya. Following behind the Exeter, before she was hit, were the Electra, Jupiter and Encounter. As Electraentered the battle, coming to the aid of Exeter, she too became the target of the enemy shells and went down. As the Electra disappeared beneath the twirling grey water, the Encounter swung into battle but, being greatly outnumbered, she was forced to retreat. Together with the Jupiter and the Dutch Witte de With, these three destroyers escorted the crippled Exeter and headed back to Java.
Late in the evening, the destroyer Jupiter was suddenly rocked by a violent explosion. It had hit a mine. 78 members of her crew managed to escape (some later being picked up by the Japanese). The Encounter, some distance behind, was ordered to pick up survivors. This included many from the Dutch destroyer the Kortenaer and to head back to Sourabaya which she reached in safety. However, several Allied destroyers and cruisers were lost that night.
On the morning of 28th February, the crippled Exeter berthed at Sourabaya. A few repairs were carried out but orders soon came through for HMS Exeter to get under way that night for Colombo, her escorts being Encounter and USS Pope. They were joined by other USS and Dutch ships. Although they were all damaged and in need of repair, they knew it was suicidal to remain in Java with the Imperial Japanese Navy bearing down on them.
By 19.00 hrs the Exeter, Encounter and Pope departed Sourabaya leaving the ill-fated island to the mercy of the Japanese. Together with the other allied ships, they were headed for the Sunda Strait but Japanese warships were already there. Battle guns raged once again, one by one the gallant ships fought to survive but one by one they went down.
In the early hours of 1st March, the Exeter was sighted by two heavy Japanese cruisers and although she increased her speed, the damage suffered the day before gave her little chance of survival even though the two destroyers, the Encounter and the Pope, did their best to defend her. As the Exeterwent down the enemy turned their attention on the Encounter. Under heavy fire, with many direct hits, Encounter, billowing clouds of smoke, went down still firing to the end. Not long after, the Popesuffered the same fate. On 8th March, Tjilatjap was occupied by the Japanese and Java surrendered.
It was estimated about 800 allied seamen survived these battles and became Japanese Prisoners of War. They spent their three and a half years of captivity in Macassar on the island of Celebes.
The wrecks of the Encounter and the Exeter were not found until 65 years later, in 2007. They were just one mile apart. Below is a list of the survivors from Encounter who subsequently died as POWs in Macassar. These were taken from the diary of one of those survivors, Ivo Poulter, and kindly given to COFEPOW by his daughter, Linda Peach, a member of COFEPOW.