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Light cruiser HMS Sumatra - may 1940

[Courtesy Jan Visser, www.netherlandsnavy.nl] The light cruiser HMS Sumatra, of the Java class. The HMS Java and HMS Sumatra cruisers were the heaviest ships of the Dutch navy [the 1933 launched light cruiser HMS de Ruyter was slightly lighter]. In 1940 both ships were quite outdated for cruiser-class vessels. Both were launched in 1916. The ships were built quite similar to German heavy cruiser design of the same era, and designed by the Germania Werft in Kiel [Germany]. The construction was done by Dutch shipyards. The cruisers had a water displacement of 6,700 tons [empty] / 8,100 tons [loaded].

The cruisers had a main armament of ten guns in single towers of 15 cm [length 50]. Maximum range of these guns was a modest 16,500 meter. The AA battery was too light for its days. The HMS Sumatra had six single 40 mm Bofors turrets [the HMS Java had four dual-turrets], and eight .50 Vickers machineguns. Fire directional controls were very modern however, especially for the AA. The ships were capable of maximum speeds of 31 knots, but cruising speeds were more like 12 knots. All hands during war-patrols were 526 men.

HMS Sumatra was in Vlissingen harbour in the morning of the 10th, and contributed considerably with her AA batteries when the first boogies arrived overhead. In the course of the day she is ordered to England, for the non-maritime war does not require the presence of large surface units in the Dutch waters. At May 12 she arrives at Immingham [UK]. The HMS Sumatra escorts Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her family to Halifax Canada in June 1940. Later she is sent to the Dutch East Indies to receive a large overhaul. During this extensive operation the Japanese invasion occurs, and as such the overhaul is interrupted and the ship is quickly prepared to be evacuated. She sails to Colombo where she becomes part of the 5th Cruiser Squadron. In November 1942 she is laid-up in Portsmouth, England.

In April 1944 HMS Sumatra is transferred to the Royal Navy. Her destiny is to become a breaker and block ship at Gooseberry harbour - one of the artificial D-Day harbours. At 9 June 1944 she is indeed sunk off the coast in some 7 meter of water. In 1951 the wreckage was recovered and sold.

The sister ship HMS Java had a more heroic end to her service-life. She became part of the Striking Force of Allied ships that endeavour to withstand the might of the untouched Japanese fleet in the pacific during the January-March 1942 campaign of the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies. During the Battle at the Java Sea HMS Java received a fatal blow from a Japanese torpedo that hits her in the stern. The Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi was responsible for launching the weapon. Much of the crew disappeared into the deep with their ship. Minutes later the flag-ship HMS De Ruyter followed the HMS Java into the abyss.

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