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Sister ships: none (very similar to YORK; see Notes)
Pennant Number: 70
Notes: EXETER was very similar to the preceding YORK, and the two are often grouped into the same class. The major differences were another foot of both length and beam, improved armor, and EXETER's 8" guns were only capable of 50° elevation (vs. 70° in YORK). During her trials, EXETER was noted as having an easy motion in a seaway, and very little vibration, even at top speed. Her port and starboard catapults were installed near the end of 1931, and the two "pom-poms" were removed in 1933. In a refit in late 1934, EXETER had two quadruple 0.5" AA mounts installed on the forward shelter deck abreast the bridge.
When EXETER joined service in July, 1931, she served with the YORK in the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet. EXETER (along with AJAX (the flagship of Commodore H. H. Harwood) and ACHILLES) engaged the German "panzerschiffe" ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in the Battle of the River Platte on 13 December 1939; during that action, EXETER's gun crews scored two 8" hits on the GRAF SPEE. In return, EXETER was hit by seven 11" shells and numerous splinters from near misses. A direct hit on the "B" turret not only knocked out the turret, but splinters killed all but three of her bridge crew, including her commander, Captain C. F. Bell. Another series of hits fifteen minutes later knocked out her "A" turret and disabled her gyrocompasses. But EXETER was still able to make full speed, and continued to engage the GRAF SPEE. Only later, with her "X" turret jammed (due to splinters) and her top speed reduced to 18 knots did the EXETER withdraw from the battle. 61 of her crew were killed in the battle and another 23 were wounded, but the GRAF SPEE was forced to retire to the neutral port of Montevideo. Three days later, unable to complete repairs and in the face of seemingly unbeatable strength, Captain Langsdorff of the GRAF SPEE ordered her scuttling.
Repairs to the EXETER following the battle took 14 months. During those repairs and refit, the single 4" guns were removed and in their place, eight 4" QF Mk. XVI (in twin mounts) were installed. In addition, two 8-barreled "pom-poms" were installed, two single 20mm AA guns were added, and her 21" torpedo tubes were upgraded. (Some accounts also note that her 8" guns were modified to be capable of 70° elevation.) Upon her return to service, EXETER served as a convoy escort in the North Atlantic. In early 1942, EXETER was transferred to the Far Eastern Fleet.
At the Battle of the Java Sea on 26 February 1942, EXETER took an 8" hit from a Japanese cruiser in her after boiler room; with her speed reduced to 16 knots, EXETER (accompanied by the destroyers ENCOUNTER and the USS POPE) tried to return to Ceylon for repairs. Two days later (on 1 March 1942), they were engaged by a Japanese force consisting of the four heavy cruisers of the NACHI class and five destroyers. One of the first 8" hits scored burst in EXETER's forward boiler room, causing a serious fire and the loss of all steam power, which left her dead in the water and unable to fire her 8" guns. Further hits followed, and the EXETER was ordered to be abandoned and scuttled. But before the latter could take effect, she was torpedoed by either the Japanese destroyer AKEBONO or IKAZUCHI and sunk. More than 400 of her crew were rescued by Japanese ships in the area, and the survivors served in prison camps, with many surviving to return home following the end of World War II.