HMS Exeter was the second and last York-class heavy cruiser built for the Royal Navy during the late 1920s. Aside from a temporary deployment with the Mediterranean Fleet during the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–36, she spent the bulk of the 1930s assigned to the Atlantic Fleet or the North America and West Indies Stations. After WWII began in September 1939, the cruiser was assigned to patrol South Atlantic waters, along with the light cruisers Ajax & Achilles. intercepting the German pocket battleship, Admiral Graf Spee, off the River plate. Exeter was severely damaged during the battle and Graf Spee ultimately scuttled.
After her repairs were completed, the ship spent most of 1941 on convoy escort duties before she was transferred to the Far East after the start of the Pacific War in December. The Exeter was generally assigned to escorting convoys to and from Singapore during the Malayan Campaign, and she continued on those duties in early February 1942 as the Japanese prepared to invade the Dutch East Indies. Later that month, she was assigned to the Striking Force of the joint American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), and she took on a more active role in the defence of the Dutch East Indies. The culmination of this was her engagement in the Battle of the Java Sea later in the month as the Allies attempted to intercept several Imperial Japanese Navy invasion convoys. The Exeter was crippled early in the battle, and she did not play much of a role as she withdrew. Two days later, she attempted to escape inbound Japanese forces, but she was intercepted and sunk by Japanese ships at the beginning of March in the Second Battle of the Java Sea.
Most of her crewmen survived the sinking and were rescued by the Japanese. About a quarter of them died during Japanese captivity. Her wreck was discovered in early 2007, and it was declared a war grave, but by 2016 her remains had been destroyed by illegal salvagers.