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That same evening of 26 February the force set off to attack a Japanese force north of Bawaen Island, 150 km north of Surabaya. They did not know it at the time, but this was the invasion force attacking Java, with 40 transport ships with soldiers, and escorted by battleships, and aircraft carriers.
The fleet was led by Rear Admiral Karel Doorman on board HrMs De Ruyter. The allies could not even communicate amongst themselves easily, with 2 languages, 3 sets of procedures, different flag systems and radio systems. Click here for this article describing the problems in more detail
After spending the night of 26 February and 27 February searching for the Japanese fleet they eventually engaged with them at 1400 near Bawean Island.
In the battle, HMS Exeter was bombed and their power reduced significantly, so they withdrew. During the day and night four ships were sunk: 2 Dutch ships, HMS Electra and Jupiter. A hospital ship Op ten Noord was sent out to search for survivors, but was itself captured by the Japanese.
HMS Exeter and Encounter were sunk at 10am the next day trying to escape on a course to the north of Bawean Island and the Sunda Strait, but ran into the Japanese fleet.
Many other allied ships tried to fight their way out through the Sunda strait to the north of Java, but met the Japanese forces, were sunk by them, and the men then had to endure 3 years as a prisoner of war.
This battle is considered to be one of the biggest since the Battle of Jutland on WW1.