Rescued from the sea by the Japanese Navy

It must have been about midday, for the sun was vertical and we were just south of the equator. About 200 yards away we thought we saw a Japanese destroyer. Was she a mirage? We all saw her, so perhaps she was real, but our first emotion was not joy or relief, for we expected to be machine-gunned.

HMS Encounter sunk along with HMS Exeter and USS Pope on 1st March 1942, her crew were stranded in the waters of the Java Sea for almost 24 hours.

Sam Falle was an officer on HMS Encounter which fell victim to the Japanese Navy in the Second Battle of the Java Sea on the 1st March, just after HMS Exeter. He had a lucky escape as he abandoned ship as shells still struck the Encounter. He and others were about to lower the motor boat when it was smashed by a shell, and a shell splinter ‘took away’ his binoculars. Moments later he was in the sea. There was only one lifeboat serviceable – he and the remainder of the crew clung to floats and other wreckage. The surviving crew were still in good spirits – they raised three cheers for the Encounter’s commander, Captain Morgan.

A Japanese destroyer approached them in the water, trained its guns on them, and then made off. They were 150 miles from land, there were no Allied ships in the Java sea, there was no lifeboat in sight, they had no food or water. The Japanese had left them. ‘It took a little time for these fairly stark facts to sink in.’:

Dawn came on 2 March 1942, beautiful, clear and dead calm. We had been in the water for about 18 hours, and there was nothing to be seen. We waited in silence and watched the sun climb in the heavens.

Doc had his medical kit with him, complete with syringe and enough morphine to finish us all off. By that time, according to all logic, there was no hope at all, and yet only one of our number asked for a shot. Doc rightly refused and persuaded our shipmate to give it a bit longer. It grew hotter; the sea was calm and shimmered in the sunshine. We became drowsy; I recall that I felt neither hunger nor thirst.

It must have been about midday, for the sun was vertical and we were just south of the equator. About 200 yards away we thought we saw a Japanese destroyer. Was she a mirage? We all saw her, so perhaps she was real, but our first emotion was not joy or relief, for we expected to be machine-gunned.

There was a great bustle aboard that ship, but the main armament was trained fore and aft and there was no sign of machine-guns. The ship’s sailors were lowering rope- ladders all along the side of the ship. They were smiling small brown men in their floppy white sun-hats and too-long khaki shorts.

The ship came closer. We caught hold of the rope-ladders and managed to clamber aboard. We were covered with oil and exhausted. The Japanese sailors surrounded us and regarded us with cheerful curiosity. They took cotton waste and spirit and cleaned the oil off us, firmly but gently. It was – extraordinary to relate – a friendly welcome.

I was given a green shirt, a pair of khaki shorts and a pair of gym shoes. Then we were escorted to a large space amidships and politely invited to sit down in comfortable cane chairs. We were served hot milk, bully beef and biscuits.

After a while the captain of the destroyer came down from the bridge, saluted us and addressed us in English: ‘You have fought bravely. Now you are the honoured guests of the Imperial Japanese Navy. I respect the English navy, but your government is very foolish to make war on Japan.’

That fine officer searched for survivors all day, stopping to pick up even single men, until his small ship was overflowing. An awning was spread over the fo’c’s’le to protect us from the sun; lavatories were rigged outboard; cigarettes were handed out; and by a biblical type of miracle, our hosts managed to give all 300 of us food and drink.

The only order we were given was not to smoke after dark lest ‘English submarine’ should see a lighted cigarette. The Japanese did not know, it seems, that there were no English submarines in the Java Sea. Yet they had continually stopped to rescue every survivor they could find.

Thanks to this destroyer and other Japanese ships, Encounter only lost seven men and Exeter a surprisingly small number also. The survivors from Pope were rescued by the Japanese two days later.

See Sam Falle: My Lucky Life: In War, Revolution, Peace and Diplomacy. George Cooper, also sunk on 1st March was picked up with the crew from HMS Exeter a good deal quicker than Sam Falle from HMS Encounter. He also has very positive comments about their treatment by the Japanese Navy, in marked contrast to his memories of subsequent treatment.

22 thoughts on “Rescued from the sea by the Japanese Navy”

  1. My father in law Allen Wann served on HMS Encounter but his name is not listed on the crew list it would be nice if it could be added.Hope somebody can get it sorted thanks a proud son in law

  2. It’s no surprise that seaman rescue each other especially after a battle they are all bonded by the sea. Royal Navy spent many hours searching for German seamen and when German u boats or ships sunk ships they actually stood go attention and saluted. Its a mutual respect.

    But however in Fukuoka camp 2b they were out to work in the docks. And they knew that Japanese navy must have lost a battle as the navy dock hanchos used to beat them up!

  3. Correction to my previous article: It was incorrect for me to state that ‘Captain Kudo and his crew later lost their own lives at sea’.

    According to Wilkipedia entries on Shunsaku Kudō & Sam Falle:

    1) Lieutenant Commander Shunsaku Kudō survived the war. After the war, Kudō left the navy and moved to Kawaguchi, Saitama. In 1979, he died of stomach cancer.

    Sam Falle, later a British Diplomat, served in the Royal Navy 1937–48 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross “for gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds whilst serving in H.M.S. Encounter during her last action in the Java Sea on 1st March, 1942”.[2]

    HMS Encounter had taken part in the Second Battle of the Java Sea, suffered major damage and was scuttled by her crew. They were subsequently rescued by the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Ikazuchi commanded by Shunsaku Kudō. Falle spent the next three and a half years as a prisoner of war.

    Falle sought out the location of the grave of Shunsaku Kudō, to whom he held enormous gratitude for rescuing him during the Second Battle of the Java Sea, and visited there on 7 December 2008. Kudo was such a humble man that his family came to know of his deed for the first time when Falle visited them.

    Regarding the fate of the Japanese crew – Wilkipedia entry for the Japanese destroyer Ikazuchi states that:

    Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ikunaga Kunio, on 13 April 1944, while escorting the transport Sanyō Maru to Woleai, the Japanese destroyer Ikazuchi was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS Harder, approximately 200 miles (320 km) south-southeast of Guam. There were no survivors.

  4. Dear relatives and friends of HMS Encounter & HMS Exeter POWs,

    My grandfather Sidney Lillywhite was a telegraph operator on HMS Encounter when it sank on 1st March 1942, and was subsequently a POW in the Macassar camp. He survived the war, dying in 1974 aged 67 from pancreatic cancer – an early death probably related to the malaria he contracted during his time in the Makassar POW camp.

    Having read the information given previously in this comments list by Michihiko Inoue from Kyoto, Japan dated 7 & 8 June 2014 ( who in turn quotes as his/her source Sir Sam Falle, an officer for gun of the HMS Encounter at that time, and whom later visited Japan to find the grave of the Imperial Navy Major Shun Suke Kudo ): I am struck with admiration and thanks for the humane behaviour of Captain ( later Major) Shun Suke Kudo , who at the Java Sea Battles, had given order to rescue those sailors of the sinking HMS Encounter, and who as a result was given a hard time by his superiors as many criticized his action. Captain Kudo’s action was indeed truly humane.

    However further to Kenneth O Brien’s comment on 2 March 2017 that ‘…..Japanese POW camps were probably an army thing, with POW camps run by the worst officers of a bad lot……’ : I have come across a report, written soon after POWs had been recovered from Macassar (in the Celebes) by the two senior British POW officers in charge between 1942-45 of British POWs in Macassar POW camp (whom included POWs from the sinking of both HMS Encounter and HMS Exeter) . These two officers are LIEUTENANT-COMMANDER G.T. COOPER & LIEUTENANT D.W.E. CHUBB. This report is entitled ‘RECOVERY OF POWS FROM MACASSAR BY THE HMS MAIDSTONE 1945’ and can be accessed through:

    In this relatively detailed report about the life experienced by the POWs in the Macassar camp between 1942-45, details are given about Japanese naval officers and able seaman in charge of running what, as described, was clearly a very brutal camp regime. It would appear that the camp was not run by the Japanese Army but rather by the Japanese Navy.

    So while my family owe a deep debt of gratitude to Captain Kudo and his crew, who later lost their own lives at sea, for picking up my grandfather Sid Lillywhite from the sea rather than leaving him and his fellow HMS Encounter crew to perish, it’s deeply regretful that the Macassar POW camp wasn’t run by Japanese naval personnel as equally humane as Captain Kudo and his crew.

    In hope of no more war and injustice, David Lillywhite

  5. Hi all,

    My granddad Alan Wann was on this ship during the second world war, and was one of the surviving crew. I believe he as so many of his ship mates where captured and made prisoner of war by the Japanese and rehabilitated in Australia.

    I wonder if any of the family’s have any crew photos that they would be willing to share.
    I would love to see them and maybe see my Granddad aboard his ship.

    To all our lost naval service men,
    RIP Shipmate fair winds and calm seas your watch is over, and thank you for your service.

    Many Thanks
    Matt Wann (Grandson of Seaman Alan Wann).

  6. I suspect buried in here is a military branch culture thing that happens in every country. Japanese POW camps were probably an army thing, with POW camps run by the worst officers of a bad lot?

    I learned that in my early years watching military men from various US military branches attend my parent’s parties. I got to the point where I could guess with high accuracy, which branch they were in by watching personality at party, even if they showed up in civvies.

  7. My Uncle Gordon Mcpeake, aka Gibbs, was an able seaman on H.M.S Encounter when it went down in the battle of the Java Sea. He was only 17 when he joined up, and died in a Japanese P.O.W a couple of weeks before the war ended. Only aged 23. He was from Hemsby Gt Yarmouth, and I would be happy for anyone to contact

  8. Does anyone remember my cousin Peter Groves who was on the HMS Encounter but sadly did not survive.

  9. My father Leading Seaman Harry Joseph Day of Bath Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire was serving on H.M.S. Exeter as a gunnery rating when she was scuttled in the Sundai Strait. He talked very little of his time in the P.O.W. camp, just giving me a copy of ‘Ordeal in the Sun’ . At the time they opened the sea cocks to scuttle her (to prevent her falling into Japanese hands) they were surprised to be picked up by the Japanese because hitherto they had not taken prisoners. He survived the ordeal in the camp, he weighed 6 and a half stone less than half his fighting weight of 13 stones. After his physical recovery he married my Mother and served on Battle class destroyer H.M.S. Sluys and frigate H.M.S. Cardigan Bay during the Korean war. He spent the last of his time in Devonport before leaving the Navy. He then worked for Bristol Aeroplane Company and Bristol Siddely/Rolls-Royce until retirement. He died 4 years ago aged 88, still unbowed by the Japanese and still waiting for an apology from them. He did receive the payment from our government, but this did not make up for the Japanese not apologising. He was (and still is) my inspiration!

  10. My grandad ( Francis Edward Hazell) was on the Exeter and was captured and returned from the war after being in Japanese concentration camp. I cannot find any crew list or any information on the crew list for the Exeter. He may have been put on the ship once they returned in 1940. I am unable to put his name on the crew list until I can prove he was on it. I find it disgusting that the British navy do not have a crew list. Any ideas please before my father his son passes on.

  11. I have been searching for more information on my mother’s cousin, William H Mercer, Able Seaman aboard HMS Exeter. I found out from the Newspaper Archives that he had been reported missing in the Hull Daily Mail 20 March 1942 edition. I also found his name amongst the list of survivors and therefore he must have been in the sea with those in the postings above. I was very pleased to learn about the survivors’ and their time in the water and thankfully being picked up by the Japanese Navy.

    Is there any way that I can find out what happened to William? I know he returned to Goole eventually and married in 1947.

    It would be wonderful if someone somewhere could remember him. Would he have become a POW?

  12. Michihiko

    Very many thanks for adding those details, which give us a little more understanding of the incident and a broader perspective.


  13. I happened to know this information, since Sir Sam Falle, an officer for gun of the HMS Encounter at that time, visited to find the grave of the Imperial Navy Major Shun Suke Kudo, who at the Java Sea Battles, had given order to rescue those sailors of the sinking HMS Encounter, in spite of a lot of own risk.

    I felt his conduct to be remembered as courageous Naval Officer who acted Humanely. Afterwards, he had to command other vessel, and Ikazuichi, the destroyer with 200 sailors, which rescued 300 of crews of Royal Navy sunk in the other sea battles, – and most of the former crews who helped the life of those HMS Encounter crews lost their lives.

    Captain Kudo had hard time then, as many criticized his conduct. Yet I respect his humanly conduct. Thank you for reading my line.

    Michihiko Inoue ( Kyoto, Japan )

  14. I have read this news on the sinking of HMS encounter and HMS Exeter, by chance only
    as my school friend informed me of visiting of Sir Sim Falle to Japan, to find the Grave of Kaptain Kudo, who gave order to rescue swimming enemy sailors. I have moved to drop tears of excitement. (It is normal feeling of human being, at the time of peace ) But Captain Kudo of Destroyer had hard time, after ward, because the war has being changed hard against Japan. He had to change command of other Vessel and had to leave Ikazuchi which he had commanded at Java Sea Battles. Ikazuchi had been then being sank in the other Sea Batles and all Sailors has lost their lives, in which Captain Kudo had very hard time, until he died. You could imagine many commerade of his had critisized his behaviour. Navy has got from the birth, the strong influence of Royal Navy Thought. However Army had influence of Preusen, the old German Army.
    I feel so sorry as the Prisoner of War had been not at all treated human like condition,
    which is against human feeling, against Geneve Treaty for the handling of prisoner.
    But I feel at least one man lived at the time of War, as human being, how he should
    behave. thank you so much for reading my line. ( I have learned fair play through
    Rugby as the english teacher introduced us from Cambridge University ).,to our Keio
    University, Tokyo.

  15. Thanks for writing this article. My father was Clifford Norman Gossage and served on HMS Encounter when she went down. You have confirmed the stories my father told of that 24 hour ordeal in the water. During that night though, he said that he and a few others in the water thought they saw the tower of a surfaced submarine in the distance. Would you know of any other survivors who might also have seen this? As there were no known British subs in the area, we’ve often wondered if an American sub might have been there, and how different the lives of my dad and others might have been had they been rescued by an allied sub.

    I’ve read that many surviving POW’s would not speak of their time in captivity. My father told me of his forced labor, building ships and mining. He spoke of little acts of sabotage they performed while working in the shipyards. Dad did survive the POW camps and actually saw one of the atomic bombs go off. He was partially blinded by it and once back in England, was issued a pair of glasses prior to being mustered out. It’s terrible that smoking is what finally took him from us.

    If you haven’t seen this, I recently read that HMS Encounter and HMS Exeter have been found by divers in 2007. Exeter’s resting place was marked with the White Ensign from the current HMS Exeter. See:

    Barry Gossage

  16. My father Albert George Webb AB HMS Encounter is my inspiration. He died at 72 of tropical disease related cancer. He was just pleased to have survived despite an ordeal not almost beyond comprehension. He only told us of how they survived by outwitting their captors to get food to survive starvation and the many horrors that I am sure most modern day people would never have survived. The British government did nothing to assist him, his comrades, or indeed learn from those who had survived. Shame on the British government who since so miserably and dishonourably failed these survivors. My best wishes to all those sons and daughters who know the truth and respect these amazing people who felt they were just doing their duty. I reserve my view on how much our government have respected such commitment.

  17. Thank you for this description of the sinking of HMS Encounter. I was 1 year old when my father Able Seaman Cyril (known as George) James went off to serve his country, he never returned being one of the seven men lost when the ship sank. My mother died two years later of TB not knowing if he was alive or dead. It is of some comfort to my siser and I to find out exactly what happened.
    Once again, many thanks.

  18. Thankyou for posting this. I have now found out how and why my Grandfather’s brother (Henry (Sid) Hanwell Leading Stoker) was listed in the War Graves commission records as being on this Ship.
    He was on HMS Repulse when attacked and sunk 10th Dec 41.
    He must have been re assigned after his rescue from Repulse.
    Sid did not survive as a POW like so many others and died in March 1945.
    Unfortunately my Grandfather died in 1992 at the age of 100 and always wanted to find out where his brother Sid was buried (also his brother Frank in WW1).
    Many Thanks.

  19. Dear Sirs,
    My father, Robert Arbuckle P.O. was serving on HMS Encounter when it was sunk in 1942. Taken prisoner , he survived until March 1945 at which time he died from health problems. He is now buried on Ambon Island. My mother remained a widow and died on Remembrance Day, 11th November 2000, three days short of her 99th birthday. I was only three years of age when he left home for the last time and know little of him. I would be grateful for any information on him.
    Yours faithfully,

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