In February 1942, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth was part of an Allied fleet attempting to disrupt the Japanese invasion of the Netherlands East Indies. The fleet suffered heavy losses at the battle of the Java Sea on 27 February, and the surviving ships, the Perth, USS Houston and HNLMS Evertsen, were ordered to sail through the Sunda Strait to Tjilatjap on the south coast of Java.
As the ships approached the strait at 11 pm, they were spotted by a Japanese force which opened fire. The Perth was hit a number of times before being struck by two torpedos just after midnight. Captain Hector Waller ordered the crew to abandon ship, and the Perth sank 20 minutes later. Three hundred and fifty three of the Perth’s crew of 681 were killed in the battle; another four died soon after reaching shore. The 324 survivors were captured by the Japanese, with 106 of them later dying in captivity.
HMAS Perth’s remains were discovered in 1967 by South Australian diver David Burchell who tried to recover one of the ship’s bells to return to Australia, but was unable to find it. Perth had two bells: a regular working bell and a more decorative ceremonial presentation bell. In the years that followed, other expeditions recovered both of the bells. The working bell was presented to the Australian War Memorial by the Royal Australian Navy, while the ceremonial bell was acquired by the City of Perth. The bells have been engraved with “HMAS Perth” and the original name of the ship “HMS Amphion”.