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The age of European colonialism began at the end of the 15th Century with the Spanish colonization of the “New World”. It didn’t take long before the other European powers followed suit. In the 17th Century the Netherlands was at the height of its power and colonized territory in the west and east. By the 20th Century, as colonialism was nearing its end, the most important colony for the Netherlands were the islands of the Dutch East Indies. Java, Sumatra, Celebes and the numerous other islands that are now Indonesia were a source for valuable natural resources and it wasn’t just the Netherlands that saw their value. To the North the expanding Japanese Empire also saw their value. Powerful, with an expanding army, navy and industrial might, Japan lacked natural resources and as with Great Britain was dependent on sea commerce. Between World War One and Two the main duty of the Dutch Navy was to protect the Dutch East Indies, primarily from the Japanese.
The Netherlands were spared from the horrors of World War One and remained neutral. However, the Dutch Navy was in a pitiful state with a few obsolete coast predreadnout battleships. In 1915 it was decided to build new cruisers, the largest type of warship the Netherlands could afford. They were designed with the aid of Krupp and were supplied with German machinery. They were exceptionally large and powerful when designed armed with ten 5.9-inch guns and displacing 6,670 tons standard and 8,208 tons full load. Their design reflected the armament placement of German and British cruiser construction of the time with single gun mounts with gun shields with four centerline guns and six mounted in outboard wing positions. They were primarily designed for service in the Dutch East Indies and the three ships ordered reflected this in their names. Java was laid down on May 31, 1916, Sumatra on July 15, 1916 but the third ship, Celebes, was never laid down. Java and Sumatra were very slow in building with Sumatra launched December 29, 1920 and Java on August 9, 1921. There was another long delay before their completion with Java completing on May 1, 1925 and Sumatra a year later on May 26, 1926. Although they were a first line design when conceived in 1915, their design was obsolete when completed a decade later.
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