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In February 1942, he led his fleet against a much stronger Japanese fleet in the Java Sea. This battle became a disaster for the Allies. Doorman became a hero in the Netherlands, partly of his last words to the fleet: "Ik val aan, volg mij!" (I am attacking, follow me).
Karel Doorman died when his ship De Ruyter (named after the famous Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter) was hit by a torpedo and sank. There was enough time to escape, but Doorman rather went under with his ship, according to old tradition.