Karel Doorman commanded a Combined Strike Force of Dutch, American, British en Australian ships that operated around the Dutch East Indies. This fleet consisted of cruisers and destroyers.
In February 1942 a battle was fought between the Combined Strike Force and a much stronger Japanese task force in the Java Sea. This battle proved a disaster for the Allies. Doorman became a Dutch maritime icon, after transmitting his last words to the fleet: "I am attacking, all ships follow me!" ("Ik val aan, alle schepen volg mij!").
Karel Doorman died when his flagship De Ruyter (named after the famous Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter) was struck by a torpedo and went under. There was time to escape the sinking flagship, but Doorman chose to go under, according to old naval tradition.
In his honour the only Dutch carrier ever was named Hr. Ms. Karel Doorman. This ship was commissioned in 1945 by the British service as the HMS Venerable. It was sold to the Dutch 1948, who again sold it to Argentina in 1968. Currently, the lead ship of the newest class of Dutch frigates, Hr. Ms. Karel Doorman carries his name.