De Ruyter was laid down on 16 September 1933 at the Wilton-Fijenoord dockyard in Schiedam and commissioned on 3 October 1936, commanded by Captain A. C. van der Sande Lacoste. She was sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942.
De Ruyter was designed during the Great Depression, which, in addition to being a period of economical depression, was also a period in which pacifism was widespread in the Netherlands. For these reasons, the design was officially called a flottieljeleider (flotilla leader) instead of a cruiser, and every effort was made to cut costs.
Its function was to aid the two existing cruisers of the Java class in the defence of the Dutch East Indies; the idea was that with three cruisers, there would always be two cruisers available, even if one cruiser had to be repaired.
However, due to the cost-cutting policy that went into her design, De Ruyter was not quite up to her task. Her main battery (7 × 150 mm guns) was underpowered in comparison to other light cruisers of the time (for example the British Leander class), and the class had inadequate armour as well and lacked long range anti-aircraft guns. However, her fire control system was excellent.
During World War II, De Ruyter saw repeated action in the Dutch East Indies in fruitless attempts to ward off the Japanese invasion. She was damaged by air attack in the battle of Bali Sea on 4 February 1942, but not seriously. She fought in the battle of Badung Strait on 18 February.