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Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse

Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse

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The sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse was a Second World War naval engagement
Naval warfare
Naval warfare is combat in and on seas, oceans, or any other major bodies of water such as large lakes and wide rivers.-History:Mankind has fought battles on the sea for more than 3,000 years. Land warfare would seem, initially, to be irrelevant and entirely removed from warfare on the open ocean,...

 that took place north of Singapore, off the east coast of Malaya
British Malaya
British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries...

, near Kuantan
Kuantan is the state capital of Pahang, the 3rd largest state in Malaysia. It is situated near the mouth of the Kuantan River and faces the South China Sea. If one measures the distance along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, it is located roughly halfway between Singapore and Kota Bharu...

, Pahang
Pahang is the third largest state in Malaysia, after Sarawak and Sabah, occupying the huge Pahang River river basin. It is bordered to the north by Kelantan, to the west by Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, to the south by Johor and to the east by Terengganu and the South China Sea.Its state...

 where the British Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

Prince of Wales and battlecruiser
Battlecruisers were large capital ships built in the first half of the 20th century. They were developed in the first decade of the century as the successor to the armoured cruiser, but their evolution was more closely linked to that of the dreadnought battleship...

HMS Repulse (1916)
HMS Repulse was a Renown-class battlecruiser of the Royal Navy built during the First World War. She was originally laid down as an improved version of the s. Her construction was suspended on the outbreak of war on the grounds she would not be ready in a timely manner...

 were sunk by land-based bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

s and torpedo bomber
Torpedo bomber
A torpedo bomber is a bomber aircraft designed primarily to attack ships with aerial torpedoes which could also carry out conventional bombings. Torpedo bombers existed almost exclusively prior to and during World War II when they were an important element in many famous battles, notably the...

s of the Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

 on 10 December 1941. In Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

, the engagement was referred to as the .

The objective of Force Z
Force Z
Force Z was an Allied naval detachment consisting of the battleship , the battlecruiser , and four destroyers, , , , and . Initially an aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable was included, but she ran aground in the Caribbean, and was not replaced by HMS Hermes which was regarded as too slow.A renamed...

, which consisted of one battleship, one battlecruiser and four destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s, was to intercept the Japanese invasion fleet north of Malaya. However, the fleet was without any air support, which had been declined by Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, the commander of Force Z. Although the British had a close encounter with Japanese heavy surface units, they failed to find and destroy the main convoy. They were then attacked and sunk by long-range medium bombers while attempting to return to Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...


Along with the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 only a few days earlier, the Malaya engagement illustrated the effectiveness of aerial attacks
Aerial warfare
Aerial warfare is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines in warfare, including military airlift of cargo to further the national interests as was demonstrated in the Berlin Airlift...

 against naval
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

 forces that were not protected by air cover, and led the Allies to place importance on their aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s over battleships. The sinking of the two ships severely weakened the Eastern Fleet in Singapore, and the Japanese invasion fleet was only engaged by submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

s until the Battle off Endau
Battle off Endau
The Battle off Endau was a Second World War naval battle. It took place off Endau on 27 January 1942. Part of the Battle of Malaya, it was the first major naval engagement since the sinking of the battleship and the battlecruiser , and the last effort by the Royal Navy to intercept Japanese convoy...

 on 27 January 1942.


The two capital ships were sent to Singapore in December 1941 as a deterrent to Japanese territorial expansion which was recently demonstrated by the invasion of French Indochina. First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound
Dudley Pound
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound GCB OM GCVO RN was a British naval officer who served as First Sea Lord, professional head of the Royal Navy from June 1939 to September 1943.- Early life :...

 represented that Singapore could only be adequately defended if the Royal Navy sent the majority of its capital ship
Capital ship
The capital ships of a navy are its most important warships; they generally possess the heaviest firepower and armor and are traditionally much larger than other naval vessels...

s there, to achieve parity with an estimated force of nine Japanese battleships. However, dispatching such a large British force was impractical as the British were at war with Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 and Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 appeared optimistic about the improving situation in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean; he advocated sending two capital ships along with an aircraft carrier to defend Malaya
British Malaya
British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries...

, Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located north of Java Island, Indonesia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia....

 and the Straits Settlements
Straits Settlements
The Straits Settlements were a group of British territories located in Southeast Asia.Originally established in 1826 as part of the territories controlled by the British East India Company, the Straits Settlements came under direct British control as a crown colony on 1 April 1867...


Churchill has been criticised for showing "considerable ignorance" and holding an "exaggerated belief in the power of the battleship," along with "a tendency to interfere in naval matters." This may have led him to propose a squadron of three modern ships: one battleship, one battlecruiser, and one carrier. His position was that these vessels would form a "fleet in being
Fleet in being
In naval warfare, a fleet in being is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port. Were the fleet to leave port and face the enemy, it might lose in battle and no longer influence the enemy's actions, but while it remains safely in port the enemy is forced to...

" to deter Japanese action, as Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April...

 was in the North Sea. However, there was no firm plan for such a task. The original British proposal had called for including the new aircraft carrier HMS
HMS Indomitable (R92)
HMS Indomitable was a modified Illustrious class aircraft carrier of the British Royal Navy. The Illustrious class came about due to the 1937 Naval Programme...

 for air cover, although the plan had to be revised when
Indomitable ran aground in the Caribbean Sea.

The dispatch of capital ships to Singapore had been part of the Admiralty's strategic planning since the naval base had been established. The scale of this planned deployment had been reduced during the 1930s, as Germany and Italy presented new threats to British interests in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Nevertheless, it was still assumed that a significant force of capital ships would deter Japanese expansion. Churchill's plan presumed that the United States would agree to send its Pacific Fleet
United States Pacific Fleet
The United States Pacific Fleet is a Pacific Ocean theater-level component command of the United States Navy that provides naval resources under the operational control of the United States Pacific Command. Its home port is at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii. It is commanded by Admiral Patrick M...

, including eight battleships, to Singapore in the event of hostilities with Japan, or that the British force would add to the deterrent value of the U.S. fleet, should it stay at Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor, known to Hawaiians as Puuloa, is a lagoon harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, west of Honolulu. Much of the harbor and surrounding lands is a United States Navy deep-water naval base. It is also the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet...


The governments of Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 and New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, which had sent the bulk of their armed forces to the North African campaign
North African campaign
During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia .The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had...

, also stressed the importance of a strong force at Singapore in deterring Japanese territorial aims. Australian commitment to the war in Europe had wavered in 1939 and 1940, and would be severely tested following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong
Battle of Hong Kong
The Battle of Hong Kong took place during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It began on 8 December 1941 and ended on 25 December 1941 with Hong Kong, then a Crown colony, surrendering to the Empire of Japan.-Background:...

, Darwin, and the Kokoda Track
Kokoda Track
The Kokoda Trail or Track is a single-file foot thoroughfare that runs overland — in a straight line — through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea...

, so Churchill's effort, while a military failure, may have been a political necessity.


What was designated Force G, consisting of the modern battleship Prince of Wales, the First World War era battlecruiser Repulse, and the four destroyers HM Ships Electra
HMS Electra (H27)
HMS Electra was a Royal Navy 'E' class destroyer . She was ordered on 1 November 1932 as part of the 1931 Naval Build Programme; launched on 15 February 1934 at the Hawthorn Leslie Shipyard at Hebburn, Tyneside...

HMS Express (H61)
HMS Express was an E class destroyer of the Royal Navy. She was one of 18 'E' and 'F' class destroyers to be built.She was launched on 29 May 1934. She had an overall length of 100 m, displacement of 1,375 tons, and a maximum speed of 35.5 knots...

HMS Encounter (H10)
HMS Encounter was an E-class destroyer of the Royal Navy before and during World War II, serving in home waters and in the Norwegian Campaign, before joining the Mediterranean Fleet and serving on the Malta Convoys, and then in the Eastern Fleet until sunk by Japanese warships in the Second Battle...

, and
HMS Jupiter (F85)
HMS Jupiter was a J-class destroyer of the Royal Navy laid down by Yarrow & Company at Scotstoun in Glasgow on 28 September 1937, launched on 27 October 1938 and commissioned on 25 June 1939.-Operations:...

, arrived at Singapore on 2 December 1941. They were then re-designated Force Z
Force Z
Force Z was an Allied naval detachment consisting of the battleship , the battlecruiser , and four destroyers, , , , and . Initially an aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable was included, but she ran aground in the Caribbean, and was not replaced by HMS Hermes which was regarded as too slow.A renamed...


The new aircraft carrier HMS
Indomitable was allocated to Force G, but whilst working up off Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

 she had run aground in the entrance to Kingston harbour
Kingston, Jamaica
Kingston is the capital and largest city of Jamaica, located on the southeastern coast of the island. It faces a natural harbour protected by the Palisadoes, a long sand spit which connects the town of Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport to the rest of the island...

 on 3 November 1941.
Indomitable required 12 days of dry dock
Dry dock
A drydock is a narrow basin or vessel that can be flooded to allow a load to be floated in, then drained to allow that load to come to rest on a dry platform...

 repairs in Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. With a population of 242,803 as of the 2010 Census, it is Virginia's second-largest city behind neighboring Virginia Beach....

 and was able to take no further part in the action.
Indomitable carried only one squadron each of Fairey Fulmar
Fairey Fulmar
The Fairey Fulmar was a British carrier-borne fighter aircraft that served with the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. A total of 600 were built by Fairey Aviation at its Stockport factory between January 1940 and December 1942...

s and Hawker Sea Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

s, both inferior in dogfighting capability to the Japanese A6M
A6M Zero
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the , and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the...

s. The aircrews, while confident to be able to dogfight with the Zero, were also lacking the training and experience of the Japanese; it is probable that
Indomitable would have scared the Japanese into avoiding the action as the Japanese aircraft had faced no allied air opposition and were extremely nervous of combat at that stage. Another aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes
HMS Hermes (95)
HMS Hermes was an aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy. The ship was begun during World War I and finished after the war ended. She was the world's first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier, although the Imperial Japanese Navy's was the first to be commissioned...

 (which was with
Prince of Wales at Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

), was on passage to Singapore to join Force Z, but was not deployed due to lack of speed.

On 1 December, it was announced that Sir Tom Phillips had been promoted to full Admiral, and appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Fleet. A few days later,
Repulse started on a trip to Australia with HMAS Vampire
HMAS Vampire (D68)
HMAS Vampire was a V class destroyer of the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy . Launched in 1917 as HMS Wallace, the ship was renamed and commissioned into the RN later that year. Vampire was loaned to the RAN in 1933, and operated as a depot tender until just before World War II...

, and HMS
HMS Tenedos (H04)
HMS Tenedos was an Admiralty 'S' class destroyer. Commissioned in 1919 she served throughout the period between the two World Wars.Laid down on the 6 December 1917, she was constructed by Hawthorn Leslie of Tyne, and was completed in 1918....

, but the force was recalled to Singapore to assemble for possible operations against the Japanese.

Also at Singapore were the light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

s HM Ships
HMS Durban (D99)
HMS Durban was a Danae-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy. She was launched from the yards of Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company on 29 May 1919 and commissioned on 1 November 1921.-Early career:...

HMS Danae (I44)
HMS Danae, during the latter part of World War II commissioned as ORP Conrad, was the lead ship of the Danae class cruisers , serving with the Royal Navy between the world wars and with the Polish Navy during World War II.-Service:Danae was laid down on 1 December 1916 in the Armstrong Whitworth...

HMS Dragon (D46)
HMS Dragon, also known in Polish service as ORP Dragon , was a D- or Danae-class cruiser built for the Royal Navy. She was launched in Glasgow, in December 1917, and scuttled in July 1944 off the Normandy beaches as part of the Arromanches Breakwater.-Pre World War II:One of the fastest-built ships...

, and
HMS Mauritius (C80)
HMS Maurituis, pennant C80, was a Crown Colony-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy. She was named after Mauritius, which was a British possession when she was built...

, and the destroyers HM Ships
Stronghold, Encounter, and Jupiter. The heavy cruiser
Heavy cruiser
The heavy cruiser was a type of cruiser, a naval warship designed for long range, high speed and an armament of naval guns roughly 203mm calibre . The heavy cruiser can be seen as a lineage of ship design from 1915 until 1945, although the term 'heavy cruiser' only came into formal use in 1930...

HMS Exeter (68)
HMS Exeter was a York class heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy that served in World War II. She was laid down on 1 August 1928 at the Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, Devon. She was launched on 18 July 1929 and completed on 27 July 1931...

, Dutch light cruiser
Java, two more British destroyers HM Ships (Scout and Thanet
HMS Thanet (H29)
HMS Thanet was an S-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. Built during, and commissioned shortly after the First World War, she went on to see service in the Second World War, being sunk early in 1942....

), and four United States
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 destroyers (
USS Whipple (DD-217)
USS Whipple , a Clemson-class destroyer was the second ship of the United States Navy named in honor of Captain Abraham Whipple , who served in the Continental Navy....

John D. Edwards
USS John D. Edwards (DD-216)
USS John D. Edwards was a Clemson-class destroyer in the United States Navy during World War II. She was named for Lieutenant John D. Edwards....

USS Edsall (DD-219)
USS Edsall , named for Seaman Norman Eckley Edsall , was a Clemson-class destroyer of the United States Navy....

, and
USS Alden (DD-211)
USS Alden was a Clemson-class destroyer of the United States Navy . Serving during World War II, Alden is the only ship of the US Navy to have been named for Rear Admiral James Alden, Jr...

) would be there within three days.

Durban and Stronghold were available, Admiral Philips decided to leave them at Singapore because they were not as fast as the other units. Additionally, Danae, Dragon, Mauritius, Encounter, and Jupiter were also at Singapore, but were under repair and not ready to sail.

Japanese preparations

Churchill publicly announced
Prince Of Wales and Repulse were being sent to Singapore to deter the Japanese. In response, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

 sent 36 Mitsubishi G4M
Mitsubishi G4M
The Mitsubishi G4M 一式陸上攻撃機, 一式陸攻 Isshiki rikujō kōgeki ki, Isshikirikkō was the main twin-engine, land-based bomber used by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in World War II. The Allies gave the G4M the reporting name Betty...

 bombers to reinforce the existing Mitsubishi G3M
Mitsubishi G3M
The Mitsubishi G3M was a Japanese bomber used during World War II.-Design and development:...

-equipped Kanoya Air Group and Genzan Air Group
Genzan Air Group
was an aircraft and airbase garrison unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service during the Second Sino-Japanese War and Pacific campaign of World War II.-History:...

, whose pilots began training for an attack on the two capital ships. Genzan Air Group was commanded by Lt Cdr
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander is a commissioned officer rank in many navies. The rank is superior to a lieutenant and subordinate to a commander...

 Niichi Nakanishi, Kanoya Air Group by Lt Cdr Shichizo Miyauchi and Mihoro Air Group by Lt
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 Hachiro Shoji.

Hostilities commence

Early in the morning of 8 December 1941, bombers of Mihoro Air Group attacked Singapore. Prince Of Wales and Repulse defended with anti-aircraft fire; no planes were shot down, and the ships sustained no damage. The Japanese made their landings on Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu is a city in Malaysia, is the state capital and Royal City of Kelantan. It is also the name of the territory in which Kota Bharu City is situated. The name means 'new city' or 'new castle/fort' in Malay. Kota Bharu is situated in the northeastern part of Peninsular Malaysia, and lies...

, Malaya on 8 December (local time), and the British land forces were hard pressed.

Around that time, news came that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and eight U.S. battleships had been sunk or disabled. Pre-war planning had presumed that the U.S. Pacific Fleet would have moved to Singapore to reinforce the British when war broke out. That was now impossible. Philips had concluded in an earlier discussion with U.S. General Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

 and Admiral Thomas C. Hart
Thomas C. Hart
Thomas Charles Hart was an admiral of the United States Navy, whose service extended from the Spanish-American War through World War II. Following his retirement from the Navy, he served briefly as a United States Senator from Connecticut.-Life and career:Hart was born in Genesee County, Michigan...

 that his two capital ships were of insufficient strength to confront the Japanese. However, with the Japanese threatening to overrun Malaya, Philips was pressed to use his ships in an offensive role and he assembled his flotilla to intercept and destroy Japanese invasion convoys in the South China Sea
South China Sea
The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around...


Admiral Philips believed the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 could not guarantee air cover for his ships as they were equipped with limited numbers of aging fighters
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

. One squadron, No. 453 Squadron RAAF
No. 453 Squadron RAAF
No. 453 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force air traffic control unit. It was first was formed at Bankstown in New South Wales on 23 May 1941 during World War II and was disbanded in March 1942 after suffering heavy losses in combat during the Battle of Malaya...

 with Brewster Buffalo
Brewster Buffalo
The Brewster F2A Buffalo was an American fighter aircraft which saw limited service early in World War II. Though the Buffalo won a competition against the Grumman F4F Wildcat in 1939 to become the US Navy's first monoplane fighter aircraft, it turned out to be a big disappointment...

s, standing by at RAF Sembawang was available to provide close cover. However, these planes were inferior to Japanese fighters and their airfields were already threatened by Japanese land attacks.

Regardless, Phillips elected to proceed. It is believed that four factors entered into his decision: he thought that Japanese planes could not operate so far from land, he thought that his ships were relatively immune from fatal damage via air attack, he was unaware of the quality of Japanese bombing and torpedo aircraft, and like many RN officers, Phillips underestimated the fighting abilities of the Japanese. Up to that point, no capital ship at sea had been sunk by air attack (the largest vessel sunk at sea solely by aircraft had been a heavy cruiser). His flagship, HMS Prince of Wales, did have one of the most advanced naval anti-aircraft systems of the time, the High Angle Control System
HACS, an acronym of High Angle Control System, was a British anti-aircraft fire-control system employed by the Royal Navy from 1931 onwards and used widely during World War II...

, which demonstrated accurate long range radar directed AA fire during Operation Halberd
Operation Halberd
-Summary:During World War II, Operation Halberd was a British naval operation in September 1941 to escort a convoy from Gibraltar to Malta....

 in August and September 1941. However the extreme heat and humidity in Malayan
British Malaya
British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries...

 waters rendered her AA FC radars unserviceable and her 2 pounder ammunition had deteriorated as well. Royal Air Force technicians were called in to examine the Prince's radars but needed a week to accomplish the repairs and Force Z would be underway in a few days.

No. 453 Squadron RAAF which was to provide air cover to Force Z, was not kept informed of the ships' position. No radio request for air cover was sent until one was sent by the commander of
Repulse an hour after the Japanese attack began. Flight Lieutenant Tim Vigors proposed a plan to keep six aircraft over Force Z during daylight, but this was declined by Phillips. Vigors later commented, "I reckon this must have been the last battle in which the Navy reckoned they could get along without the RAF. A pretty damned costly way of learning. Phillips had known that he was being shadowed the night before, and also at dawn that day. He did not call for air support. He was attacked and still did not call for help." Daytime air cover off the coast was also offered by Wing Commander Wilfrid Clouston of No. 488 Squadron RNZAF
No. 488 Squadron RNZAF
488 Squadron was the name given to two distinct Royal New Zealand Air Force squadrons during the Second World War. Both were formed under Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme and served under the operational command of the Royal Air Force....

, but his plan "Operation Mobile" was rejected.

Regarding Phillips' decision to proceed without air cover, Naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison
Samuel Eliot Morison
Samuel Eliot Morison, Rear Admiral, United States Naval Reserve was an American historian noted for his works of maritime history that were both authoritative and highly readable. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912, and taught history at the university for 40 years...


Those who make the decisions in war are constantly weighing certain risks against possible gains. At the outset of hostilities [U.S.] Admiral Hart
Thomas C. Hart
Thomas Charles Hart was an admiral of the United States Navy, whose service extended from the Spanish-American War through World War II. Following his retirement from the Navy, he served briefly as a United States Senator from Connecticut.-Life and career:Hart was born in Genesee County, Michigan...

 thought of sending his small striking force north of Luzon to challenge Japanese communications, but decided that the risk to his ships outweighed the possible gain because the enemy had won control of the air. Admiral Phillips had precisely the same problem in Malaya. Should he steam into the Gulf of Siam and expose his ships to air attack from Indochina in the hope of breaking enemy communications with their landing force? He decided to take the chance. With the Royal Air Force and the British Army fighting for their lives, the Royal Navy could not be true to its tradition by remaining idly at anchor.


After receiving word of a Japanese convoy bound for Malaya, Force Z, consisting of Prince of Wales, Repulse, Electra, Express, Vampire, and Tenedos, sailed from Singapore at 1710 on 8 December. Phillips hoped to attack off Singora on 10 December; had he departed one day sooner, he might have achieved his objective without coming under Japanese air attack at all, for the squadrons responsible had not yet arrived.

At 0713 on 9 December, Force Z passed the Anambas Islands to the east, and turned to a new course of 330 degrees, later changing to 345 degrees. Force Z was overflown by two Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, but not reported, before being spotted by Japanese submarine I-65
Kaidai class submarine
The was a type of 1st class submarine operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy before and during World War II. The type name, was shortened to . All Kaidai class submarines originally had a two digit boat name, from I-51 onwards. On 20 May 1942, all Kaidai submarines added a '1' to their name. For...

 at 1400 on 9 December, which shadowed the British ships for five hours, radioing their positions. Phillips was unaware he was being shadowed by the submarine. After this report, Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa
Jisaburo Ozawa
was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. He was the last Commander-in-Chief of Combined Fleet. Many military historians regard Ozawa as one of the most capable Japanese flag officers.-Biography:...

, in command of the invasion force, ordered most of his warships to escort the empty transports back to Cam Ranh Bay
Cam Ranh Bay
Cam Ranh Bay is a deep-water bay in Vietnam in the province of Khánh Hòa. It is located at an inlet of the South China Sea situated on the southeastern coast of Vietnam, between Phan Rang and Nha Trang, approximately 290 kilometers / 180 miles northeast of Hồ Chí Minh City / Saigon.Cam Ranh is...

 in southern Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...


I-65's amplifying report, confirming the presence of British battleships, reached 22nd Air Flotilla headquarters two hours later. At that time, their aircraft were in the process of loading bombs for an attack on Singapore Harbour, but they immediately switched to torpedoes. The bombers were not ready until 1800 hours.

About 1730, just a half hour before sunset, the force was spotted by three Aichi E13A
Aichi E13A
-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Dorr, Robert E. and Chris Bishop. Vietnam Air War Debrief. London: Aerospace Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-874023-78-6....

 seaplanes, which had been catapulted off the Japanese cruisers Yura
Japanese cruiser Yura
The was the third of the six vessels completed in the Nagara class of light cruisers, and like other vessels of her class, she was intended for use as the flagship of a destroyer flotilla. She was named after the Yura River near Kyoto, Japan.-Early career:...

Japanese cruiser Kinu
was a Nagara-class light cruiser in the Imperial Japanese Navy, named after the Kinu River in Tochigi prefecture Japan.-Background:Kinu was the fifth vessel completed in the Nagara-class of light cruisers, and like other vessels of her class, she was intended for use as the flagship of a destroyer...

Japanese cruiser Kumano
Kumano was one of four Mogami-class heavy cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy. She was completed at the Kawasaki Shipyard in Kobe on 31 October 1937. She displaced with a length of and a beam of , and had a top speed of...

 escorting the transports. These aircraft continued shadowing. At about 1830,
Tenedos was detached to return to Singapore, because she was running low on fuel, with instructions to contact Rear Admiral A. F. E. Palliser, detailed to act as liaison to RAF in Malaya, Phillips' intention was no longer to attack Singora, while Phillips himself changed course at 1900 toward Singora, to deceive the shadowing aircraft, then south toward Singapore at 1015, when darkness covered him. Tenedos dutifully reported at 0800, thereby preserving the secrecy of Phillips' position.

A night air attack was attempted by the Japanese because they feared that the British would find the convoy, but bad weather prevented them from finding the ships and they returned to their airfields at Thủ Dầu Một
Thu Dau Mot
Thủ Dầu Một is the capital town of Binh Duong province, Vietnam. It is located at around .The town has an area of 88 km², population is 158,000, and is located 20 km north of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, on the left bank of the Saigon River, upstream from Ho Chi Minh City...

 and Saigon about midnight.

Return to Singapore

That night, one of the Japanese seaplanes dropped a flare over the Japanese heavy cruiser Chōkai, having mistaken her for Prince of Wales. After this, the Japanese force of six cruisers and several destroyers turned away to the northeast. The flare was also seen by the British force, which feared they had been identified and then turned away to the southeast. At this point, the forces were approximately 5 miles (9 km) apart, but did not sight each other, and the Japanese force was not picked up on the radar of the Prince Of Wales. At 2055, Admiral Philips cancelled the operation, saying that they had lost the element of surprise, and ordered the force to return to Singapore.

On the way back, they were spotted and reported by the Japanese submarine
Kaidai class submarine
The was a type of 1st class submarine operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy before and during World War II. The type name, was shortened to . All Kaidai class submarines originally had a two digit boat name, from I-51 onwards. On 20 May 1942, all Kaidai submarines added a '1' to their name. For...

 at 0340.
I-58 reported that she had fired five torpedoes and missed, and then lost sight of the force three hours later. The British force did not see the torpedoes, and never knew they had been attacked. The report from the I-58 reached the 22nd Air Flotilla Headquarters at 0315, and ten bombers of the Genzan Air Group were dispatched at 0600 to conduct a sector search for the ships. Many more planes, some armed with bombs and some with torpedoes soon followed. Genzan Air Group took off at 0755, Kanoya Air Group at 0814 and Mihoro Air Group at 0820. They were ordered to proceed to the best estimated position of the ships.

The Japanese air attack

At 0050 that same morning, 10 December, Phillips had received a report from Palliser of Japanese landings at Kuantan, on the east coast of Malaya, halfway between Singapore and Kota Bharu and Phillips headed in that general direction, without however signaling Palliser his intentions (which would have revealed his position) Palliser failed to anticipate this and request air cover over Kuantan from Sembawang's F2As. As it turned out, not until a radio message was sent by Repulse an hour after the first Japanese attack were RAF aircraft dispatched. At 0515, objects were spotted on the horizon; thinking they were the invasion force, Force Z turned towards them. It turned out to be a trawler towing barges. At 0630, Repulse reported seeing an aircraft shadowing the ships. At 0718, Prince Of Wales catapulted off a Supermarine Walrus reconnaissance aircraft; it flew to Kuantan, saw nothing, reported back to Prince of Wales, and flew to Singapore. Express was sent to investigate the area, finding nothing. Phillips was unaware that a large force of Japanese land-based bombers were looking for his ships, but not having anticipated his detour to Kuantan were searching much further south. At around 1000 Tenedos, having been detached from the main force the previous day and now about 140 miles southeast of Force Z, began signaling she was being attacked by Japanese aircraft. The attack was by nine Mitsubishi G3M 'Nell' twin-engine medium bombers from the Genzan Air Corps, 22nd Air Flotilla, based at Saigon, each armed with one 500 kg (1,100 lb) armour-piercing bomb. They mistook the destroyer for a battleship and wasted their ordnance with no bombs scoring hits. At 1015, to the north of most of the Japanese aircraft, a scout plane piloted by Ensign Hoashi Masame spotted Force Z and sent out a message detailing their exact position, after they had failed to find any Japanese invasion force and was heading back south.

Due to the scattered nature of the converging Japanese planes, they arrived in small groups rather than a large co-ordinated force, and because of their lack of remaining fuel, attacked as they arrived. The first wave of Japanese planes, comprising 8 Nell bombers from the Mihoro Air Corps, attacked the fleet at 1113 and they concentrated their attack solely on Repulse. Besides seven near misses by 250 kg (550 lb) bombs, they scored just one hit which penetrated the hangar and the upper deck and exploded in the Marines mess area. The bomb caused no serious damage and relatively few casualties and she continued on at 25 kts (46 km/h, 29 mph) still in fighting trim. Five of the 8 bombers were hit by anti-aircraft fire and two aircraft were forced to return to base and abort further attacks.

At around 1140, 17 Nell torpedo bombers (two squadrons from the Genzan Air Group) approached the two capital ships. Eight concentrated on Repulse while nine attacked Prince of Wales, sending eight torpedoes speeding towards the flagship (one plane aborted its run on Prince of Wales and peeled off and attacked Repulse) This first wave of torpedo attackers however managed only one, but ultimately catastrophic, torpedo hit on Prince of Wales (and none on Repulse), right where her outer port propeller shaft exited the hull (some historical accounts state two hits in this attack but an extensive 2007 survey of the hull of the wreck by divers proved there was only one). Turning at maximum revolutions, the shaft twisted and ruptured the glands that prevented sea water entering the ship via the broad shaft tunnels interior bulkheads. The flagship promptly took in 2,400 tons of water and her speed dropped to 16 kts (30 km/h, 18 mph. Testimony from Lt Wildish, in command of 'B' Engine Room, indicated the shaft was stopped successfully, but upon restarting the shaft, water rushed in through the damaged shaft passage, flooding B Engine Room resulting in its evacuation. Also flooded from this hit were the long shaft passage itself, 'Y' Action Machinery Room, the port Diesel Dynamo Room, 'Y' Boiler Room, the Central Auxiliary Machinery Room, and a number of other compartments aft.

This single torpedo hit had three devastating effects. First, it caused an 11.5 degree list to port, resulting in the starboard 5.25-inch anti-aircraft turrets being unable to depress low enough to engage the attackers. Furthermore, power to Prince of Wales aft 5.25 inch dual-purpose turrets was cut, leaving her unable to effectively counter further attacks. Power loss to her pumps meant an inability to pump the inrushing flood water faster than it was entering the breached hull. Second, it denied her much of her auxiliary electrical power, vital for internal communications, ventilation, steering gear, and pumps, and for training and elevation of the 5.25-inch and 2-pounder gun mounts. All but S1 and S2 5.25 inch turrets were almost unmanageable, a factor compounded by the list, rendering their crews unable even to drag them round manually using chains. The crews also had difficulty bringing the heavy 2-pounder mountings into manual operation. Third, the extensive internal flooding and shaft damage caused the shutting down of the inboard port propeller shaft, leaving the ship under the power of only the starboard engines and able to make just 15 knots at best; and with her electric steering unresponsive the ship was virtually unmanageable.

Another torpedo attack was carried out by Betty bombers of Kanoya Air Group at approximately 1220, and Prince of Wales was hit by another three torpedoes on her starboard side (some historical accounts state four hits but an extensive 2007 survey of the hull of the wreck by divers proved there was only three); one at the very bow, one opposite B main gun turret, and one abaft Y turret which not only punctured the hull but bent the outer starboard propeller shaft inboard and over the inner shaft, stopping it instantly.

At the same time as this last torpedo attack developed against Prince of Wales, planes from the Kanoya Air Group also attacked Repulse from both starboard and port. Repulse, which had dodged 19 torpedoes so far, was caught between this Japanese pincer attack and was hit on the port side by one torpedo. Within minutes though further attacks developed and at least three more torpedoes struck Repulse. Unfortunately Repulse did not have the anti-torpedo blisters her sister Renown had received, and also did not have a modern battleship's internal waterproof compartmentalization and subdivision. She had been hit seriously then, and Captain Tennant soon ordered the crew overboard; Repulse listed heavily to port over a period of about six minutes and finally rolled over, settled by the head, and sank at 1233 with heavy casualties.

Prince of Wales was now under power by only one propeller shaft but was however still able to fire at a high level bombing attack which developed at 1241 hours, although only with S1 and S2 5.25 inch turrets, and although most of the bombs straddled her one bomb penetrated her deck amidships. This bomb penetrated the Upper Deck and exploded amongst the wounded gathered in the Cinema Flat beneath, causing extensive casualties amongst the wounded that had been assembled there. Soon Prince of Wales started to capsize to port (even though she had taken more torpedo hits to starboard than port) and HMS Express came alongside to take off the wounded and non-fighting crew. The order to abandon ship was then given and soon after Prince of Wales rolled over to port, settled by the head, and sank at 1318. As she rolled over, she scraped Express, lying close alongside taking off survivors, with her bilge keel, and very nearly took the destroyer down with her.
The Japanese had achieved eight torpedo hits, four on Prince of Wales and four on Repulse, out of 49 torpedoes launched against the two ships while losing only three aircraft during the attack itself (one Nell torpedo bomber from the Genzan Air Group and two Betty torpedo bombers from the Kanoya Air Group) and a fourth plane was so badly damaged it crashed on landing. A recent survey of the two wrecks confirmed that there were only four torpedo hits on Prince of Wales; and could only confirm two hits on Repulse as the amidships area where two of the other hits were reported to have impacted was buried beneath the seabed. The Explorer's Club ‘Expedition "Job 74", an underwater survey by divers, was completed on June 11, 2007 (see external link section).

The air cover assigned to Force Z, ten Buffalo fighters of No. 453 Squadron RAAF, arrived over the battlefield at 1318, just as Prince of Wales sank. They caught a scouting aircraft, piloted by Ensign Hoashi Masame who discovered Force Z earlier, which returned to confirm the sinkings, but it managed to escape as they gave chase. Had it been shot down, the Japanese would have assumed that the two ships survived the attack, forcing them to carry out another strike.

After the action

Destroyers Electra and Vampire moved in to rescue survivors of Repulse, while Express rescued survivors of the Prince Of Wales. 840 sailors were lost, 513 in Repulse and 327 in Prince Of Wales. After they were rescued, some survivors of the Repulse manned action stations
Action Stations
Action Stations is the general signal to the personnel of a warship that combat with a hostile attacker is imminent or deemed probable...

 in Electra, to free Electra sailors to rescue more survivors. In particular, Repulse gunners manned 'X' and 'Y' 4.7-inch (120 mm) mounts, and Repulse's dentist assisted Electra's medical teams with the wounded. In total, nearly 1,000 survivors of Repulse were rescued, of which Electra saved 571. Vampire picked up 9 officers, 213 ratings, and 1 civilian war correspondent from Repulse, and 2 sailors from Prince Of Wales.

Of high-ranking officers on Prince Of Wales, Admiral Phillips and Captain John Leach chose to go down with their ship, and the senior survivor was Lt Cdr A. G. Skipwith, the ship's First Lieutenant, who was rescued by Express. Captain William G. Tennant of Repulse was rescued by Vampire.

London Gazette
London Gazette
The London Gazette is one of the official journals of record of the British government, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are required to be published...

report by Flt Lt Vigors:

On the way back to Singapore with the survivors, Express passed Stronghold and the four American destroyers heading north. Express signalled the action was over, but the ships proceeded to search the area for more survivors. None were found. While returning to Singapore from this search, Edsall boarded the fishing trawler sighted by Force Z that morning. The trawler was identified as Shofu Fu Maru, and was taken to Singapore where the Japanese crew was interned.

While the Japanese bombers were returning to their airfields in French Indochina
French Indochina
French Indochina was part of the French colonial empire in southeast Asia. A federation of the three Vietnamese regions, Tonkin , Annam , and Cochinchina , as well as Cambodia, was formed in 1887....

, a second wave was being prepared for another attack on Force Z. They had not been given accurate information on the progress of the battle. The attack was called off as soon as they received confirmed reports of the sinkings from Ensign Hoashi Masame.

The next day, Lt Haruki Iki flew to the site of the battle, dropping two wreaths of flowers into the sea to honour combatants from both sides who had died in the battle. One was for the fellow members of his Kanoya Air Group, while the other was for the British sailors whose display of bravery in defence of the ships had gained them the utmost admiration from all pilots in his squadron.

Effects of the sinking

The next morning after the battle, Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 received a phone call at his bedside from Sir Dudley Pound
Dudley Pound
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound GCB OM GCVO RN was a British naval officer who served as First Sea Lord, professional head of the Royal Navy from June 1939 to September 1943.- Early life :...

, the First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

Singapore had essentially been reduced to a land base after both capital ships were lost. The Eastern Fleet would spend the remainder of the invasion withdrawing their vessels to Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....

. They were not reinforced by battleships until March 1942, with the arrival of HMS Warspite and four battleships. Although all five battleships survived the Indian Ocean raid
Indian Ocean raid
The Indian Ocean raid was a naval sortie by the Fast Carrier Strike Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 31 March-10 April 1942 against Allied shipping and bases in the Indian Ocean. It was an early engagement of the Pacific campaign of World War II...

, their service in the Pacific was uneventful and they were later withdrawn to East Africa
East Africa
East Africa or Eastern Africa is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. In the UN scheme of geographic regions, 19 territories constitute Eastern Africa:...

 and the Mediterranean.

Prince of Wales and Repulse were the first capital ships actively defending themselves to be sunk solely by air power while steaming in the open sea. Both of them were relatively fast ships, compared to the old and slow U.S. battleship
Standard type battleship
The Standard-type battleship was a production line of twelve battleships across five classes ordered for the United States Navy between 1911 and 1916 and commissioned between 1916 and 1923...

s that would have been expected to be easily sunk by aircraft had they gone to sea, though the U.S. ships were instead caught at anchor. Furthermore Prince of Wales was a new battleship with passive and active anti-aircraft defences against contemporary aircraft, being equipped with the advanced High Angle Control System
HACS, an acronym of High Angle Control System, was a British anti-aircraft fire-control system employed by the Royal Navy from 1931 onwards and used widely during World War II...

 although it was largely inoperable during the battle.

Combined with the earlier raid on Pearl Harbor, this left the Allies with only three operational capital ships in the Pacific Theatre: USS
USS Enterprise (CV-6)
USS Enterprise , colloquially referred to as the "Big E," was the sixth aircraft carrier of the United States Navy and the seventh U.S. Navy ship to bear the name. Launched in 1936, she was a ship of the Yorktown class, and one of only three American carriers commissioned prior to World War II to...

Lexington and USS Saratoga
USS Saratoga (CV-3)
USS Saratoga was the second aircraft carrier of the United States Navy and the fifth ship to bear her name. She was commissioned one month earlier than her sister and class leader, , which is the third actually commissioned after and Saratoga...

, all three of which were aircraft carriers. However, these events did prompt the Allies and the U.S. Navy in particular to realize the potency of aircraft, and their carriers would be instrumental in the counterattack. The Genzan Air Groups would attempt a torpedo attack on USS
Lexington on 20 February 1942, losing seventeen aircraft to the carrier's combat air patrol and anti-aircraft guns.

The ships today

The wrecks of the two ships were found after the war,
Repulse in 183 feet (56 m) of water, and Prince of Wales in 223 feet (68 m). Both are in a nearly upside-down position. Buoys were attached to the propeller shafts, and flags of the Royal Navy are attached to the lines and are regularly changed by divers. These Royal Navy wrecks are Crown property, the Prince of Wales bell was removed from the wreck in 2002 by an authorised team of Royal Navy and British civilian divers in response to fears it would be stolen by unauthorised divers. The bell is now on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum
Merseyside Maritime Museum
The Merseyside Maritime Museum is a museum based in the city of Liverpool, Merseyside, England. It is part of National Museums Liverpool and an Anchor Point of ERIH, The European Route of Industrial Heritage...

 in Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

. It is currently traditional for every passing Royal Navy ship to perform a remembrance service over the site of the wrecks.

External links