The battleship, H.M.S. Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse arrived at Singapore on 2nd December but the aircraft carrier Indomitable could not travel because of an accident which had damaged her, so the battleships had no air cover, this was Churchill’s deterrent to the Japanese Navy, called Z Force and commanded by Admiral Tom Phillips.

After Japan had attacked Malaya on 8th December a meeting between of Z Force took place, the reasons are not known but it was decided to leave Singapore harbour at 1735 hours with four destroyers. Most likely it was because there was no air cover in the harbour and Tom Philips thought Z Force would not be so venerable at sea. 

Prince_WalesInformation about the landings was filtering through and Tom Phillips set out for the Gulf of Siam to intercept the Japanese Navy, but he was relying on the RAF giving Z Force air cover.

The following day he found out that the northern air fields had been lost and the RAF fighters were not able to give him any cover. The weather was overcast and Tom Philips decided to chance his luck in being spotted, so he set his course north. At 2015 hours the skies cleared and he was spotted by enemy planes, with all hope of surprise lost he decided to turn back for Singapore.

It was now that he received information of a Japanese landing at Kuantan so he altered course again at 0100 hours on the 9th December and as a security precaution he did not inform Singapore of his change of plans. Early in the morning Japanese submarines spotted and shadowed Z Force, sending information back to Admiral Kondo of the Japanese Navy. Kondo ordered the 7th Cruiser Squadron to sail southwest and intercept Z Force and Rear Admiral Matsunga had the 22nd Air Flotilla load their aircraft with torpedoes. The battleships were too fast for the Japanese Navy to catch so Kondo planned to use the aircraft for a dawn attack.

Z Force reached Kuantan at 0800 hours but found no Japanese attack and decided to search along the coast, at 1000 hours reports of enemy air craft were received and by 1100 hours Japanese bombers could be seen from the decks of Z Force. Tom Philips ordered battle stations and began to take evasive action, but the Prince of Wales was hit and veered to port with two big explosions she went out of control with her propeller shafts stopping. Japanese torpedo air craft were now in for the kill, skimming over the water at a height of only some twenty feet, they dropped their bombs at a distance of about four hundred, the torpedos hit the Prince of Wales time and time again. The anti-aircraft guns on both battleships were firing contineously but with the overwelming numbers in the Japanese air attacks it was useless. The Repulse had avoided immediate danger but after being hit by a torpedo bomb she was at the air crafts mercy, her rudder jammed and Captain Tennant ordered his crew on deck, he later wrote:

‘Men were now pouring up on deck. They had been warned twenty-four hours before to carry or wear their lifesaving apparatus. When the ship had a thirty-degree list to port I looked over the starboard side of the bridge and saw the commander and two or three hundred men collecting on the starboard side. I never saw any sign of panic or ill discipline. I told them from the bridge how well they had fought for the ship and wished them good luck. The ship hung on for at least a minute and a half to two minutes with a list of about 60 to 70 degrees to port and then rolled over at 1233 hours.’

There were 1,240 men with 69 officers on board the Repulse, 754 men and 42 officers were picked up by destroyers the rest were killed.

Prince_Wales_hitThe Prince of Wales was still going north but by 1300 hours she began to settle and Captain Leach gave the order to abandon ship. Admiral Tom Philips and Captain Leach went down with the ship and so did 300 men and twenty officers. Later when the squadron of Buffaloes arrived  from Singapore to give Z Force air cover, the sea was littered with wreckage and men.

Later it was found Kuantan was never being attacked, who then spread the rumour, was it the Japanese themselves, luring Z Force into its trap or just a rumour that started and was never  confirmed.

The surviving Royal Marines from the Prince of Wales joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as the Plymouth Argyll“s.

This was the worst naval disaster to hit the Royal Navy and at a time when Britain was at her lowest, it gave impetus and encouragement to the Japanese forces.


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[Malaya] [Cause] [Japs Prepare] [British Prepare] [Malaya Attack] [Attack] [Z Force] [Jitra] [Penang] [Long Retreat] [South Malaya] [Singapore] [Chronology]

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