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SERVICE HISTORIES of ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS in WORLD WAR 2
by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2003

HMS PRINCE OF WALES  - King George V-class 14in gun Battleship including Convoy Escort Movements

Editing & Additional Material by Mike Simmonds

HMS Prince of Wales, 1941, Singapore (Maritime Quest, click to enlarge)

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KING GEORGE V-Class Battleship ordered from Cammell Laird at Birkenhead under the 1937 Build Programme on 29th July 1936. She was laid down on 1st January l937 and launched on 3rd May 1939 as the 12th RN ship to carry this name. First used for a 3rd Rate in 1765 and last used for a battleship built in 1902 and sold in April 1920. Build was completed on 31st March 1941 and had been delayed by approximately three months due to bomb damage.

 

During a Luftwaffe raid on the night of 8-9/8/40 a 250kg bomb (130kg of explosive), fell between the side of the fitting out basin and the ships port side in the vicinity of the after group of 5.25in guns. The bomb exploded underwater below the bilge keel. Buckling of the shell plating was caused for a distance of about 25ft, rivets were sprung and extensive flooding took place in the port outer compartments. The flooding was severe, due to the fact that final compartment air tests had not yet been made and the ship did not have her pumping system in operation. The water was pumped out by the local fire Brigade and the shipyard. The PRINCE OF WALES was returned to dry dock for repairs. This bomb damage and the problems in the deliveries of her main guns and turrets delayed her completion. As the war progressed there was an urgent need for capital ships, and so her completion was advanced by postponing compartment air tests, ventilation tests and a thorough testing of her bilge, ballast and fuel oil systems.

 

 

B a t t l e   H o n o u r s

ST LUCIA 1778 - GRENADA 1779 -  GROIX 1795  - CALDER'S Action 1805* - BALTIC  1807 - DARDANELLES 1915 - BISMARCK Action 1941 - MALTA CONVOYS 1941

(* Only in Manning 1959)

 

H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge:  On a Field White, on a red Cross, the Badge of the Prince of Wales proper.

 

 

D e t a i l s   o f   S e r v i c e

 

(for more ship information,  go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search

 

 

1 9 4 1

 

January

 

 

19th - Commissioned, incomplete, and with only half her crew, for trials. CO Captain Louis Henry Keppel Hamilton RN.

 

(The Luftwaffe raids were continuing on Liverpool so the decision was taken to move the PRINCE OF WALES to Rosyth to complete her fitting out. When she sailed from Birkenhead she had embarked workers from Cammell Laird and Vickers Armstrong who were working on her main armament turrets)

 

28th - At 1200 hours the PRINCE OF WALES sailed from the Mersey. In Liverpool Bay she was joined by the light cruiser CURACOA and the destroyer HIGHLANDER and course was set northerly.

En route she carried out gun trials.

 

29th - At 1300 hours off Cape Wrath the PRINCE OF WALES, CURACOA and HIGHLANDER were joined by the light cruiser NIGERIA and destroyers INGLEFIELD, MAORI and NIZAM joined from Scapa Flow.

Gun trials were carried out off Cape Wrath.

 

30th - At 1445 the PRINCE OF WALES, CURACOA, NIGERIA and destroyers INGLEFIELD, MAORI, NIZAM and HIGHLANDER arrived off Rosyth.

The PRINCE OF WALES entered ROSYTH for completion of fitting out.

 

February

 

1st to 28th - Fitting-out at Rosyth.

(Note: Fit of radar Type 281 for aircraft warning and limited fire-control use, together with radar Type 284 for fire-control of forward main armament, and four Type 285 for fire-control of 5.25in armament was completed)

 

15th - The PRINCE OF WALES new CO Captain John Catterall Leach MVO RN took command.

 

March

 

1st to 23rd - Fitting-out at Rosyth

 

24th - The PRINCE OF WALES, with workers from Cammell Laird and Vickers Armstrong still embarked, escorted by destroyers QUANTOCK, LIDDESDALE and AVON VALE sailed from Rosyth for Scapa.

 

25th - The PRINCE OF WALES, QUANTOCK, LIDDESDALE and AVON VALE arrived at Scapa.

 

26th - The PRINCE OF WALES commenced working up exercisers.

 

31st - The PRINCE OF WALES was officially classified as completed. The 'completion' was achieved by waiving various vital tests and before her armament was fully operational.

 

(The Admiralty was desperate to have the PRINCE OF WALES operational to join the KING GEORGE V as a credible deterrent against the BISMARCK and TIRPITZ. The PRINCE OF WALES was late completing; the problem had started with the bomb damage whilst in the fitting out basin. The repairs had taken priority over various tests and because of Admiralty pressure many important tests were not carried out; including watertight compartment air tests, tests on fuel oil systems, full power trials et al. Also the quadruple 14in turrets were not fully operational which why Vickers Armstrong staff were still embarked) 

 

April

 

1st to 26th - The PRINCE OF WALES was at Scapa Flow carrying out working up exercises. Gunnery exercises were severely curtailed due to the continuing problems with the quadruple 14in turrets. The work up included checking radar performance and the calibration of air warning and fire control equipment.

 

27th - It was on this day that the last of her three turrets was accepted from Vickers Armstrong and practice drills with all her armament could commence.

 

(The PRINCE OF WALES went to sea with HACS IVGB, with full radar ranging systems, and no less than nine AA fire control radars: four Type 285 Radars, one on each High Angle Director Tower and four Type 282 Radars, one on each Mk IV pom-pom director, and a long range Type 281 Radar which also had precision ranging panels for aerial and surface targets. This placed the PRINCE OF WALES in the forefront of naval HA AA fire control systems at the time)

 

May

 

8th - Carried out Full Power Trials.

 

21st - Ship reported to CinC Home Fleet as ready for Fleet service.

 

(The PRINCE OF WALES had had less than two months working up, which was completely inadequate considering all the new systems and the fact that 80% of her crew were Hostilities Only and had never been on a ship before. Further she still had major problems with her main armament and 100 Vickers Armstrong staff were embarked attempting to fix the problems. The BISMARCK in contrast had worked up over a period of five months and was fully operational and efficient)

 

22nd - At 0100 hours the battlecruiser HOOD (Flag Vice Admiral Lancelot E Holland CinC BCS) and the PRINCE OF WALES escorted by the destroyers ELECTRA, ACHATES, ANTELOPE, ANTHONY, ECHO and ICARUS departed Scapa Flow to cover the cruiser patrol in the Denmark Strait.

 

(The Denmark Strait was being patrolled by the heavy cruiser NORFOLK. The heavy cruiser SUFFOLK sailed from Hvalfjord on 22/5/41 to join the NORFOLK)

 

Between 1130 and 1307 hours range, inclination and radar exercises were carried out. During the exercise the Type 281 and 284 radars were found to be working in accordance with specification.

 

(At 1200/19/5/41 off Ruegen Island in the Baltic the battleship BISMARCK [Flag Admiral Luetjens] and heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN joined forces and with the destroyers Z 16 and Z 23 and set course west on Operation RHEINUBUNG. [This was an Operation to break into the North Atlantic to attack British shipping for a period of several months]. At 2230 hours the destroyer Z 10 joined the Force.

 

At 1300/20, the German ships were sighted by the Swedish cruiser GOTLAND which reported the sighting to Stockholm. Luetjens assumed this ship would report his position, and at 1737 radioed this incident to Group North, the German Naval command station based in Wilhelmshaven. The GOTLAND had reported the sighting and then it was leaked to the British Naval Attache, Captain Henry W. Denham RN. Later in the day, from the British embassy in Stockholm, Denham transmitted the following message to the Admiralty in London: -
'Kattegat, today 20 May. At 1500/20, two large warships, escorted by three destroyers, five ships and ten or twelve planes passed Marstrand to the northeast. 2058/20'.

On receipt of this information the Admiralty requested photographic reconnaissance of likely harbours in southern Norway.  

 

At 1100/21 two Spitfire PR 1 aircraft of No 1 PRU, took off from Wick, one flown by Flight Lieutenant Michael Suckling sighted and photographed the two German ships in the Korsfjord, near Bergen. The BISMARCK was in Grimstad Fjord, near Haakonsvern and the PRINZ EUGEN was in Kalvanes Bay, near Agotnes, 9 degrees miles north west of the BISMARCK. At 1420/21 Flight Lieutenant Suckling landed back at Wick and the photographs were rushed to the Admiralty.

At 1830/21, all available Home Fleet warships came to two hours' notice for sailing as a result of air reconnaissance of the German ships at Korsfjord.

 

 On 22/5/41, the weather worsened and the RAF attacks failed due to the weather or because the enemy had sailed.

The Admiralty were desperate to know if the BISMARCK had sailed but the weather now 10/10 cloud at 100 feet the RAF were unable to provide a reconnaissance flight.

Captain Henry St John Fancourt the CO of HMS SPARROWHAWK, the RNAS Hatson near Kirkwall thought it might be possible for a single aircraft to get through to Bergen to ascertain the situation. Lieutenant Noel Goddard RNVR volunteered to fly one 771 squadron's Martin Marylands, these were used for training and target towing. Three other crew members volunteered, there were Commander G A Rotherham RN [executive officer of HMS SPARROWHAWK] observer and leading airmen J W Armstrong, radio operator and J D Milne air gunner.

At 1800/22 the Maryland [serial number AR720] took off from Hatson they flew as close to the surface of the sea as he dared in the poor visibility and strong winds. However due to Rotherham's superb navigation, the plane arrived directly over the location where the German ships had last been photographed. After several low runs over the fiord in the face of heavy AA fire, Rotherham decided that the ships were gone. They flew on to Bergen, again in the face of heavy AA fire, to find the roadstead there also devoid of the battleship and cruiser. Armstrong then signalled on an emergency frequency 'Battleship and Cruiser have left'. Goddard was awarded a DSC, Rotherham a DSO and Armstrong a DSM.

 At 2200/22 Admiral Tovey had this signal in his hand and was then able to put in motion his  forces to counter the threat from the BISMARCK )

 

At 2300 hours off southern Iceland the HOOD Force received the signal informing them that BISMARCK had sailed but not providing the enemy's intentions.

 

23rd - The HOOD Force continued to steer in a north westerly direction.

Between 1135 and 1245 hours further radar calibration exercises were conducted; again the radars were found to be working in accordance with specification.

At 1400 hours the destroyers ANTELOPE and ANTHONY were detached to refuel at Hvalfjord.

 

(At 1922/23/5/41 AB Alfred Newell the starboard lookout of the heavy cruiser SUFFOLK sighted the BISMARCK at a distance of 7 miles NNE of SUFFOLK and shortly afterwards, astern of BISMARCK, the PRINZ EUGEN. SUFFOLK's approximate position was 66-44N, 26-45W, BISMARCK's 66-51N, 26-38W.  At 1923 hours SUFFOLK made a sighting report, but because of icing of her aerials this was only picked up by the NORFOLK.  At 2032 hours the heavy cruiser NORFOLK, who was in company with the SUFFOLK, sent a sighting report, 'one battleship, one cruiser in sight'  which was picked up by the CinC Home Fleet, Admiral Holland and the Admiralty )

 

At 1922 hours the HOOD Force was in approximate position 62N, 25W which was some 300NM south of the BISMARCK's position.

At 2054 hours the HOOD Force increased speed to 27 knots.

At 2105 hours Holland signalled to the destroyers; 'If you are unable to maintain this speed I will have to go on without you. You should follow at your best speed'. Not to be outdone by the capital ships, the destroyers kept up.

 

24th - At 0001 hours the PRINCE OF WALES reported, weather wind north, force 4-5, visibility - moderate, sea and swells 3-4.  Also at this time the latest report put the enemy 120NM from the HOOD Force.

At 0008 hours speed was reduced to 25 knots.

At 0012 hours course was altered to 340 degrees.

At 0015 hours final preparations for action were made, and battle ensigns were hoisted. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made soon after 0140 hours. However at 0028 hours the cruisers had lost touch with the enemy in low visibility and snow showers.

At 0017 hours course was altered to 000 degrees.

At 0031hours Holland signalled 'If enemy is not in sight by 0210 I will probably alter course 180 degrees until cruisers regain touch'.

At 0032 Holland signalled his plan of the action; 'intend both ships to engage BISMARCK and to leave PRINZ EUGEN to NORFOLK and SUFFOLK'

At 0203 hours the HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES altered course to 200 degrees and the destroyers ELECTRA, ACHATES, ECHO and ICARUS, who by now were well astern, were detached and ordered to search to the north then refuel at Hvalfjord. Also at this time Holland ordered the PRINCE OF WALES to make a surface search with her Type 284 radar, when activated the 284 was found to be defective, and Holland refused permission to use the Type 281.

At 0214 hours speed was increased to 26 knots.

At 0220 hours speed was increased to 27 knots. At this time visibility was about 5NM.

At 0256 hours SUFFOLK regained contact with the enemy, her position report put the enemy approximately 30000 yards north of the HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES.

At 0321 hours course was altered to 220 degrees.

At 0342 hours course was altered to 240 degrees.

At 0353 hours speed was increased to 28 knots.

At 0400 hours the BISMARCK was estimated to be 40000 yards to the north west.

At 0430 hours as dawn broke visibility had improved to 24000 yards.

At 0510 hours the PRINCE OF WALES went to action stations.

At 0535 hours the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN were sighted bearing 335 degrees at approximately 41500 yards and steering an approximate course of 240 degrees.

At 0537 hours course was altered to 260 degrees. At this time the PRINZ EUGEN sighted a vessel on her port side, identified at 0543 hours as the HOOD.

At 0549 hours course was altered to 300 degrees. At this time the PRINCE OF WALES took station on HOOD's starboard quarter, four cables distant (810 yards), bearing 135 degrees. The HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES were now approaching the enemy ships bow on.

 

(The KGV class had a lack of freeboard forward; this was due to the design requirement for A turret to fire ahead at minimum elevation. By turning on to course 300 degrees the HOOD and the PRINCE OF WALES were driving directly into the wind; this caused spray to wet the lenses of the forward rangefinders and allow water to enter A turret through the gun ports, soaking the gun crew. The water shipped then ran down the ammunition hoist into the shell room wetting the interlock and hoist mechanisms and affecting the efficiency of the handling room personnel, all of which affected the performance of A turret.

The bow-on approach also negated the gunnery advantage of the HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES as neither ships after turrets could engage the enemy vessels)

 

At 0552 hours in 63-21N, 32-47W the HOOD opened fire on the BISMARCK at a range of approximately 25000 yards.

At 0553 hours the PRINCE OF WALES opened fire on the BISMARCK at a range of approximately 25000 yards. Almost immediately A turret's No.1 gun had a problem and didn't fire again in the action.

 

(Although Holland had ordered that the HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES would both engage the BISMARCK, initially the HOOD fired at the PRINCE EUGEN. Both German ships had similar silhouettes, the difference being that BISMARCK was 792 ft long and the PRINZ EUGEN 681 ft long. Holland had expected that the BISMARCK would be leading but when sighted, the PRINZ EUGEN was leading. This confusion came about because when BISMARCK had sighted the British cruisers she had opened fire on NORFOLK, no hits were scored but the forward radar set was disabled from the blast; so PRINZ EUGEN was ordered to take the lead. The PRINCE OF WALES spotted the difference and therefore opened fire on the second ship, the BISMARCK)

 

At 0555 hours the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN opened fire, both concentrating on the HOOD. BISMARCK fired four gun salvos throughout the action. BISMARCK's first salvo was 100 yards short; the second salvo was a straddle.

At 0557 hours the PRINCE OF WALES's sixth salvo fired against BISMARCK achieved a straddle. At the same time the HOOD was hit by an 8in shell from PRINZ EUGEN's second salvo.

 

(The gunnery officer, Lieut. Commander C W McMullen determined ranges to the BISMARCK by using the Type 284 radar set to confirm ranges obtained by his coincidence type optical rangefinders. The stratagem was successful and is why the PRINCE OF WALES, despite her crew's inexperience and the difficulties with the turret loading mechanisms,  was able to straddle the BISMARCK early on in the action and obtain two decisive hits)

 

At 0600 hours the HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES were about to turn 20 degrees to port to open their A arcs, when a 15in shell from BISMARCK's fifth salvo hit the HOOD between her after funnel and mainmast causing a huge explosion and she sank in three to four minutes.

 

(In addition to the five vessels in the vicinity of the action, the sinking of the HOOD was witnessed by RAF Sunderland aircraft L5798/Z of No 201 Squadron. This aircraft had taken off at 2025/23/5/41 from the RAF Flying Boat Base, Reykjavik to search for the enemy vessels. The search had commenced at 2140 hours, but it was not until 0555/24/5/41 that Sunderland 201/Z located the enemy ships when gun flashes were seen. Four ships were observed engaged in a battle, one of which [HOOD] was seen to explode and sink on fire within a few minutes. Sunderland 201/Z remained in contact with the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN for a further three hours before retuning to Reykjavik, where it arrived at 1003/24/5/41)

 

At 0601 hours the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN both switched their fire to the PRINCE OF WALES.

At 0602 hours A shell from BISMARCK's first salvo fired at the PRINCE OF WALES passed through the compass platform without exploding but killing everyone except the Captain and the Chief Yeoman.

At 0603 hours the PRINCE OF WALES completed her turn to port and made smoke and was now on a southerly course. At this time, because of the smoke, Y turret went into local control and fired three salvos. At about the same time the BISMARCK commenced a turn to starboard and reduced speed.

At 0609 hours the enemy ships fired their last salvos, the accuracy of which was affected by their manoeuvring to avoid imaginary torpedoes.

At 0613 hours Captain Leach decided to break off the action and turned hard to port. This manoeuvre caused Y turret to jam as it trained round to compensate for the change of course. The PRINCE OF WALES then ceased fire. 

 

(The PRINCE OF WALES was severely disadvantaged in the action by the mechanical failures of her main armament. Both A and Y-turrets failed at various times only the twin gun B turret performed without problems. The PRINCE OF WALES fired 18 salvoes in which 74 guns should have fired but only 55 actually fired. The 18 salvos achieved three straddles and three hits on BISMARCK:

 

Hit one - Hit amidships below the waterline in section XIV, passed through the outer hull just below the main belt, and exploded against the 45mm armoured torpedo bulkhead. This hit caused the flooding of the port electric plant No. 4. The adjacent No. 2 boiler room also took on some water.

 

Hit two - hit the bow in section XX-XXI, just above the waterline. This shell entered the port side, passed through the ship above the 20mm upper platform deck without exploding, and exited the starboard side leaving a hole of 1.5 meters in diameter. A considerable amount of water entered the forecastle, and as a consequence of this several hundred tons of fuel oil was unavailable in the lower tanks. Oil from the ruptured tanks flowed out causing a broad oil slick in her wake.

 

Hit three - this shell passed through a boat amidships without causing any appreciable damage.

 

As a result of these hits, the top speed of the BISMARCK was reduced to 28 knots. She was 3 degrees down by the bow and had a 9 degrees list to port. Because of this, the blades tips of the starboard propeller were out of the water at times. The starboard void tanks in sections II and III were flooded to reduce the bow trim and list. The damage was not particularly serious, the BISMARCK maintained her fighting capability and there were no casualties among the crew; only five men had been slightly wounded. Hit two was the most important as it affected BISMARCK's ability to continue with her mission.

In return the PRINCE OF WALES was hit seven times, three hits with 15in shells and four hits with 8in shells, none of these hits affected her fighting efficiency, but they caused 13 deaths and 9 wounded, one of whom died the following day. In the action BISMARCK fired 93 x 15in shells and PRINZ EUGEN fired 178 x 8in shells)

 

At 0615 hours Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker CinC CS1, flying his flag in the NORFOLK ordered the PRINCE OF WALES to join his flag. The PRINCE OF WALES continued her port turn and fell in with the NORFOLK and SUFFOLK sailing astern of the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN, steering south westerly.

At 0740 hours the PRINCE OF WALES had cleared away most of her damage and had managed to get two guns of Y turret operational.

At 0800 hours the SUFFOLK signalled that the BISMARCK was on fire. Admiral Wake-Walker ordered Sunderland 201/Z to investigate and reported no sign of a fire.

At 1200 hours in position 60-50N, 37-50W the weather became misty with rain squalls and visibility fell to below 3 miles.

At 1228 hours Admiral Wake-Walker became concerned that his Force was too close to BISMARCK and her feared a sudden attack by BISMARCK so he ordered a 360 degrees turn to drop back five miles.

At 1240 hours the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN turned on to a southerly course, speed 23 knots, followed by NORFOLK, SUFFOLK and PRINCE OF WALES.

 

(At 1420 hours Admiral Luetjens signalled the PRINZ EUGEN stating that BISMARCK intended to shake off the shadowers in a rain squall by changing course to the west; at that point the PRINZ EUGEN was to continue on a southerly course to pursue independent cruiser war, the code word for the implementation would be 'Hood'. At 1540 hours Admiral Luetjens signaled 'Hood' and BISMARCK increased speed to 28 knots and turned west, but she emerged from the rain squall in full view of her shadowers, so she broke off and rejoined PRINZ EUGEN at 1600 hours. At 1814 hours Admiral Luetjens again  signaled 'Hood' and BISMARCK turned west )

 

(At 1445 hours the Admiralty asked Wake-Walker to report on the fighting efficiency of the BISMARCK and requested his intentions as regards the PRINCE OF WALES re-engaging. At 1619 hours Wake-Walker replied that BISMARCK's efficiency was uncertain but high and that he considered that PRINCE OF WALES should not re-engage until other heavy ships are in contact, unless interception fails. Doubtful if she has speed to force action)

 

At 1840 hours the BISMARCK came within 10 miles of SUFFOLK and fired on SUFFOLK who returned fire.

At 1847 hours the NORFOLK and PRINCE OF WALES opened fire and almost immediately two guns of PRINCE OF WALES's A turret went out of action. The PRINCE OF WALES fired twelve salvos without scoring a hit. The BISMARCK didn't reply.

At 1930 hours Admiral Wake-Walker became concerned about possible U-Boat attack so the shadowers began to zig-zag, 30 degrees to the mean course, altering every 10 minutes.

 

(At 2056 hours Admiral Luetjens signaled Group West, 2Breaking contact not possible because of enemy detection equipment. Fuel situation requires direct course for St Nazaire)

 

(At 2210 hours the aircraft carrier VICTORIOUS having achieved a position that was within 120 miles of BISMARCK's position launched a strike of nine Swordfish, three fitted with ASV radar, of 825 Sqd. The weather was showery with squalls; wind north westerly, fresh; visibility good, except during showers. Sunset was at 0052 hours. The strike force flew towards the BISMARCK at 85 knots and at 2357 hours a contact was established 16 miles ahead, which proved to be the BISMARCK. The BISMARCK was sighted briefly through a gap in the clouds but was lost again seconds later. The squadron leader Lieutenant Commander Esmonde descended below the clouds with his squadron and located the PRINCE OF WALES and NORFOLK and requested directions to BISMARCK, NORFOLK directed the aircraft towards their target some fourteen miles ahead on the starboard bow.

At 2350 hours an ASV contact was made and Esmonde again led his squadron below the cloud cover to begin his attack. But the contact proved to be the US Coast Guard cutter MODOC, peacefully pitching and rolling in the heavy Atlantic swell. Unfortunately BISMARCK, six miles to the south, spotted the aircraft and the vital element of surprise was lost. Has the Swordfish closed to deliver their torpedo attack, they were met by an accurate barrage of heavy and light AA. One torpedo hit was achieved by Swordfish 5F on BISMARCK's starboard side amidships which hit the main armoured belt and failed to cause damage)

 

25th - At 0020 hours a vessel was sighted ahead, end on and in the approximate position that BISMARCK was expected to be. The NORFOLK who was sailing in PRINCE OF WALES wake hoisted the flag signal 'Enemy in sight, open fire'. The PRINCE OF WALES turned to port, away from the target, and signalled, 'I am not certain that is the BISMARCK'.  But Admiral Wake-Walker believed it was the BISMARCK and ordered an immediate turn back to starboard. The PRINCE OF WALES ignored his signal and continued to move away from the target. The target turned out to be the US Coast Guard cutter MODOC.

At 0140 hours as it was getting dark SUFFOLK was ordered to act independently and keep in touch with the enemy by radar. NORFOLK and PRINCE OF WALES remained in support.

At 0213 hours the SUFFOLK regained contact at a range of 22000 yards, course 160 degrees, speed 20 knots.

At 0236 hours the SUFFOLK commenced zig-zagging

At 0306 hours the SUFFOLK broadcast her last shadowing report.

 

(At 0310/25/5/41, BISMARCK's CO, Captain Lindemann having decided that there was a chance that BISMARCK's shadowers could be shaken off, turned to starboard and described a huge arc, passing astern of his shadowers.

At 0500 hours BISMARCK settled on a course of 130 degrees)

 

At 0401 hours the SUFFOLK reported the loss of contact to Admiral Wake-Walker.

At 0504 hours the SUFFOLK reported she was still out of contact.

At 0620 hours the PRINCE OF WALES was detached to join the CinC Home Fleet who was somewhere to the east of the PRINCE OF WALES.

At 1047 hours the CinC home Fleet signalled his estimate of BISMARCK's position, 57N, 33W, and ordered all ships to search accordingly; at the same time the CinC in KING GEORGE V turned on to course 055 degrees. At this time the PRINCE OF WALES, now low on fuel, turned north easterly and steered for Iceland.

 

26th - The PRINCE OF WALES continued steering for Hvalfjord, Iceland. Burial at sea of those killed was carried out during passage.

At 1100 hours in approximate position 60-30N, 29W the PRINCE OF WALES was joined by the destroyers ELECTRA, ANTHONY, ECHO and ACHATES from Hvalfjord.

 

27th - At 0530 hours the PRINCE OF WALES with light cruisers GALATEA (Flag Rear Admiral A T B Curteis CinC CS2) and AURORA and destroyers ANTHONY, ELECTRA, ECHO and ACHATES arrived at Hvalfjord.

On arrival at Hvalfjord work was immediately commenced on making good her battle damage. The most pressing problem was the flooding aft, so the ship was listed to port exposing where two 8in shells had burst in the stern. The water was pumped out and the damaged plated over.

 

28th - The PRINCE OF WALES escorted by destroyers ELECTRA, ECHO and ACHATES sailed from Hvalfjord for Rosyth.

 

30th - The PRINCE OF WALES and destroyers ELECTRA, ECHO and ACHATES arrived at Rosyth.

On arrival at Rosyth the PRINCE OF WALES was taken in hand for repairs.

 

June

 

1st - At Rosyth under repair

Below is reproduced the report from the Captain of PRINCE OF WALES to the CinC Home Fleet on the unexploded 15" shell, hit number five, found in his ship.

 

(Subject - Unexploded Enemy Shell
From - The Commanding Officer, H.M.S. PRINCE OF WALES
Date - 8th June, 1941 No. 001.A/1
To - THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF, HOME FLEET.

During the early morning action on May 24th a heavy hit was felt abreast the Starboard Diesel Room. It was found that the outer air space 184-196, the outer oil fuel tank 184-206, the inner air space 184-194, the starboard diesel tank 184-206 were full to the crown with oil and water.

2. On Friday 6th June, on pumping out the dry dock a clean hole in the side about 15in diameter was found, a foot above the bilge keel at 187 starboard.

Holes were also found in the light plating forming the sides of the outer oil fuel tank 184-206.

Heavy marking was found on the protective bulkhead but there were no signs of explosion.

3. When the ship's bottom was visible it became apparent that there was no exit hole and a search was made for the shell.

The inner air space 184-194 was pumped out and the shell was found to be lying on the bottom between two frames 190-192 nose forward.

The shell was in good condition with the fuse in place, but without a ballistic cap.

The angle of entry was 10 degrees from forward and the angle of descent [measured from the ship's perpendicular] was from 2 degrees to 4 degrees.

4. Without rough treatment the removal of the shell either upwards or downwards presented difficulty. Finally it was decided to lower it through the bottom.

The shell was lifted, by chain purchases, one inch clear, slung by a quick action grab. Special lifting bands supplied by the Bomb Disposal Officer from H.M.S. COCHRANE were then fitted and screwed firmly round the shell. It was then lowered, slung by the lifting bands and hoisted 5 ft. clear.

Seven sets of supporting blocks were removed from under the protective bulkhead in the dock, and a hole 4 ft. by 2 ft., was burnt under the shell. This necessitated cutting into two bottom plates.

The shell was lowered through this hole on to a rubber tyred ammunition trolley and wheeled aft, where a dockyard crane picked it up and it was then placed in a 'Bomb Disposal Boat' and removed.

5. The diameter of the shell measured just above the driving band was 14.875 inches.

From point of first impact on the ship to point of impact on the protective bulkhead the shell travelled 12 ft. It was deflected about 20 degrees forward whilst passing through the outer bottom plating and about 15 degrees forward whilst passing through the outer longitudinal bulkhead of the O.F. compartment. Its path within the ship, relative to the ship, was on a slightly rising trajectory)


If the shell had exploded it is possible that the PRINCE OF WALES may have met the same fate as the HOOD.

 

July

 

1st to 18th - At Rosyth under repair

Whilst in dockyard hands she was fitted with the first radar Type 273, a big ship surface search version of the 10 cm Type 271.

 

19th - At 0600 hours the PRINCE OF WALES escorted by the destroyers ACTIVE, ACHATES and ICARUS departed Rosyth for Scapa Flow.

At 1930 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers ACTIVE, ACHATES and ICARUS arrived at Scapa Flow and rejoined the Home Fleet.

 

20th - Resumed intensive exercises including gunnery shoots with the KING GEORGE V.

 

At the end of the month the PRINCE OF WALES was selected for a special operation, Codeword RIVIERA.

 

(On 14/7/41 Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's friend and emissary arrived in London. The reason for the visit was to work out the modus operandi for Lend-Lease. Harry Hopkins although frail in body, was robust in mind and will and he formed a warm, productive and lasting partnership with Churchill. At the end of Hopkins survey of the British war situation, he suggested that Churchill should confer in person with Roosevelt, by which broad ranging talks would consolidate the two countries future policy. Churchill immediately agreed. RIVIERA was the codeword for the first wartime meeting between the US President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister Churchill, which was to take place at Argentia, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

Whilst in London Hopkins broadcast an inspiring and memorable message to the people of Britain. He explained that Roosevelt had promised to guarantee the delivery of American supplies to Britain. "You are not fighting alone," Hopkins declared, in a voice ringing with conviction)

 

August

 

1st to 3rd - At Scapa Flow. Where various officers and officials came on board to prepare for RIVIERA.

 

4th - At 1130 hours the destroyers ORIBI and CROOME came alongside the PRINCE OF WALES and discharged their passengers, who were: the Prime Minster Winston Churchill, the First Sea Lord Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal John Dill, Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Wilfred Freeman, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office Sir Alexander Cadogan, Churchill's scientific advisor Lord Cherwell, journalist and travel writer Henry Vollam Morton, the novelist Howard Spring and Harry Hopkins.

At 1300 hours the PRINCE OF WALES escorted by the destroyers ORIBI, HAVELOCK, HARVESTER and HESPERUS sailed from Scapa Flow for Newfoundland.

In the evening ORIBI detached and returned to Scapa Flow.

 

5th - At 0030 hours in heavy weather the destroyers HAVELOCK, HARVESTER and HESPERUS detached to Iceland.

 

6th - The PRINCE OF WALES was joined by the destroyers HMCS RESTIGOUCHE and ASSINIBOINE and RIPLEY, who had come from Iceland.

 

7th to 8th - On passage to Newfoundland.

 

(During the passage Churchill conducted rigorous rehearsals for the conference. He was particularly concerned that Roosevelt should be correctly received when he arrived on board PRINCE OF WALES so he chose Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Undersecretary of the Foreign Office, to play the role of Roosevelt. On the quarterdeck a guard of honour was assembled alongside the Royal Marines band. In obedience to Churchill, Cadogan raised his hat to pretend he had just arrived. Right on cue the Marines struck up The Star-Spangled Banner. The order, Present Arms, rang out. The guard of honour responded. Churchill came forward and shook hands with Cadogan, who was composed and dignified on being suitably greeted by the Chiefs of Staff and the battleship's officers. The rehearsal was punctuated with suggestions from Churchill until he was satisfied the ceremonial would be a worthy tribute to the President of the United States)

 

9th - At approximately 0700 hours the PRINCE OF WALES arrived off Cape St Marys, Newfoundland. But due to a mistake in time zones, the PRINCE OF WALES was 90 minutes ahead of schedule. Churchill expressed his displeasure and compelled the ship to turn about, patrol off the coast, and then enter Placentia Bay in compliance with clocks and protocol.

At approximately 0830 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers RESTIGOUCHE, ASSINIBOINE and RIPLEY entered Placentia Bay.

The PRINCE OF WALES anchored in position 47-20-18N, 53-56-12W. The US heavy cruiser AUGUSTA with President Roosevelt on board was anchored in position 47-20-43N, 53-55-47W which was 1372 yards to the east of the PRINCE OF WALES. Also in harbour were the US battleship ARKANSAS, the heavy cruiser TUSCALOOSA and destroyers MCDOUGAL, MADISON, SAMPSON, WINSLOW, MOFFETT, BELKNAP, RHIND and MAYRANT, the destroyer READING of the Newfoundland Escort Group, the oiler USS SALINAS and the seaplane tender USS ALBEMARLE.

 

(Placentia Bay, Argentia was a US Naval Operating Base, having been one of the bases leased in September 1940, on a 99 year lease, to the US by the UK in return for 50 destroyers. The USN took control of Placentia Bay on 25/1/41 when a detachment of 120 US Marines arrived and established a beachhead at Sandy Cove. They immediately assumed security and policing duties for the entire leased area. The USN initially used Placentia Bay as a base for their North Atlantic Neutrality Patrol. The Neutrality Patrol consisted of ships and aircraft. The aircraft operating from Placentia Bay were USN Patrol Squadrons VP 55 & 56 equipped with Martin PBM-1 Mariner flying boats based on the seaplane tender ALBEMARLE.

On 24/5/41 the day the HOOD was sunk; at 1440/24/5/41 four Martin Mariners took off from Placentia Bay to search for the BISMARCK south of Cape Farewell. A further seven took off at 1720/24/5/41. These aircraft spent up to 22 hours in the air but sighted nothing as the BISMARCK was steering well to the east)

 

At 1100 hours Churchill visited the President on the AUGUSTA The two leaders were silent for a brief moment until Churchill said 'At long last, Mr. President'. Roosevelt replied 'Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill'. Churchill presented a letter from King George VI and made a formal official statement. Churchill then lunched with the President in his cabin. Admiral King USN entertained other members of the respective staffs at a luncheon in his cabin. The Prime Minister later dined with the President, and finally left the AUGUSTA at 2345 hours.

 

(Roosevelt had met Churchill during WWI, although Churchill did not remember. Roosevelt was surprised at the gap in Churchill's phenomenal memory concerning their initial introduction; which had taken place in London in July 1918. Churchill was then a cabinet minister and Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy. This was their first meeting of WW2. There would be several more meetings during which the two leaders would forge an alliance that would ultimately lead to victory)

 

During the afternoon boats come over from the US ships carrying cartons for the crew of PRINCE OF WALES, each carton contained 200 cigarettes, lb of cheese, two apples and a orange with a card from the President sending his compliments and best wishes. Also during the day the officers and men of both navies visited each others ships.
 

10th - In the morning the US destroyer MCDOUGAL with President Roosevelt embarked came alongside and the President and his party boarded the PRINCE OF WALES. The President and the Prime Minister and their parties attended a church service on the quarterdeck. Both had discussed the service before hand; Churchill chose his favourite hymn, O God Our Help In Ages Past, which was sung first. Roosevelt chose, Eternal Father Strong to Save. They also sang, Onward Christian Soldiers. It was a very emotional service and was pivotal in the developing relation between Churchill and Roosevelt and through them between the UK and US.

Roosevelt took lunch on board; then both parties all embarked on the MCDOUGAL and went over to the AUGUSTA for meetings.

 

11th and 12th - Churchill and Roosevelt and their parties held further meetings on board the AUGUSTA. Churchill and Roosevelt spent many hours together and there is no record as to what was said in their private conversations. From these discussions emerged the famous 'Atlantic Charter'. On the 13th the final draft of the eight points of the charter was completed and agreed.

 

13th - In the morning the 'Atlantic Charter' was signed on board the AUGUSTA.

 

(Atlantic Charter:

 

The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.

 

First - their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;

Second - they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

Third - they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

Fourth - they will endeavour, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;

Fifth -  they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security;

Sixth -  after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;

Seventh - such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;

Eighth - they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.

 

Signed

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Winston S. Churchill )

 

At 1450 hours following the signing of the charter, President Roosevelt and his staff assembled on AUGUSTA's quarterdeck to bid Churchill and his staff farewell. The ship's guard and band paraded and the parting ended with the playing of God Save the King.

At 1700 hours the PRINCE OF WALES set sail, passed close to the AUGUSTA and rendered passing honours, after which the Marine band stuck up Auld Lang Syne. The PRINCE OF WALES escorted by the destroyers RIPLEY, READING, HMCS ASSINIBOINE and SAGUENAY and the USS RHIND and MAYRANT, course was set for Iceland.

 

14th - The destroyers USS RHIND and MAYRANT detached and returned to Argentia.

 

15th - At about 1500 hours in approximate position 60N, 34W the PRINCE OF WALES closed convoy HX 143 (Ex Halifax 5/8/41, 73 mercantiles escorted by the AMC WOLFE, destroyer BURNHAM and corvettes AGASSIZ, GALT, LEVIS and MAYFLOWER). Churchill had the battleship steam through the middle of the convoy flying the signal 'Bon voyage, Churchill', Churchill stood at the rail waving and the ships of the convoy hooting in return. Churchill enjoyed the experience so much he had Captain Leach reverse course and repeat the manoeuvre.

During the day the destroyers TARTAR, PUNJABI and ESCAPADE joined from Hvalfjord and RIPLEY and READING detached.

 

16th - At 0900 hours the PRINCE OF WALES escorted by the destroyers ASSINIBOINE, SAGUENAY, TARTAR, PUNJABI and ESCAPADE arrived at Hvalfjord to refuel.

Churchill immediately embarked on ASSINIBOINE and went to Reykjavik.

At 1300 hours Churchill returned to the PRINCE OF WALES.

Whilst at Hvalfjord Churchill addressed representatives of the crews of the warships that were in harbour, which were the battleships RAMILLIES and the USS NEW MEXICO, heavy cruisers SHROPSHIRE and USS QUINCY, five destroyers, including CHURCHILL, five US destroyers, including SIMS, HUGHES and RUSSELL and destroyer depot ship HECLA.

 

At 2045 hours the PRINCE OF WALES escorted by the destroyers TARTAR, PUNJABI and ESCAPADE sailed from Hvalfjord for Scapa.

 

17th - At 2400 hours the destroyers ECLIPSE and ORIBI joined.

 

18th - At 0700 hours as the PRINCE OF WALES approached the Island of Hoy a demonstration of the ships firepower, involving the firing of 14in, 5.25in and close range weapons, was carried out for the Churchill's benefit.

At 0900 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers TARTAR, PUNJABI, ESCAPADE, ECLIPSE and ORIBI arrived at Scapa.

Churchill made a farewell speech to the crew, boarded a destroyer and departed to return to the mainland and London.

 

19th - The PRINCE OF WALES re-commenced her working up exercises that had been interrupted by the BISMARCK break out and conveying Churchill to Newfoundland.

One of the priorities was the testing of the Type 273/M/P Surface Warning Radar of which the first example had been installed in the PRINCE OF WALES and was expected to have a range of 10 to 25 miles. A Mr S E A Landale from the Admiralty Signal Establishment at Haslemere came aboard for the sea trials. In the trials the set performed well and located the battlecruiser REPULSE at 19 miles, the light cruiser EURYALUS at 18 miles and the destroyer LIVELY at 14 miles.

The CinC Home Fleet was delighted with the results and wanted all Home Fleet ships fitted with the Type 273/M/P Radar, immediately.

 

26th - At 0930 hours the destroyer SOMALI with Mr A V Alexander MP, the First Lord of the Admiralty , embarked, came alongside and transferred the First Lord of the Admiralty to the PRINCE OF WALES where he carried out an inspection of the ship.

 

September

 

1st to 8th - At Scapa Flow carrying out working up exercises.

 

9th - At Scapa Flow where early in the morning the PRINCE OF WALES was bought to one hour's notice on the report that German heavy cruiser ADMIRAL SCHEER had departed Oslo.

 

(After the torpedoing of the LUTZOW the SKL decided to send out the heavy cruiser ADMIRAL SCHEER in her place. On 4/9/41 the SCHEER sailed from the Bay of Mecklenburger heading for Oslo. At 0300/5/9/40 she was sighted and reported by a returning RAF bomber aircraft. At 1000/5/9/41 the SCHEER arrived at Oslo. Her arrival was known and the RAF mounted several unsuccessful bombing attacks. Although the SCHEER remained unharmed, SKL thought it only a matter of time before she was hit so she was ordered back to Germany. On the afternoon of 8/9/41 the SCHEER sailed from Oslo and returned to the Baltic. However because the Admiralty thought a breakout attempt likely the Home Fleet was alerted)

 

10th - At 1300 hours the PRINCE OF WALES with destroyers LAMERTON, BADSWORTH and PUCKERIDGE sailed from Scapa Flow to exercise west of Hoy.

At 1330 hours the minelaying cruiser WELSHMAN and destroyers LAFOREY and ASHANTI departed Scapa Flow to relieve the HUNT destroyers in the PRINCE OF WALES' screen. The PRINCE OF WALES and WELSHMAN and destroyers LAFOREY and ASHANTI were then proceed to Hvalfjord to prepare for operations against the German heavy cruiser ADMIRAL SCHEER which was expected to attempt a break through into the Atlantic.

At 1430 hours the PRINCE OF WALES was ordered to remain in her practice area.

At 2212 hours the PRINCE OF WALES was ordered to return to Scapa Flow.

 

11th - At Scapa where she resumed working up exercises.

 

15th - At 0800 hours the PRINCE OF WALES (Flag Vice Admiral A T B Curteis 2ic Home Fleet), light cruiser EURYALUS, and destroyers LAFOREY and ESKIMO departed Scapa Flow for the Clyde.

 

16th - At 0730 hours PRINCE OF WALES, EURYALUS, LAFOREY and ESKIMO arrived off Greenock.

The PRINCE OF WALES had been nominated for deployment with Force H to cover Malta convoy GM 2, Operation HALBARD.

 

17th - At approximately 1000 hours the PRINCE OF WALES (Flag Vice Admiral Curteis), the light cruisers KENYA (with 400 RAF personnel embarked) and EURYALUS (with 300 RAF personnel embarked), the destroyers BLANKNEY, ORIBI and ORP PIORUN and GARLAND and HMNethS ISAAC SWEERS sailed from the Clyde to join convoy WS 11X off Orsay.

At 1800 hours the PRINCE OF WALES, KENYA (flag Rear Admiral Harold Martin Burrough CS10), EURYALUS, BLANKNEY, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, ORIBI, PIORUN, GARLAND and ISAAC SWEERS took station on convoy WS 11X.

 

(At approximately 1600/17 the convoy had formed off Orsay and consisted of the CLAN MACDONALD 9,653grt, CLAN FERGUSON 7,347grt, AJAX 7,539grt, IMPERIAL STAR 10,733 grt, CITY OF LINCOLN 8,039grt, ROWALLAN CASTLE 7,798grt, DUNEDIN STAR 11,168grt, CITY OF CALCUTTA 8,063grt, STRATHEDEN 23722grt  and HM supply ship BRECONSHIRE and HM troopships PRINCESS BEATRIX, QUEEN EMMA, ROYAL SCOTSMAN, ULSTER MONARCH and LEINSTER. The convoy escort was the destroyers HARVESTER, HAVELOCK, WHITEHALL and WITCH)

 

Convoy and escort set course west and then south for the Strait of Gibraltar.

At approximately 2100 hours the destroyers LAFOREY (D19) and LIGHTNING joined convoy WS 11X from Londonderry.

 

19th - The liner STRATHEDEN escorted by the destroyers HARVESTER and HAVELOCK detached for Halifax as convoy CT 3.

The destroyers BLANKNEY, WHITEHALL and WITCH detached for Londonderry.

 

20th - The destroyers FORESIGHT, FORESTER, FURY and LEGION who had detached from escorting the FURIOUS, joined convoy WS 11X

The destroyers ZULU, GURKHA and LANCE joined convoy WS 11X from Gibraltar.

 

21st In the morning in approximate position 43-30N, 16W RODNEY joined the escort of convoy WS 11X.

At 1200 hours the KENYA and EURYALUS detached from convoy WS 11X to Gibraltar.

In the afternoon the light cruiser SHEFFIELD joined convoy WS 11X.

 

23rd At approximately 1130 hours in approximate position 36N, 12W the RODNEY with destroyers ISAAC SWEERS, PIORUN and GARLAND detached from convoy WS 11X for Gibraltar

At approximately 1400 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING and ORIBI detached from convoy WS 11X to refuel at Gibraltar.

 

24th - At 0200 hours the destroyers FORESIGHT, FORESTER, GURKHA and LANCE detached from convoy WS 11X for Gibraltar.

At 0400 hours the destroyers COSSACK, HEYTHROP and FARNDALE joined convoy WS 11X from Gibraltar.

At 0600 hours the LEGION, LIVELY and ZULU detached from convoy WS 11X for Gibraltar.

At approximately 1500 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING and ORIBI arrived at Gibraltar.

At 2030 hours the RFA oiler MV BROWN RANGER 3,400 grt (nominally capable of 14.5 knots but due to a fouled bottom her maximum speed was 11 knots) escorted by corvette FLEUR DE LYS sailed from Gibraltar to be in position to refuel the destroyers on day 2.

At approximately 2345 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING and ORIBI sailed from Gibraltar to join convoy GM2.

At 2300 hours NELSON (Flag CinC Force H) with the destroyers ISAAC SWEERS, PIORUN and GARLAND joined convoy WS 11X.

 

25th - As the convoy passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, HM troopships PRINCESS BEATRIX, QUEEN EMMA, ROYAL SCOTSMAN, ULSTER MONARCH and LEINSTER detached to Gibraltar.

At 0130/25/9/41 the convoy passed south of Europa Point and became convoy GM2.

(The convoy now consisted of CLAN MACDONALD 9,653grt, CLAN FERGUSON 7,347grt, AJAX 7,539grt, IMPERIAL STAR 10,733 grt, CITY OF LINCOLN 8,039grt, ROWALLAN CASTLE 7,798grt, DUNEDIN STAR 11,168grt, CITY OF CALCUTTA 8,063grt and HM supply ship BRECONSHIRE)

By 0800 hours when convoy GM2 was in approximate position 36-08N, 3-20W all of the escort ships had joined. Following which the escort split into two groups:

Group 2, the close escort comprised, battleships PRINCE OF WALES (flag of Vice Admiral Alban Thomas Buckley Curteis 2iC Operation HALBERD), RODNEY, light cruisers KENYA (flag Rear Admiral Harold Martin Burrough CS10 and CinC close escort for Operation HALBERD), EDINBURGH (flag Rear Admiral Edward Neville Syfret CS2), SHEFFIELD, EURYALUS and destroyers DUNCAN (D13), GURKHA, LEGION, LANCE, LIVELY, ORIBI, ISAAC SWEERS, PIORUN, GARLAND, FURY, FARNDALE and HEYTHORP.

Group 1, comprising the battleship NELSON (Flag Vice Admiral Sir James Fownes Somerville CinC Force H and CinC Operation HALBERD), aircraft carrier ARK ROYAL, light cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers COSSACK (D4), ZULU, FORESIGHT, LAFOREY (D19) and LIGHTNING.

 

(The operational plan for HALBERD was for Group 1 to preceded ahead of convoy GM2, following the coast of North Africa, appearing to be Force H on a normal 'club run'. Whilst the convoy escorted by Group 2 took a north easterly course towards the Balearic Islands, thereby keeping out of range of the usual Italian airborne reconnaissance flights. The hope was that Group 1 would be sighted and the Axis counter measures would be concentrated against it leaving the convoy undiscovered for as long as possible) 

 

At 1000 hours clocks were advance by one hour.

During the day six Fulmars from ARK ROYAL flew around Groups 1 & 2 for recognition purposes.

 

26th Convoy GM2 and escort proceeded north eastward.

At 0650 hours the first two destroyers were detached to refuel from BROWN RANGER. However because of BROWN RANGER's slower-than-expected speed she was 22 miles to the west of her expected position. This was to cause problems throughout the day and refuelling of Group 2's 12 destroyers was not completed until after dark.

At 0700 hours course was altered to eastward.

At 1200 hours in position 38-31N, 2-32E course was altered to 107 degrees.

At 2130 hours the destroyers FURY and HEYTHROP rejoined the convoy after refuelling. The ORIBI was the last destroyer to complete refuelling and failed to locate the convoy in the dark, so until morning she joined Group 1 screen.

 

(During the day Group 1 was ahead to the south eastward and out of sight of the convoy. At 0932 hours lookouts on NELSON sighted a shadowing aircraft, bearing 150 degrees, 10 miles and flying very low, this aircraft was not detected by radar. At 1048 hours Group 1 sighted the Swiss merchant SS TUNISIAN. At 1537 hours Group 1was also sighted by two aircraft, thought to be RAF Hudson's so they were not intercepted)

 

27th At 0720 hours radar indicated that enemy reconnaissance aircraft were in the vicinity of the Force.

At 0800 hours ARK ROYAL flew off four Fulmars

 

(At 0810 hours an Italian Cant Z 506B reconnaissance aircraft of 287 Squadriglia sighted units of Operation HALBERD west of La Galite Island and sent off the following signal; 'position 37-43N, 06-55E,course 90 degrees, speed 12 nm per hour; 1 battleship, 1 carrier, 4 cruiser, unspecified number of destroyers and steamboats'.)

 

At 1000 hours, in expectation of air attacks, Force H, less ARK ROYAL, EURYALUS and HERMIONE who manoeuvred ahead of the convoy, joined the convoy escort.

At 1158 hours radar detected an aircraft bearing 210 degrees, at 14 miles. LEGION reported this aircraft as an Italian Fiat BR 20. ARK ROYAL's Fulmars failed to shoot it down and a sighting report was subsequently intercepted.

At 1255 hours radar reported two formations at 30 miles and closing, one from the north and one from the east. These were eleven Savoia-Marchetti S 84 torpedo bombers from Decimomannu airfield, north of Cagliari. Seven attacked from the north with top cover of five Fiat CR 42 fighters, and four from the east.

At 1259 hours 8 Fulmars of 808 Sqd. attacked the northern group of six Savoia-Marchetti S 84's, shooting down one.

The torpedo attack was made against the port wing of the force; this was where RODNEY was stationed.

At 1302 hours a Savoia-Marchetti S 84 flown by Capitano Rotolo was shot down either by PRINCE OF WALES or RODNEY; the damaged aircraft collided with his right wingman, Tenente Barro and both crashed into the sea.
At 1300 hours two Savoia-Marchetti S 84's targeted RODNEY, one flown by Maggiore Arduino Buri of 256 Squadriglia and the other flown by Tenente Piercarlo Amante of 257 Squadriglia. As the two torpedoes were approaching, RODNEY made an emergency turn of 60 degrees to port and both  were avoided.

At 1303 hours two destroyers of the port screen were targeted; these were the LANCE and ISAAC SWEERS. However the destroyers took evasive action and avoided the torpedoes.

At 1327 hours radar reported another wave of aircraft closing from the east. These were five Savoia-Marchetti S 84 torpedo bombers of 258 and 259 Squadriglia, from Decimomannu airfield and they attacked the Force from the starboard side.

At 1330 hours NW of La Galite Island two aircraft flown by Colonnello Seidl and Tenente Tomasino targeted NELSON; who was hit by a torpedo (probably Seidl's and probably a Type W airborne torpedo 45cm diameter with a 200 kg warhead) on the port bow. The second torpedo missed. As they pulled away both Seidl and Tomasino were shot down by AA fire from the PRINCE OF WALES and SHEFFIELD.

The NELSON had been hit on the port side just forward of 'A' turret; in the torpedo room, which had only recently been evacuated, the damage, which was a 40ft x 20ft hole in her hull, caused her to immediately reduce speed to 18 knots but she remained with the convoy.

During this action, a Fulmar was shot down by RODNEY, but luckily the crew, Sub-Lieutenant Percy Guy and Leading Airman Jones, were rescued by DUNCAN.

At 1345 hours the Force was attacked by twelve Savoia-Marchetti SM 79's torpedo bombers of 278, 280, 282 and 283 Squadriglia, from Decimomannu airfield, escorted by twelve Fiat CR 42's. They attacked from the north, south and west. The attackers were met by the Fulmars and intense AA fire, which prevented them from attaining a dropping position.

At 1359 hours a Fiat CR 42 flown by Sergente Maggiore Luigi Valiotti of the 354a Squadriglia, in an attempt to divert the AA from the torpedo-bombers, began to perform aerobatic manoeuvres over the heads of the starboard wing destroyers, who after a while started to shoot at him. Valiotti avoided their shells for six minutes before being killed when his CR.42 crashed into the sea. However Valiotti's sacrifice was in vain as after several unsuccessful attempts, to penetrate the AA barrage the remaining SM 79's gave up and returned to base.

At 1404 hours the CinC Force H received an emergency report from aircraft B, a RAF Maryland of 69 Squadron on a reconnaissance flight from Malta, timed at 1340 hours. The signal read, 2 battleships and 8 destroyers in position 38-20N, 10-40E, steering 190 degrees, speed 20 knots. At the time of receipt NELSON's position was 37-46N, 09-04E, the enemy was therefore 74 miles, bearing 076 degrees from NELSON.

At 1408 hours the CinC Force H ordered ARK ROYAL to fly off two Swordfish to take over shadowing duties and to prepare a air strike force.

At 1417 hours the CinC Force H ordered RODNEY and PRINCE OF WALES to form up on NELSON ahead of the convoy.

At 1425 hours the CinC Force H received a further emergency report from aircraft B, timed at 1350 hours. The signal read 4 cruisers and 8 destroyers some 15 miles WSW of the enemy battlefleet and steering same course and speed.

At 1430 hours NELSON was forced to reduce speed to 15 knots to reduce flooding; by now she had taken on board approximately 3700 tons of water, and further damage from her torpedo hit and the CinC Force H ordered Vice Admiral Curteis in PRINCE OF WALES to proceed with PRINCE OF WALES, RODNEY, EDINBURGH, SHEFFIELD and 6 destroyers at best speed to close the enemy. At the same time NELSON took station astern of the convoy.

 

(24/9/41 late in the evening the Italian battleships LITTORIO flag Admiral Iachino and VITTORIO VENETO with destroyers GRANATIERE, FUCLIERE, BERSAGLIERE, and GIOBERTI of the 13th Destroyer Division and DA RECCO, PESSAGNO, and FOLGORE of the 16th Destroyer Division sailed from Naples and steered south westward to intercept the RODNEY force.

 

26/9/41 the heavy cruisers TRENTO, TRIESTE, and GORIZIA with destroyers CORAZZIERE, CARABINIERE, ASCARI, and LANCIERE of the 12th Destroyer Division sailed from Messina and steered north, then westward to RV with the light cruisers ABRUZZI and ATTENDOLO with destroyers MAESTRALE, GRECALE, and SCIROCCO of the 10th Destroyer Division who sailed from Palermo to intercept the convoy.

The two battleships and seven destroyers operated as one group. The five cruisers and seven destroyers operated as the second group. The remainder of the Italian Fleet could not sail due to fuel shortages)

 

The surface strike force steered north at their best speed with the two cruisers ahead and working up to 30 knots and with the PRINCE OF WALES and RODNEY trailing behind.

At 1506 hours a signal was received from the RAF shadowing aircraft, timed at 1445 hours stating that the enemy had reversed course and was now steering 360 degrees.

At 1540 hours a strike force of 12 Swordfish of 816 and 825 Sqds, escorted by 4 Fulmars of 807 Sqd were launched from ARK ROYAL.

At 1543 hours a further signal was received from the RAF shadowing aircraft, timed at 1503 hours stating that the enemy was now steering 060 degrees.

At 1658 hours with no news from the Swordfish shadowing aircraft, the RAF Maryland had departed, or the strike force; the CinC Force H ordered Vice Admiral Curteis to return to the convoy.

At 1830 hours PRINCE OF WALES, RODNEY, EDINBURGH, SHEFFIELD and the 6 destroyers rejoined the convoy.

At 1855 hours in approximate position 37-30N, 10-15E, Force A comprising NELSON, PRINCE OF WALES, RODNEY, ARK ROYAL and destroyers DUNCAN, GARLAND, GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LANCE, LEGION, LIVELY and PIORUN detached from the convoy and turned on to 285 degrees and proceeded at 14 knots, this being NELSON's best speed.

 

28th Force A continued on a westerly course at NELSON's best speed of 14 knots.

At 0725 hours ARK ROYAL flew off a Swordfish A/S patrol and 3 Fulmar fighters.

0958 hours the CinC Force H received a RAF reconnaissance report, timed at 0940 hours stating, 2 enemy battleships, 5 cruisers and 13 destroyers, 70 miles, 105 degrees from Cagliari, steering 195 degrees.

At 2000 hours, it was now dark, in approximate position 37-30N, 03-14E the speed of Force A was reduced to 12 knots to reduce the strain on NELSON's bulkheads and decks.

At 2010 hours PRINCE OF WALES, RODNEY, ARK ROYAL and destroyers GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LANCE, LEGION and LIVELY detached and steered easterly to RV with Force X, the convoy escort, on their return from Malta.

The NELSON, who was now experiencing steering difficulties and the destroyers DUNCAN, GARLAND and PIORUN continued at 12 knots heading for Gibraltar.

 

29th At 0555 hours in position 37-30N, 06-25E the PRINCE OF WALES obtained a surface radar contact seven miles ahead.

 

(The contact was made with her Type 273 Radar set and though not known at the time, was probably the Italian submarine DIASPRO which was on the surface. A similar contact was made the following night, again probably a submarine. In his report on Operation HALBERD Rear Admiral Curteis expressed his satisfaction at the operation of the Type 273 set. When the CinC Home Fleet forwarded Curteis's report to the Admiralty he added the codicil; 'There seems little doubt that the Type 273 was instrumental in enabling effective avoiding action to be taken against Italian U-boats on several occasions')

 

At 0609 hours PRINCE OF WALES, RODNEY, ARK ROYAL and destroyers GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LANCE, LEGION and LIVELY made an emergency turn of 40 degrees to port on to course 050 degrees.

At 1612 hours the GURKHA sighted a torpedo track approaching from a bearing of 330 degrees, followed by a second one a few seconds later, both torpedoes passed under GURKHA and exploded at 0622 hours at the end of their run.

GURKHA and ISAAC SWEERS detached to hunt the submarine, without success, and at 0700 hours they rejoined the screen.

At 1030 hours in approximate position 37-35N, 08-00E PRINCE OF WALES, RODNEY, ARK ROYAL and destroyers GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LANCE, LEGION and LIVELY, RVed with Force X returning from Malta. The combined force then steered west for Gibraltar.

At 1930 hours the PRINCE OF WALES, KENYA, SHEFFIELD and destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, ORBI, FORESIGHT, FORESTER and FURY detached and proceeded ahead.

 

30th - At 1750 hours the PRINCE OF WALES, KENYA, SHEFFIELD and destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, ORBI, FORESIGHT, FORESTER and FURY arrived at Gibraltar.

During Operation HALBERD the PRINCE OF WALES had demonstrated excellent long range radar directed AA fire and had shot down 3 aircraft, 2 Italian and I FAA Fulmar.

 

(Excessive temperatures were experienced in many areas of the ship during the operation, which revealed another design weakness of the Class. The problem was never effectively overcome)

 

 

October

 

1st - At 2000 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, LIVELY and ORIBI departed Gibraltar for Scapa Flow.

 

4th - The destroyer LIVELY detached and returned to Gibraltar.

 

6th - The PRINCE OF WALES and destroyers LAFOREY, LIGHTNING and ORIBI arrived at Scapa Flow and rejoined the Home Fleet.

 

7th - Vice Admiral Curteis hauled down his flag and the Commander in Chief Home Fleet transferred his flag to the PRINCE OF WALES from the light cruiser AURORA.

 

10th - The Commander in Chief Home Fleet hauled down his flag and Vice Admiral Curteis 2iC Home Fleet hoisted his flag in PRINCE OF WALES.

 

(On 16 October 1941 Prince Konoye, who did not accept that war between Japan and the Western powers was inevitable, resigned as Japanese Prime Minister and was replaced by the hard line General Tojo. As a result British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden sent a memorandum to Churchill urging that deterrent forces be sent to the Far East as soon as possible.

The next day, at a Defence Committee meeting, Churchill continued to argue for the despatch to the Far East of a fast modern squadron. The Admiralty argued the case for a larger force built around older battleships and deployed in the Indian Ocean. Eden supported Churchill, and arguing that the arrival of one of the new British battleships in Singapore would be a much more effective signal to the world of British resolution, and would do much more to reassure the governments and peoples of Australia and New Zealand. However, no decision was taken)

 

(20/10/41 the Admiralty informed the CinC Home Fleet by telephone of the decision of the Government to despatch the PRINCE OF WALES to the Far East as the flagship of acting Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, the newly appointed CinC Far Eastern Fleet.

The decision meant that until the DUKE OF YORK was worked up, in about two months time, the Home Fleet would have only one battleship, the KING GEORGE V, with enough speed to have any prospect of bringing the TIRPITZ to action, should she try to break out into the Atlantic. The CinC Home Fleet considered that this deployment would present the enemy with a good opportunity to do irreparable damage to our vital Atlantic convoy routes. It was possible rapidly to lose the war in this area, while the Far East contained no British interests of comparable importance. He therefore sent a strongly worded signal, HF 2023/20/10/41, urging that the proposed movement should not take place.

The Government through the Admiralty decided, however, that the deployment should continue, at least as far as Cape Town.

The deployment was confirmed in Admiralty message 1648A, 21/10/41, originated by A.C.N.S.(F); 'PRINCE OF WALES wearing the flag of Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet, and escorted by ELECTRA and EXPRESS will leave U.K. shortly for Singapore via the Cape. For security reasons this force will be known as Force G from noon/24 until further orders')

 

(From the early days of the war the Australian Government had been concerned about Japanese intentions. The Australian Prime Minster Robert Menzies wanted more definite information about Japanese intentions and assurance of British willingness and capability to send a fleet to Singapore if Australia faced an invasion from Japan. Menzies requested these assurances before he would commit Australian Forces outside of Australia. Churchill, both as First Lord of the Admiralty and as Prime Minster gave qualified assurances to the Australian Government of Britain's intention to send a Fleet to Singapore in the event of Japanese belligerent acts. Based on these assurances Australian Forces were deployed outside of Australia.

Menzies concerns increased with the Italian declaration of war; and on 27/9/40 the Tripartite Pact, signed by Germany, Italy and Japan. Also between 22nd and 27th September 1940 Japan had deployed forces into northern Vichy French Indochina.

On 24/1/41 Menzies boarded a QANTAS Empire Airways flying boat in Sydney's Rose Bay to fly to Singapore; where he saw just how inadequate the defences were. Then on to the Middle East where the 2nd AIF troops stationed in the Middle East amounted to 50,000 troops and where Australia also had several ships. He finally arrived in London for talks with Churchill on 20/2/41. Shortly after arriving Menzies attended a meeting with British military chiefs and service ministers in which they gave him a polished version of Churchill's promise to abandon the Mediterranean and send the forces their to Singapore, this Menzies knew would not be possible. Whilst he was in London, Churchill admitted Menzies into the British War Cabinet. This meant that Menzies was thus privy to the decisions that led to the debacles of the British reverse in Libya Greece, Crete and the siege of Tobruk, all of which involved Australian losses.

By 13/2/41 the First Sea Lord Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound appeared to have placed great faith in future American participation in Far Eastern defence matters when he stated, "The arrival timetable as well as the choice of ships for the Eastern Fleet was now at the discretion of the Americans "

On 3/5/41 Menzies' plane left Bristol bound for Australia via the US and New Zealand. Before he left London, he knew it was impossible to secure ships for Singapore. However, Menzies did secure a promise from Churchill to supply Hurricane fighters to Singapore.

[In August 1941, Churchill pledged 200 Hurricane fighters to Stalin, on top of the forty that had been delivered already, along with 200 Tomahawk fighters. This pledge negated the effects of Churchill's earlier promise to Menzies to send Hurricanes to Singapore.]

In July 1941 following the German attack on the Soviet Union the Japanese deployed forces to southern Vichy French Indochina. This placed Japanese aircraft within reach of Singapore, and use of the Kamranh Bay naval base from which they could control the whole of the South China Sea.

In August 1941, during his discussions with Roosevelt, Churchill cabled the Admiralty to inform them that the US was shortly to present a note to the Japanese making plain that any further southward advance would probably mean war. The Chiefs of Staff considered what steps Britain could take, particularly to reinforce the Eastern Fleet. Their conclusion was that by mid September 1941 either BARHAM or VALIANT should be sent east from the Mediterranean and at the end of the year the four R class battleships should follow.

[The first part of the plan was delayed then scuppered when BARHAM was sunk on 25/11/41. The chance of sending VALIANT was lost, when on 19/12/41 the VALIANT and QUEEN ELIZABETH were immobilised in Alexandria harbour]

On 20/8/41, Pound, stated there was no use in sending a fleet to Singapore, unless it was of sufficient strength to wage effective war against the Imperial Japanese Navy, Though if the present situation made this impossible, Pound felt it imperative that an Eastern Fleet should be based at the more secure location of Trincomalee to offer protection to vital trade routes.

Two weeks later, Churchill issued a long memorandum informing the Admiralty that he wouldn't approve the despatching of such a large Fleet. He deemed it more appropriate, to use a small number of the best ships to cope with a superior hostile force. Churchill envisaged these warships would serve as an immediate deterrent against Japanese aggression, operating in an area encompassing the triangle of, Simonstown, Singapore and Aden, forming a fast raiding squadron capable, in his opinion, of inflicting a paralysing effect on the Imperial Fleet, comparable to that yielded by the TIRPITZ on the Royal Navy in the Atlantic. He also stated as and when deemed appropriate the four R Class Battleships should be sent to the Far East, primarily as convoy escorts.

Pound disagreed and It proved impossible to reconcile the two points of view and the matter was not discussed again until mid-October, when the Foreign Office drew attention to certain ominous signs of Japanese intentions and asked for the question of capital ship reinforcement to be discussed by the Defence Committee.

At the meeting on the 17/10/41 Churchill repeated his previous arguments; the First Lord demurred at his proposal to send out the PRINCE OF WALES, while the Foreign Office considered that her arrival would, from the point of view of deterring Japan from entering the war, have a far greater effect politically than the presence in those waters of a number of the last war's battleships. The discussion ended by Churchill inviting the First Lord to send as quickly as possible one modern capital ship, together with an aircraft carrier, to join up with the REPULSE at Singapore. He added that he would not come to a decision on this point without consulting the First Sea Lord, but in view of the strong feeling of the Committee in favour of the proposal, he hoped that the Admiralty would not oppose this suggestion.

On the 20/10/41 the proposal was again discussed by the Chiefs of Staff with the Prime Minister in the chair, and the First Sea Lord then developed the Admiralty's case more fully. He said that the deterrent which would prevent the Japanese moving south would not be the presence of one fast battleship, because they could easily afford to detach four modern ships to protect any southward-bound invasion force. But if the two NELSON's and four R Class were at Singapore they would have to detach the greater part of their fleet and thus uncover Japan to the American Navy; on whose active co-operation in the event of a Japanese attack the First Sea Lord relied.

The views of the First Sea Lord were plainly irreconcilable with those of the Prime Minister and of the Foreign Office. He therefore yielded so far as to suggest that the PRINCE OF WALES should be sent to Cape Town at once, and that her final destination should be decided after she had arrived there.

The new aircraft carrier INDOMITABLE, who at the time was working up in the West Indies, was also earmarked to join the PRINCE OF WALES in the Far East. However, on 3/11/41 she was put out of action by accidental grounding in Jamaica and had to go to the US for repairs)

 

23rd - At 0700 hours the PRINCE OF WALES (Flag 2iC Home Fleet) and the destroyers ELECTRA and EXPRESS departed Scapa Flow for the Clyde.

 

24th - At 0500 hours the PRINCE OF WALES (Flag 2iC Home Fleet) and the destroyers ELECTRA and EXPRESS arrived in the Clyde.

Vice Admiral Curteis transferred his flag to battlecruiser RENOWN and Admiral Sir Tom S. V. Philips, KCB, raised his flag as Commander in Chief, Eastern Fleet.

At 1500 hours Force G, comprising the PRINCE OF WALES (Flag CinC Eastern Fleet) and the destroyers HESPERUS, EXPRESS and ELECTRA departed the Clyde for Freetown.

 

28th - At 1200 hours in approximate position 40N, 23W the destroyer LEGION joined from Ponta Delgada.

At 1230 hours the destroyers EXPRESS and ELECTRA detached to Ponta Delgada to refuel.

 

29th - At 1800 hours in approximate position 33N, 23W the EXPRESS and ELECTRA rejoined and the HESPERUS detached to return to the UK and the LEGION detached to Gibraltar.

 

November

 

1st to 4th - The PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers ELECTRA and EXPRESS en route to Freetown.

 

5th - The PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS arrived at Freetown.

 

7th - The PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS departed Freetown for Cape Town.

 

16th - The PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS arrived at Cape Town.

 

(17/11/41 Admiral Phillips flew to Pretoria for a meeting arranged by Churchill with Field Marshal Smuts the South African Prime Minster and Commander-in-Chief of the South African and Rhodesian Forces. Following the meeting Field Marshal Smuts cabled Churchill and pleaded with him not to send the battleship to Singapore, warning of the makings of a first class disaster. Churchill, however ignored the warning.)

 

(Whilst at Cape Town the PRINCE OF WALES had a seven 20mm Oerlikons fitted)

 

(18/11/41 the Admiralty signalled Admiral Phillips:

 As it has been necessary for political reasons to announce the strengthening of our forces in the Eastern area, it is considered undesirable for capital ships to arrive at Singapore without a destroyer screen.

The following movements are therefore to be carried out:

A.          PRINCE OF WALES is to leave Cape Town with destroyers and proceed to Ceylon. Destroyers may be slipped when clear of Cape area if S.O. Force G wishes to prolong his time in Ceylon to meet CinC, East Indies.

B.          REPULSE is to proceed to Ceylon as proposed by CinC, East Indies to arrive by 1/12/41. She is to form part of Force G from her time of arrival.

C.          PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE screened by the 4 destroyers referred to in A.T. 0155/29th October are to proceed in company to Singapore as soon as practicable after arrival of the destroyers in Ceylon.

D.          REVENGE is to arrive at Ceylon at an early date after the departure of Force G, convenient to her convoy duties)

 

18th - The PRINCE OF WALES and the destroyers ELECTRA and EXPRESS sailed from Cape Town for Port Louis, Mauritius.

 

23rd - The PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS arrived at Port Louis where they refuelled and sailed the same day for Addu Atoll (Port T).

 

26th - At 1745 hours the PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS arrived at Addu Atoll to refuel.

 

27th - At 0840 hours the PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS sailed from Addu Atoll for Colombo.

 

(During the voyage across the Indian Ocean the inadequacy of the ship's ventilation system caused serious problems with temperatures in the Boiler rooms up to 136 degrees F and in X and Y action machinery rooms over 150 degrees F, conditions that were unendurable for more than two hours)

 

28th - The PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS arrived at Colombo.

(During the passage through the Indian Ocean excessive temperatures were again experienced and were the subject of report by Ships Medical Officer.)

 

(On arrival at Colombo and in accordance with Admiralty instructions Admiral Phillips left the PRINCE OF WALES and  flew from Colombo to Singapore in order to meet with the CinC Far East Air Marshall Sir Robert Brooke-Popham  and co-ordinate plans with Commonwealth, Allied and American authorities)

 

(On the 28/11/41 the United States Naval and Military authorities in Washington ordered their forces in the Pacific to assume the first state of readiness.

Also on this date the Japanese became aware of the arrival of the PRINCE OF WALES in Colombo. Following which PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE would head for Singapore. In response to this intelligence Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sent a further 36 torpedo equipped Mitsubishi G4M's (Betty) aircraft to Indochina to reinforce the Kanoya and Genzan air groups that were already there )

 

29th At 2000 hours the PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS sailed from Colombo to RV with the battlecruiser REPULSE and the destroyers JUPITER and ENCOUNTER.

 

30th At 1000 hours in approximate position 6N, 83E, the PRINCE OF WALES, ELECTRA and EXPRESS RVed with the REPULSE, JUPITER and  ENCOUNTER. Captain Tenant of the REPULSE as senior officer took command of Force G. Course was then set for Singapore.

 

December

 

1st - Force G en route to Singapore.

 

(By this date the Admiralty had become concerned that the deterrent effect of Force Z was not going to work. Therefore Pound sent a personal message to Phillips suggesting that after refuelling it would be desirable to send the capital ships away from Singapore in order that the uncertainty of their whereabouts would disconcert the Japanese, and at the same time increase the security of the Force)

 

(Prior to the passage of Force G through the Malacca Strait their route had been swept by the minesweepers of the 21st M/S Flotilla, HMAS BENDIGO, BURNIE, GOULBURN and MARYBOROUGH, no mines were found)

 

2nd 1200 hours Force G, consisting of PRINCE OF WALES, REPULSE, ELECTRA, EXPRESS, ENCOUNTER, and JUPITER arrived at Sembawang naval dockyard, Singapore. This event was made public by Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton CinC Eastern Fleet in a broadcast message to the Malayan people but the name of the flagship only was mentioned, and efforts were made to conceal the strength of the force.

On arrival the force was renamed Force Z.

 

(On arrival the PRINCE OF WALES was taken in hand, at 72 hours notice for steam, to re-tube her distillers and clean all eight boilers. The Chief Engineer estimated the work would take seven days. The ships staff engaged on boiler cleaning worked in temperatures of 130 degrees F. Also her surface warning  Type 273 Radar had become unserviceable due to the extreme heat and humidity. A further problem was that the 2 pounder Pom Pom  ammunition had deteriorated badly, also due to the humidity)

 

(On 2/12/41 the Chief of Far Eastern Intelligence [COIS] based in Singapore distributed a report which gave fairly accurate information about Japanese forces in Indochina and the South China Sea area. It is not known whether Admiral Phillips had sight of this report)

 

(For years the public had been indoctrinated into believing that Singapore was Britain's impregnable fortress in the Far East. It was called 'the bastion of the East', 'the key to the Pacific' and 'the Gibraltar of the East'. In fact it was anything but a fortress.

The naval base at Singapore was resultant of the British Government's decision in 1921 to establish a naval base at Singapore for the repair of the largest battleships, building had commenced in 1923. Construction proceeded slowly until the Chief's of Staff's Annual Report dated 12/10/33, in which they stated their principal concern lay with the changing Far Eastern balance of power. As a result of the CoS's report construction was speeded up, even so the base was not completed until 1941. A major element of the base was the King George VI Graving Dock, opened on 14/2/38 and at the time was the largest dry dock in the world. The base also contained further dry docks, machine shops, barracks and underground storage facilities for water, fuel, and ammunition. When opened the base also had the large Admiralty IX Floating Dry Dock. The island and base was defended with fixed defences of 51 Coast Defence Guns of various calibers including five x 15in, six x 9.2in and sixteen x 6in, with arcs of fire covering the sea approaches to Singapore, but these batteries had no forts or fixed defences to protect their rear.

Up until the arrival of Force Z the naval base was devoid of a Fleet

 The island also contained two RAF airbases at Seletar and Tengah. In December 1940 the Defence Committee considered that 566 aircraft were necessary to defend Malaya. On the 8/12/41 there were 158 aircraft available, 47 Bristol Blenheim bombers, 60 Brewster Buffalo fighters, 24 Lockheed Hudson bomber/ reconnaissance, 3 Consolidated Catalina reconnaissance and 24 obsolete Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bombers.)

 

3rd Force Z at Sembawang naval dockyard, where they were located and reported by an undetected Japanese reconnaissance.

 

(On 3/12/41 probably as a result of the COIS report, Pound again signalled Phillips urging that the ships get away to the eastward.)

 

(On 3/12/41 Phillip's replied to Pound's two signals. He ignored the withdrawal proposal. He merely reported that PRINCE OF WALES had been taken in hand at 72 hours notice for the re-tubing of her distillers, and that he was flying to Manila the following day for a conference with Admiral Hart, CinC United States Asiatic Fleet)

 

4th - Force Z at Sembawang naval dockyard.

 

(On 4/12/41 Admiral Phillips, accompanied by Paymaster Captain Beardsworth and Commander Goodenough left Singapore by air for Manila to confer with Admiral Hart USN the CinC United States Asiatic Fleet. The conference was also attended by CinC Netherlands Naval Forces in the East Indies. Hart and Phillips discussed plans in the event of war, which was almost certain. Hart agreed to send a division of destroyers to Singapore to aid Phillips under strength command. When Phillips received the Japanese invasion sighting report around midday on 6/12/41, he left on the afternoon to fly back to Singapore. Hart's last words to Philips were, 'I have just ordered the destroyers at Balikpapan to proceed to Batavia on the pretext of rest and leave. Actually they will  join your Force')

 

 (On 4/12/41 the Japanese Malayan invasion force, which comprised Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita's 25th Army, set sail from the port of Samah, Hainan Island, Vichy Indochina. The invasion force had 1000 miles to sail to reach the landing beaches in southern Thailand)

 

5th REPULSE escorted by the destroyers TENEDOS and HMAS VAMPIRE sailed from Singapore for Darwin for a 'showing the flag' visit to Australia.

 

6th At 1330 hours en route to Darwin REPULSE and her escort were recalled to Singapore.

 

(At 1030/12/41three Lockheed Hudson reconnaissance aircraft of No. 1 RAAF Squadron took off from Kota Bharu, Malaya, on a reconnaissance flight over the South China Sea. One of these aircraft piloted by Flying Officer Ramshaw sighted the Japanese invasion fleet and reported as follows:

1212 hours 3 ships in position 7-51N, 105-00E, course 310 degrees.

1246 hours 25 ships escorted by 6 cruisers, 10 destroyers, in position 8N, 106-08E, course 270 degrees.
1300 hours 10 ships escorted by 2 cruisers, 10 destroyers, in position 7-40N, 106-20E, course 270 degrees.
1835 hours 1 cruiser, 1 transport, in position 8N, 102-30E. The cruiser opened fire on the Hudson.

The actual forces employed by the Japanese were 28 transports escorted by the light cruiser SENDAI (flag, Rear-Admiral Hashimoto), 10 destroyers, 6 minesweepers and 3 submarine chasers. This force moved into the Gulf of Siam.

[The Hudsons were sighted by the Japanese and the IJN Seaplane Tender KAMIKAWA MARU launched a Mitsubishi F1M2 (Pete) to intercept the Hudsons but they took cover in cloud]

The whole Southern Expeditionary Force was commanded by Vice-Admiral Ozawa, with his flag in the heavy cruiser CHOKAI with the 7th cruiser division of the heavy cruisers KUMANO (Flag Vice-Admiral Kurita) SUZUYA, MIKUMA and MOGAMI and four destroyers was in support.

Off the south-east coast of Indo-China, were the battleships KONGO and HARUNA the heavy cruisers ATAGO (flag Vice-Admiral Kondo) and TAKAO and 10 destroyers.

Following receipt of these reports Rear-Admiral A. F. E. Palliser DSC, RN,  Admiral Phillips Chief of Staff ordered the recall of REPULSE and her escorts.)

 

(Late on the night of 6/12/41 two RAF Catalinas of 205 Squadron took off from RAF Seletar to locate and shadow the invasion fleet. The first aircraft failed to find the Japanese Force. The second Catalina W8417, piloted by Warrant Officer William Webb, was instructed that, if no contact was established, a search was to be made off the west coast of Indochina. This Catalina sighted the invasion fleet, but at 0820/7/12/41 in approximate position 9-30N, 103E the Catalina was attacked by an Aichi E13A (Jake) from the KAMIKAWA MARU, which fired a long burst into the Catalina's hull, probably destroying the radio. At 0845/7/12/41the Catalina was shot down by a Japanese Army Nakajima Ki-27 (Nate) which was part of invasion fleet fighter escort, before a sighting report could be transmitted. The eight man crew thus became the first Allied casualties of Japan's southern attack.)

 

(Around midnight Admiral Phillips arrived back at Singapore from Manila)

 

7th At 1200 hours REPULSE, TENEDOS and VAMPIRE arrived back at Sembawang naval dockyard.

 

(At 2159/7/41 [1429 GMT] in response to the sighting report, 1212/6/12/41, [0442GMT] the Admiralty dispatched a most immediate signal to Philips; 'No decision has yet been taken by H.M. Government, but on the assumption that a Japanese expedition is located in the South China Sea in such a position that its course indicates that it is proceeding towards Thailand. Malaya, Borneo or Netherlands East Indies, report what action it would be possible to take with naval or air forces'.

The inference from the wording of this signal was that Phillips should take positive action against a Japanese invasion force. When in fact the Admiralty's position was the opposite, preferring a withdrawal of the capital ships to the east, in line with Pound's signals of 1st and 3rd December.

Phillips replied, 'If relative strength of enemy force permits, endeavour will be made to attack expeditions by night or day. If we are inferior in strength, a raid will be attempted and the air forces will attack with bombers and torpedoes in conjunction with our naval forces')

 

8th - Force Z at Sembawang naval dockyard.

 

(At 0025/8/12/41 the first Japanese troops went ashore at on Sabak Badang Beach, Kota Bharu, northern Malaya. This was one hour 35 minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbour. At 0305/8/12/41, landings were made  at Singora, Kra Isthmus, Thailand)    

 

(At 0103/8/12/41 Philips signalled the Admiralty:

1.     Discussion with Admiral Hart very friendly and we can expect full co-operation.

2.     Draft of points of agreement, transmitted via C.N.O. was originally drawn up to provide discussion, but at conclusion Admiral Hart was very anxious to telegraph this to Washington and London. I reluctantly agreed, making it clear that I had not yet met Dominion and Dutch representatives and would have preferred to do so before sending any signal home.

3.     Admiral Hart was reluctant to part with his destroyers even when at war and this is referred to in point of agreement. He was not willing to send them to Singapore at once but I have again asked him today to send four in view of situation.

4.     Dutch Admiral arrives tomorrow Monday and I hope to make sufficient progress with Dominion representative to be able to ask him and U.S. representative to meeting in the afternoon)

 

(At 0400/8/12/41 seventeen Japanese Mitibuishi G3M, Nell, bombers of Mihoro Air Group from Saigon, attacked Keppel Harbour, Sembawang naval dockyard and airbases at Tengah and Seletar. The PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE fired their AA weapons against the attacking aircraft. The raid killed 61 people but the only damage of military value was to three Blenheims at Tengah, airfield)

 

(At 0413/8/12/41a signal was received from the Admiralty stating 'Commence hostilities at once')

 

At 0430 hours Captain Leach called for steam for full speed but boiler cleaning was still being carried out so all boilers were not connected until the ship sailed.

Also at this time her Type 273 Radar was still un-serviceable and the ships staff was unable to fix the problem. So the RAF was asked if they could help and a Squadron Leader TC Carter was sent aboard with two RAF technicians to ascertain if the situation could be quickly remedied, but they were unable to fix it before sailing.

 

(At 0934 hours Phillips sent a signal to the Admiralty stating that he intended to sail at dusk with the PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE to attack enemy forces off Kota Bharu at daylight on 10/12/41. He went on to state that endeavours would be made to estimate the strength of enemy naval forces by air reconnaissance)

 

(At 1230 hours Admiral Phillips held a meeting in his cabin onboard the PRINCE OF WALES attended by Rear Admiral Palliser Chief of Staff to Admiral Phillips, Captain Bell RN, Captain of the Fleet and the CO's of the ships that were to form Force Z; Captain Leach RN [PRINCE OF WALES], Captain Tennant RN [REPULSE], Commander May RN [ELECTRA], Commander Moran RAN [VAMPIRE], Lieut. Commander Cartwright RN [EXPRESS] and Lieut. Dyer RN [TENDOS]. At the meeting Phillips outlined the options for Force Z, which were stay in harbour and risk being bombed, sail to some remote anchorage away from the enemy and await events or sail and attack the Japanese invasion shipping The unanimous decision was to pursue the latter option, which was the decision that Phillips had already communicated to the Admiralty. The CinC stated that he hoped that, with fighter protection if possible, or failing which, by surprise, he would attack the Japanese off Singora and Kota Bharu at dawn on the 10th. It should be noted that at this time Phillips was aware that the RAF's northern airfields were either lost or under attack, the corollary of which being that Phillips probably knew that the only tactic Force Z could rely on was surprise. Probably as a result of ignorance [both of Japanese aircraft, and of British short range aircraft] Phillips minimised the risk of air attack because Force Z would be operating over 200 miles from Japanese air bases in Indochina; and thus beyond the effective range of Japanese torpedo bombers [the Japanese Betty had a range of approximately 3000 miles]. In order to fulfil his objective the CinC signalled Air Vice Marshall Pulford CinC RAF Malaya, his requirements for the mission:

          1     Reconnaissance 100 miles to the north of Force Z during daylight on the 9th.

               2     Reconnaissance 100 miles, mid point Singora 10 miles from the coast, starting first light on the 10th.

                  3     Fighter protection off Singora at daylight on the 10th)

 

(At 1500 hours Pulford replied to the CinC's signal:

1       Hope to provide

2       Could not provide

3       Could not provide due to heavy losses.

On receipt of this signal the CinC sent Captain Bell to RAF HQ to impress upon Pulford that the requirement for fighter cover was vital for the success of the mission)

 

At 1735 hours Force Z comprising the PRINCE OF WALES (Flag CinC Eastern Fleet), REPULSE and the destroyers ELECTRA, EXPRESS, TENDOS and HMAS VAMPIRE sailed from the Sembawang naval dockyard, out into the South China Sea and set course to pass east of the Anamba Islands and thence northward.

 

(As the PRINCE OF WALES was passing through the boom, Pulford signalled that fighter protection was impossible. Phillips's reaction, according to acting Chief of Staff Afloat, Captain L.H. Bell RN, was a shrug of the shoulders: 'Well, we must get on without it.'

Again according to Bell, Phillips relied on the speed and surprise of the battleships' attack to avoid damage to these ships sufficient to slow them down, believing that Japanese aircraft would not be carrying anti-ship bombs and torpedoes and that the Force on retirement would only have to deal with hastily organized long-range bombers from bases in Indo-China.)

 

(Shortly after departure the CinC signalled Force Z:

1. Besides a minor landing at Kola Bharu which was not followed up, landings have been made between Pattani and Singora and a major landing 90 miles north of Singora.

2. Little is known of enemy naval forces in the vicinity. It is believed that KONGO is the only capital ship likely to be met.  Three Atago type, one Kako type, and two Zmiu type cruisers have been reported.  A number of destroyers possibly of fleet type are likely to be met.

3. My object is to surprise and sink transports and enemy warships before air attack can develop.  Objective chosen will depend on air reconnaissance. Intend to arrive at the objective after sunrise tomorrow 10th. If an opportunity to bring KONGO to action occurs this is to take precedence over all other action.

4. Subject to Commanding Officer's freedom of manoeuvre, in an emergency Force Z will remain in close order and will be manoeuvred as a unit until action is joined. 'When the signal "Act independently" is made or at discretion of 'Commanding Officer. REPULSE w ill assume freedom of manoeuvre remaining in tactical support but engaging from a wide enough angle to facilitate fall of shot.'

5. Intend to operate at 25 knots unless a chase develops and subsequently to retire at maximum speed endurance will allow.

6. Capital ships should attempt to close below 20,000 yards until fire is effective but should avoid offering an end on target. Ships must be prepared to change from delay to non-delay fuses according to target.

7. PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE are each to have one aircraft fuelled and ready to fly off if required. If flown off, aircraft must return to land base. Kota Bharu aerodrome is understood to be out of action.

8. TENEDOS will be detached before dark to return independently to Singapore.

9. Remaining destroyers may be detached during the night 9th/10th should enemy information require a high speed of advance. In such case these destroyers are to retire towards Anamba Island at 10 knots until a rendezvous is ordered by W/T)

 

9th -

(At 0125 hours Philips received a signal from his Chief of Staff who had remained at Singapore, which confirmed that the air reconnaissance asked for had been arranged, but stated that owing to the military situation fighter protection off Singora on 10/12/41, would not be possible. It added that the Japanese had large bomber forces based in southern Indochina and possibly in Thailand and that a request had been made to US General MacArthur to attack the Indochina airfields with long range bombers as soon as possible. Finally, it informed Philips that Kota Bharu airfield had been evacuated and we seemed to be 'losing grip' in the other northern airfields, due to enemy action)

 

At 0400 hours Force Z altered course to the northward.

At 0620 hours the VAMPIRE reported an aircraft sighting, but as only one lookout sighted it the report was disregarded.

At 0800 hours Force Z was east of the Anamba Islands steering northward. The weather conditions were showers and low cloud, ideal for evading the enemy.

 

(At 1343 hours in approximate position 5N, 106E, Force Z was sighted by the Japanese submarine I-65. The submarine made a sighting report, 'two enemy battleships, course 340 degrees, speed 14 knots'. I 65 then shadowed Force Z for five hours during which time she signaled position reports. The speed of Force Z at the time was well within I-65's top speed of 20.5 knots. Actually Force Z's course was nearer 360 degrees.

I-65's report was received by the light cruiser KINU (Flag of Submarine Squadron 5); the KINU was cruising to the south of the Poulo Condore Islands, which is approximately 200 NM to the northward of Force Z. The report was also received by the light cruiser YURA and the 81st Naval Communications Unit in Saigon. The reception was poor and it took another 1 hours to decode and relay the message to the heavy cruiser CHOKAI (Flag Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, CinC of the Southern Expeditionary Fleet). I-65's report was wrong about Force Z's course and created confusion. I-65 surfaced and started a stern chase, but a rain squall cloaked the British ships.

I-65's sighting report caused Vice Admiral Ozawa the commander of the invasion force to order the empty transports to sail from the invasion area and proceed to Cam Ranh Bay, southern Indochina escorted by most of his warships.

The Japanese 2nd Fleet, which was providing distant cover for the invasion forces and cruising in approximate position 8-30N, 107E, comprised the fast battleships KONGO (Flag Vice Admiral Kondo CinC 2nd Fleet) and HARUNA, heavy cruisers ATAGO and TAKAO and eight destroyers. When Kondo received I-65's signal he assumed that Force Z was making for the invasion area so he ordered the 2nd Fleet to set course south westerly to achieve a position from where he could engage Force Z at daylight the next day.

At the same time Kondo ordered Vice Admiral Ozawa, Commander of the Southern Expeditionary Force, in the CHOKAI, Rear Admiral Kurita's CruDiv 7, comprising the heavy cruisers KUMANO, MOGAMI, MIKUMA and SUZUYA and Rear Admiral Hashimoto's DesRon 3, comprising the light cruiser SENDAI and four destroyers to make a night attack against Force Z.

At 1600 hours I-65's sighting report was received by the Japanese 22nd Air Flotilla based at Saigon. They were about to take off for Singapore, armed with bombs. Hurriedly they exchanged their bombs for torpedoes, and by 1800 hours were airborne in search of Force Z. However, in the rapidly gathering darkness they failed to find Force Z and returned to base.

Because I-65's sighting report gave Force Z's course incorrectly the Japanese surface  forces that were gathering to attack were all making for positions too far west.)

 

Between 1700 and 1830 hours the weather cleared and three Japanese reconnaissance aircraft were sighted by lookouts on the PRINCE OF WALES.

 

(One of these planes was a Mitsubishi Ki-15/C5M2, Babs, reconnaissance plane from the 22nd Air Flotilla based in the Saigon area, which reported the position of Force Z. One of the other two was probably a Kawanishi E7K, Alf, from the light cruiser KINU. This aircraft dived on the submarine I-65, the pilot mistaking her for an enemy submarine, causing the I-65 to crash dive and lose contact with Force Z.)

 

(Before sighting the reconnaissance aircraft the CinC had had intended to detach all the destroyers at 2200 hours then with the two capital ships make a high speed attack on the invasion shipping. He considered the destroyers would be vulnerable to air attack and their low endurance caused anxiety. Phillips intended to rely on speed and surprise to avoid serious damage to his ships. He believed that any Japanese aircraft encountered would not be armed with torpedoes or anti-ship bombs and the only serious air attack could be expected from hastily organised strike by long range bombers from Indochina. However, following the enemy sighting of Force Z Phillips decided that the risk of attacking an alerted enemy was not justified. Therefore, as soon as darkness fell and he could shake off the shadowers the Force would turn southward and return to Singapore)

 

1800 hours Sunset.

1822 hours end of civil twilight.

At 1834 hours in approximate position 6-10N, 106E the destroyer TENEDOS detached to return to Singapore.

 

(At 1635 hours TENEDOS was given the following message 'request destroyers to meet Force Z off the Anamba Islands at dawn, 11th December' which she was to transmit to Singapore at 0800/10/12/41.

It was strange that this signal from Philips, TOO 1455/9, which had been passed to the TENEDOS at 1625 hours, (before the CinC knew he had been located and when he still intended to carry out the attack on the invasion force), should have been allowed to stand when the TENEDOS was detached three-quarters of an hour after he knew he had been sighted.)

 

At 1900 hours Force Z turned on to a north westerly course and increased speed to 26 knots.

At approximately 1930 hours lookouts on ELECTRA reported sighting a flare at an estimated 5 miles to the north.

 

(At this point the CHOKAI and CruDiv 7 were approximately 15 miles to the north of Force Z in approximate position 6-40N, 105-20E and were just turning on to a north easterly course away from Force Z. The flare sighted by ELECTRA had been dropped by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft searching for Force Z who had mistaken the CHOKAI for one of the British ships. The CHOKAI signalled her position to Saigon and the reconnaissance aircraft were recalled.)

 

At 2000 hours The CinC signaled REPULSE that he intended to keep the destroyers in company and abort the attack on the invasion force.

At 2015 hours Force Z turned on to course 150 degrees, speed was reduced to 20 knots to conserve the destroyer's fuel.

At approximately 2330 hours Force Z turned on to a southerly course.

At 2055 hours Admiral Philips sent the following signal to his commanders: 'I have most regrettably cancelled the operation, because having been located by aircraft, surprise was lost and our target would be almost certain to be gone by the morning and the enemy fully prepared for us'.

 

(At 2145 hours Philips received the following signal from his Chief of Staff:

Enemy apparently continuing landing in Kota Bharu area which should be fruitful as well as Singora.

On the other hand enemy bombers on South Indochina aerodromes are in force and undisturbed. They could attack you five hours after sighting and much depends on whether you have been seen today.

Two carriers may be in Saigon area.

Military situation at Kota Bharu appears difficult. Aerodrome is in enemy hands.

All our northern aerodromes are becoming untenable due to enemy air action. C.-in-C., F.E., hints he is considering concentrating all air efforts on defence of Singapore area.

Extremely difficult to give you clearer picture because air reconnaissance communications are so slow due partly to damage to aerodromes.)

 

(At 2335 hours Admiral Philips received a signal reporting an enemy landing at Kuantan, 150 miles to the south of Kota Bharu. Since Kuantan was a key military position of great importance Philips decided to investigate the report)

 

10th - At 0052 hours in approximate position 5N, 105-50E, Force Z turned on to course 245 degrees and speed was increased to 25 knots.

 

(At 0221 hours the Japanese submarine I-58 sighted Force Z. She attacked at once and fired five torpedoes at the lead ship, the PRINCE OF WALES, all missed. None of the Force Z vessels were aware of the attack. I-58 then surfaced and sent off a sighting report and followed at 16 knots, but finally lost contact at 0305 hours. The sighting report was received by the 22nd Air Flotilla at 0315 hours.

At 0600 hours 9 Mitsubishi G3M Nell, bombers, each armed with a 60kg bomb and three Mitsubishi Ki-15/C5M Babs, were flown off to conduct a sector search for Force Z. Because of the poor visibility the search planes didn't discover Force Z until they were returning to Saigon)

 

At 0514 hours, objects were spotted on the horizon. Thinking they were the invasion force, Force Z turned towards them. They turned out to be a trawler towing barges.

At 0608 hours start of civil twilight.

At 0630 hours Sunrise.

 

(At 0630 hours Force Z was in approximate position 4-15N, 104-30E, The sun had just risen when lookouts on REPULSE sighted an aircraft. Captain Tennant later referred to this definitely as an 'enemy reconnaissance aircraft'. However no Japanese aircraft was in the area at the time.)

 

(At 0700 hours a strike force of 84 aircraft (34 Mitsubitshi G3M Nell bombers and 25 Mitsubishi G3M Nells, and 25 Mitsubishi G4M Betty torpedo planes), from Rear Admiral Matsunaga Sadaichi's 22nd Air Flotilla took off from Saigon a set course south along the 105 degrees Meridian towards the estimated position of Force Z. The strike force was organised in flights of about 9 aircraft; the general plan was to attack continuously, starting with a bombing attack from about 8,000 feet by the Genzan group, the Mihoro and Kanoya groups following in turn as they arrived. All attacks were to be controlled by the Flight Leaders. After making their RV the flights proceeded independently south along the 105th meridian. Nothing was seen of Force Z during this southerly run and after sighting Singapore they turned to the northward. One flight separated from the main group and attacked TENEDOS. The main groups course was to lead them straight to Force Z and these were the aircraft that were now attacking Force Z.)

 

At 0730 hours PRINCE OF WALES flew off one of her Walrus aircraft to carry out a reconnaissance of Kuantan. The aircraft reported, no activity, and then flew on to Singapore. 

At 0800 hours Force Z was off Kuantan. The report from the Walrus was of no enemy activity. Following receipt of the report the EXPRESS was detached to also have a look. EXPRESS signalled 'all as quite as a wet Sunday afternoon'.

At 0830 hours EXPRESS rejoined Force Z and course was set to the south. Shortly afterwards course was altered to the north east then to the east.

 

(At 1005 hours TENEDOS, who was about 140 miles southeast of Force Z, reported she was being attacked by Japanese aircraft. The attackers were nine Mitsubishi G3M, Nell, bombers of the Genzan Air Corps, of the 22nd Air Flotilla, based at Saigon, each armed with one 500 kg armour piercing bomb. This group of nine aircraft had separated from the main body and had veered off to the east causing them to sight TENEDOS, who they mistook for a battleship and wasted their bombs on the destroyer without scoring any hits)

 

(At 1015 hours A Japanese Navy Mitsubishi Ki-15/C5M2 Babs, reconnaissance plane of the 22nd Air Flotilla from Saigon sighted and reported Force Z. The sighting report was received by the strike force at 1045 hours as they were returning to Indochina. On receipt the strike force immediately altered course for Force Z's position)

 

At 1020 hours Admiral Philips signalled Force Z to assume 'first degree of HA readiness', this order followed the sighting of the Japanese reconnaissance aircraft.

At 1026 hours an enemy aircraft bearing 220 degrees was picked up by REPULSE's radar. This was the reconnaissance aircraft which reported the sighting of Force Z at the same time, but the report didn't reach the strike force until 1100 hours.

At 1113 hours the PRINCE OF WALES opened fire on eight Nell high-level bombers, flying at about 10000ft, each armed with 2 x 250kg bombs, these attacked the REPULSE.

At 1114 hours the PRINCE OF WALES opened fire on nine Nell torpedo bombers, from the Genzan group, coming in to attack from port side. One attacker turned away to attack the REPULSE and the remaining eight dropped their torpedoes from ranges between 1650 and 650 yards and at a height of approximately 100 feet. Seven of the torpedoes were avoided but the eighth torpedo, which was a 45cm diameter Type 91 with a 150kg Type 97 warhead, struck her port quarter.

At 1144 hours the PRINCE OF WALES received, one torpedo hit on the port quarter. Following which she listed 11 degrees to port and speed was reduced to 15 knots. The PRINCE OF WALES was never properly under control again. Five 5.25in turrets were put out of action. A second hit was reported at the time between turrets P3 and P4, but subsequent examinations of the wreck have disproved this. One aircraft was claimed shot down crashing into the sea on starboard side.

 

(The first wave of attackers achieved one catastrophic torpedo hit on the port side, aft of water tight bulkhead at frame 274, blowing a hole in the hull 20ft x 13ft. The hit was close to the stern tube of the port outer propeller shaft, at the time the 17.5in diameter shaft was turning at 204rpm. The explosion damaged/broke the A frame supporting the end of the propeller shaft, which continued turning but eccentrically. The steam was cut off to the turbine, but the forward motion of the ship caused the shaft to continue rotating. At the same time the port inner shaft was shut down.

By 1155 hours it was realised that the eccentrically rotating shaft had breached all the water tight bulkheads from frame 184 aft. Causing flooding in Y Action Machinery Room and the port Diesel Dynamo Room and several other compartments of lesser importance. At this time B Engine Room started to flood and had to be evacuated. The flooding of the Diesel Dynamo Room caused the failure of the electrical system at the after end of the ship putting out of action the steering engine, warning telephone system, radars and the after 5.25in turrets. The crew members in the magazines of the 5.25in turrets P2 and P3, hearing the noise caused by the smashing of the bulkheads and believing that there had been another torpedo hit near by, flooded their magazines. The operation of the forward 5.25 turrets were affected by the 11 degrees list. It was a classic cascade failure.)

 

(The AA barrage put up by the PRINCE OF WALES was subject to many problems. The pom-poms suffered a large number of stoppages due to the shells and cartridges becoming separated; further the lack of tracer rounds meant that the barrage was unseen by the attackers so the deterrence factor was prevented from being effective. The tracer shells of the 20mm Oerlikons and the 40mm Bofors were seen to make some of the attackers jink. Further the pom-pom mounts were electrically operated so quickly became non-operative due to the loss of electrical power. There were also problems with the 5.25in DP guns. The mounting was designed for a rate of fire of ten to twelve rounds per minute but this was seldom achieved because of the need to manually handle 80 pound shells within a cramped turret, the more usual rate of fire was seven to eight rounds per minute. However due to the heat and humidity not even the lower rate of fire was achieved, also most of the turrets were quickly put out of action through the loss of electrical power and the list.)

 

At 1157 hours the PRINCE OF WALES opened fire on six aircraft on the starboard side, thought to be attacking the REPULSE.

 

(At 1158 hours the REPULSE signalled to: 'Any British Man-of-War, enemy aircraft bombing. My position 134 NYTW 22 x 09. This message was received in the Singapore war room at 1204 hours, and was the first indication that Singapore HQ had of the position of Force Z since its departure at 1735/8/12/41. Following receipt of the signal RAAF Squadron 453 stationed at RAF Sembawang equipped with Brewster Buffalo fighters was ordered into to the air to fly to the assistance of Force Z. At approximately 1215 hours the first of ten aircraft was airborne. 453 Squadron had been tasked to provide a fighter cap over Force Z and had been on standby awaiting the call. But because the CinC Force Z had kept radio silence 453 were not aware of Force Z's position.) 

 

At 1205 hours Man overboard port side reported. The VAMPIRE was ordered to pick him up.

At 1210 hours the PRINCE OF WALES hoisted, not-under-control balls. By this time counter flooding of some of the midships and forward starboard SPS spaces had reduced the list to 9 degrees

At 1219 hours the REPULSE closed to within 850 yards of the PRINCE OF WALES in an attempt to render assistance.

By 1220 hours the port side of the quarterdeck was awash.

 

(At 1220 hours the PRINCE OF WALES signalled, 'EMERGENCY. Have been struck by a torpedo on port side. Position NYTW 0222 R06 4 torpedoes. REPULSE hit by 1 torpedo. Send destroyers'. This was received in the Singapore war room at 1240 hours.)

 

At 1222 hours the PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE were attacked by 25 Betty, torpedo bombers. The attackers divided and four Betty's approached the PRINCE OF WALES on her starboard side, with her steering out of action the PRINCE OF WALES was incapable of taking avoiding action, the result was, three torpedo hits on the starboard side. The torpedoes were 45cm diameter Type 91, Mod 2, with a 205kg Type 97 warhead.

 

(These three torpedoes struck in the following locations, the bow under the anchor, near B-turret and aft of Y-turret. The most damaging hit was the one aft, this struck above the starboard outer propeller, in the area of frame 296, creating a hole 36ft x 13ft at the Middle and Lower Deck level, which were now below water level. This caused the outer port shaft to immediately jam, the A frame failed and the shaft and propeller eventually bent inwards and stopped the starboard shaft rotating.)

 

Following this attack the list had reduced to 3 degrees and speed to 8 knots.

By 1230 hours only X engine room was still operational.

 

(At 1252 hours the CinC Force Z signalled, 'EMERGENCY. Send all available tugs. My position 3-40N, 104-30E'. This was received in the Singapore war room at 1304 hours.)

 

At 1241 hours the PRINCE OF WALES opened fire on eight high-level Nell bombers on the port bow. The only 5.25in turrets able to fire at this time were S1 and S2.

At 1244 hours the PRINCE OF WALES was straddled, receiving one bomb hit, reported as being starboard side catapult deck, and several near misses.

 

(Seven 500kg bombs were dropped, only one of which was a hit, landing on the port side amidships. The bomb penetrated the Upper Deck and exploded in the Cinema Flat where up to 300 wounded were being treated, causing heavy causalities. The bomb also damaged the ventilators for B Boiler Room causing it to be shut down.)

 

The PRINCE OF WALES was now drifting and out of control she had taken on a vast amount of water and the internal flooding was unstoppable; her end was not far away.

At 1250 the EXPRESS closed the PRINCE OF WALES and went alongside her starboard side and commenced embarking the wounded and crew not immediately required for fighting the ship.

 

(At 1300 hours the ELECTRA signalled, 'MOST IMMEDIATE. PRINCE OF WALES hit by 4 torpedoes in position 3-45N, 104-10E. REPULSE sunk. Send destroyers'.

At the same time the CinC Force Z signalled, 'MOST IMMEDIATE. PRINCE OF WALES disabled and out of control'. Both these signals were received in the Singapore war room at 1310 hours)

 

(At 1301 hours the PRINCE OF WALES signalled, 'EMERGENCY. Send all available tugs'. This was received in the Singapore war room at 1311 hours)

 

(At 1307 hours the CinC Eastern Fleet signalled, 'MOST IMMEDIATE. Am disembarking men not required for fighting ship. Send tugs and destroyers fast as possible'.

At the same time ELECTRA signalled, 'MOST IMMEDIATE. Send tugs'. Both of these signals were received in the Singapore war room at 1317 hours)

 

(At 1318 hours the first of 453 Squadron RAAF Buffalos arrived at the scene.)

 

The EXPRESS cast off and moved away just before the PRINCE OF WALES started to roll over. The EXPRESS almost left it too late because PRINCE OF WALES's bilge caught her and almost rolled her over.

At 1320 hours the PRINCE OF WALES sank capsizing to port, in position 3-33-36N, 104-28-42E. Out of her crew of 1612 men; 20 officers, 280 sailors and 27 marines were lost. Among the dead were Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, CinC of the Eastern Fleet, and the CO of the PRINCE OF WALES Captain John C. Leach.

The destroyers EXPRESS, ELECTRA and VAMPIRE picked up 90 officers and 1195 crew and marines, the majority being picked up by the EXPRESS.

 

(On the way back to Singapore the EXPRESS passed the destroyers STRONGHOLD and the four US destroyers of DesRon 57, USS ALDEN, EDSALL, JOHN D. EDWARDS and WHIPPLE who were heading north to join Force Z. The EXPRESS signalled that the action was over and PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE had been sunk. The destroyers held their northerly course for the scene of the sinkings to search for more survivors, but none were found.  

The US destroyers were the vessels that Admiral Hart USN had promised to Admiral Phillips when they parted in Manila on the afternoon of 4/12/41. DesRon 57 had sailed from Balikpapan, arriving at Sembawang naval dockyard, Singapore at 1100/10/12/41. They had sailed in company with STRONGHOLD at 1509/10/12/41 to join Philips's flag.)

 

At 2330 hours the EXPRESS with most of the PRINCE OF WALES survivors embarked arrived back at Sembawang naval dockyard, Singapore.

 

(Casualty List - note on casualties)

 

 (For more details of this action see above references and BRITISH BATTLESHIPS  OF WW2 by A Raven and J Roberts.)

 

 


 

Addendum

 

CONVOY ESCORT MOVEMENTS of  HMS PRINCE OF WALES

by Don Kindell

 

These convoy lists have not been cross-checked with the text above

 

Date convoy sailed

 Joined convoy as escort

  Convoy No.

Left convoy

Date convoy arrived

 

 

 

 

 

24/09/41

25/09/41

HALBERD

27/09/41

27/09/41

 

(Note on Convoys)

 

 

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