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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : HMS 'Prince of Wales' and HMS 'Repulse' Sunk

10 December 1941

Location: 50 miles off the coast of Malaya.
Players: Force Z (HMS 'Prince of Wales' and HMS 'Repulse' under Admiral Tom Phillips); 88 Japanese aircraft from the First Air Force.

An artillery gun and a gunner aboard the HMS 'Prince of Wales', 1941
An artillery gun and a gunner aboard the HMS 'Prince of Wales', 1941©
HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse (Force Z under the command of Admiral Tom Phillips) were sunk on 10 December 1941 by Japanese warplanes, about 50 miles from the coast of Kuantan in Malaya. The loss of life was the greatest ever experienced by the Royal Navy in one incident; over 840 officers and men died. For the Japanese, this represented a significant victory.

The British battleships should have been accompanied by the carrier Indomitable, but she was damaged, and without her they were vulnerable. Radio silence was maintained with a view to a surprise attack on the Japanese in Kuantan; but without contact Phillips could not request the air cover which may have saved the British.

The Japanese had intelligence that Force Z were in the area but it wasn't until 8 December that HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse were photographed in Singapore Harbour. They were sighted again by a submarine on 9 and 10 December.

The Japanese First Air Force, composed of 88 aircraft (27 bombers and 61 torpedo planes), proceeded to the best estimated position of the enemy ships. The striking group was organised into nine flights. At 11am the contact was broadcast to the striking group and headquarters.

The Prince of Wales was crippled after the first torpedo attack. It was hit in the stern, twisting a propeller shaft. Then the main strength of the Japanese air attacks were directed against the Repulse. The Repulse was hit by one or two bombs and about 12 torpedoes. The Prince of Wales was hit by one bomb and ten torpedoes. Only four Japanese aircraft were lost. The escorting destroyers picked up survivors and returned them to Singapore.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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