H.M.S. Prince of Wales


The H. M. S. Prince of Wales was built in April 1941 and sunk off the coast of Kuantan, Malaya on 10 December 1941 by the Japanese. Nicknamed "H. M. S. Unsinkable" because she was dressed with the most advanced protective armour. She was the flagship for the Eastern Fleet which included the H. M. S. Repulse.

Length: 739 ft [225.25 m].
Displacement: 35,000 tons [35,561.75 metric tonnes].
Speed: 30 knots.
Main Battery:10x14" [35.56 cm] guns firing 1,900-pound [381.83 kg] shells (longer range and more destructive than the largest 15" [38.1 cm] guns previously in use).
Armaments : 3x 25-barrel 20 mm pompoms.
                  : 1x20-barrel pompom.
                  : 4x8-barrel 40 mm quickfirers.
                  :16x secondary-armament-guns.
                  : 4x 4.7" anti-aircraft guns which could discharge 60,000 shells per minute.

Her anti-aircraft defence was also a distinctive feature. Each of her four aeroplanes was armed with three anti-aircraft guns which had 25 barrels mounted in five rows of five, the first of its kind world-wide. The four anti-aircraft pompoms, each with 8 barrels, could fire 800 rounds a minute. With such heavy armour and overall protection, she gained the reputation of being "unsinkable".

The Prince of Wales was the flagship of the Eastern Fleet (codenamed Force Z) which consisted of 6 ships and was commandeered by Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. The other ships of the Fleet were H. M. S. Repulse, the battle cruiser, and four destroyers, H. M. S. Electra, H. M. S. Express, H. M. S. Vampire and H. M. S. Tenedos.

Just newly commissioned, the Prince of Wales under the command of Captain Leach had been involved in an encounter with the German battleship, the Bismarck on 23 May 1941 whilst patrolling the south­west coast of Iceland. The Bismarck with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen under the command of Admiral Gunther Lutjens were activating Operation Rheinuburg, orders for a combined attack on Allied shipping. The flagship Hood was sunk during the battle and the Prince of Wales suffered hits by seven 15­ in and 8 ­in shells from the Bismark which escaped but not without at least three hits from the Prince. During the battle, the Prince of Wales suffered problems in her main armament such as a defective radar, a stuck gun turret and gun-mounting problems, all these attributed to teething problems rather than enemy fire. The engagement was thus called off and the wounded Bismark allowed to sneak off.

After repairs, the Prince of Wales joined the Eastern Fleet which was despatched from London and arrived in Singapore on 2 December 1941. It was hoped that the Fleet's presence in Singapore might induce second thoughts in the Japanese military before the attack on Malaya and Singapore. The British believed the H. M. S. Prince of Wales superseded any existing Japanese ship but in fact, the Japanese had Kiko Yamato, a well-kept Japanese secret which was much larger and as fast as the Prince of Wales. On the evening of 8 December 1941, Admiral Phillips sailed from Singapore to execute a surprise attack on Japanese ships sighted in the Gulf of Siam. However, the fleet departed without any fighter aircraft protection.

On 9 December, the element of surprise was lost as the Prince of Wales was sighted by enemy aircraft. Admiral Phillips decided to return to but on his way back he received a signal from Admiral Palliser informing him that an enemy landing had been reported at Kuantan. As Kuantan was not far off the return course to Singapore, Admiral Phillips decided to alter course for Kuantan to investigate. At dawn, on 10 December 1941, when the Fleet was 60 miles east-north-east of Kuantan, they discovered that the report on enemy landing was false. Unfortunately, she was a sitting duck for Japanese submarines in the waters off Kuantan. The submarines were on reconnaissance, supporting the Japanese Navy and their Navy Air Force after the recent attack on Kota Bharu between 7 to 8 December. The Japanese military was reeling from the recent success of the Pearl Harbour bombing on 8 December. The sighting of the principal battle ship of the British Navy was a golden opportunity for the Japanese to make a similar boast of victory for the east. The Japanese main bombing force and torpedo units was sent off for the attack on the Eastern Fleet. The H. M. S. Prince of Wales was quickly sunk by Japanese bombers along with the Repulse. At least 90 officers out of 110 and 1,195 ratings out of 1,502 were rescued from H. M. S. Prince of Wales by H. M. S. Express. The tally was a total of 228 survivors and 830 men lost in the combined sinking of the "unsinkable" and her companion, the H. M. S. Repulse. Admiral Phillips and Captain Leach died in battle. Admiral Phillips had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Fleet only a few weeks earlier. However, the H. M. S. Electra, the H. M. S. Express and the H. M. S. Vampire destroyers which accompanied both ships survived the attack. With the sinking of the two capital ships, the Japanese had control of the sea as well as the air during the Malayan Campaign.

Timeline of H. M. S. Prince of Wales
2 December 1941 : Arrived in Singapore Naval Base.
8 December 1941 : Sailed out of Singapore Naval Base to execute surprise attack on Japanese ships sighted in the Gulf of Siam.
9 December 1941 : Element of surprise lost. Decided to return to Singapore.
10 December 1941 : Ship capsized and sunk.

Timeline of the attack on H. M. S. Prince of Wales on 10 December 1941
06:00 am : The fleet, 60 miles east-north-east of Kuantan, confirmed the report of enemy landing in Kuantan was false.
10:20 am : A shadowing aircraft was sighted by the Prince of Wales and battle stations were manned.
11:00 am : Nine aircraft flying about 10,000 ft were sighted approaching the two capital ships.
11:13 am : The ships were attacked by successive waves of high level bombers and torpedo bombers.
11:44 am : A formation of nine torpedo bombers attacked the Repulse and Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was hit by two torpedoes damaging her port propeller shafts and causing the steering gear to fail.
12:10 pm : The Prince of Wales hoisted the signal "Not under control". The Repulse came alongside to offer assistance. Almost at once, another wave of 9 torpedo bombers attacked the two ships. The Prince of Wales was hit by three torpedoes which reduced her speed to eigtht knots. Another wave of high-level bombers attacked her scoring one hit.
1:10 pm : The Prince of Wales was listing heavily and Captain John Leach gave the order to abandon ship. Even so, the Prince of Wales continued fighting until the end.
1:20 pm : The Prince of Wales keeled over sharply.
2:50 pm : She keeled over, capsized and quickly sank. Destroyers accompanying the ships picked up survivors.


Wong Heng

Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1, pp. 85, 171, 173, 193-198). London: H.M. Stationery Office.
(Call no.: RSING 940.542 KIR) 

Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war (pp. 1-13). London: Leo Cooper & Secker and Warburg.
(Call no.: SING 941.0840924 SHE.M) 

Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya (pp. 89, 94, 95, 98, 102, 128-130, 143, 297). London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.
(Call no.: RSEA 940.53595 PER) 

Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941-1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of world war II (pp. 93-103). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU) 

Navalships Information Group. (2002). The hunt for the Bismarck. Retrieved January 9, 2005, from www.navalships.org/dkm02.html

Further Readings
Bennett, G. (1973). The loss of the 'Prince of Wales' and 'Repulse'. Shepperton: Allan.
(Call no.: RSEA 940.5425 BEN)

Hough, R. A. (1963). The hunting of Force Z : the brief, controversial life of the modern battleship, and its tragic close with the destruction of the 'Prince of Wales' and 'Repulse'. London: Collins.
(Call no.: RCLOS 940.545 HOU)

Middlebrook, M. (1977). Battleship: the loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. London: Allen Lane.
(Call no.: RCLOS 940.5425 MID)

The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945

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