HMS Prince of Wales



Completed in April 1941, the HMS Prince of Wales was sunk off the coast of Kuantan, Malaya, on 10 December 1941 by the Japanese.1 The ship was also nicknamed “HMS Unsinkable” because she was dressed with the most advanced protective armour of the time. The Prince of Wales was the flagship for the Eastern Fleet, which included the HMS Repulse.2

Description
Length: 739 ft (225.25 m)

Displacement: 35,000 tons (35,561.75 metric tonnes)
Speed: 30 knots
Main battery: 10×14" (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: 3×25-barrel 20 mm pompoms; 1×20-barrel pompom; 4×8-barrel 40 mm quickfirers; 16×5.25" secondary armament guns; 4×4.7" anti-aircraft guns that could discharge 60,000 shells per minute3

The Prince of Wales’s anti-aircraft defence was also a distinctive feature. Each of her four aeroplanes was armed with three anti-aircraft guns that had 25 barrels mounted in five rows of five, the first of its kind in the world.4 The four anti-aircraft pompoms,5 each with eight barrels, could fire 800 rounds per minute.6 With such heavy armour and overall protection, she gained the reputation of being “unsinkable”.7

The Prince of Wales was the flagship of the Eastern Fleet (codenamed Force Z), which consisted of six ships and was commandeered by Admiral Tom Phillips.8 The other ships of the fleet were: the battle cruiser, HMS Repulse; and four destroyers, HMS Electra, HMS Express, HMS Vampire and HMS Tenedos.9

Events
Just newly commissioned, the Prince of Wales, under the command of Captain John Leach, had been involved in an encounter with the German battleship, the Bismarck, on 24 May 1941 while patrolling the southwest coast of Iceland.10 The Bismarck, together with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen under the command of Admiral Gunther Lutjens, was activating Operation Rheinübung, orders for a combined attack on Allied shipping.11 The flagship Hood was sunk during the battle and the Prince of Wales suffered hits by seven 15-inch and 8-inch shells from the Bismarck, which escaped but not without taking at least three hits from the Prince.12

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. These were attributed to teething problems rather than enemy fire.13 The engagement was thus called off and the wounded Bismarck allowed to sneak off.14

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 make the Japanese military reconsider attacking Malaya and Singapore.15

On the evening of 8 December 1941, 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.16

On 9 December, the element of surprise was lost because the Prince of Wales had been sighted by enemy aircraft. Phillips decided to return to Singapore, but on his way back he received a signal from Admiral Palliser informing him that an enemy landing had been reported at Kuantan.17 As Kuantan was not far off the return course to Singapore, Phillips decided to alter course for Kuantan to investigate. At dawn, on 10 December, when the fleet was 60 miles east-north-east of Kuantan, they discovered that the report on enemy landing was false.18

The fleet thus became a vulnerable target with Japanese submarines in the waters off Kuantan. The submarines had been on reconnaissance, supporting the Japanese Navy and their Navy Air Force after the recent attack on Kota Bharu between 7 and 8 December.19 The Japanese military was reeling from the recent success of the Pearl Harbour bombing on 8 December.20 The sighting of the principal battleship of the British Navy was a golden opportunity for the Japanese to make a similar boast of victory for the East.21

The Japanese main bombing force and torpedo units were sent off for the attack on the Eastern Fleet.22 The Prince of Wales was quickly sunk by Japanese bombers along with the Repulse.23 At least 90 officers out of 110 and 1,195 ratings out of 1,502 were rescued from the Prince of Wales by the HMS Express.24 The tally was a total of 228 survivors and 830 men lost in the combined sinking of the “Unsinkable” and her companion, the Repulse.25 Phillips, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Eastern Fleet only a few weeks earlier,26 and Leach died in battle.27 However, the HMS Electra, the HMS Express and the HMS Vampire destroyers that accompanied both ships survived the attack.28 With the sinking of the two capital ships, the Japanese gained control of the sea and the air during the Malayan Campaign.29

Timeline of HMS Prince of Wales
2 Dec 1941: Arrives at Singapore Naval Base.30
8 Dec 1941: Sails out of Naval Base to execute surprise attack on Japanese ships sighted in the Gulf of Siam.
9 Dec 1941: Loses the element of surprise and decides to return to Singapore.31
10 Dec 1941: Capsizes and sunk.32

Timeline of the attack on HMS Prince of Wales on 10 December 1941
6.00 am: The fleet, 60 miles east-north-east of Kuantan, confirms the report of enemy landing in Kuantan is false.
10.20 am: A shadowing aircraft is sighted by the Prince of Wales, and battle stations are manned.
11.00 am: Nine aircraft flying about 10,000 ft are sighted approaching the two capital ships.
11.13 am: The ships are attacked by successive waves of high-level bombers and torpedo bombers.
11.44 am: A formation of nine torpedo bombers attacks the Repulse and Prince of Wales. The Prince is hit by two torpedoes, damaging her port propeller shafts and causing the steering gear to fail.
12.10 pm: The Prince of Wales hoists the signal “Not under control”, and the Repulse comes alongside to offer assistance. Almost at once, another wave of nine torpedo bombers attacks the two ships. The Prince of Wales was hit by three torpedoes, reducing her speed to eight knots. Another wave of high-level bombers attacks her, scoring one hit.
1.10 pm: The Prince of Wales is listing heavily and Leach gives the order to abandon ship. Even so, the Prince of Wales continues fighting until the end.
1.20 pm: The Prince of Wales keels over sharply.33
2.50 pm: She capsizes and quickly sinks. Destroyers accompanying the ships pick up survivors.34



Author

Wong Heng



References
1. H.M.S. Prince of Wales. (1941, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 10; Churchill on the far east reverses: Loss of two capital ships. (1941, December 11). Morning Tribune, p. 1; Boey, D. (2003, December 12). Don’t let Force Z deaths be forgotten. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
2. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
3. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 99, 102. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR]); H.M.S. Prince of Wales. (1941, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 10; H.M.S. Prince of Wales safely launched. (1939, May 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884—1942), p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
5. H.M.S. Prince of Wales. (1941, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
7. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
8. H.M.S. Prince of Wales here. (1941, December 3). Malaya Tribune, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 102.
9. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, p. 194. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
10. H.M.S. Prince of Wales here. (1941, December 3). Malaya Tribune, p. 3; Put enemy to flight in maiden engagement. (1941, June 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884—1942), p. 6; Full story of Bismarck sinking. (1941, May 28). Malaya Tribune, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 98.
11. Rico, J. M. (n.d.). The battle of the Denmark Strait. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from KBismarck.com website: http://www.kbismarck.com/denmark-strait-battle.html; Michaud, G., & Emmerich, M. (2006, April 17). Operation Rheinübung. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from German Naval History website: http://www.german-navy.de/kriegsmarine/articles/feature1.html; Rico, J. M. (n.d.). Operation Rheinübung. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from KBismarck.com website: http://www.kbismarck.com/operheini.html
12. Rico, J. M. (n.d.). The battle of the Denmark Strait. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from KBismarck.com website: http://www.kbismarck.com/denmark-strait-battle.html; Nixon, J. R. N. (1941, May 31). H.M.S. Hood sunk 2 minutes after naval action began. Malaya Tribune, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mason, G. (2012, April 10). HMS Prince of Wales – King George V-class 14in gun battleship. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from Naval History Homepage website: http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-01BB-HMS_Prince_of_Wales.htm; Michaud, G., & Emmerich, M. (2006, April 17). Operation Rheinübung. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from German Naval History website: http://www.german-navy.de/kriegsmarine/articles/feature1.html
13. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Rico, J. M. (n.d.). The battle of the Denmark Strait. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from KBismarck.com website: http://www.kbismarck.com/denmark-strait-battle.html; Michaud, G., & Emmerich, M. (2006, April 17). Operation Rheinübung. Retrieved 2017, May 15 from German Naval History website: http://www.german-navy.de/kriegsmarine/articles/feature1.html
14. Churchill, W. S. (1950, February 14). Hood blows up in chase after Bismarck. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 95; History of HMS Prince of Wales. (n.d.). Retrieved 2017, May 16 from Royal Navy website: http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/surface-fleet/aircraft-carriers/hms-prince-of-wales/history-of-hms-prince-of-wales
16. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, pp. 4, 9. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, pp. 194–195. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 128.
17. Sinkings described: Survivors eager for another ‘go’ at japs. (1941, December 12). Malaya Tribune, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, pp. 194–195. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, pp. 128–129.
18. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, p. 196. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
19. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
20. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M)
21. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
22. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, pp. 194–196. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
23. Churchill on the Far East reverses: Loss of two capital ships. (1941, December 11). Morning Tribune, p. 1; Sinkings described: Survivors eager for another ‘go’ at japs. (1941, December 12). Malaya Tribune, p. 3; Boey, D. (2003, December 12). Don’t let Force Z deaths be forgotten. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
24. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, p. 198. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
25. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 101. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
26. U.S. hails arrival of fleet in Singapore. (1941, December 3). Malaya Tribune, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, p. 198. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, pp. 98, 129.
28. Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
29. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, p. 199. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
30. Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war. London: Leo Cooper; Secker and Warburg, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: RSING 941.0840924 SHE.M); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 95.
31. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, p. 194. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
32. Boey, D. (2003, December 12). Don’t let Force Z deaths be forgotten. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Kirby, S. W., et al. (1957). The war against Japan (Vol. 1). London: H.M. Stationery Office, pp. 196, 198. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.542 KIR); Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 129.
34. Percival, A. E. (1949). The war in Malaya [Microfilm no.: NL 25785]. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 129; Tsuji, M. (1988). Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 97, 102. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])



Further resources
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-[WAR])



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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.
 

Subject
National defence
Politics and Government>>National Security>>Defence
Science and technology>>Engineering>>Military engineering
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
Warships--Singapore