The HMS Repulse was a battle cruiser built in 1916 and rehauled between 1936 and 1939.1 It was sunk off the coast of Kuantan, Malaya, on 10 December 19412 soon after arriving in Singapore as part of the British Eastern Fleet3 with the HMS Prince of Wales as the flagship.4 The HMS Repulse was one of two battleships in the Renown class, the other being HMS Renown itself.5
Length: 794 ft (242.01 m)
Displacement: 32,000 tons (3,2513.6 metric tonnes)
Speed: 29 knots
Armaments: 6×15" (38.1 cm) guns; 8×4" (10.16 cm) anti-aircraft guns; 8×21" (53.34 cm) torpedo tubes6
The HMS Repulse also had four aircraft, but lacked modern anti-aircraft weapons. Her horizontal armour plating for protection against an air attack was considered outdated.7
The old battle cruiser, commanded by Captain Bill Tennant, was the second capital ship of the British Eastern Fleet (codenamed Force Z) of six ships, whose commander-in-chief was Admiral Thomas Phillips. The fleet arrived at the Singapore Naval Base on 2 December 1941 to serve as a deterrent against Japanese attack.8
On the evening of the 8 December 1941, the fleet sailed from Singapore, intending to launch a surprise attack on Japanese ships sighted in the Gulf of Siam. As the fleet’s movements were detected by enemy aircraft, Phillips decided to return on 9 December. On his return journey, Phillips was informed that Japanese troops had landed at Kuantan. The fleet thus detoured to Kuantan for a planned surprise attack on the enemy. On 10 December, when the fleet was just 60 miles east-north-east of Kuantan, the Repulse was attacked by high-level bombers at 11.13 am. Despite fending off the initial attack, the Repulse was sunk with the HMS Prince of Wales, a major loss to British troops in the defence of Malaya.9
Timeline of the attack on 10 December 1941
11.13 am: Japanese high-level bombers attack the Repulse. Although one bomb hits her, it fails to pierce the armour.
11.50 am: Tennant avoids a simultaneous attack by torpedo and high-level bombers from the enemy. A third wave of attack sees nine Japanese planes assaulting the Prince of Wales, with three diverting to attack the Repulse. The Repulse is hit on the portside by a single torpedo but continues to fight, sailing at 25 knots. Within minutes of this hit, she is attacked by torpedo bombers and receives four hits, the first of which jams the rudder and puts the ship out of control. Tennant then gives the order to abandon ship.
12.33 pm: With a list of 60 or 70 degrees to port, the Repulse rolls over and sinks.10
Over 500 of her crew were lost with the sinking of the Repulse. Survivors were rescued by the destroyers Vampire and Electra.11
In 2002, the wreck site of the Repulse was declared a “Protected Place’ under Britain’s Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986.12
1. Masanobu Tsuji, Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese Version of the Malayan Campaign of World War II (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988), 102. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
2. S. Woodburn Kirby, et al., The War against Japan: The Loss of Singapore, vol. 1 (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1957), 197. (Call no. RCLOS 940.542 KIR)
3. A. E. Percival, The War in Malaya (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1949), 102. (Call no. RRARE 940.53595 PER; Microfilm NL25785)
4. Brian Montgomery, Shenton of Singapore: Governor and Prisoner of War (London: Leo Cooper & Secker & Warburg, 1984), 2. (Call no. RSING 941.0840924 SHE)
5. “H. M .S. Renown,” Straits Times, 23 February 1922, 11; “Visit of the Special Service Squadron,” Malayan Saturday Post, 16 February 1924, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Tsuji, Singapore 1941–1942, 102.
7. Montgomery, Shenton of Singapore, 3.
8. Kirby, et al., War against Japan, 85, 194; Percival, War in Malaya, 95, 98.
9. Kirby, et al., War against Japan, 194, 196–98; Percival, War in Malaya, 128–29; Tsuji, Singapore 1941–1942, 102.
10. Kirby, et al., War against Japan, 196–97.
11. “The Tragedy of the Prince of Wales and Repulse,” Straits Times, 5 July 1966, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Rod MacDonald, Force Z Shipwrecks of the South China Sea: HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse (Scotland: Whittles Publishing, 2013), 137. (Call no. RSING 940.545941 MAC)
Geoffrey Bennett, The Loss of the ‘Prince of Wales’ and ‘Repulse’ (Shepperton: Allan, 1973). (Call no. RSEA 940.5425 BEN)
Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney, Battleship: The Loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse (London: Allen Lane, 1977). (Call no. RCLOS 940.5425 MID-[WAR])
Richard Alexander Hough, 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, 1963). (Call no. RCLOS 940.545 HOU)
The information in this article is valid as at 24 January2018 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.