Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The beginning of the end for British Malaya

On this day in 1941 Force Z of the Royal Navy (commanded by Admiral Tom Phillips) was attacked by 88 Japanese aircraft from the First Air Force. Force Z consisted of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and four destroyers.  Force Z arrived at Singapore on 2nd December 1941 and was sent to intercept Japanese landings in Malaya. Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk on 10th December 1941 about 50 miles from the coast of Kuantan in Malaya.

The Prince of Wales was crippled after the first torpedo attack. She 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 second photograph, taken from a Japanese aircraft during the initial high-level bombing attack, shows Repulse, near the bottom of the view, has just been hit by one bomb and near-missed by several more. Prince of Wales, near the top of the image, is generating a considerable amount of smoke. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.

This was a tremendous victory for the Japanese and a calamity for the British and Imperial forces defending Malaya.  The loss of life was the greatest ever experienced by the Royal Navy in one incident; over 840 officers and men died.  Force Z was steaming to intercept the Japanese invasion fleet, poised to launch the assault on Malaya, an invasion that resulted in a humiliating retreat by down the Malaya peninsular by the British and Imperial forces, and the eventual fall of Singapore less than 80 days later.  Force Z should not have proceeded with air support, the first mistake of the many that plagued the British and Imperial forces, and which were deftly exploited by the attacking Japanese.

For more, including a survivor's account, see the relevant BBC WW2 People's War Fact File

Above images from Wikimedia commons

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