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Attack on Force Z - After the action

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After the action

Destroyers Electra and Vampire moved in to rescue survivors of Repulse, while Express rescued survivors of the Prince Of Wales. 840 sailors were lost, 513 in Repulse and 327 in Prince Of Wales. After they were rescued, some survivors of the Repulse manned Action Stations in Electra, to free Electra sailors to rescue more survivors. In particular, Repulse gunners manned 'X' and 'Y' 4.7-inch (120 mm) mounts, and Repulse's dentist assisted Electra's medical teams with the wounded. In total, nearly 1,000 survivors of Repulse were rescued, of which Electra saved 571. Vampire picked up 9 officers, 213 ratings, and 1 civilian war correspondent from Repulse, and 2 sailors from Prince Of Wales.

Admiral Phillips and Captain John Leach, commanding Prince Of Wales, were among the lost. Captain William G. Tennant of Repulse was rescued by Vampire. The senior survivor of Prince Of Wales was Lt Cdr A. G. Skipwith, the ship's First Lieutenant, who was rescued by Express.

London Gazette report by Flt Lt Vigors:
“     It was obvious that the three destroyers were going to take hours to pick up those hundreds of men clinging to bits of wreckage and swimming around in the filthy, oily water. Above all this, the threat of another bombing and machine-gun attack was imminent. Every one of those men must have realised that. Yet as I flew around, every man waved and put up his thumb as I flew over him. After an hour, lack of petrol forced me to leave, but during that hour I had seen many men in dire danger waving, cheering and joking, as if they were holiday-makers at Brighton waving at a low-flying aircraft. It shook me, for here was something above human nature. - Flight Lieutenant Tim Vigors, DFC, RAAF     ”

The next day, Lt Haruki Iki flew to the site of the battle again. He dropped two wreaths of flowers into the sea. One was for the fellow members of his 'Kanoya' Air Corps who perished at the hands of British gunfire and the other for the British sailors who died in the battle. This was because their display of bravery in defence of the ships had gained them the utmost admiration from all pilots in his squadron.

On the way back to Singapore with the survivors, Express passed Stronghold and the 4 American destroyers heading north. Express signalled the action was over, but the ships proceeded to search the area for more survivors. None were found. While returning to Singapore from this search, Edsall boarded the fishing trawler sighted by Force Z that morning. The trawler was identified as Shofu Fu Maru, and was taken to Singapore where the crew was interned.

Effects of the sinking

The next morning after the battle, Prime Minister Churchill received a phone call at his bedside from Sir Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord.
“     Pound: Prime Minister, I have to report to you that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse have both been sunk by the Japanese - we think by aircraft. Tom Phillips is drowned.
Churchill: Are you sure it's true?
Pound: There is no doubt at all.
Churchill hangs up

In all the war, I never received a more direct shock... As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.
Singapore had essentially been reduced to a land base after both capital ships were lost. Combined with the earlier attack on Pearl Harbor, this left the Allies with only three operational capital ships in the Pacific Theatre.

The two ships were the first capital ships actively defending themselves to be sunk solely by airpower while steaming on the open sea. This incident demonstrated the vulnerability of even the most modern surface ships to the potency of air attack and drove home the necessity of air cover to protect against such an incident. The Genzan Air Corps would attempt a torpedo attack on USS Lexington in early 1942, but they lost seventeen aircraft to the carrier's combat air patrol and anti-aircraft guns.

The ships today

The wrecks of the two ships were found after the war, Repulse in 183 feet (56 m) of water, and Prince of Wales in 223 feet (68 m). Both are in a nearly upside-down position. Buoys were attached to the propeller shafts, and flags of the Royal Navy are attached to the lines and are regularly changed by divers. The Royal Navy considers the wrecks to be Crown property. The Prince of Wales' bell was removed from the wreck in 2002 by an authorised team of Royal Navy and British civilian divers in response to fears it would be stolen by unauthorised divers. The bell is now on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.
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Singapore (at east)
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Last Updated ( Sunday, 26 April 2009 16:00 )  

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