As we pay tribute to those who have given their lives in service of their country, here we highlight just one example from the many thousands of sacrifices made by sailors of the Royal Navy.
The hasty deployment of battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse and four destroyers (Force Z) to Singapore in 1941 as a ‘deterrent’ to the Japanese continues to be controversial. Both ships sailed bravely from Singapore, just 2 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour signaled the start of the war against Japan. Lacking air cover, both battleships quickly succumbed to bomb and torpedo attacks on 10th December 1941. Like most disasters, there were many links in the chain of mistakes that led to the loss of so many sailors. Muddled strategy, poor planning, a failure to use intelligence, and the first of several painful lessons for the RN that airpower (and the submarine) signaled the end of the battleship.
The story of this defeat almost 80 years ago has been well told elsewhere but here we remember the men who went down fighting. Officially 840 perished, although the Force Z Survivors’ Association has only managed to identify 763 by name. Some of the survivors, along with thousands of others who served in the Pacific theatre fell into Japanese hands after the fall of Singapore and subsequently died as a result of the appalling treatment of prisoners of war.
A survivors’ story told by Stoker Bill Moss of HMS Prince of Wales is on the BBC’s archive of WWII memories here. The sad story of AB William Clarke, presumed lost on HMS Repulse is told here. There is also fascinating forensic analysis here of how HMS Prince of Wales was sunk derived from surveys and dives on the wreck. Sadly in the last decade, the wrecks which are official war graves that lie off the coast of Kuantan, Malaysia have been plundered by looters stealing scrap metal.