ThePrince of Wales was completed in 1941. Later that year she joined the King George V, Rodney, the Dorsetshire and the Norfork in the attack on the Bismarck and Prince Eugen. She scored two hits on the Bismarck but after being damaged was forced to withdraw.
Admiral Tom Phillips was given command of the Eastern Fleet and sent to defend Allied forces in Singapore. Phillips, on board the Prince of Wales decided to launch an offensive on reported Japanese landings at Kuantan.
At 11.30 am on 10th December 1941, the Prince of Wales and Repulse were attacked by 27 bombers of the Japanese Air Force. Twenty minutes later the first torpedo bombers arrived. Without air cover the two ships had little chance of surviving. The Repulse was sunk at 12.33 am and the Prince of Wales went down at 1.20 am. A total of 840 British sailors were killed in the disaster.
Here's the eyewitness story of how the Prince of Wales and the Repulse ended their careers in the South China Sea, fifty miles from the Malaya coast and a hundred and fifty miles north of Singapore.
I was aboard the Repulse and with hundreds of others escaped. Then, swimming in thick oil, I saw the Prince of Wales lie over on her side like a tired war horse and slide beneath the waters. I kept a diary from the time the first Japanese high-level bombing started at 11:15 until 12:31, when Captain William Tennant, skipper of the Repulse and senior British captain afloat, shouted through the ship's communication system, "All hands on deck, prepare to abandon ship. May God be with you!"
I jumped twenty feet to the water from the up end of the side of the Repulse and smashed my stop watch at thirty-five and a half minutes after twelve. The sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales was carried out by a combination of high-level bombing and torpedo attacks with consummate skill and the greatest daring. I was standing on the flag deck slightly forward amidships when nine Jap bombers approached at ten thousand feet strung in a line, clearly visible in the brilliant sunlit sky. They flew directly over our ship, and our antiaircraft guns were screaming constantly.
Just when the planes were passing over, one bomb hit the water beside where I was standing, so close to the ship that we were drenched from the water-spout. Simultaneously another struck the Repulse on the catapult deck, penetrating the ship and exploding below in a marine's mess and hangar. Our planes were subsequently unable to take off. At 11:27 fire is raging below, and most strenuous efforts are under way to control it. All gun crews are replenishing their ammunition and are very cool and cracking jokes.
There are a couple of jagged holes in the funnel near where I am standing. Its obvious the Japs flew over the length of the ship, each dropping three bombs so that twenty-seven bombs fell around us at first in their attack. Brilliant red flashes are spouting from our guns' wells. The Prince of Wales is half a mile away. Destroyers are at various distances, throwing everything they have into the air. A splash about two miles off our port beam may be antiaircraft, but we are uncertain. At 11:40 the Prince of Wales seems to be hit. She's reduced her speed. Now they're coming to attack us. The communication system shouts, "Stand by for barrage." All our guns are going. We are twisting and snaking violently to avoid torpedoes. The Japs are coming in low, one by one in single waves. They're easy to spot. Amid the roar from the guns aboard the Repulse and the pom-poms of antiaircraft fire, we are signaled, "We've a man overboard."
Two Jap aircraft are approaching us. I see more of them coming with the naked eye. I again count nine. They're torpedo bombers and are circling us about a mile and half or two miles away. Eleven forty-five - now there seem to me more bombers but they are circling like vultures at about one-thousand-feet altitude. The guns are deafening. The smell of cordite is almost suffocating and explosions are ear-shattering and the flashes blinding.