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The Destruction of Force Z

On December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, several ships left to block the Japanese advance on Malaya. These ships consisted of a battlecruiser, battleship, with four destroyer escorts.However, since the British did not consider aircraft attack a threat to the large battleships, aircraft carriers, or even an aircraft escort, was not provided. As a result, the six ships left at 5: 35 p.m., en route on the intercept.

At around 11: 00 a.m on December 10, the ships, named Force Z, off the coast of Malaya when the air attack alarm sounded. Force Z had been sighted by the Japanese, which had launched bombers. These aircraft passed overhead at 21, 000 feet, dropping the payloads with a concentration on the Repulse, which had thinner armor than the larger battleship. Shortly later, the bombs began hitting the water, and despite evasive maneuvers, the battlecruiser was surrounded by near misses. Also, a large explosion aboard the ship was heard as a 250 kg bomb slams through the thin deck plating of the Repulse, detonating deep inside the ship, but damage repairs were quickly made and the ship was returned to normal.

Not long afterwards, the Japanese then attacked with the low-level torpedo bombers. Prince of Wales increased speed, using her anti-aircraft guns to fire at the Japanese attackers. Nevertheless, torpedo tracks were spotted heading towards the battleship, and the ship was hit, destroying the generators for the 5.25 inch guns, as well as wiping out the steering and electrical generators. This, in effect, disabled the Prince of Wales, since the ship could no longer steer effectively, and at 15 knots with a precarious 11 degree list, the battleship was unlikely to flee the battle fast enough to escape immediately.

Seeing this, the Japanese aircraft focused the attack next on the battlecruiser Repulse. The torpedo planes flew low and dropped the torpedoes in tight formations, and the battlecruiser evaded many of the torpedoes, but eventually was hit by a torpedo on the port side, towards the center of the ship, then, after Repulseís gunners scored the only success of the day, another torpedo struck on the starboard side, barely aft of the first strike. Next, the battlecruiser moved near Prince of Wales to pick up survivors. The next wave of bombers flew over the battleship, dropping three torpedoes close enough to the Repulse that evasion of all three would be impossible. The ship was hit again, and sank within three minutes, taking 512 of the crew with her to the bottom.

With Repulse sunk, the torpedo bombers attacked Prince of Wales again, but left as another wave of high level bombers passed overhead. Several bomb hits between the ships funnels heavily damaged the ship and survivors were ordered to transfer to the HMS Express before the battleship sank. Finally, at 1: 20 p.m., the battleship Prince of Wales, having taken numerous bomb and torpedo hits, finally capsized and sank, with the loss of 327 men.

The Repulse and Prince of Wales had been sunk in what was later to be called one of Britainís greatest follies of World War Two. However, those that fought earned the respect of the attacking Japanese pilots. Force Zís destruction also offered undeniable proof that the aircraft could play a critical role in the outcome of a battle, further aiding the advance of naval aviation.

Force Z

Battleships: HMS Prince of Wales(Sunk)

Battlecruisers: HMS Repulse(Sunk)

Destroyers: HMS Express, HMS Tenedous, and HMS Electra

Man 'o' Wars: HMAS Vampire

Japanese Forces

84 torpedo planes and high level bombers (3 shot down)

See a list of sources used in the making of this report