(All times are Zone GH (-7.5 hours) unless otherwise indicated).
Intentions of the Commander-in-Chief.
It was the intention of the Commander-in-Chief to attack Japanese transports and warships which had been reported early on 8th December to be landing, troops on the east coast of the Kra Isthmus and at Kota Bharu.2. It was known by noon on that day that our Air Force and aerodromes in the north were being heavily attacked and that large Japanese forces were landing at Kota Bharu in Malaya and between Singgora and Pattani in Thailand. It appeared likely that our Army and Air Force would both be hard pressed and it seemed to the Commander-in-Chief unacceptable to retain a powerful naval force at Singapore in a state of inaction.3. The Commander-in-Chief hoped that, with fighter protection if possible, or failing that, by surprise, he might attack the Japanese forces off Singgora and Kota Bharu at dawn on the 10th.4. The question of fighter protection and reconnaissance was discussed with Royal Air Force Headquarters before the Force sailed. The Air Officer Commanding, Royal Air Force, Far East, stated that he hoped to be able to provide air reconnaissance, but was doubtful about fighter protection off Singgora at daylight on the 10th December. After full investigation, he confirmed later to the Chief of Staff, Eastern Fleet, that such protection could not be provided.*
Composition of Force Z.5. Force Z consisted of H.M Ships: PRINCE OF WALES (Captain J. C. Leach, M.VO., D.S.O., R.N.) flying the flag of Admiral Sir Tom S. V. Phillips, K.C B ,
REPULSE (Captain W. G. Tennant, C B., M.V 0 , R.N),
ELECTRA (Commander C. W. May, R.N.),
EXPRESS (Lieutenant Commander F. J Cartwright, R.N.),
H M.A.S. VAMPIRE (Commander W. T. A Moran, R A.N.),
H.M.S. TENEDOS (Lieutenant R. Dyer, R.N.).
JUPITER and ENCOUNTER were under repair and STRONGHOLD had to be used for meeting a division of U.S. destroyers expected at Singapore pm. 9th December.
DURBAN was available but the Commander-in-Chief decided not to take her.
Movements of the Fleet up to the time of Air Attacks.6. Force Z sailed at 1735 on 8th December and proceeded at 17.5 knots to pass to eastward of Anamba Islands thence to the northward. The Commander-in-Chief informed the Force that the enemy Battle cruiser KONGO together with Cruisers and Destroyers were supporting the transports he intended to attack off Singgora and Pattani and that the landing was probably supported by submarines and mining.7. In signal 2253GH/8 Chief of Staff informed Commander-in-Chief that fighter protection on 10th would not be possible.
8. Weather conditions during most of Tuesday, 9th December were favourable for evasion, with frequent rainstorms and low cloud. There was an unconfirmed report of sighting an enemy aircraft at 0620 on 9th December by VAMPIRE, the machine being seen for one minute by one lookout only. This was disregarded. Between 1700 and 1830 the weather cleared and three Japanese naval reconnaissance aircraft in swift succession were sighted from the PRINCE OF WALES.
9. TENEDOS was ordered to return to Singapore at 1834 on the 9th December on account of her low endurance.
10. Before these sightings, the Commander-in-Chief had intended to detach the remaining destroyers at 2200 on 9th December and make a high speed descent on Singgora with the heavy ships only. He considered the destroyers would be very vulnerable to air attack and their low endurance was an anxiety. The Admiral intended to rely on the speed and surprise of the heavy ships' attack to avoid damage to these ships sufficient to slow them down, believing that Japanese aircraft encountered would not be carrying anti-ship bombs or torpedoes and that the Force on retirement would only have to deal with hastily organized long range bombers from bases in Indo-China
11. On knowing that the Force had been sighted the Commander-in-Chief decided that the risk of attacking Singgora was no longer justified, as the ships would be expected, their targets might well have been withdrawn and a very large scale of air attack must be faced.
12. As soon as the reconnaissance aircraft had been shaken off after dusk, Force Z therefore turned to southward with the intention of returning to Singapore.
13. The situation was however altered by the receipt of Chief of Staff, Eastern Fleet's message timed I505Z/9 at about midnight, which stated " Enemy reported landing at Kuantan." It seemed improbable that the enemy would expect Force Z, last located steering to the northward in the latitude of Singgora to be as Ear south as Kuantan by daylight. Kuantan was not far off the return track to Singapore, was 400 miles from Japanese aerodromes in Indo-China and was considered a key military position which every effort must be made to defend.At 0052 on the 10th December, therefore, the Force turned for Kuantan and increased speed to 25 knots.
14. Between 0630 and 0730 enemy reconnaissance aircraft were sighted PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE flew off aircraft for reconnaissance and A/S patrol (anti-submarine patrol).
15. Force Z arrived off Kuantan at 0800 on 10th December. No enemy forces were sighted and EXPRESS, who was sent to investigate the harbour, reported "complete peace."
16. One hour before reaching Kuantan, Force Z had passed at extreme range what appeared to be one small ship with a number of barges or junks. On finding Kuantan all quiet, the Commander-in-Chief decided to go back and investigate these barges before returning to Singapore. It was while steaming to the eastward to do this that Force Z was attacked by enemy aircraft.
17. The only signal from the 'Commander-in-Chief addressed to his base at Singapore was his I455GH/9 which he directed TENEDOS to transmit at 0800 on 10th December. This stated that 0630 on the 11th December was the earliest time Force Z was likely to pass through position 3° 25' N. 106° 40' E. on return and asked that all available destroyers should be sent out to meet him
18. A summary of the aircraft attacks on Force Z follows:
(i) Preliminary. Force Z course 095° speed 20 knots, destroyers in S.D.3 (an anti-submarine screen formation) Ships in first degree of A-A readiness
Aircraft detected by R.D.F. (radar), sighted 1100, Blue 135° (ships ordered to turn together to course 135°) executed.
Speed increased to 25 knots during first attack.
(ii) Attack A. (1118)
9 H.L (high level) Bombers at 10,000 feet in tight line abreast formation attacked REPULSE from ahead, dropping one bomb each simultaneously. One hit on port hangar (entry hole 15in. diameter), bursting on armoured deck below Marines' mess deck, one near miss starboard side abreast B turret, remainder close on port side.
No serious damage,
(iii) Attack B. (1144)
9 T/Bs (torpedo bombers)** attacked PRINCE OF WALES on port side. Ship turned towards but was hit by one torpedo abreast P.3 and 4 turrets.
Ship listed 13° to port and speed dropped to 15 knots. Both port shafts out of action, steering gear failed and ship was never again under complete control.
Five 5.25 inch turrets out of action temporarily owing to power failure and/or list.
Two aircraft shot down, falling on disengaged side, one other possibly damaged.
(iv) Attack C. (1156)
8 or 9 T/Bs attacked REPULSE on port side. Ship turned towards and was successful in combing the tracks.
(v) Attack D (1158)
H.L.B. (high level bombing) attack on REPULSE.
No hits, but near.
• REPULSE made emergency report of the attack.
(vi) Attack E. (1222)
T/B attack by 9 aircraft, in two groups. 6 came in slightly first on the starboard side and fired at PRINCE OF WALES who was incapable of taking avoiding action and was hit three times on starboard side:
(a) Near stem.
(b) Abreast B turret.
List was reduced to 3° and speed dropped to 8 knots.
One aircraft was shot down.
REPULSE was committed to turning to starboard when three aircraft attacked her from the port side, scoring one hit amidships. The ship stood this hit well, continuing to manoeuvre at 25 knots.
(vii) Attack F. (1225)
9 T/Bs attacked REPULSE from various directions First hit abreast gunroom (port side) jammed rudder, putting ship out of control. Three further hits, one port side aft (wardroom bathroom), one abreast port engine room and one starboard side of E boiler room.
Ship listed to port, capsizing and sinking at 1235, position 3° 45' N. 104° 24' E
Two aircraft shot down.
ELECTRA and VAMPIRE picked up survivors.
(viii) Attack G. (1246)
9 H.L. Bombers attacked PRINCE OF WALES. One hit near S 3 turret, bursting on Main Deck, and near misses both sides aft. Speed 6 knots. EXPRESS went alongside starboard side at 1305 and got clear as PRINCE OF WALES capsized to port and sank at 1320 in position 3° 36' N. 104° 28'E.
PRINCE OF WALES hit by four (possibly five) torpedoes and one bomb.
REPULSE hit by 5 torpedoes and one bomb.
Aircraft shot down—about 8.19. When information was received at Singapore at 1204 that Force Z was being attacked by aircraft, the fighter squadron which was standing by at Kallang was immediately despatched. Six Buffaloes took off at 1215 and arrived on the scene of action just as the PRINCE OF WALES was sinking and when all enemy aircraft had taken their departure.Destroyers, having made a thorough search for survivors, returned to Singapore, arriving between 2310 and 2400.
20. Japanese aircraft.
(a) The T/Bs were twin engined monoplanes (Naval type 96) and it is probable that H.L.B.s were the same, viz. shore-based aircraft.
(b) Four T/B squadrons each of 9 aircraft were used. Three H.L.B. attacks were made, possibly all by the same squadron.
(c) Torpedoes were dropped at ranges between 1,000 and 2,000 yards and at a height noticeably greater than we do. Torpedoes ran very straight and the tracks were readily visible. There is no indication that the pistols were other than contact.
(d) The get-aways appeared clumsy, doubtless partly due to the heavy aircraft. In many cases they continued across the line of advance quite close to their targets Some opened fire with their machine guns.
(e) No attempt was made to interfere with the rescue of survivors.
Admiralty footnote —* Before sailing, the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet asked the Air Officer Commanding, Royal Au Force, Far East for(a) reconnaissance 100 miles to north of Force daylight 9th December
(b) reconnaissance 100 miles mid point Singgora 10 miles from coast starting first light 10th December
(c) fighter protection off Singgora at daylight 10th December
The Air Officer Commanding subsequently informed the Chief of Staff, Eastern Fleet, who remained ashore, that he could provide (a), hoped to be able to provide (b), but could not provide (c} The Chief of Staff, Eastern Fleet signalled accordingly to the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet, then at sea (see signals attached as Appendix III)
Chief of Staff was Rear-Admiral A F E. Palliser, DSC, who remained ashore in charge of the Commander-in-Chief's office at Singapore.
** If Subsequent investigation has established the fact that PRINCE OF WALES was struck at this time by two torpedoes simultaneously