To: Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet. From: Captain W. Tennant (late of H M.S. REPULSE).Date: 11th December, 1941.
1. In the sinking of H.M.S. REPULSE I deeply regret to report the loss of 27 officers and 486 men. The survivors number 42 officers and 754 men.
2. I should like to record here the magnificent spirit of my officers and ship's company throughout their ordeal. Cases occurred of men having to be ordered to leave their guns to save themselves as the ship was actually turning over.
3. Should Their Lordships think fit I am ready for a further seagoing command.
4. As I am regrettably the senior surviving officer I am preparing a report of the operation and the loss of the ships PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE. I would only wish to state here that I was in entire agreement with every action taken by the Commander-in-chief, Eastern Fleet, with the information that was then, as far as I knew, available to him. REPULSE was attacked constantly between 1110 and 1233 on the 10th (December by H.L B. and T/B attacks. Altogether she received one bomb hit, several near misses and four or five torpedoes. I was successful in the early attacks in combing the tracks of at least 15 torpedoes but in a later attack when committed to comb one attack another lot came close in on my beam and hit.
5. Shortly after this the ship was torpedoed aft and the rudder jammed; this was followed by attacks coming from all directions, when she suffered two or three further hits. I then knew that she could not survive, and ordered all up from below, and to cast loose Carley floats.
6. The ship remained afloat about six minutes after this and it is fortunate that the number above mentioned were rescued.
7. Lastly I think you should know that the attacks were pressed home by the Japanese with great determination and efficiency—the H.L B. attacks in close formation at 10,000 feet were remarkably accurate. Large numbers of aircraft, possibly over 50, must have been employed. The torpedoes ran very straight and shallow and showed a distinct track.
8. I understand that Captain L. H. Bell of H M.S. PRINCE OF WALES has given you a preliminary report of the loss of that ship
9. The Destroyers ELECTRA, EXPRESS and VAMPIRE were handled most skilfully and I cannot say enough for the rescue work and care of survivors that they showed.
Further report by Captain W. G. Tennant, C.B., M.V.O., R.N.
1. At about 1230 Monday, 8th December, I was called to a meeting on board PRINCE OF WALES with the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet, at which were present the Chief of Staff, the Captain of the Fleet, the Captain of the PRINCE OF WALES and some Staff Officers. The Commander-in-Chief described the intended operation which was broadly to make a raid on the Japanese communications to Kota Bharu, Singgora and Pattani.
2. PRINCE OF WALES, REPULSE, and four Destroyers sailed from Naval Base at 1730 and passed the boom at 1830. The Commander-in-Chief decided that in view of possible minefields it was necessary to pass to the eastward of Anamba Islands before turning to the northward.Tuesday, 9th December.
3. Constant low clouds and heavy rain storms continued until about 1645 and with the exception of an unconfirmed (report of sighting of aircraft by VAMPIRE at about 0630 there was no other reason to suppose that the Force had been sighted. However, at about 1645 the sky cleared considerably and the Force was very soon being shadowed by at least three aircraft. One Catalina was seen at about this time. During this period the course of the Force was north so that the enemy had still no knowledge of our intention to turn in towards Kota Bharu. At 1900 the course was altered to north west and speed increased to 26 knots. TENEDOS was ordered to return to base at about this time. At about 2000 I received a signal from the Commander-in-Chief that he had decided to keep the Destroyers in company and to cancel the operation in view of the fact that the whereabouts of the Force was actually known to the enemy; it would therefore be improbable that we should meet any convoy in the morning, and the enemy would have at least twelve hours to concentrate his airforce to attack us. At about 2030 the course was altered to south eastwards, I believe with the intention of shaking off the shadowers, and later to 150° speed being reduced to 20 knots to conserve the destroyers' oil. Later at approximately midnight course was altered to 245° and speed increased to 24 knots; this after signals received reporting an enemy landing at Kuantan. It was understood to be the Commander-in-Chief's intention to be off the coast at daylight in this vicinity. The remainder of the night passed without incident.Wednesday, 10th December.
4. At about 0630 to 0700 an enemy reconnaissance aircraft appeared. The Force continued steering to the coast and PRINCE OF WALES flew off one aircraft and carried out a reconnaissance of it. Later EXPRESS was also sent in to investigate ashore. The Force passed down inside the seven fathom shoal which lies immediately to the eastward of Kuantan at approximately ten miles from the coast. When EXPRESS rejoined at about 0845 on reaching the northern end of the seven fathom patch, course was altered to the eastward at about 0935. I suggested to the Commander-in-Chief that REPULSE'S aircraft should carry out A/S patrol for two hours and then fly direct to Singapore then only about 140 miles distant. When approaching Kuantan at dawn a small tug with four barges was sighted at 0514. It was thought that they might conceivably be motor landing craft and I signalled to the Commander-in-Chief that we might profitably examine them on our return, with which he agreed. At about 1015 the Commander-in-Chief signalled first degree of H.A. readiness (readiness of High Angle antiaircraft guns). REPULSE RDF. shortly after picked up enemy aircraft bearing 220 degrees approximately. The aircraft were first sighted at about 1100; the Commander-in-Chief had the Force manoeuvred by blue pennant and the Capital ships were now in quarter line formation.
5. I am now about to describe the various phases of the air attacks which finally caused the destruction of REPULSE. They are divided into five separate attacks with varying periods between them, the interval between numbers four and five being very brief.
6. The first attack developed shortly after 1100 when nine aircraft in close single line abreast formation were seen approaching REPULSE from about Green 50 (50° on the starboard bow) and at a height of about 10,000 feet Fire was at once opened on them with the Long Range H.A. by PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE. It was very soon obvious that the attack was about to be entirely concentrated on REPULSE. The formation was very well kept and bombs were dropped with great accuracy, one near miss on the starboard side abreast B turret and one hit on the port hangar burst on the armour below the Marines' messdeck and caused damage. The remainder of the salvo (it was thought seven bombs were dropped altogether), fell very close to the port side and this concluded this attack. There was now a short lull of about twenty minutes during which the damage control parties earned out their duties in a most efficient manner and fires which had been started by this bomb had all been got under control before the next attack; and the bomb having burst on the armour no damage was suffered below in the engine or boiler rooms. It is thought that the bombs dropped were about 250 pounds.
7. The second attack was shared by PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE and was made by torpedo bomber aircraft. They appeared to be the same type of machine, believed to be Mitsubishi 86 or 88. I am not prepared to say how many machines took part in this attack but on its conclusion I had the impression that we had succeeded in combing the tracks of a large number of torpedoes, possibly as many as twelve. We were steaming at 25 knots at the time I maintained a steady course until the aircraft appeared to be committed to the attack when the wheel was put over and the attacks providentially combed I would like to record here the valuable work done by all Bridge personnel at this time in calmly pointing out approaching torpedo bombing aircraft which largely contributed to our good fortune in dodging all these torpedoes. PRINCE OF WALES was hit on the port side right aft during this attack and a large column of water appeared to be thrown up, larger than subsequent columns of water which were thrown up when REPULSE was hit later on.
8. The third attack was a high level bombing attack again concentrated on REPULSE. Possibly the enemy were aware, and particularly so if they were using 250 pound bombs, that these bombs would have had little chance of penetrating PRINCE OF WALES'S horizontal armour. I was manoeuvring the ship at high speed at the time and we were actually under helm when the bombs fell. No hits were received. There was one near miss on the starboard side and the remainder fell just clear on the port side. The attack was carried out in the same determined manner as was the first. PRINCE OF WALES had "not under control" balls hoisted at this time and I exchanged some signals with the Commander-in-Chief. I asked PRINCE OF WALES about her damage and she appeared to have a list to port but I got no reply though she still made some signals by Aldis light after this. Although uncertain at this time of the signals PRINCE OF WALES had made, I made an emergency report "Enemy aircraft bombing" followed immediately by an amplifying report which was just about to be transmitted at the time the ship sank. I also made a visual signal to the Commander-in-Chief telling him that we had up to date fortunately avoided all torpedoes fired at REPULSE and that all damage received from the bomb had been got under control. I also asked the Commander-in-Chief whether his wireless was still in action in case he wished me to make any reports. I closed PRINCE OF WALES at this time and reduced to 20 knots, the better to ascertain her damage, and to see if I could be of any assistance. Very shortly after this the fourth attack started to develop.
9. In the fourth attack about eight aircraft were seen low on the horizon on the starboard bow. Being low down it signified another torpedo bombing attack was impending. When about three miles away they split into two formations and I estimated that those on the right hand would launch their torpedoes first and I started to swing the ship to starboard. The torpedoes were dropped at a distance of 2500 yards and it seemed obvious that we should be once more successful in combing their tracks. The left hand formation appeared to be making straight for PRINCE OF WALES who was at this time abaft my port beam When these aircraft were a little before the port beam at a distance of approximately 2000 yards they turned straight at me and fired their torpedoes. It now became obvious that, if these torpedoes were aimed straight, REPULSE would be most certainly hit as any other alteration of course would have caused me to be hit by the tracks of those torpedoes I was in the process of combing. One torpedo fired from my port side was obviously going to hit the ship and it was possible to watch its track for about a minute and a half "before this actually took place. The ship was hit amidships port side. The ship stood this torpedo well and continued to manoeuvre and steamed at about 25 knots. There was now only a very short respite before the final and last attack.
10. I think it is interesting to report here the remarkable height from which the torpedoes were dropped, estimated to be between three and four hundred feet and all torpedoes appeared to run perfectly straight from the point of dropping.
11. The second Walrus aircraft which had been damaged by the first bombing attack was successfully got over the side to avoid a petrol fire.
12. From what I saw myself and from evidence I received at this period it became evident that the whole ship's company were carrying out their duties as if they were at ordinary peace exercises. The damage control parties working under Commander R. J. R. Dendy had replaced damaged lighting, had put out fires, and successfully coped with every situation as it arose.
13. The torpedo bombers had carried out some machine-gunning on the port deck and the gunnery control positions aloft but this was not experienced on the Bridge.
14. The Navigating Officer, Lieutenant Commander Gill, who controlled the ship under my , orders earned out his duties in a most calm and exemplary manner, on one or two occasions when the whole H.A. armament was firing he had considerable difficulty in passing helm orders to the Quartermaster in the Upper Conning Tower but I do not think that this in any way caused the ship to be hit. The delay in giving helm orders in one or two cases was perhaps half a minute.
15. In the attacks up to date and in the last one which I am about to describe, it is estimated that four or five enemy aircraft were shot down but the Air Defence Officer informs me that he did not until the very end engage those torpedo bombers which had dropped their torpedoes but kept his fire for further aircraft approaching. I had previously told the Gunnery Officer that there was not to be any wasteful expenditure of H.A. ammunition.
16. The enemy attacks were without doubt magnificently carried out and (pressed well home. The high level bombers kept tight formation and appeared not to jink. I only observed one torpedo bomber who apparently had cold feet and fired his torpedoes at a distance of at least two miles from the ship. The torpedoes ran very straight and the tracks were exceptionally easy to see in the calm water and the torpedoes appeared to be running shallow although one of the last hits was observed to be under the starboard bilge keel between 87 and 102 stations, when the ship finally rolled over. I think the ship had a list to port at the time of this hit.
17. I had intended to recover the Walrus aircraft at 1215. Under the circumstances this became impossible. She subsequently made a forced landing on the sea and was towed into harbour by STRONGHOLD.
Fifth and Last Attack.
18. The respite from the previous attack was brief Torpedo bomber aircraft seemed to appear from several directions and the second torpedo hit the ship in the vicinity of the Gunroom and apparently jammed the rudder, and although the ship was still steaming at well over twenty knots she was not under control. Shortly after this at least three torpedoes hit the ship, two being on the port side and one on the starboard side. I knew now that she could not survive and at once gave the order for everyone to come on deck and to cast loose Carley floats. It has been learnt that the broadcasting apparatus was still working throughout the ship with the exception of the compartments down below aft but word was quickly passed down from Y turret and the after control. The decision for a Commanding Officer to make to cease all work in the ship below is an exceedingly difficult one, but I felt very sure that she would not survive four torpedoes and this was borne out for she only remained afloat about six or seven minutes after I gave the order for everyone to come on deck. I attribute the fact that so many men were fortunately able to be saved to these six or seven minutes, combined with the fact that the broadcast apparatus was still in action.
19. When these final two or three torpedoes detonated the ship rapidly commenced to take up a heavy list to port. Men were-now pouring up on deck. They had all been warned, 24 hours before, to carry or wear their lifesaving apparatus. When the ship had a 30 degrees list to port I looked over the starboard side of the Bridge and saw the Commander and two or three hundred men collecting on the starboard side I never saw the slightest sign of panic or ill discipline. I told them from the Bridge how well they had fought the ship and wished them good luck. The ship hung for at least a minute and a half to two minutes with a list of about 60 degrees or 70 degrees to port and then rolled over at 1233.
20. With the exception of those officers I have mentioned who were immediately under my notice I find it very difficult specially to recommend any particular officer or man for decoration because every officer and man in the ship earned out his duties to the utmost, and it is possible that if comparison could be made, many of those who were lost are of all the most deserving.
21. Destroyers VAMPIRE and ELECTRA immediately closed and picked up survivors. They did their work in a most efficient manner and I cannot say enough of their work of rescue and care of the ship's company on the way back to harbour. ELECTRA subsequently went off to assist in searching the water round PRINCE OF WALES for survivors while we did the same on the Bridge of VAMPIRE on whose Bridge I was, and I am very certain that no one surviving was left.
22. From what I saw myself and reports I have received the work of the medical officers was tireless and beyond all praise.
(Signed) William Tennant.