Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales on his way to meet with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Atlantic Conference in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.
“In all the war I never received a more direct shock.”
Prime Minister Churchill on learning HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had been sunk.
Admiral Tom Phillips (right) commanding Force Z. A desk admiral, ignorant of modern naval warfare of the time, Phillips refused to listen to advice from experienced naval combat commanders.
Rear Admiral Arthur Palliser (left) deputy of Admiral Sir Tom Phillips (right), commander of Force Z, on the quayside at Singapore naval base, 2 December 1941. Palliser was a nonentity and a man who was ‘bone from the neck up.’ Phillips was a “desk admiral” who had spent 8 or the previous 11 years on staff appointments.
Admiral Tom Phillips, commanding what had been designated Force Z, was completely ignorant of the danger enemy aircraft posed to ships.
Despite first hand reports of the extreme danger from the air, especially dive bombers and torpedo bombers, Phillips continued to smugly wallow in his preconceptions. Not only was he ignorant, he refused to listen to the younger officers who had been on convoy duty in the English Channel and who had been involved in the Norwegian Campaign. German aircraft had pounded Royal Navy in these battles. In 1940 alone more than 18 destroyers were lost from air attack. As Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, Phillips would have been well aware of this.
In the Highest Traditions of the Royal Navy, a thoroughly research biography of Captain John Leach, author Matthew B. Wills gives us this sketch of the Admiral commanding Force Z:
“Admiral Phillips had no recent sea experience and had never been on a ship that had to defend herself from attack by enemy aircraft.”
This was deeply unfortunate.