Catastrophe: the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse

(c) Britannia Royal Naval College; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound (1877–1943).

First Sea Lord or C-in-C Royal Navy–June 1939 to September 1943.

Pound suffered from a very painful hip problem which made it difficult for him to sleep at night. He often fell asleep in meetings. Younger officers would whisper to one another, “Father’s praying.” He also suffered from a brain tumor which went undiagnosed until he had a stroke in Washington DC during meetings between Churchill and Roosevelt. He immediately resigned and died several months later.

Painting by Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley.
From the collection of the Britannia Royal Naval College.

“Prime Minister, I have to report to you that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse have both been sunk by the Japanese….” Admiral Dudley Pound. 

 “In all the war I never received a more direct shock.”  Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Wrote Churchill in his memoirs: “… the telephone at my bedside rang. It was the First Sea Lord [the C-in-C of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound]. His voice sounded odd… at first I could not hear quite clearly. ‘Prime Minister, I have to report to you that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse have both been sunk by the Japanese—we think by aircraft. [Vice Admiral] Tom Phillips is drowned.’

‘Are you sure it’s true?’

‘There is no doubt at all.’

So I put the telephone down. I was thankful to be alone.

In all the war I never received a more direct shock.  As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbour, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

 

Battleship HMS Prince of Wales

King George V-class battleship launched 3 May 1939; completed 31 March 1941; Commissioned 19 January 1941; sunk in action 10 December 1941

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HMS Prince of Wales 

Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

HMS Prince of Wales off Argentia, Newfoundland, after bringing Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Photographed from USS Augusta (CA-31).

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph from the Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN (Ret), 1969).

 

NH 57183

 

Battlescruiser HMS Repulse (1916-1941)Leading other Royal Navy capital ships in line ahead during maneuvers, circa the later 1920s. The next ship astern is HMS Renown. The extensive external side armor of Repulse and the larger bulge of Renown allow these ships to be readily differentiated.

Photograph by Underwood & Underwood. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

 

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/