- Simon Biggs
All hands on deck. Prepare to abandon ship.” ....“God be with you."
Sinking of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales
Royal Marines on HMS Repulse (http://www.nicholasbest.co.uk/tag/royal-marines/)
Force Z comprised the battleships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. The only two capital ships in the region had left the port of Singapore to steam up the coast of the Malaysian peninsula to confront Japanese forces invading from Thailand. The Naval force lacked an Aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable had been due to join them but had been damaged. Despite the fact that the Royal Navy’s own Fleet Air Arm had been pioneers in the use of airborne weapons against war ships the threat from the Japanese was underestimated.
Photograph taken from a Japanese aircraft during the initial high-level bombing attack. Repulse, near the bottom of the view, has just been hit by one bomb and near-missed by several more. Prince of Wales is near the top of the image, generating a considerable amount of smoke. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.
Force Z went to sea without air cover and when the two ships were discovered by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes they came under a relentless attack. “I thought they were heroes,” an able seaman later commented, “because they fought non-stop and there were shell cartridges lying all over. They were kicking these over the side into the sea… they never stopped firing right up to the end.”
A heavily retouched Japanese photograph of HMS PRINCE OF WALES (upper) and REPULSE (lower) after being hit by Japanese torpedoes on 10 December 1941, off Malaya. A British destroyer can also be seen in the foreground
When the end came, aboard HMS Prince of Wales, turret captain Sgt Terry Brooks, the youngest sergeant in the Corps, ordered his men to remove their boots, inflate their rubber life jackets and jump into the sea.
After going below to the ship’s magazine to bring out three more of his men, Sgt Brooks too plunged overboard. The escorting destroyers picked up survivors and returned them to Singapore. Cecil Brown was a journalist on board HMS Repulse:
The torpedo strikes the ship about twenty yards astern of my position. It feels as though the ship has crashed into dock. I am thrown four feet across the deck but I keep my feet. Almost immediately, it seems, the ship lists. The command roars out of the loudspeaker: “Blow up your lifebelts!” I take down mine from the shelf. It is a blue-serge affair with a rubber bladder inside. I tie one of the cords around my waist and start to bring another cord up around the neck.
Just as I start to tie it the command comes: “All possible men to starboard.” But a Japanese plane invalidates that command. Instantly there’s another crash to starboard. Incredibly quickly, the Repulse is listing to port, and I haven’t started to blow up my lifebelt. I finish tying the cord around my neck. My camera I hang outside the airless lifebelt. Gallagher already has his belt on and is puffing into the rubber tube to inflate it. The effort makes his strong, fair face redder than usual. . . .
Captain Tennant’s voice is coming over the ship’s loudspeaker, a cool voice: “All hands on deck. Prepare to abandon ship.” There is a pause for just an instant, then: “God be with you.”
There is no alarm, no confusion, no panic. We on the flag deck move toward a companionway leading to the quarterdeck. Abrahams, the Admiralty photographer, Gallagher and I are together. The coolness of everyone is incredible. There is no pushing, but no pausing either.
One youngster seems in a great hurry. He tries to edge his way into the line at the top of the companionway to get down faster to the quarterdeck. A young sub-lieutenant taps him on the shoulder and says quietly, “Now, now, we are all going the same way, too. ”The youngster immediately gets hold of himself. . . .
The crew of the sinking Prince of Wales abandoning ship to the destroyer Express. Moments later the list on Prince of Wales suddenly increased and Express had to withdraw. Observe the barrels of the 5.25 in guns, which were unable to depress low enough to engage attackers due to the list.
All hands on deck. Prepare to abandon ship.” There is a pause for just an instant, then: “God be with you.
Captain Tennant, HMS Repulse
A few days after the sinkings, the 210 Royal Marines who were rescued, were formed into a Naval Battalion under Captain R.G.S. (Bob) Lang RM. They were deployed to guard the Naval Base, Royal Navy Wireless Transmission Station at Kranji and the Royal Navy Armaments Depot.
Five other rescued officers were included, Captain Claude Derek Aylwin, Lts Charles Verdon, Jim Davis, Tom Sherdan and Geoffrey Hulton.
On December 24th 1941, forty of the force were sent up-country into Malaya to join Major Angus Rose 2A and SH of Roseforce. They were to be involved in special operations behind the Japanese lines but the speed of the Japanese advance saw them employed in demolition work.
The forty marines fought a gallant delaying action in the North of Malaya before action at Slim River on January 7th 1942 saw them out maneuvered by the Japanese, leaving the allied troops to find their own way back in the long retreat to Singapore Island where they acted as a rearguard during the crossing of the Causeway.
In the mean time the remainder of the marines had been moved to Tyersall Park Camp to be amalgamated into a battalion known as the Plymouth Argylls.
On the night of February 8th 1942 the Japanese successfully crossed the Straits of Johore and gained a foothold on Singapore’s north western shore, held by the Australians who were forced back.
On February 9th the Plymouth Argylls were ordered to advance northwards up the Bukit Timah Road then westward along the Choa Chu Kang Road towards Tengah airfield where they came under air attack and suffered casualties.
On February 11th the Plymouth Argylls engaged the Japanese between Tengah and the Dairy Farm that lay east of the Upper Bukit Timah Road and were cut off by enemy tanks who demolished two Plymouth Argyll roadblocks. The main body of the marines escaped carrying an officer, through the dairy farm using a pipeline to the golf course back to Tyersall Park. Soon after the camp and the neighbouring Indian Military Hospital were destroyed in an air attack. The marines stayed in their trenches until the surrender on February 15th 1942. Some marines escaped captivity on board HMS Tapah but were later captured, HMS Grasshopper which was sunk and Mata Hari which was captured, others escaped using small craft. Most of those who survived entered captivity in Sumatra at Palembang and Padang. 22 Plymouth Marines made it to Ceylon with 52 Argylls.
31 Royal Marines were killed-in-action, died of wounds at Singapore or were lost at sea assisting in the evacuation of civilians to Sumatra. On February 17th those Argylls and Marines at Tyersall Park, with Charles Stuart playing the pipes marched out of the camp to Changi.
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