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HMS Prince of Wales (pennant number 53) was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy, built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenheadmarker, England. The Prince of Wales had a brief but active career, helping to stop the markerBismarck and carrying Churchill to the Newfoundland Conference; however, her sinking by Japanese land-based bombers in the Far East in 1941 is one of the events that led to the end of the battleship being considered the predominant class in naval warfare.

Naming

The Admiralty ordered construction of two new King George V-class battleships on 29 July 1936 (the other became HMS King George V). They requested that the ship be named HMS King Edward VIII in honour of the new monarch. However Edward, who was perhaps sensing the possible future problems of his reign due to his relationship with Wallis Simpson, preferred Prince of Wales.. The new Prince of Wales became the seventh ship to bear the name.

Construction

At the time war was declared the Prince of Wales was fitting out in Birkenhead. The ship was damaged in August 1940 during the Merseyside Blitz. She suffered one near-miss that exploded between her port side and the wall of the basin in which she lay, severely buckling and springing her outer plates in this area. The Admiralty determined that she would be needed in case the Bismarckmarker or Tirpitzmarker were deployed, so her construction was advanced by postponing several tests, shortening builder's trials, and deferring post-shakedown availability. She was commissioned on 19 January 1941 under the command of Captain John Leach, but not physically "completed" until 31 March.

Service in the Atlantic

Shortly after her commissioning, Prince of Wales joined HMS Hood in intercepting and attacking the German battleship Bismarckmarker and the accompanying heavy cruiser Prinz Eugenmarker. The Prince of Wales sailed with civilian technicians still aboard. On 24 May, she and the Hood fought the two German warships at the Battle of the Denmark Strait. Following the sinking of Hood, Prince of Wales, with an inexperienced crew, and having received seven large-calibre hits, with the output of her weaponry reduced due to malfunctions or damage, disengaged under cover of a smokescreen. During the brief battle, she struck Bismarck three times; one hit on a forward fuel tank rendered it useless. This forced the Bismarck to head for France for repairs. The Prince of Wales joined up with the cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk that had been shadowing the Bismarck since before the Denmark Strait. Gunfire was exchanged with the Bismarck briefly at 0131 hours on 25 May. Twelve hours later, Prince Of Wales broke off pursuit due to her fuel running low. She then returned to the shipyard for six weeks of repair.

HMS Prince of Wales in Argentia, Newfoundland for the Atlantic Charter


In August, the Prince of Wales carried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Ship Harbour next to the Naval Station Argentiamarker, Newfoundland, where he secretly met with the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt for several days in a secure anchorage, beginning on 10 August 1941. This meeting resulted in the Atlantic Charter on 12 August 1941. After this trip, she was assigned to the Mediterraneanmarker for convoy escort duty for Operation Halberd where she was credited with shooting down several Italian aircraft.

Service in the Far East

On 25 October 1941, Prince of Wales was dispatched to Singaporemarker as part of Force Z, along with the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and the destroyers HMS Electra and Express. She thus became the flagship of the Eastern Fleet under Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. She reached Singapore in early December. The new aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable had been scheduled to join Force Z, but she ran aground in Jamaicamarker during trials and was under repair.

These ships were sent to Singapore to "overawe" the Japanese and deter them from attacking Malaya and the East Indies. However, the Japanese were not deterred and commenced their invasions on 8 December, the same day that they attacked Pearl Harbormarker on the other side of the International Date Linemarker. Admiral Phillips decided to try to intercept the landing fleets, and Prince of Wales and Repulse set off, along with four destroyers, HMS Electra, Express, Tenedos, and HMAS Vampire, to search for the Japanese. However, they were not successful and the Japanese submarine I-65 spotted them as they returned to Singapore. Japanese aircraft and submarines shadowed the fleet, and on 10 December 1941, without any air cover, both the Prince of Wales and the Repulse were attacked and sunk by 86 Japanese bombers and torpedo bombers from the 22nd Air Flotilla based at Saigonmarker.

Church service on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, during the Atlantic conference.


As a modern battleship, the Prince of Wales was expected to fare better than the World War I veteran Repulse. To some degree this was not so. Even before setting out, the Prince of Wales surface scanning radar was inoperable, depriving Force Z of one of its most potent early-warning devices. Early in the battle, the Prince of Wales was disabled by a lucky torpedo hit where the propeller shaft entered the hull, which caused severe flooding, rendered the rudder useless, and cut the power to her dual purpose guns. Perhaps more serious still was the additional loss of dynamos depriving Prince of Wales of many of her pumps. Further electrical failures left parts of the ship in total darkness and added to the difficulties of Prince of Wales damage repair parties as they attempted to counter the flooding. Altogether, she sustained four torpedo and one bomb hits in this action. Several hundred men were killed when the ship sank, with Vice-Admiral Phillips and Captain Leach being among those lost when they either chose to go down with their ship or abandoned ship too late. However, the stronger hull and superior underwater subdivision of the Prince of Wales enabled her to stay afloat much longer than her aged companion and resulted in a far larger proportion of her crew being saved, in stark contrast to the older Repulse which suffered a heavy loss of life when she rapidly sank.



They were the first capital ships to be sunk solely by airpower on the open sea (albeit by land-based rather than carrier-based aircraft) a harbinger of the diminishing role this class of ships was to play in naval warfare thereafter. It is often pointed out, however, that a contributing factor to the sinking of the Prince of Wales was her inoperable radar and the early critical damage she had sustained from the first torpedo. The British Director of Naval Construction's report on the sinking also claimed that the ship's anti-aircraft guns could have "inflict[ed] heavy casualties before torpedoes were dropped, if not prevent[ed] the successful conclusion of attack" had crews been more adequately trained in their operation.

The wreck lies upside down in of water at approximately
. A British flag attached to a line on a buoy that is tied to a propeller shaft is periodically renewed. The wreck site was designated as a 'Protected Place' in 2001 under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, just prior to the 60th anniversary of her sinking. The ship's bell was manually raised using closed-circuit mixed-gas rebreathers in 2002 by British technical divers Gavin Haywood and George McClure with the blessing of the Ministry of Defence and The Force Z Survivors Association. It was restored, then presented for permanent display by First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Alan West, to the Merseyside Maritime Museummarker in Liverpoolmarker.


Notes

  1. Middlebrook, p. 45.
  2. The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean Convoys, A Naval Staff History, p26
  3. Dull, p. 36.
  4. Hack, p. 67.
  5. Stephen, Martin. Sea Battles in Close-up: World War 2 (Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan, 1988), Volume 1, p.111,


References

Books

Web

Other
  • Military Heritage did a feature on the Prince Of Wales and its sinking (Joseph M. Horodyski, Military Heritage, December 2001, Volume 3, No. 3, pp.69 to 77).
  • Philip Ziegler's King Edward VIII (Alfred and Knopf, 1991) Provides information relating to the naming of the ship.


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