HMS Repulse in 1936, fresh from refit.
Photograph courtesy Illustrated London News.
Repulse was steaming astern of Prince of Wales at 3½ cables and both were zig-zagging. We had previously received a signal that 39 planes were attacking Tenedos, and that she was being bombed. She had left the "fleet" on the previous evening at 2100 due to lack of fuel and had orders to rendezvous with the main body the next day. The other destroyers were to leave at midnight. Prince of Wales and Repulse were to carry on at high speed and expected to meet a large convoy escorted by Kongo (battleship with eight 14 in guns), three cruisers (each armed with ten 8 in guns), one cruiser (armed with six 8 in guns), and two destroyers (each carrying seven 5.5 in guns). The orders were to destroy the escort and convoy and then endeavor to escape into the China Sea with utmost speed.
At 5 p.m. on the 9th of December [the previous day-Ed.] we were sighted by a Japanese aircraft and shadowed until dark. The signal was then received that the expedition would have to be abandoned owing to our being discovered, and at approximately midnight, the fleet turned about and made for Singapore at 26 knots. The hands were kept at action stations all night. During the night, the flagship received a signal that a landing was being made to the south of our position and the fleet altered course toward the coast to investigate. During the morning watch at about 0630, some landing craft were sighted to the eastward and steaming easterly, so it was decided to leave them until later and deal with the landing first. By 0900 nothing was seen of the landing, so the fleet again altered to the northward to deal with the landing craft and the hands were sent to breakfast. The fleet now comprised: Prince of Wales and Repulse in line ahead at 3½ cables with destroyers Express, Electra and Vampire in positions ahead and on each beam of Prince of Wales. This was the formation and strength of the force when the signal was received from Tenedos. We were doing 26½ knots at the time and still working up. The signal about aircraft being in the vicinity was soon confirmed by P.o.W. with R.D.F. [Radio Direction Finder, or Radar-Ed.] so the first degree of AA [anti-aircraft-Ed.] readiness was assumed.
The aircraft attacked P.o.W. with torpedoes but the first attack on Repulse appears to have been with bombs. She must have taken drastic avoiding action at the first attack, because when struck by the first bomb, she was about 5 miles from P.o.W., who now bore Green 170 degrees and looked to be stopped. Repulse was still under maximum wheel and by the wake, had apparently altered course 180 degrees. The aircraft, a flight of nine in a very close "V," crossed the ship from a bearing of Green 30 degrees at a measured height of 17,000 feet [In Royal Navy practice, starboard graduations on gunnery instruments were indicated in green, port in red.-Ed.]. All guns were on forward control as, owing to a defect in the after heightfinder, the after system was not trusted. The after heightfinder during tests had been found to have an error of 1.4 divisions low, and the coincidence adjusting head was at its maximum setting. This fault was first found while in Mombasa when it was decided to correct the rangefinder. The coincidence adjusting head was found to be disconnected from the prism. The gear was stripped down and replaced the day the ship proceeded to sea. No shore objects were available so it was decided to do a series of runs on stars after dark. Owing to haze, the rangetaker had a large number of very bad readings and it was decided to ignore that test. On meeting Prince of Wales, a R.I.X. [a ranging exercise-Ed.] was carried out and the heightfinder joined in passing their ranges by phone to the 15 in T.G. [perhaps "turret gunner"(?)-Ed.]. It was definitely established that the after heightfinder was reading low and an endeavor was made to correct it on a star. The nearest that it could be adjusted was -2 divs. On arrival at Trincomalee further tests were carried out, comparing it with the main armament rangefinders. It was found that the heightfinder was reading from -0.9 to 1.1 divs. low on the remainder which had proved themselves to be correct during the 15 in. range correction firing carried out the day previously. It was decided to assume a normal fighting range of 6,000 yards and make a +6 B.H.C. [Ballistic Height Correction-Ed.] correction in the after HACP [High Angle Calculating Position-Ed.].
On "Repel Aircraft" being sounded, I got the latest mean temperature of ready-use lockers and H.A. [High Angle, i.e., Anti-Aircraft Battery-Ed.] magazines from the magazine log and proceeded to the after HACP. The Gunnery Officer on the day previous had told me to keep a watchful eye on the after group in case of emergency. The routine was for the forward HACP to ask for the latest barometer and deck temperature readings from the compass platform, and pass them to the after HACP by phone. The magazine temperatures were given to the C.P. daily in the a.m. and p.m.1 The barometer and thermometer readings were also set on each occasion of changing watches. These readings had been obtained, and the BHC [perhaps Fuze Setting Ballistic-Ed.] had been calculated from a "nomograph" in each Calculating Position (C.P.), compared, and I saw the corrections applied in the after HACP. Receivers had been checked, and Midshipman Austin reported that everything was now correct except that the trainer of the after H.A. director had been wounded. This was hard to believe, as none of our guns had opened fire and no aircraft appeared to be near us. Later, when I saw the hole made in the side of the director by the object which struck the trainer over the right eye, I think it must have been a splinter from the starboard gun of Prince of Wales.
Hearing that the trainer was injured, and as no guns were on the after control, I went to the after H.A. director to take over duty as trainer. Mid. Austin was a thoroughly competent officer in charge (o/i/c) of C.P., and I had no fears as to his ability. In fact I considered the after group the most efficient of the two.
While passing up the ladder from the wardroom flat to the Captain's lobby flat, I heard a very heavy explosion and was struck in the back with a blast of hot steam. This pushed me flat onto the ladder, bruising my forearms and shins, but the thing that impressed me most was to see my cap flying through the air toward the Captain's cabin. I turned and looked back into the flat and received another blast of hot steam mingled with filthy black smoke which thoroughly blackened my face. The time was approximately 1115.2
I carried on up to the director and found Midshipman Colbourne installed as trainer. He felt very confident and I told P.O. Brighty, the Control Officer, to coach him up a bit during the present lull. I spoke to the C.P. through the C.O.'s phone and asked them how they were. The reply was "alright." I told them there was nothing to worry about, and that I was on my way down. When I left the director, it was decided to reshuffle the crews and let phonemen take layer, layer take trainer, and Mid. Colbourne take phones. This was again altered when AB Pearce, trainer from the for'ard 4 in L.A. director, who had carried out the duties of trainer in the H.A. director in a defense watch, arrived and took over trainer. Up to this moment no guns had been on after control.
On the way down from the director I heard Sgt. Wadley, R.M. [Royal Marines-Ed.], marshaling his crew of No.3 triple to assist to get the mounting round onto a port bearing. I joined in, and with a few words and a helping hand we managed to get the gun round. The triple mountings were always extremely difficult to train, and the general procedure when moving through a large arc was for the two trainers at the "normal" and "director" training wheels to be assisted by the remainder of the crew pushing on the breeches or muzzles.
I then proceeded on down toward the MACP. On arrival at the top of the ladder leading down to the wardroom flat, I could see the compartment full of steam and smoke, and even at the top of the ladder it felt rather warm. Putting on my anti-flash gear and pulling the bottom of the face hole over my nose and mouth, I went down the ladder. The lights were still on, but the smoke and steam made it very difficult to see. There was a good deal of crying and groaning in this flat. The first man I saw was leaning against the bulkhead of the Warrant Officers' mess and appeared to be in terrible pain. I carried on the manhole hatch leading down to the W.O.'s [Warrant Officers-Ed.] cabin flat where the after MACP was situated, and saw at the bottom of the ladder a young Telegraphist. I told him to shout to the C.P., which was just in front of him, and ask if they were alright. I heard Mid. Austin reply and I then asked him how he felt and if there were any guns on the after control. He replied that it was a bit warm, and that they had no guns on his group. I said, "Alright, hold on a bit. I intend to get a few of these fellows up top." As there was a lull, I thought it a good opportunity to get them away from the steam which was still belching up from the hatch leading to the Engineer's office.
The first man I got hold of was the one leaning against the W.O.'s mess. He was making most of the noise but was later found to be one of the least injured. I threw him over my shoulder and took him up to the Captain's lobby. There I found him to be a little Scotch [sic] stoker with the lower part of his leg badly scalded. As I went to go down again, I saw a man standing at the top of the ladder with a wheel spanner [wrench in American usage-Ed.] in his hand. I think he was a Stoker P.O. who had come up from down below. He looked alright so I told him to come down and assist me. At the bottom of he ladder I called, "Where are you?", and a voice replied, "Here." We found a very big man lying on his stomach midway between the midship line and the hatch leading to the Engineer's office. He said, "Mind my leg, sir. It's broken," and I could see that his right leg was broken about 4 inches above the ankle, and bleeding badly. With the assistance of the S.P.O., I got him on my back and carried him to the Captain's lobby. By now one or two other cases, mostly of minor burns, had arrived. Having carried this man up, I turned him over to the Chief Gunner's Mate, who was trying to keep one or two of the noisy ones quiet. Then I did the first foolish thing of a few that nearly cost me my life. I had been carrying my swimming belt rolled up and slung over my shoulder. Struggling with the second man had caused it to come unrolled and it was a bit of a nuisance, so I took it off and gave it to the C.G.M. to keep up top while I went down again.
This time I found a man walking about with his hands in front of him, apparently blind. I carried him up top and found that he had been badly scalded about the hands and face, and the skin was hanging off his hands and off his forehead over his eyes. I told him to keep his hands clear of his face and mentioned to Lt. Darwell, who was standing near, with a view to his keeping an eye on him. By this time Surgeon Lt. Hamilton had arrived and was administering morphia and first aid. The next thing I heard was the warning passed to No.5 gun, "Alarm Starboard," so I ran up the ladder to No.5 gun deck. The gun was firing with a very high angle of elevation, which eventually got to 90 degrees after 4 or 5 rounds. Then I saw two bombs drop very close on the starboard side, throwing up two huge columns of black smoke and water. I think this was the only time the after control had an opportunity of showing their ability, because they only had No.5 gun in controlled fire long enough to fire 4 or 5 rounds during the action, and that was about five minutes after the bomb struck the ship. After seeing the two bombs fall on the starboard side abreast the mainmast,3 I heard more falling on the port side so they must have "straddled" us with the second attack without obtaining a hit. It was impossible to see the aircraft from the gun deck owing to the smoke and steam belching from the after funnel, hatches on the catapult deck, and ventilators, drifting away on a bearing of Green 170 degrees.
I now looked toward Prince of Wales and was shocked to see her lying apparently stopped, with black smoke coming from her after tunnel. At this moment she was struck by three torpedoes in quick succession on her starboard side. It looked as if one struck her just before "A" turret, the second abreast "Y" turret and the third amidships. At this point Repulse was still doing 26 knots. One of her Walrus aircraft was in the air and due to return about noon. The second was on the catapult ready to be flown off as a relief. It was decided to get this aircraft over the side, but it was impossible to catapult it owing to the front legs of the carriage having collapsed, and the plane was resting with her bows on deck and her tail cocked up in the air. She was still carrying depth charges and bombs. Two large hazlerod fenders were placed under the depth charges and the observer, Lt. Longman, crouching down behind a screen which would afford about as much shelter as a piece of paper, was ordering the pilot, Sub. Lt. Holden, who was in the plane, to drop the depth charges. They both expected them to explode on dropping, and I was not surprised that it was eventually decided to lift them down, and they were placed in the waterways.
A torpedo bombing attack now developed, and the next time I had an opportunity to look at the Walrus aircraft it was hooked on the crane and the pilot was slung in a boatswain's chair with the idea of slipping the plane when it reached the water. The plane was hoisted out on the crane and slipped, but the method of slipping I do not know.
The first torpedo attack started fine on the starboard bow and I noticed that the planes were dropping their torpedoes at very long range-3,000 to 5,000 yards and from heights up to 400 feet. I saw one torpedo dropped from about 300 feet fall vertically and don't know how that one ran, but afterward noticed several tracks near the ship. The aircraft passed down the sides of the ship and I saw No.5 Oerlikon hit one just abaft the wing. There was a big red flash but the aircraft did not immediately fall but turned away. The gun still continued firing at him, and in so doing, missed a very good opportunity of engaging one which was following and nearer to the ship. As soon as the attack was past, I looked over to No.5 Oerlikon and asked him how he was situated for ammunition. Mid. Davies, RAN, who was in charge of the gun, looked up and with a great big smile said, "Alright so far, but if you can get us any more we'll get rid of it." I replied, "Nurse your ammunition and don't forget, always take the nearest ones." He seemed as happy as a sand-boy and went on loading a magazine. Everything seemed quiet again and no aircraft seemed to be approaching, so I decided to see if we could get up any more injured. At the bottom of the ladder in the wardroom flat I met the S.P.O. again, who said, "There are a lot of wounded down outside of the Engineer's office." I tried to go down the ladder but the steam was burning my face through the hole in my anti-flash gear. Then I did foolish thing No.2: I put on my respirator to cover my face and got down to the bottom of the ladder. Breathing was rather difficult so I got down low near the deck. It was still very difficult so I snatched off the respirator and came up into the wardroom flat. I said to the S.P.O., "It's no good. I don't think there can be anyone alive down there," and went up to No.3 triple gun deck. On the way up I saw Mr. Ward, Com'd Ord. Off., standing just inside the screen behind No.5 gun. He was in his overalls with a towel slung over his head. He had apparently been below when the bomb dropped and was slightly burned by steam. He also looked badly shaken. I spoke to him in passing. On arriving at No.3 triple gun deck I heard someone on No.3 Pom Pom calling for an Ordnance Artificer. I ran up to the Pom Pom and asked what was the matter. The captain of the gun, P.O. Bray, reported that he could not train or elevate by hand or power, and that only one of the guns would fire. I went to the top of the ladder and asked Mr. Ward to come up and see to it. I also ordered the gun's crew to clear away the empty boxes from around the gun and replenish ammunition.
Another attack developed, so I ran down to No.5 gun deck, and as the attack started on the port side I passed aft around No.3 triple to No.6 H.A. gun. I gave them a few cheery words and got quite a few jocular remarks myself. I told each side in turn that the opposite side was bringing them down like flies, although I must admit that I never saw a single aeroplane fall into the sea. The majority of them crossed the bow and the attack was now developing on the starboard side, so back I ran to No.5 gun. I was just in time to see a torpedo running along the starboard side from astern, and as the ship was slewing fast to starboard I felt sure we would hit it. Luck must have been on our side, because there was no "bang." Next I saw a large number of splashes as [would be made by] . . . 0.5 in, stretching from about 50 yards from the starboard side to about 600 yards on a bearing of 100 degrees. I looked up at the 0.5" gun on the after superstructure, fully prepared to give him a dressing down, as there were no aircraft even in line with the splashes, but saw that the gun was trained for a forward bearing. The first thing I thought [was that] it must be . . . splinters from Prince of Wales' AA fire, so I decided that I must have a steel helmet. Almost immediately the member of the gun's crew nearest me dropped, and two more. Two loading numbers attempted to pick him up, but I said, "Leave him," and dragged him back clear of the working of the gun. Then I looked him over and found that he was injured in the leg. I looked round for something to use as a tourniquet and shouted down the hatch for Doctor Hamilton. I then went up to No.3 Pom Pom to see how they were getting on. Mr. Ward reported that he had three guns in action, and that training and elevation was now alright. One of the crew, AB Gordon, had been injured by machine gun fire.
There was now a lull. I returned to No.5 H.A. gun, where the doctor was attending to the two men injured. No.5 of the gun had also received a machine gun bullet. I asked if there was anything I could do, and he said, "Yes, get me some more morphia." I didn't relish the job much, but seeing that no aircraft appeared about to attack, I went. It meant going down two decks to the after medical distributing station, situated in "Y" space. At the top of the armored hatch I saw Engineer S/L Kuston, who had charge of the after Stokers' fire party. A few taps with a wheel spanner on the hatch and it was raised about three inches. I asked for morphia and received one carton. I returned and found the doctor in the Captain's lobby flat. I gave him the carton and he said, "That is not enough. Get me some more." I repeated the journey and was just turning round to come up when he was coming down. I handed him the carton and commenced to hurry back on deck. At that moment I heard one of the forward H.A. guns open fire, and realized another attack had started. I had just arrived in the wardroom flat, at the bottom of the ladder leading to the Captain's lobby, when the first torpedo hit. It felt as if we were struck aft as the stern seemed to shudder. Up to this moment the ship was still developing 26 knots. On the way up to the gun I retrieved my swimming belt, which was lying on the deck at the top of the hatch. It was then that I did foolish thing No.3: My respirator was hung over my right shoulder with the face-piece hanging. I wrapped my swimming belt round my body outside the sling of the respirator, so preventing me from getting rid of it later, when I was in the water. The face-piece I had thrown over my left shoulder.
But now I was back at No.5 gun. I heard a good deal of shouting from the catapult deck, and looked over and saw a Stoker struggling with the end of a hose, the remainder of which was entangled on No.5 gun deck. I threw it over the rail but it did not clear the entanglement, so I climbed over and dropped down on deck to assist. It proved useless after all, as the firemain pressure had failed to the rising main in the starboard [side]. While on the catapult deck, I spoke to the Senior Engineer, and we both watched two torpedo tracks approaching the ship. The first of these struck the ship abreast "Y" turret on the port side and the other just before the mainmast, also on the port side. The ship immediately commenced to develop a list to port and the order was passed, "Cast off Carley Floats." I ran aft to No.5 Oerlikon with Mr. Williams, Bos'n, and told the Marines on No.3 triple gun to slip the two Carley floats on their deck. The triple was now out of action, as it could not be trained. The Marines cast off the after float and commenced to manhandle it over the side. I said, "Leave it, and slip the other; they will float off." Number 4 torpedo now struck the ship on the port side abreast the mainmast, and the column of water was thrown over the men who had started to congregate near No.5 Oerlikon, having come on deck through the door leading into the Captain's lobby. I think that some of the men who had already climbed over the guardrails were swept overboard by this weight of water. It was like standing and having a cartload of sand tipped on one. The list was gradually increasing, and men had now started leaving the ship.
The fourth torpedo was followed almost immediately by a fifth, which struck the starboard side amidships, just abaft the cutter's after davit. As the ship was still going ahead at 15 or 16 knots, the column of water from this torpedo also fell on the men on the starboard side aft. I thought it was time to abandon ship; the order had apparently been given forward but had not reached aft. Obviously the best place to go over was over the stern, but as the ladders leading down to the quarterdeck had been unshipped, this would have been a difficult proposition. I looked over the side where I was standing and saw the starboard propellers just breaking surface, still whizzing round, so I gave the order, "Everyone on the foc'sle before the blisters." Almost everyone commenced to move forward along the starboard side. Oil fuel was gushing out of the hole in the starboard side and lying in a thick layer on the water.
The ship was listing heavily to port and swinging slightly to starboard. As I came abreast the catapult deck I saw the water up to the second guardrail on the port side, and it reminded me of sailing with the lee gunwale under. It was necessary now to hold the burthon rail to prevent sliding inboard. When we arrived at the cutter, it was packed with men who seemed to have just realized that it could not be got out. They were climbing out again and some of them were even jumping from the boat, trying to clear the ship's side. Many a man sliding down the ship's side was accelerated by someone from the cutter. There was a good deal of congestion at this spot, as people coming from both forward and aft seemed to be meeting here. The ship gave an extra lurch at this moment and quite a large number were thrown amidships. It was almost impossible to get any farther forward so I slid under the bottom guardrail and, grasping a rope's end hanging over the side, I sat on the hull and slid down on my seat. I looked down and then had a rather anxious feeling; the rope's end did not nearly reach the bulge, and passing round the ship just above the bulge was a wooden rubber [a rubbing strake-Ed.] about 15" wide. Outside of this rubber was an iron band, which had been blown off and was sticking out from the ship's side at an angle of about 30 degrees for a distance of about 6 feet. As the screws were still in this band, it resembled a large mouth with huge teeth. About 4 feet astern of this the jagged edge of the hole caused by the torpedo was just appearing above the surface. My rope's end was leading me straight toward this formidable obstacle, so pressing the soles of my feet hard onto the ship's side, I worked my way forward a little. Owing to the list of the ship, this was not very difficult. I am sorry to say that two men who followed me failed to do this, and both went into the hole and were lost. One was a young South African who had only joined the ship in Durban.
Now came the moment to let go the rope. I made up my mind that as soon as my feet touched the rubber, I would spring forward as far as I could to clear the projecting iron, and also the bulge. This was more successful than I could possibly have hoped for, and I found myself in the water. As I came to the surface I found that the oil fuel was too thick over my eyes for me to see. With my hands I splashed a clear space in front of me and putting my face below the surface, shook my head. On trying again, I found that I could see reasonably well, though globules of oil still hung on my lashes. I now decided to blow up my swimming belt, as the ship had gone past me and was well clear. Probably due to the weight of the pipe and face-piece of my respirator hanging over it, as well as [because of] . . . oil fuel in the nipple and lack of breath, I could get only a very small amount of wind into my belt. At this moment the right-hand string decided to leave the tube. These strings were tied on, and possibly the rub down the ship's side had caused the knot to become untied. Anyhow, the right side would persist in floating away in front of me. I tried to float on my back and clear things up a bit, but began to find it extremely difficult to keep afloat, and little wonder, because I afterward discovered that I was trying to swim in a heavy type of overall suit, buckskin shoes, and a service-type respirator complete with a jar of anti-gas ointment, eye-shades, etc. The respirator was slung with the strings of the swimming belt over the top, and therefore could not be discarded. The face-piece was trailing on the end of its flexible pipe and acting as a thoroughly efficient drogue. Besides these encumbrances, I was still wearing my anti-flash gear, including gloves. I had forgotten all about them, and it was not until I got near to Electra that I realized I must discard them to get hold of a rope thrown to me. In my pockets I carried one medicine bottle, one service torch, one pair of spectacles, one ¼" nut and bolt, and several smaller articles.
With this weight to carry, and a swimming belt that would persist in trying to leave me, I found swimming extremely difficult. I heard a loud cheer go up from the men swimming around me. They were looking back, and on looking round I saw Repulse with her bows vertical, gently sliding below the surface stern first. The time was approximately 1230, just 8 minutes since the first torpedo had struck the ship. I am afraid that I didn't cheer, needing all the breath I had to swim. I was beginning to feel the effects of my heavy cargo. I tried swimming on my back, but it required even more effort than swimming on my stomach, and after consuming a little more fuel oil I rolled back again and proceeded with the breast stroke. This was the moment when I felt as one does in a swimming bath after a good long swim, when one puts a foot down, hoping it is possible to touch bottom. As the depth of water was about 33 fathoms, I was a super-optimist. What would I have given then for a knife to cut my respirator adrift! I have always carried one since.
As the ship was going ahead during the time she was being abandoned, the swimmers were strung out over quite a long distance, and the destroyer commenced picking them up from the beginning of the line. When I left Repulse, Electra was between 2,000 and 3,000 yards away. I felt sure I could do this distance easily, but it actually took me about an hour and twenty minutes. I was swimming directly toward the bow of the destroyer when I realized she was drifting to port away from me. She was only about twenty yards away, but I felt I would not be able to make it. I altered course directly toward her, called for a superhuman effort and managed to get near enough to catch a line thrown to me when I was abreast the mainmast. It was a new piece of 3½ hemp, and as I grabbed it they started hauling in and the rope began sliding through my hands. I only had about 18 inches of spare end, and realized I could not keep a firm grip on it. This was probably due to the oil fuel on my hands, as well as the fact that I was "all in." I felt that I was falling asleep, and asked them to stop hauling and pay out. They did, and I then had sufficient to pass round my body and one complete turn of the end around its own part. This I gripped with all my strength and told them to haul away. The process of passing the rope round my body caused me to disappear below the surface and consume a little more fuel oil. During the whole of my swim, I never once got clear of the oil and did not see a piece of wood as big as a matchbox. When they started hauling me up the ship's side, I was again afraid I would fall asleep and let go of the end.
There were men who had already got on board the destroyer, diving over with lines and swimming out to people in difficulties in the water. The destroyer had provisioning nets hung over the side and her boats away picking up survivors. While swimming, I saw a flight of 9 Japanese aircraft pass over, and fully expected to see them attack the destroyers, and for the destroyers to get under weigh and leave us. Apparently they were completely satisfied with their day's work, as they made no attempt to bomb them.
When I was got on board the destroyer, I was laid out under the after gun, where I decided I could enjoy a good sleep. Someone now poured a kind of gruel in my mouth and ordered me to swallow it. It was then decided to move everyone forward out of the way. The upper deck was crowded with survivors, and I felt very foolish as my knees were practically useless and I felt very sleepy. I tried to squeeze into many a little corner and go to sleep on my way forward, but we were kept on the move. When I got to the mess deck, it was simply packed. I sat on the end of a mess stool, resting my head on the table, and I believe I dozed off to sleep. Almost everyone was smoking and the air was terrible. Being a non-smoker, within a few minutes this air started to take effect on me. I decided I must get out on deck to breathe, so I went out again, feeling very wobbly at the knees and very sick. While standing near the galley I heard the order passed, "Alarm, Aircraft," so I decided to retrieve my swimming belt, which had been taken off when I arrived on board. This I found by the after gun with my respirator and anti-flash gear. The latter I discarded, but re-tied the string of my swimming belt, blew it up to see that it was alright and then put it on. I did not let it down again until we arrived in harbor, as I didn't intend being caught in the water again without wind in my belt. I was beginning to feel much better now, so I went round and assisted in applying artificial respiration to one or two of the people brought in apparently drowned. There were several men on the upper deck, and the doctor was walking round and saying, "Alright, pack it up now, it's no good." I don't know how many passed out in this way, but I know of at least four. I saw men in the water during the time I was swimming, kept afloat by their swimming belts but with their heads underwater. Almost all the men saved from Repulse had to swim, as very few of the lifesaving devices were got out. I only saw one boat, the wardroom motor boat, whose gunwale was too high for anyone to climb over, and two Carley floats. The floats were full, but the boat was empty. Practically the last men picked up from Repulse were on a Carley float well laden. This float carried Midshipman Bremridge, who had received a bullet in the stomach. He died in hospital the following Sunday after surgery.
When all the men from Repulse had been picked up, the commanding officer of Electra announced that he was proceeding to the assistance of the Prince of Wales survivors. As the ship increased speed and altered course, with such a large upper deck cargo of human beings, she developed quite a heavy list, and I saw quite a number of anxious faces. We were packed very thick now, and it was impossible to do anything but stand or sit on your own little spot. It was still possible to see where Prince of Wales had sunk, as huge bubbles of air rising to the surface, similar to those rising from a diver but highly magnified. When the destroyer arrived at the spot, it was seen that P.o.W. had been very lucky and got out quite a number of her boats. One of her large power boats had discharged one load of survivors and was then sent round to pick up any more. They requested diesel oil from the destroyer and asked permission to return to Singapore under their own power. Both requests were refused. I don't think they could possibly have realized the distance they had to go. After picking up everyone in the vicinity, a small raft was sighted with two men on board. The destroyer steamed for this, and it was found to be made of pieces of cork threaded on ropes. These two men were extremely lucky, as they seemed to be a long way from the remainder, and very difficult to see. I should imagine they were the first to leave the ship, while she was still under weigh. The destroyer now made a course for Singapore at high speed. There was another "Alarm, Aircraft," but this proved to be one of our own fighters. It was a Brewster Buffalo, and as she passed near the ship everyone gave him a cheer. He was soon joined by a second, and the two continued circling round the ship. It was beginning to get dark by now, and the temperature had dropped appreciably. The people who were still in their wet clothes were beginning to feel a little cold, and I cannot imagine how the people felt who had no clothes at all. These comprised about 90% of the survivors. The officers' bathroom was thrown open to anyone wishing to bathe, and we all got the worst of the oil off. As it meant 2 or 3 being in the one bath at once, this was a very preliminary cleansing.
The remainder of the journey was uneventful, except that a ship signaled to us after dark, and as she used a light much brighter than we had been used to, it was immediately assumed by some of the "passengers" that we were being challenged by a Japanese destroyer. We arrived in harbor at about 0100 on the 11th and secured alongside Vampire. Electra's commanding officer ordered everyone to remain still on the upper deck so as not to give the ship a list, and not to attempt to disembark until ordered. The discipline was perfect although there was only a two-plank gangway to cross the ships, there was no crowding or pushing, and no one attempted to jump the guardrails. The latter would have been perfectly easy, considering the ships' sides were only about a foot apart. When one thinks how cold they must have been, and how eager to be on shore again, I think it was a wonderful exhibition of what discipline can do.
On arrival on shore, the men were taken by cars and buses to the Fleet Shore Accommodation Establishment, where they received a bath and an issue of one complete tropical rig. Some of the lucky ones also obtained rubber shoes. The officers were taken to the FSA and accommodated in the clubhouse, where we obtained a hot bath and a meal. Some of the lucky ones obtained a rating's tropical rig, but the majority spent the rest of the night with only their bath towels Some thin blankets were provided, and we slept on the floor of the clubhouse. The ones who arrived first had taken all the cushions from the chairs and settees and used 3 or 4 to make a soft bed. I found it very uncomfortable sleeping without a pillow, so I started wandering round and eventually found an individual who had rolled off his orgy of cushions, and took one. As it happened to be the center one, I don't think he enjoyed the rest of his sleep as much as I.
After landing from Electra, and while awaiting transport to the FSA, we went on board Exeter, who was lying alongside. There we found that none of the W.O.s' mess of Repulse were in the other destroyers, so the four in Electra were the only survivors from a mess Q fourteen. The next morning the two ships' companies were fallen in on the parade and a roll-call taken. As the parade was covered with small granite chips, the men without shoes found it extremely uncomfortable. Some with shoes were giving the less lucky ones a ride on their backs, while others had devised quite efficient shoes from their swimming belts. Having fallen in according to their parts of the ship, they were allowed to sit down to ease the torture on their feet. Prince of Wales' ship's company were paid some money during the day, and it was assumed that there would be some great doings in the canteen that evening. An officer had to be told off to take charge of the canteen, and I won the "prize." I have had some very peculiar duties during my career, but none to compare with this one. There I was with a seaman's tropical singlet white shorts, gym shoes, no socks or cap, trying to take charge of a place filled with about 600 men, including American sailors, and hardly any from my own ship. On the whole they were not too bad, but my temper was almost to breaking point when it came to clearing them out. During the day all the executive midshipmen were discharged to Exeter, and she sailed after dark.
There were a large number
saved from Repulse - 902 out of 1,307 - even though she sank so
quickly. This I think was due to the fact that the hands were at
"Repel Aircraft" stations, and not at action stations. One example
of this is shown in the transmitting station [T.S. hereafter-Ed.].
As the main armament was at the 3rd degree of readiness, only half the
normal crew were there. All of these left the T.S. but did not have
time to reach the upper deck. Among the latter were Mid. Bross and
the Bandmaster. CPO Webb, T.G.M. [Torpedo Gunner's Mate-Ed.], left
with them but knew a shortcut up through the wireless office and so managed
to get clear. There must have been terrible congestion on the ladders
leading from the T.S., as all or practically all of the stokers off watch
congregated in the flat above the T.S. for Action or Repel Aircraft stations.
It was always a seething mass of humanity, or seemed so to me. Another
great advantage of not being at Action Stations was that a great many more
men were available for ammunition supply to the H.A. guns. This was
necessary due to the fact that the normal path to the after guns via the
messdecks was impossible, the messdecks on both sides being filled with
hot steam from "F" boiler room. The guns were firing right to the
last, and it is reported from a quite reliable source that the Prince
of Wales, who were now interested spectators, gave a cheer as Repulse
brought down two aircraft when actually listing at about 35 degrees.
This must have been a very few seconds before she capsized. I know
that No.5 Oerlikon was firing for quite a time after we had commenced abandoning
ship, because we had difficulty in keeping men clear of the muzzle.
The White Ensign attached to the port inner shaft of the HMS Repulse, ninety feet (30 m) down in the South China Sea.
No.1 H.A. Gun: When the first salvo of bombs dropped, a near-miss damaged the stanchions around the gun and prevented it from being trained. A broadcast was made for shipwrights to clear away the obstruction, and as I afterward heard this gun firing, their efforts must have been successful. Casualties unknown.
Nos.2, 3 and 4 H.A. Guns: No reliable report available, but believed to have had no trouble.
Nos.5 and 6 H.A. Guns: Slight difficulty was experienced during prolonged attacks due to empty cylinders. This was not sufficient to cause "miss salvoes" but produced a good deal of bad language. The space around these two guns was very limited, and the cylinders were kicked or thrown to the after end, but when the bearing was fine on the bow, they were in the way. Casualties at No.5 gun were 2; at No.6 nil, I believe. Ammunition supply to all H.A. guns was adequate and, considering that it was changed from the normal route (via the messdecks to the after guns) to a route via the upper deck, it was very good.
S.1 Triple (4 in): The mounting was very hard to train, and at all times it obstructed the fire of No.1 Pom Pom. Lt. Poole, o/i/c No.1 Pom Pom, reported after the action that at least one of the Triple's guns had a distinct groove on the underside, as if scored by a Pom Pom shell. The ammunition supply to these guns was hopeless. After firing all the time-fuzed shell in their ready-use supply, they carried on firing HE shell fuzed 45P (DA) [Direct Action-Ed.]. It is reported that S.1 and P.1 suffered a large number of casualties as, being in the vicinity of the bridge, they received fire from both sides.
P.1 Triple: No report available except that ammunition supply was inadequate. Was reported to have suffered quite a number of casualties from machine gun fire.
No.3 Triple. Very difficult to train even when the whole gun's crew assisted by pushing the mount round. This was after the first bomb struck, but I think it very unlikely that the bomb would have affected the deck. The training became more difficult and eventually impossible as the list developed. This gun received no ammunition other than their ready-use supply. The casualties at this gun were 2.
M.1 Pom Pom: Reported by Lt. Pool and CPO Thacker, G.M. Several guns kept out of action through the connecting link becoming disconnected and the gun expending its belt. Several stoppages were caused through extractors not rising, probably due to thick bases on damaged cylinders. At commencement of last attack only one gun was firing, and this eventually stopped through extractors not rising.
M.2 Pom Pom: Similar report to that received from M.1 but less reliable source.
M.3 Pom Pom: Power elevating and training failed when first bomb struck. Captain of the gun, PO Bray, ordered "Hand elevating and training," and the changeover was satisfactorily carried out. After about 10 minutes power was again tried, found to be correct, so changed back. When the first torpedo struck, power again failed. Tried to change over to hand, and although training changed over correctly, elevation would not. The elevating handwheel was free but the clutch could not be put over. Training was very stiff when the ship developed a list. Stoppages: At the end of the first torpedo attack only one gun was firing. Five had separated rounds, one had a round which could not be withdrawn from the belt, and in one the extractors would not rise. Mr. Ward, Commissioned O.O. [Warrant Ordnance Officer-Ed.], and O.A. Jeffries [Ordnance Artificer-Ed.] worked on the guns during the lulls and eventually got three into action again. The ammunition supply was good, and if all the guns had been firing I think the supply would have coped with the expenditure.
Nos.1 and 2 Oerlikons: No reliable report available.
No.3 Oerlikon: Fired 4 magazines without a stoppage. The fifth magazine, which was filled during the action, fired about two-thirds of a magazine when it had a stoppage. PO Devis, G.M., filled the magazine and checked that the tension on the spring was 60 lbs. After about 40 rounds the tension was not sufficient to force the round down, and the moving mass on going forward tore the lower half of the cylinder out and sprayed neonite over the breech. Time did not permit the gun being again brought into action.
No.4 Oerlikon: No reliable report available.
Nos.5 and 6 Oerlikons: Fired satisfactorily. Ammunition supply was adequate.
Nos.1 and 2 0.5 in: No reliable report available.
Nos.3 and 4 0.5 in:
Satisfactory. Ammunition adequate.
The accompanying photograph
was probably taken when he was a Sub-Lieutenant in HMS Kent on the
China Station during the Sino-Japanese War. His function in Repulse
is unknown, but, appears to have been connected with the ship's after A.A.
armament. He was invalided out of the R.N. in 1942 and died three
years later. Lieut. Jacob's journal is reproduced by kind permission
of his daughter, Mrs. C.C. Spencer of Toronto, Canada.
2 The bomb had struck just abaft the after funnel, passed down through the port hangar and burst in "F" boiler room, filling about half of the ship with scalding steam.
These bombs tore all the weather screens and protective mattresses from
the guard rails around No.3 triple gun deck.