Allied Warships

HMS Prince of Wales (53)

Battleship of the King George V class


HMS Prince of Wales as completed.

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeBattleship
ClassKing George V 
Pennant53 
Built byCammell Laird Shipyard (Birkenhead, U.K.) 
Ordered29 Jul 1936 
Laid down1 Jan 1937 
Launched5 Mar 1939 
Commissioned31 Mar 1941 
Lost10 Dec 1941 
Loss position3° 34'N, 104° 26'E
History

Prince of Wales, a 35,000-ton King George V class battleship built Birkenhead, England, was completed in March 1941. In late May, while still not fully operational, she was sent into action with the German battleship Bismarck and received significant damage from heavy gunfire.

Following repairs, Prince of Wales carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. There, on 9-12 August, Churchill joined U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Atlantic Charter conference, the first meeting between the two English-speaking leaders of what was emerging as the Grand Alliance against the Axis powers. Following her return to British waters, Prince of Wales went to the Mediterranean, where she successfully engaged Italian planes off Malta in late September. Sent to the Far East with the battlecruiser HMS Repulse to counter the swiftly developing Japanese threat in the region, she arrived on 2 December 1941.

On 8 December, the day of the Pearl Harbor Raid on the other side of the International Date Line, the Japanese landed in northern Malaya. Prince of Wales, Repulse and four destroyers were sent to attack the invasion force. After finding no targets, the British ships were returning to Singapore when, late in the morning of 10 December, they were attacked by a strong force of Japanese high-level bombers and torpedo planes. With no friendly planes to protect them, both heavy ships were hit several times. Repulse sank at about 1230. Prince of Wales (Capt. John Catterall Leach, DSO, RN with Admiral sir Tom Spencer Vaughan Phillips, KCB, RN aboard) capsized in position 03º34'N, 104º26'E and followed Repulse to the bottom less than an hour later. The first capital ships to be sunk by air attack while operating on the high seas, their loss further shocked a naval world already stunned by the events at Pearl Harbor only a few days earlier.

Winston Churchill described the sinking of this ship as the greatest shock of his life.  

Commands listed for HMS Prince of Wales (53)

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CommanderFromTo
1Cdr. Robert Jocelyn Oliver Otway-Ruthven, RN1 Mar 19405 Oct 1940
2Capt. Louis Henry Keppel Hamilton, DSO, RN5 Oct 194015 Feb 1941
3Capt. John Catterall Leach, RN15 Feb 19418 Jul 1941
4Capt. Cecil Halliday Jepson Harcourt, RN8 Jul 19411 Aug 1941
5Capt. John Catterall Leach, RN1 Aug 194110 Dec 1941 (+)

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Notable events involving Prince of Wales include:


31 Aug 1940
During the night of 31 August / 1 September 1940, Prince of Wales was damaged in a German air raid (160 bombers) while still under construction. This delayed her completion.

19 Jan 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Rear Admiral L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO and Bar, RN) was commissioned at Birkenhead with a reduced complement.

28 Jan 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Rear Admiral L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO and Bar, RN) departed Liverpool for Rosyth. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Highlander (Cdr. S. Boucher, RN), HMS Hesperus (Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, RN) and HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, RN).

At 1825 hours the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Curacoa (Capt. C.C. Hughes-Hallett, RN) also joined.

At 0850/29 the destroyer HMS Jackal (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN) joined until 1253 hours when she departed the screen.

Shortly before 1600/29 light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, DSC, RN) and HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr M.J. Clark, RAN) joined. HMS Hesperus and HMS Havelock were then detached.

30 Jan 1941
At 1645 hours, HMS Prince of Wales (Rear Admiral L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO and Bar, RN), entered no.1 dock at the Rosyth Dockyard for further outfitting.

4 Mar 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) was undocked at Rosyth.

24 Mar 1941
Late in the afternoon HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) departed Rosyth for a trial run and to proceed to Scapa Flow upon completion. She was escorted by the destoyers HMS Liddesdale (Cdr. A.G. West, RN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Quantock (Lt.Cdr. D.J.A. Heber-Percy, RN).

At 0550/25 the three destoyers of the screen were replaced by HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN).

At 1050/25 this destoyer screen was replaced by the original three destroyers that had escorted Prince of Wales out of Rosyth.

Early in the evening of the 25th Prince of Wales entered Scapa Flow.

27 Mar 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted steering trials inside Scapa Flow.

29 Mar 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted compass trials off Scapa Flow. During these trials she was escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Whaddon (Lt.Cdr. P.G. Merriman, RN).

31 Mar 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted full power trials off Scapa Flow. During these trials she was escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN).

Following these trials she was placed in full commission.

8 Apr 1941
In the early morning hours HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises off Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN). The cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN) and HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, RN) also participated.

14 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

15 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

16 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

17 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises and RD/F trials inside Scapa Flow.

18 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises and RD/F trials to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN). When Hermione left at 1102 hours, HMS Achates took over the duty as 'target ship'.

23 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises with her aircraft (launching and recovering) inside Scapa Flow.

24 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted RD/F trials off Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN).

During the evening night exercises were carried out together with HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) and HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, RN).

25 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises off Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Arrow (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN). Prince of Wales also served briefly as target during gunnery exercises of the cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, RN).

1 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted DG trials inside Scapa Flow.

2 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

5 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

6 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

7 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises off Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyer HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN).

12 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow.

16 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for exercises. She was escorted by the destroyer HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN). The exercises included a full calibre 5.25" shoot at the cruiser HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN).

Early the next day the screening destroyers HMS Bedouin and HMS Eskimo were replaced by HMS Walpole and HMS Achates.

17 May 1941
Having completed her exercises late in the afternoon, HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), returned to Scapa Flow

22 May 1941
At 0050 hours the British battlecruiser Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN) and the battleship Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) were ordered to proceed to Hvalfjord, Iceland as the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were spotted by air reconnaissance at Bergen, Norway. As there were indications that these two were going to 'set sail' for a raid on the ocean trade routes.

The two British capital ships were escorted by the destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN).

23 May 1941
The task force comprising the British battlecruiser Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN) and the battleship Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) and their escorting destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN) continued towards Iceland at high speed.

At 1200 hours the destroyers Anthony and Antelope were detached and ordered to proceed to Hvalfjord, Iceland to refuel.

At 1854 hours the force was now proceeding at a speed of 27 knots and the destroyers were unable to keep up at this high speed due to the weather conditions. They were signalled that they were to follow at their best speed. By this time Bismarck had been sighted by the heavy cruiser HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) that was on patrol in the Denmark Strait together with HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN). The heavy cruisers then began shadowing the German ships signalling their position.

24 May 1941
At 0000 hours Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN) and Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) were now on their own, their escorting destroyers by now trailing them well behind.

Durning the night they were kept informed on the position of the German ships by the shadowing cruisers HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) and HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN).

Shortly before 0600 hours Hood and Prince of Wales spotted the German ships and engaged them with their forward guns while closing the range rapidly.

At 0605 hours, and when just turning to allow the after guns to fire as well, HMS Hood was hit by Bismarck and exploded and sank. Prince of Wales, who was having problmes with her quadruple gun turrets, broke off the action shortly afterwards. She then joined the cruisers in shadowing the German ships.

The following is an extract from the log of Prince of Wales
0010 hours - Speed was reduced to 25 knots.

0015 hours - HMS Prince of Wales went to action stations and course was altered due north.

0203 hours - Altered course to 200º.

0214 hours - Increased speed to 26 knots and nine minutes later to 27 knots.

0320 hours - Changed course to 220º.

0341 hours - Changed course to 240º.

0353 hours - Increased speed to 28 knots.

0535 hours - Sighted the German ships at a range of nearly 42000 yards.

0537 hours - Changed course to 260º.

0549 hours - Changed course to 300º.

0552 hours - In position 63º21'N, 32º47'W, HMS Hood opened fire on what she thought was the German battleship Bismarck but was in fact the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen which had taken the lead in the German task force due to the radar of Bismarck being defective.

0553 hours - Prince of Wales opened fire from a range of approximately 25000 yards on the second ship in line which she correctly identified as the Bismarck.

0555 hours - Bismarck and Prince Eugen now also opened fire, both had chosen Hood as the target.

0557 hours - Straddled Bismarck with our sixth salvo. Meanwhile it was reported that Hood had received a hit by an 8" shell from Prinz Eugen.

0605 hours - Bismarck hit Hood between the mainmast and after funnel after which there was a huge explosion after which Hood sank in a little over three minutes. Both German ships now shifted their fire to Prince of Wales which was experiencing diffuculties with her quadruple 14" gun turrets. Hood and Prince of Wales had started a 20º turn to port shortly before Hood was hit to open the bearing so that the after gun turrets could also open fire on the enemy.

0607 hours - Prince of Wales was hit by Bismarck.

0611 hours - Ceased fire shortly after the Germans had done the same. Turned hard to port. Bismarck had been hit three times by HMS Prince of Wales during the action. In return Prince of Wales had been hit three times by Bismarck and four times by Prinz Eugen. Prince of Wales had sustained thirteen casualties to her crew and nine were wounded of which one died the following day.

0623 hours - Formed in line astern of HMS Norfolk with HMS Suffolk also joining.

Throughout the day the three British ships shadowed / trailed the German ships.

1843 hours - Bismarck came within 10 miles from Suffolk. She opened fire on the German ship.

1845 hours - Prince of Wales opened fire on Bismarck.

1853 hours - Norfolk opened fire.

1855 hours - Suffolk made smoke.

1859 hours - Ceased fire.

See 25 May 1941 for the continuation of the events.

27 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland.

Media links


British Battleships, 1919-1945, Revised Edition

R. A. Burt


British battleships 1939-45 (2)

Konstam, Angus


King George V Class Battleships

Tarrant, V. E.


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