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)

Please note that we're still working on this section.

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, RN16 Jul 19411 Aug 1941
5Capt. John Catterall Leach, RN1 Aug 194110 Dec 1941 (+)

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Notable events involving Prince of Wales include:


The page for this battleship is currently (June 2017 and onwards) being updated.

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. (1)

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. (2)

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. (2)

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. (2)

4 Mar 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) was undocked at Rosyth. (3)

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 destroyers 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. (3)

27 Mar 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted steering trials inside Scapa Flow. (3)

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). (3)

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. (3)

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. (4)

14 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow. (4)

15 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow. (4)

16 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow. (4)

17 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises and RD/F trials inside Scapa Flow. (4)

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'. (4)

23 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises with her aircraft (launching and recovering) inside Scapa Flow. (4)

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). (4)

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). (4)

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

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

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

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

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). (5)

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

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. (5)

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 (5)

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, DSC an Bar, 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, DSC and Bar, 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. Course and speed now as requested with the object of shadowing the enemy.

1945 hours - Maneuvered independently.

2013 hours - HMS Norfolk crossed ahead from starboard.

2025 hours - Fell in astern of HMS Norfolk.

2150 hours - Sighted the enemy who turned away.

See 25 May 1941 for the continuation of the events.

25 May 1941
Continuation of the evens of 24 May 1941.

0130 hours - Opened fire with the main battery on Bismarck.

0140 hours - Ceased fire. Adjusted course and speed as to shadow the enemy.

0600 hours - HMS Suffolk lost touch with the enemy.

0630 hours - HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk parted company to search for the enemy to the westward.

1730 hours - Sighted HMS Norfolk.

See 26 May 1941 for the continuation of the events.

26 May 1941
Continuation of the evens of 25 May 1941.

0804 hours - Sighted a cruiser bearing 003º.

0808 hours - Sighted another cruiser bearing 038º.

0830 hours - HMS Galatea and HMS Aurora took up station on each bow.

1145 hours - Committed the bodies of those killed in action on the 24th to the deep.

1242 hours - Commenced zig-zagging.

1522 hours - Ceased zig-zagging. Sighted destroyers ahead.

1540 hours - Joined by HMS Anthony, HMS Achates, HMS Echo and HMS Electra which took up a protective screen.

1615 hours - Commenced zig-zagging.

27 May 1941
Around 0900 hours, HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland.

At Hvalfjord she landed her wounded and fuelled from the tanker Rosewood (6120 GRT, built 1931). (5)

28 May 1941
Around 1100 hours, HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), departed Hvalfjord, Iceland for the Rosyth Dockyard. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN) and HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN). (5)

30 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) arrived at the Rosyth Dockyard for repairs to her battle damage. (5)

5 Jun 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) was docked at the Rosyth Dockyard (6)

30 Jun 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) was undocked. (6)

19 Jul 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, RN) shifted from Rosyth to Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN). (7)

28 Jul 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow. (7)

29 Jul 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, RN) conducted gunnery exercises inside Scapa Flow. (7)

30 Jul 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, RN) conducted exercises to the west of Scapa Flow. During these exercises she was escorted by the destroyers HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Charlestown (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN) and HMS Castleton (Cdr. (retired) F.H.E. Skyrme, RN). (7)

4 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. On board was the Prime Minister who was proceeding to a meeting with the US President.

Prince of Wales was escorted by the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN) until 0100/05 when they parted company as they could not keep up with Prince of Wales in the heavy seas.

Shortly before 1200 hours on the 6th Prince of Wales made rendes-vous with the destroyers HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Lt. D.W. Piers, RCN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN). (8)

9 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) arrived at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. (8)

12 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) departed Placentia Bay, Newfoundland for Hvalfjord, Iceland.

She was escorted by the destroyers USS Rhind (Lt.Cdr. G.R. Cooper, USN), USS Mayrant (Cdr. C.C. Hartman, USN), HMS Reading (Lt.Cdr. D.V. Clift, RN), HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt.Cdr. G.R. Miles, RCN).

At 1745/14 HMS Reading and HMS Ripley parted company.

At 0735/15 the destroyers HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) joined the screen. (8)

16 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland. She departed for Scapa Flow later the same day escorted by the destroyers HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN). (8)

18 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow. (8)

25 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted RD/F exercises to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN).

During these exercises Prince of Wales was escorted by HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Puckeridge (Lt. H.B. Acworth, RN) and HMS Badsworth (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN). (8)

29 Aug 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises inside Scapa Flow. (8)

5 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises inside Scapa Flow. (9)

10 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN).

During these exerices Prince of Wales was escorted by HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Puckeridge (Lt. H.B. Acworth, RN) and HMS Badsworth (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN). (9)

13 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN).

During these exerices Prince of Wales was escorted by HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMS Vivacious (Lt.Cdr. R. Alexander, RN). (9)

15 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) and light cruiser HMS Euryalus departed Scapa Flow for Greenock. She was escorted by HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMS Castleton (Cdr. (retired) F.H.E. Skyrme, RN). Later HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN) also joined the screen. (9)

16 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) arrived at Greenock. (9)

17 Sep 1941
Convoy WS 11X,
Troop convoy from Liverpool / Clyde to Gibraltar.

On 16 September 1941 the ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) departed from Liverpool to make rendes-vous the following day off Orsay Island with the following ships that had departed the Clyde on the 17th; City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939), HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937).

Most of the ships of this convoy were to form the convoy for operation Halberd from Gibraltar to Malta. The following ships made only the passage to Gibraltar with convoy WS 11X; HMS Princess Beatrix, HMS Queen Emma, HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Ulster Monarch and Leinster.

Escort for this convoy was provided by; the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) and HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Witch (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Holmes, RN), HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN).

In the evening of the 19th (2115 hours, B.S.T.) the destroyers HMS Havelock and HMS Harvester were detached from the convoy to escort the liner (troopship) Stratheden (23722 GRT, built 1937) all the way to Halifax. Until that moment the Stratheden had also been part of convoy WS 11X. The position in which these ships were detached was 50°57'N, 24°55'E.

On 21 September the convoy was joined by three destroyers coming from Gibraltar; HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN). These destroyers had sailed from Gibraltar on the 18th.

Also sailed from Gibraltar on the 18th was the British aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) escorted by the British destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) to provide cover for the convoy. Following this HMS Furious was then to proceed to Bermuda and finally to the US for a refit. The destroyers then made rendes-vous with the British battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN) coming from a refit in the United States. They then provided cover for the convoy joining it around 1200/21. Shortly after Rodney had joined the convoy HMS Prince of Wales left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Oribi. They arrived at Gibraltar to fuel late on the 23th. They departed Gibraltar around 0400/24 and rejoined the convoy west of Gibraltar around 1200/24. Before Prince of Wales rejoined the convoy HMS Rodney had departed the convoy and also headed for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers ORP Piorun, ORP Garland and HrMs Isaac Sweers. Rodney and her escorting destroyers arrived at Gibraltar at 0900/24. In the evening of the 24th, HMS Nelson sailed westwards escorted by the same destroyers that had brought HMS Rodney in giving the German and Italian spies across the Bay in Spanish Algeciras the impression that HMS Rodney had just relieved HMS Nelson as flagship of Force H. This diversion seemed to have had the desired effect. During the night HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers reversed course and passed the Straits of Gibraltar to the eastward unseen after dark.

On the 20th the British light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN) and the British destroyer HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) also departed Gibraltar to provide cover for the convoy.

On the 21th the cruisers HMS Kenya and HMS Euryalus departed the convoy for Gibraltar where they both arrived at 2300/22. After fuelling they departed before daylight on the 23th to rejoin the convoy to the west of Gibraltar.

On the 23th the British destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) bolstered the escort in the approaches to Gibraltar joining the convoy around 0800/24. Also on the 24th light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN) departed Gibraltar a 1230 hours to join the convoy.

Also on the 24th two groups of destroyers arrived at Gibraltar to refuel. The destroyers HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Gurkha and HMS Lance arrived at 1600 hours. The destroyers HMS Legion, HMS Lively and HMS Zulu arrived at 1800 hours.

See 25 September 1941 'Convoy operation Halberd' for the continuation of the events..

25 Sep 1941
Operation Halberd
Supply convoy to Malta.

Continuation of the events of 17 September 1941, convoy WS 11X.

At 1800/24 the situation was as follows;
Convoy WS 11X was to the west of Gibraltar escorted at that moment by the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), the British escort destroyers HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN).

At Gibraltar were the British battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), the British HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN),light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN with Capt. D.(13) Capt. H.W. Williams, RN, on board), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN). Also at Gibraltar was the RFA oiler Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and the British corvette HMS Fleur de Lys (Lt. (retired) A. Collins, RNR).

Approaching Gibraltar from the west were the British destroyers HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) and HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN).

at 1815 hours, HMS Nelson departed Gibraltar and after passing farewell messages to HMS Rodney she proceeded westwards screened by HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland. These ships reversed course at 2130 hours and proceeded eastwards.

Shortly after HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyer had departed Gibraltar harbour HMS Gurkha, HMS Zulu and HMS Lance, wich had been sent ahead to fuel aft Gibraltar, entered harbour.

At 2030/24 RFA Brown Ranger and her escorted, corvette HMS Fleur de Lys departed Gibraltar to take up a position eastwards to fuel the destroyers that were to protect the Halberd convoy.

At 2300/24 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione escorted by HMS Duncan, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Lively, HMS Zulu, HMS Gurkha, HMS HMS Legion and HMS Lance departed from Gibraltar eastwards to simulate a normal sortie by 'Force H' and to rendezvous with the convoy to the eastward of Gibraltar at 0800/25.

'Force Z', consisting of, HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR) (whose ultimate destination was Freetown), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the British corvettes HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (T/Lt. L.C. Head, RNVR) and HMS Azalea (Lt. G.C. Geddes, RNR) had been stationed behind the main convoy at dusk was ordered to proceed into Gibraltar Bay. It was hoped that the presence of these ships in the Bay would lay suspicion in the event of the convoy having been sighted and reported while passing through the Straits.

The remainder of convoy WS 11X, made up of transport ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939) and HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), with the escort, organised in two groups one mile apart, and led by the Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales, and the Rear Admiral commanding 18th Cruiser Squadron in HMS Edinburgh respectively, passed south of Europa Point at 0130/25. This disposition was adopted to reduce the frontage of the convoy during its passage through the Straits.

At 0730/25 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal and their screening destroyers were sighted from HMS Nelson at a range of about 10 nautical miles. Half an hour later the convoy and its escort was sighted.

The escorting force was now reorganised into two groups;
Group 1: HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning.

Group 2: HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HMS Oribi, HrMs Iscaac Sweers, ORP Piorun, ORP Garland, HMS Fury, HMS Farndale and HMS Heytrop and the entire convoy.

At 1700/25 (time zone -2) HMS Duncan obtained an Asdic contact in position 36.36'N, 01.58'W and attacked with a pattern of four depth charges (more were intended but the starboard thrower failed to fire. Another depth charge attack was carried out by HMS Grukha at 1716 hours. She dropped a pattern of fourteen depth charges. HMS Duncan attacked again at 1750 hours with a second depth charge pattern. Both destroyers then proceeded to rejoin the screen at 1758 hours. Both ships sighted bubbles rising to the surface possibly from a damaged submarine.

At 0932/26 lookouts on HMS Nelson spotted an Italian aircraft shadowing group 1 at a range of 10 miles. The aircraft was flying very low and had not been picked up by RDF. The fighters from HMS Ark Royal that were in the air failed to intercept this aircraft due to failure of the R/T equipment in the flight leaders aircraft. An enemy report from the aircraft was intercepted at 0935 hours. A re-broadcast of this signal by an Italian shore station was picked up 20 minutes later.

At 1300 hours Group 1 reversed course to close the distance to group 2 and HMS Hermione was stationed astern of HMS Ark Royal for RDF purposes and to give additional AA protection to the carrier.

At 1537 hours two aircraft were sighted low down to the eastward by HMS Zulu, HMS Nelson and HMS Hermione. These aircraft were at first thought to be Hudsons but turned out to be enemy when a signal they made was intercepted. By now it was too late to vector fighters towards them.

Meanwhile on the 25th all destroyers of group 2 were fuelled by RFA Brown Ranger but not without delay as Brown Rangers speed was slower then anticipated and she was therefore further to the west then anticipated. This resulted in that not all destroyers were back in position at dusk. HMS Oribi was unable to find group 2 during the night and joined up with group 1 until daylight of the 26th when she rejoined group 1.

At noon on the 26th the first out of three empty transports (the Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936) departed Malta for Gibraltar. These three ships were to proceed single and without escort.

Around 0730/27 Group 1 and 2 joined. HMS Ark Royal was now protected by HMS Euryalus (ahead) and HMS Hermione (astern) as close escort. Four Fulmar fighters were flown off at 0800 hours. This number was increased to ten at 1000 hours and twelve at 1100 hours and finally to sixteen at 1200 hours when it was though most likely air attacks might develop due to the fact the the forcehad been shadowed and reported by enemy aircraft from at least 0810 hours.

At 1255 hours RDF picked up enemy aircraft formations closing in on the convoy, one from the north and one from the east, both 30 miles distant. Fighters were vertored towards these formations and one enemy aircraft was shot down at 1300 hours. Six enemy torpedo bombers approached from the port bow and beam of the convoy. Two were shot down at 1302 hours, most likely by AA fire from HMS Rodney and HMS Prince of Wales. An unknown number of torpedoes were dropped by the other aircraft. No hits were obtained but HMS Lance was narrowly missed by two of these torpedoes. HrMs Isaac Sweers was missed with one torpedo by 30 yards and HMS Rodney by one torpedo by 100 yards. One of the attacking aircraft was shot down by the destroyers while another torpedo bomber meanwhile was shot down by the Fulmars from the Ark Royal. Finally at 1310 hours a Fulmar was accidentaly shot down by HMS Prince of Wales. The first attack was was now over.

At 1327/27 RDF reported a group of aircraft splitting into two formations and approaching from the east. Destroyers on the starboard wing of the screen opened fire at 1329 hours when six or seven torpedo bombers (BR 20's) were seen approaching very low from the starboard bow and beam.

Three of these aircraft pressed on through the barrage put up by the destroyers and made a most determined attack on HMS Nelson who was swinging to starboard to comb the tracks. On aircraft dropped its torpedo out 450 yards 20 degrees on Nelson's starboard bow passing over the ship at a height of 200 feet. This aircraft was almost certainly shot down astern of HMS Nelson by HMS Sheffield and HMS Prince of Wales. The track of the torpedo was not seen until about 150 yards ahead of the ship and no avoiding action was possible and the torpedo hit HMS Nelson on the port bow 10 feet below the waterline. The speed of HMS Nelson was reduced to 18 knots.

The second aircraft of this formation missed HMS Nelson with its torpedo by about 100 yards while the third aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by HMS Laforey. It's W/T operator, the only one of the crew alive but wounded, was picked up by HMS Forester.

Three or four aircraft from this group attacked from the starboard quarted but without result.

One torpedo bomber was shot down by the Fulmars at 1336 hours. One of the Fulmars was now shot down by mistake by pompom fire from HMS Rodney but the crew was rescued by HMS Duncan.

At 1345 hours the third attack started. RDF reported a group coming in from the south-west. Ten or eleven S.79's split into two groups and were seen coming in low over the water and were taken under fire from the escorting ships on the starboard side of the convoy. Seven or eight of the attackers then retired to the south-west and disappeared but three others tried to work round the starboard bow of the convoy which then turned ay 60 degrees to port. The three attackers were then driven off by gunfire from the destroyer screen and dropped their torpedoes at long range but one torpedo narrowly missed HMS Lightning. One of these aircraft was shot down by a Fulmar as it retired.

At 1354 hours three of the aircraft that had initialy turned away returned from astern. Two of these retired again on being fired at but the third pressed on to attack HMS Ark Royal but it was shot down by AA fire from that ship and HMS Nelson before it had dropped it's torpedo.

At 1358 hours one aircraft, seen right ahead of HMS Nelson, dropped a torpedo outside the screen. HMS Cossack was able to avoid this torpedo by the HE of this torpedo being picked up by her Asdic set.

While the third air attack was still in progress at 1404 hours an emergency report was received from an aircraft operating from Malta that it had sighted two Italian battleships and eight destroyers in position 38.20'N, 10.40'E steering a course of 190 degrees at 20 knots at 1340 hours. The position of HMS Nelson when this report was received was 37.46'N, 09.04'E so the enemy was only 70-75 miles away. At this time HMS Nelson, with it's gun armament unimpaired was thought to be capable of 18 knots or more. Admiral Sommerville decided to proceed towards the enemy at best speed with HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and six destroyers, leaving HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and ten destroyers with the convoy. HMS Euryalus, HMS Hermione and the destoyers HMS Piorun and HMS Legion remained with the Ark Royal.

It was also decided to fly off two Swordfish aircraft from the Ark Royal to take over shadowing duties from the aircraft operating out of Malta and to arm and fly off air striking force as soon as possible.

Ark Royal launched the two Swordfish at 1448 hours. It was intended to have launched them earlier but the launch was delayed due to the main armamant of HMS Ark Royal being in action and the recovery of two Fulmar fighters which were short on fuel.

In the meantime, at 1425 hours, the aircraft that was in contact with the Italians now also reported four cruisers and eight destroyers 15 nautical miles west-south-west of the enemy battlefleet. They were steering the same course and speed.

Meanwhile, at 1417 hours, the battleships had been ordered to form on HMS Nelson who had increased speed and proceeded ahead of the convoy. However at 1433 hours it became necessary for HMS Nelson to reduce speed to avoid further flooding due to the damage sustained. The Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales was now ordered to proceed with his flagship, HMS Rodney, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and six destroyers to close the enemy at best speed. HMS Nelson meanwhile took station astern of the convoy.

While these instructions were carried out a report was received that the enemy had reversed course to 360 degrees. This was followed by a further report that the enemy was steering 060 degrees. Also a report was received that the battleships were of the Littorio class and not Cavour's as was previously believed. It was now clear that the enemy tried to avoid contact. It was still hoped that a striking force from HMS Ark Royal would be able to inflict damage to the enemy and reduced his speed allowing our battleships to overtake him before dark.

At 1530 hours a Fulmar fighter which was short of fuel force landed on the water astern of the Ark Royal. The crew was picked up by ORP Piorun.

At 1540 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched her stiking force of twelve Swordfish and four Fulmars. These aircraft did not find the enemy force and all aircraft returned to HMS Ark Royal around 1900 hours.

Between 1620 and 1645 hours, Fulmars from the CAP drove off an air attack threatening from the port side of the convoy. Later a shadowing enemy aircraft was shot down by Fulmars.

At 1658 hours, the Vice Admiral, second in Command Home Fleet, was ordered to reverse course and rejoin the convoy. No further reports of the enemy had been received for almost two hours and even if the striking force from HMS Ark Royal was able to inflict damage on the enemy these could not be intercepted before dark.

At 1855 hours, on reaching the Skerki Channel, the escort of the convoy was split up into two forces, Force A, made up of HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Lance, HMS Fury, HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland split off from the convoy while Force X, made up of HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburg, HMS Sheffield, HMS Hermione, HMS Euryalus, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop remained with the convoy.

Between 1915 and 1930 hours enemy aircraft twice approached the convoy but turned away after fire had been opened on them. They were probably CR.42 fighters.

Between 2000 and 2040 hours four torpedo bomber attacks were made on the convoy and Force X from the port beam, two or three aircraft taking part in each attack. The first two attacks had no result for the Italians.

During the third attack the two rear ships in the port column of the convoy collided with each other, these were the Rowallan Castle and the City of Calcutta. No serious damage was sustained and both were able to proceed on their way.

During the fourth attack, at 2032 hours, in position 37.31'N, 10.46'E the Imperial Star was struck by a torpedo on her port side aft. HMS Oribi was also attacked and narrowly missed by a torpedo four minutes later. She was able to shoot down the aircraft that had dropped this torpedo with her pompom and oerlikons.

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.

Sources

  1. ADM 199/2566
  2. ADM 53/114884
  3. ADM 53/114886
  4. ADM 53/114887
  5. ADM 53/114888
  6. ADM 53/114889
  7. ADM 53/114890
  8. ADM 53/114891
  9. ADM 53/114892

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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