The White Ensign flies again on one of the most hallowed sites in Royal Navy history. Fifty-seven metres beneath the South China Sea Lt Adam Bolton admires the Royal Navy’s standard fixed to the wreck of battle-cruiser HMS Repulse, sunk by the Japanese 73 years ago.
The reservist from HMS Vivid in Plymouth and fellow diver/photographer Mike Robinson fulfilled the wishes of the survivors’ association to return to the battered remains of the Repulse, one of two capital ships around which Force Z was formed in 1941 to deter Japanese aggression in the Far East.
Not only did the two vessels fail to curb Tokyo’s ambitions, but they were also pounced upon by Japanese bombers when they sailed from Singapore to attack enemy ships supporting landings on the Malay Peninsula.
After evading nearly 20 torpedoes, Repulse – which was built in WW1 and served extensively in the Mediterranean between the wars – was struck four or five times in quick succession, despite her gunners damaging or downing 15 Japanese aircraft.
After just 70 minutes of battle, the 25-year-old ship succumbed to her wounds, capsized and sank, taking more than 500 souls with her – just under half the ship’s company.
The Prince of Wales survived for another hour before she too tank about eight miles to the east.
In all, around 840 officers and men – including the task force commander Tom Phillips and flagship captain John Leach – lost their lives. Repulse’s captain, Bill Tennant, survived and became one of the architects of the Normandy invasion.
The wrecks of both vessels have been visited fairly regularly since being discovered by Royal Navy divers in the mid-1960s – although the Prince of Wales has generally received the bulk of the attention.
Adam and Mike made five dives on the Repulse and despite fairly poor visibility – around four metres – the duo were able to make a fairly comprehensive survey of the lost leviathan.
“Repulse is still a very imposing sight and it was a great honour to replace the Ensign on behalf of the survivors’ association,” said Adam.
“The wreck is still in good condition overall, lying on her port side in 57 metres of water. One of the 15in turrets is still facing out pointing the massive barrels up to the sky.
“The rest of the secondary armament on the port side is all visible. The seabed is littered with live ammunition – mainly pom-pom rounds and some 4in shells are clearly visible.”
Sadly, despite the sanctity of the site – both ships are protected war graves – the Repulse has suffered at the hands of ruthless salvage hunters; pre-nuclear-era steel is particularly valuable.
These scrap dealers have removed two propellers and caused substantial damage to aft, using explosives around the shafts.
Press Release, May 23, 2014; Image: Royal Navy