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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018: One of the luckier sugars

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018: One of the luckier sugars

Photo by famed Boston Herald cameraman Leslie Jones via The Boston Public Library, colorized by my friend and the most excellent Postales Navales

Here we see the somber crew of the early “Government-type” S-class diesel-electric submarine USS S-8 (SS-113) — back when the Navy just gave ’em numbers– as she pulls into Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard some 90-years ago today: 3 January 1928, in the twilight of her career. They are no doubt still reeling from the loss of her close sister, S-4 (SS-109) just two weeks prior, to which the boat stood by to help rescue surviviors without success.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups. These small 1,000~ ton diesel-electrics took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-8, was 231-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 15-knots on the surface on her twin MAN 8-cylinder 4-stroke direct-drive diesel engines and two Westinghouse electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen fish and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

Her Government-type sister, USS S-4 (SS-109) Interior view, looking aft in the Crew’s Quarters (Battery Room), 25 December 1919. Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. Note folding chairs and tables, coffee pot, Christmas decorations door to the Control Room. NH 41847

USS S-4 Description: (Submarine # 109) Interior view, looking forward in the Crew’s Quarters (Battery Room), 25 December 1919. Taken by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. Note folding chairs, table, benches, and berths; also Christmas decorations. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41848

S-8 was technically a war baby.  A BuC&R design Government-type boat, she was laid down 9 November 1918 at Portsmouth Navy Yard, just 48-hours before the Armistice. Commissioned 1 October 1920, she was attached along with several of her sister ships (including the ill-fated Portsmouth-built USS S-4 whose interior is above) to SubDiv 12 and, together with SubDiv18, sailed slowly and in formation from Maine via the Panama Canal to Cavite Naval Station with stops in California and Hawaii.

USS S-8 (SS-113) Underway during the 1920s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41749

In all, the journey from Portsmouth to the Philippines took a full year, but according to DANFS, “set a record for American submarines, at that time, as the longest cruise ever undertaken. Other submarines, which had operated on the Asiatic station prior to this, were transported overseas on the decks of colliers.”

S-8 and her sisters formed SubFlot 3, operating in the P.I. and the coast of China while forward deployed for three years, the salad days of her career.

USS S-8 (SS-113) At the Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Islands, circa 1921-1924. Note the awning and the type’s “chisel” bow. Collection of Chief Engineman Virgil Breland, USN. Donated by Mrs. E.H. Breland, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 103259

Submarine tender USS Camden (AS-6) Photographed circa the middle or later 1920s, with ten S type submarines alongside. The submarines are (on Camden’s starboard side, from left to right): USS S-18 (SS-123); unidentified Electric Boat type S-boat; USS S-19 (SS-124); USS S-12 (SS-117); and an unidentified Government type S-boat. (on Camden’s port side, from left to right): unidentified Government type S-boat; USS S-7 (SS-112); USS S-8 (SS-113); USS S-9 (SS-114); and USS S-3 (SS-107). Note the awnings. Collection of Vice Admiral Dixwell Ketcham, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 100459

By Christmas 1924, S-8 was at Mare Island, California and was a West Coast boat for a minute before chopping to the Panama Canal for a while.

Submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) in the Canal Zone, with several S type submarines alongside, circa 1926. Note the Submarine Division Eleven insignia on the fairwaters of the two inboard subs. Submarines present are (from inboard to outboard): unidentified; USS S-25 (SS-130); USS S-7 (SS-112); USS S-4 (SS-109); USS S-6 (SS-111); and USS S-8 (SS-113). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 53436

May 1927 found S-8 and several her SubFlot 3 alumni sisters stationed on the East Coast at the big submarine base in New London.

It was during this time that tragedy occurred off New England.

On 17 December 1927, sister USS S-4, while surfacing from a submerged run over the measured-mile off Provincetown, Cape Cod, Mass., was accidentally rammed and sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard-manned destroyer USS Paulding (DD-22/CG-17), killing all on board. An inquiry later absolved the Coast Guard of blame.

As noted by Naval, “The two ships had no idea the other would be there.”

Per DANFS on the incident:

The only thing to surface, as Paulding stopped and lowered lifeboats, was a small amount of oil and air bubbles. Rescue and salvage operations were commenced, only to be thwarted by severe weather setting in. Gallant efforts were made to rescue six known survivors trapped in the forward torpedo room, who had exchanged a series of signals with divers, by tapping on the hull. However, despite the efforts, the men were lost. S-4 was finally raised on 17 March 1928 and towed to the Boston Navy Yard for drydocking. She was decommissioned on the 19th.

Diver descending on the wreck of the USS S-4 from USS Falcon (AM-28)

Half submerged S-4 sub after accident. Charlestown Navy Yard – Pier 4 Leslie Jones Boston Public Library 3 12 1928

USS S-4 Description: (SS-109) Interior of the Battery Room, looking aft and to port, 23 March 1928. Taken while she was in dry dock at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, after being salvaged off Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she had been sunk in collision with USCGC Paulding on 17 December 1927. The irregular object running the length of the compartment, just above the lockers on the right (port) side, is the collapsed ventilator duct through which water entered the Control Room. Into this duct water forced the curtain and flag, which clogged the valve on the after side of the bulkhead, preventing it from closing. It was this water which forced the abandonment of the Control Room. S-4 flooded through a hole, made by Paulding’s bow, in the forward starboard side of the Battery Room. See Photo # NH 41847 and Photo # NH 41848 for photographs of the Battery Room, taken when S-4 was first completed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41833

SS-8 went to the aid of her sister, but it was to no avail.

Sub S-8 at the Navy Yard after standing by S-4 off Provincetown when she was rammed and sent to the bottom by USS Paulding. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

U.S. sub S-8, Charlestown Navy Yard Jan 15, 1928. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

U.S. sub S-8, Charlestown Navy Yard Jan 15, 1928. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

With just a decade of service under their belt, the age of the Sugar boats was rapidly coming to an end as the Depression loomed, and precious Navy Department dollars were spent elsewhere on more modern designs. Three others of the class were lost in peacetime accidents– S-5, S-48, and S-51— while a number were scrapped wholesale in the 1930s.

Departing New London on 22 October 1930, S-8 sailed to Philadelphia where she was decommissioned on 11 April 1931.

Subs S-3/S-6/S-7/S-8/S-9 going out of commission at Philadelphia Navy Yard. Leslie Jones, Boston Herald Photographer, via Boston Public Library collection.

She was struck from the Navy list on 25 January 1937 and scrapped.

Though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though keeps their memory alive.

Specs: (Government-type S-class boats which included USS S-4-9 & 14-17)

Displacement: 876 tons surfaced; 1,092 tons submerged
Length: 231 feet (70.4 m)
Beam: 21 feet 9 inches (6.6 m)
Draft: 13 feet 4 inches (4.1 m)
Propulsion: 2 × MAN diesels, 1,000 hp (746 kW) each; 2 × Westinghouse electric motors, 600 hp (447 kW) each; 120-cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h) surfaced; 11 knots (20 km/h) submerged
Bunkerage: 148 tons oil fuel
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,000 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h) surfaced
Test depth: 200 ft. (61 m)
Armament (as built): 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes)
1 × 4 inch (102 mm)/50 caliber Mark 9 “wet mount” deck gun
Crew: 38 (later 42) officers and men

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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

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Checkerboards over Wake

After an epic two-week battle for the remote island outpost of Wake, 449 Marines, 68 U.S. Navy personnel, and 5 U.S. Army soldiers, as well as a force of civilian contractors, surrendered to a 2,500-man force of Japanese infantry backed up by a 19-ship armada on this day in 1941– two days before Christmas.

While transiting the area, Navy aircraft fly conducted a heritage flight off the coast of Wake Island in the western Pacific Ocean, in October from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Three Navy CVW-17 birds (NA tail flash), the top two F-18E/F’s from VFA’s 94 and 113, while the bottom is an EF-18G Growler from the Cougars of VAQ-139, over Wake. (Navy photo by Lt. Aaron B. Hicks)

A Marine flight consisted of four F-18C’s from VMFA-312, a unit that first saw combat during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and was credited with 59.5 Japanese kills during the war, also participated. As the “Checkerboards” C-model Hornets are a bit long in the tooth when compared with more current E-series Super Hornets, they are a good analogy to VMF-211’s F4F-3 Wildcats flown at Wake back in 1941.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 26, 2017) Four F/A-18C Hornets, assigned to the Checkerboards of Marine Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 312, fly in formation over Wake Island and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a U.S. Navy Heritage event for the crew. Theodore Roosevelt is currently underway for a regularly scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony J. Rivera/Released)

CAPT. Leschack, passing the bar

Seven Days in the Arctic by Keith Woodcock, Oil on Canvas, 2007, CIA collection

Seven Days in the Arctic by Keith Woodcock, Oil on Canvas, 2007, CIA collection

A true Renaissance man, Leonard A. LeSchack in 1962 jumped out of a perfectly good (CIA-flown) converted B-17 bomber over the Arctic. At the time, he was a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve but before joining up he had already cut his teeth as a petroleum geologist with Shell and some 14 months in the Polar Regions on Air Force Drift Station T-3 and during the International Geophysical Year as an assistant seismologist.

However, the geologist-turned-sailor who was falling through the air from the B-17 was up to something that, when compared to the rest of his epic life story, was altogether unique.

LeSchack was jumping into an abandoned Soviet Ice Station adrift on an ice floe.

Then came a week poking through the remnants the Russkis thought would have gone down with the floe to the frigid sea floor looking for secrets and a Fulton Skyhook zip line in reverse pulled him and his Air Force Russian linguist companion back into the safety of a surplus aircraft.

I spoke to Len back in 2006 when I was working on an article about the ice station break-in, known appropriately as Project Coldfeet, and have remained in contact with this gentleman and scholar over the past decade.

He only really achieved recognition in 2008.

“Leonard A. LeSchack, 46 years after the successful conclusion of Project Coldfeet, now promoted to Captain USNR (ret), while attending the unveiling ceremony of the original painting, “Seven Days in the Arctic,” is presented the “Special Operations Group (SOG) Challenge Coin” by the Chief Special Operations Group, on 21 April 2008, as recognition of his role in that operation. As stated by the Chief, “it was a young officer, Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Leonard LeSchack, a former Antarctic Geophysicist, who had the early vision and technical expertise to conceive the operation.”

Len even has crossed paths with a relative of mine on a few occasions and I penned another piece or two on Coldfeet for Eye Spy Magazine (Vol 80 and 81) and others to help preserve the sheer elan of the act.

So when he sent me a copy of his memoirs last year, He Heard A Different Drummer, I devoured it.


Picking up the Presidential Legion of Merit in 1962, LeSchack again returned to the Antarctic with the Argentine Navy, roamed Europe from Paris to Moscow on a number of research assignments, created and led an intelligence unit operating out of the Florida Keys in the years just after the Bay of Pigs.

Then there was service in Panama, Colombia, Siberia; owning his very own yellow research submarine. Hanging out with world leaders, terrorists, and scientists all.

Then, there were the women.

Len’s story, his autobiography that could never have been told in real time due to the OPSEC, stretches two volumes but is well worth the read, as he has somehow managed to fit two lifetimes into one and is available over at Amazon in paperback and e-book.

Part James Bond, part Sylvanus Morley, part William ‘Strata’ Smith, part Penguin, my hat is off to you, Mr. LeSchack.

I was informed by a friend of Len’s over the weekend that he passed away on Dec. 14 and is expected at Arlington shortly. A final belated honor for a cold warrior.

Farewell, Len.


Warship Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017: Who touches me is broken

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017: Who touches me is broken

Here we see the Renown-class 15in gun battlecruiser HMS Repulse of the Royal Navy sailing as part of Force Z from Singapore, 8 December 1941, the day WWII expanded to the Pacific in a big way with the entrance of the Empire of Japan to the conflict. Just 48 hours later, some 76 years ago this week and just three days after Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft caught Repulse and the new King George V-class battleship Prince of Wales in the South China Sea, unsupported and unable to resist the onslaught.

Originally part of the eight planned “R” type battleships of the Revenge-class, big 33,500-ton vessels with 8 15-in/42 cal guns, 13-inches of armor and a top speed of 21-knots on a 26,500shp plant, the last two of the class were carved off and improved upon a good bit. These ships, Renown and Repulse had much more power (126,000shp on 42 glowing boilers!) while sacrificing both armor (at their thickest point just 10 inches) and guns (six 15-inch Mark Is rather than 8). But what these two redesigned battlecruisers brought was speed– Renown making an amazing 32.58kts on builder’s trials, a speed not bested for a capital ship for almost a half-decade until the one-off HMS Hood reached the fleet in 1920.

HMS Renown and HMS Repulse in 1926, what beautiful ships

Our ship had a storied name indeed and was the 10th RN ship to carry the name introduced first for a 50-gun galleon in 1595 and last for a Royal Sovereign-class pre-dreadnought sold in 1911, earning a combined total of 7 battle honors between them. Her motto: Qui Tangit Frangitur (Who touches me is broken.)

Both Renown and Repulse were laid down on the same day– 25 January 1915, five months into the Great War, at two different yards. Repulse, built by John Brown, Clydebank, in Scotland, was the first one complete, commissioned 18 August 1916, just six weeks too late for Jutland.

Conning tower and forward turrets with 15-inch guns of HMS Repulse at John Brown & Co_s Clydebank yard, August 1916 National Records of Scotland, UCS1-118-443-295

HMS Repulse, Rowena, Romola and Erebus at the John Browns shipyard at Clydebank in July 1916.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 18131) British battle cruiser HMS Repulse. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 74265) Battlecruiser HMS Repulse below the Forth Bridge. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Battlecruiser Repulse view of the tank and the compass platform

Repulse became the first capital ship to carry an aircraft, mounting a tiny 800-pound Sopwith Pup on two bullshit looking flying off platforms from her “B” and “Y” turrets in September.

Sopwith Pup N6459 sits on a turret platform aboard HMS Repulse in October 1917

Repulse did get a chance to meet the Germans in combat, however, as the flagship of the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron during the ineffective scrap of the Heligoland Bight on 17 November 1917 with RADM Richard F. Phillimore’s flag on her mast. The most severe damage done to the stronger German force under RADM Ludwig von Reuter was when one of the Repulse‘s 15-inch shells hit on the light cruiser SMS Königsberg, igniting a major fire on board.

Win one for the Repulse!

She later finished the war uneventfully but was on hand at the surrender of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow.

Post-war, Repulse was extensively rebuilt with some 4,500-tons of additional armor and torpedo bulges, drawing on lessons learned about how disaster-prone battlecruisers are in combat (“There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”) against battleships and submarines. This gave her a distinctive difference from her sister for years until Renown got the same treatment. This process is extensively documented by Ivan Gogin over at Navypedia.

She joined the brand-new HMS Hood and five “D” class cruisers in 1923-24 as part of the “Special Service Squadron” to wave the Royal Ensign in a round-the-world cruise that saw her visit several far-flung Crown Colonies as well as the U.S and Canada.

HMS Repulse entering Vancouver Harbor, as part of her round-the-world cruise in 1924 with HMS Hood

HMS Repulse off the coast of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, on 12 June 1924. Photographed from an aircraft flying out of Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 57164

Photographed through a porthole, circa 1922-24. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 525-A

In 1925, Repulse undertook Royal Visits to Portugal, South Africa and east coast of South America with Prince of Wales then largely spent the next 10 years in a reduced status with up to a third of her crew on furlough, though she put to sea for a number of exercises to give a good show between yard periods and a lengthy reconstruction.

HMS Repulse Firing her 15-inch guns during maneuvers off Portland, England, circa the later 1920s. The next ship astern is sister HMS Renown. Photographed from HMS Hood. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 57181

HMS Repulse leading other Royal Navy capital ships during maneuvers, circa the later 1920s. The next ship astern is HMS Renown. The extensive external side armor of Repulse and the larger bulge of Renown allow these ships to be readily differentiated. Photograph by Underwood & Underwood. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 57183

She also picked up some deck-mounted torpedo tubes, always a waste on a capital ship!

Back to work after 1935, she was a common sight in the Med, protecting British interests.

HMS REPULSE (FL 12340) Underway. May 1936. She was serving extensively off Spain in this period during the Spanish Civil War. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

1938- British Renown-class battlecruiser HMS REPULSE after 1930’s reconstruction leaving Portsmouth.

Renown Class Battlecruiser HMS Repulse at Haifa, July13th and 14th 1938. Note the extensive hot weather awnings over her decks in this image and the below.

HMS Repulse, from the stern, as a Royal Marine in tropical kit stands guard with a bayonet-affixed SMLE during her visit to Palestine in 1938. That pith helmet, tho!

Assigned to the Home Fleet at the outbreak of WWII, she sailed first for Halifax to provide cover in the western north Atlantic for HX and SC convoys then returned to the UK in early 1940 to screen the Northern Patrol and the Norwegian convoys, later operating off Norway itself, primarily in the Lofoten Islands, during the campaign there, just missing a chance to sink the cruiser Adm. Hipper.

Repulse then formed part of Force A, intended to block German surface raiders including Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as well as a variety of lesser cruisers from massacring Atlantic convoys.

She got a break in late 1940 with a refit at Rosyth where these great images were taken.

‘JACK OF ALL TRADES’. 1940, ON BOARD HMS REPULSE DURING HER REFIT IN DRY DOCK. (A 1337) Signalman May of HMS REPULSE repairing flags while in harbor. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

TYPES OF SEAMEN. 1940, ON BOARD HMS REPULSE DURING HER REFIT. (A 1339) This Seaman, who has grown a beard since joining the Navy, is known on board as the ‘Bearded Gunner’. Here he is shouldering a 4-inch shell. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

By March 1941, Repulse was assigned to Force H in the Med, and dispatched to Gibraltar where she would help shepherd Freetown convoys. However, in May the great German battleship Bismarck broke out into the Atlantic and Repulse took part in the effort to run her to ground– though she never contacted the Germans.

Then, Churchill decided that HMS Prince of Wales, who did get in some licks on Bismarck, along with Repulse would be a terrific addition to bolster the defenses of Singapore against a lot of noise the Japanese– who had just taken over nearby French Indochina– were making.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6793) The battlecruiser HMS REPULSE, painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme, while escorting the last troop convoy to reach Singapore. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source:

British troop reinforcements come ashore at Singapore, November 1941 escorted by Repulse and Prince of Wales. These men would soon become Japanese prisoners of war.

When the Japanese entered the war with a vengeance, enemy troop convoys were spotted, and landings made at Kuantan in Malaysia– with Force Z directed to intercept. Bird-dogged by two Japanese submarines, the Japanese 22nd Air Flotilla, based out of the French facilities at Saigon, tracked the woefully unprepared British ships and some 90~ G3M “Nell” and GM4 “Betty” bombers soon took to the air to erase the Royal Navy from the Pacific on 10 December.

It was a slow-motion slaughter that lasted for hours as the aircraft hounded the British ships.

At approximately 12:30 midday, the battlecruiser Repulse which had dodged 19 torpedoes so far, finally rolled over, within six minutes of three simultaneous hits. At the same time the relatively new battleship Prince of Wales also took three torpedoes – leaving her in a dire situation. With a torpedo having already taken out two shafts earlier in the attack, she was now left with just one. With this and, incredibly, north of 10,000 tonnes of unwelcome seawater aboard, her speed was massively reduced. However, not yet slain her crew took up the fight with high level bombers as she clawed her way home. From that final wave of attackers, one 500lb bomb came to be the final nail and slowly rolling over to port, she settled by the head and sank at 13:18.

THE LOSS OF HMS PRINCE OF WALES AND REPULSE 10 DECEMBER 1941 (HU 2762) A heavily retouched Japanese photograph of HMS PRINCE OF WALES (upper) and REPULSE (lower) after being hit by Japanese torpedoes on 10 December 1941, off Malaya. A British destroyer can also be seen in the foreground. The sinkings were an appalling blow to British prestige. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

THE SINKING OF HMS REPULSE AND HMS PRINCE OF WALES, DECEMBER 1941 (HU 2763) A Japanese aerial photograph showing HMS PRINCE OF WALES (top) and HMS REPULSE during the early stages of the attack in which they were sunk. HMS REPULSE had just been hit for the first time (12.20 hours). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

“Sea Battle off Malaya” Description: Photo #: SC 301094 Sea Battle off Malaya Japanese war art painting by Nakamura Kanichi, 1942, depicting Japanese Navy aircraft making successful torpedo attacks on the British battleship Prince of Wales (center) and battlecruiser Repulse (left) on 10 December 1941. Planes shown include Betty bombers. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: SC 301094

In all, around 840 of HMs officers and men – including the task force commander Adm. Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan “Tom” Phillips GBE, KCB, DSO, and flagship captain John Leach – lost their lives. The Japanese lost six aircraft and 18 aircrew. A squadron of land-based RAAF Brewster Buffalos, which were crap fighters compared to Zeroes but still could have fought off the lumbering twin-engine Japanese bombers, arrived after both ships were on the bottom. Four escorting destroyers, HMS Electra, Express, Vampire, and Tenedos, managed to pick up over 1,000 survivors.

Prince of Wales and Repulse were the first capital ships to be sunk at sea by aircraft alone, smothered in a wave of no less than 49 air-launched torpedoes, about 20 percent of which hit home. It was the final nail in the coffin in the air power vs the all-gun big warship debate following (ironically) the British raid on Taranto in November 1940 and, of course, Pearl Harbor. In the 13 months spanning these three engagements, there was a paradigm shift in naval warfare that found battleships on the bad end of the stick.

Of the attack, Winston Churchill said, “In all the war I never received a more direct shock. As I turned and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters, Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

As for her crew, the survivors were scattered to the wind and continued as best they could once reaching dry land again, many winding up as prisoners of war when Singapore fell in Febuary 1942, a fate which some did not survive.

Repulse’s captain, Bill Tennant, survived the sinking and was not lost at Singapore, later going on to become one of the architects of the Normandy invasion, aiding in the setup of the Mulberry harbors and the Pluto pipelines. Sir William retired as an Admiral in 1949 and lived to the age of 73 and his earlier exploits during the miracle at Dunkirk before he arrived on Repulse were portrayed in large part by Kenneth Branagh in that recent film.

In 1945, when a major British fleet returned to the Pacific looking for a little payback and to take back Singapore and Hong Kong, it was centered around six heavily armored fleet carriers, escorted by a force of modern battleships slathered in AAA defenses– to include two sisters of Prince of Wales: HMS King George V and HMS Howe.

As for Repulse‘s own sister, Renown helped search for the pocket battleship SMS Admiral Graf Spee, traded fire with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, fought in the Med, covered the Torch Landings in North Africa, carried Churchill to the Cairo Conference and even made it to Java by 1944 to plaster the Japanese in honor of her lost classmate. She lived on to be scrapped in 1948 after 32 years of very hard and faithful service.

Both Renown and Repulse had their names recycled for an 8th and 11th time respectively, in the 1960s as two of the four Resolution-class Polaris missile submarines in the Royal Navy. Those boombers are currently laid up at Rosyth dockyard with their used nuclear fuel removed after three decades of deterrent patrols.

The 1941 loss of Repulse and Prince of Wales is still painfully remembered in the Royal Navy today, akin to the loss of the USS Indianapolis or the USS Arizona in the U.S. Navy.

The wrecks of Repulse and Prince of Wales were discovered in the 1960s and have been extensively visited and memorialized over the years.

There is now a campaign to urge recovery of some of the more important artifacts from Repulse (Prince of Wales‘ bell was salvaged some years ago) to beat illegal scrappers to the punch. As reported by the Telegraph, “The massive bronze propellers disappeared sometime between September 2012 and May 2013, followed quickly by components made of other valuable ferrous metals, such as copper. The scavengers have since turned their attention to blocks of steel and high-grade aluminum.”

And of course, she is remembered in maritime art across three continents.

Collinson, Basil; HMS ‘Repulse’, Sunk 10 December 1941; Royal Marines Museum;

Repulse, sketched at Colombo in 1941, on the way to her fate with destiny. Via the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies.

HMS Repulse & HMS Prince of Wales

Freedman, Barnett; 15-Inch Gun Turret, HMS ‘Repulse’; IWM (Imperial War Museums);


27,200 long tons (27,600 t) (normal)
32,220 long tons (32,740 t) (deep load)
35,000 full (1941)
750 ft. 2 in p.p., 794 ft. 1.5 in (oa.)
Beam: 90 ft. 1.75 in
Draught: 27 ft. (33 at FL)
Installed power: 112,000 shp (84,000 kW)
4 × shafts, 2 × Brown-Curtis steam turbines steam turbine sets,
42 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers water-tube boilers
Fuel: 4243 tons oil for 4700nm range @12kts.
Speed: 31.5 knots (28 by 1939)
Crew: 967 (designed) 1,222 (1919) 1,250 (1939)
Belt: 3–6 in (76–152 mm) (later increased to 9-inches)
Decks: 1–2.5 in (25–64 mm) (later increased to 4-inches)
Barbettes: 4–7 in (102–178 mm)
Gun turrets: 7–9 in (178–229 mm)
Conning tower: 10 in (254 mm)
Bulkheads: 3–4 in (76–102 mm)
Aircraft carried: 2 Sopwith Pups (1917-20) 4 Sea Walrus (1936)
Armament: (1916)
3 × 2 – 15-inch (381 mm) guns
6 × 3, 2 × 1 – 4-inch (102 mm) guns
2 × 1 – 3-inch (76 mm) anti-aircraft guns
1x 3pdr Hotchkiss Mk I 47mm
2 × 1 – submerged 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
Armament: (1939)
3 × 2 – 15-inch (381 mm) guns
4 × 3 – 4-inch (102 mm) guns
6 × 1 – 102/45 QF Mk V
2 × 8 – 40mm (1.6 in) 2pdr QF Mk VIII “pom-pom” AA guns
4×4- Quad Vickers .50 cal mounts
8 × 21 in (530 mm) Mk II torpedo tubes

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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The broken Hart

Awakened about 3:00 A.M., 8 December 1941 (2:00 P.M. Washington, D.C., time; 8:30 A.M. Pearl Harbor time, both 7 December), Admiral Thomas C. Hart scribbled this message to alert his fleet.

“Asiatic Fleet, Priority
Japan started hostilities. Govern yourselves accordingly.”

With the Philippines indefensible from a naval standpoint, by 14 December Hart had managed to withdraw his outgunned fleet in good order to Balikpapan, Borneo and continue operations from there. While his submarines kept slipping through the Japanese blockade of the PI, he engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Balikpapan Bay and came out ahead.

Hart held the command of the U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet in WWII until 5 February 1942, at which point the command ceased to exist though not a single ship was lost while he was in charge of the force.

An excellent 95-page overview of the two months between the two bookend dates is here

Ward, who fired Pearl Harbor’s first shot, located after 73 years

New video in from the Philippines of Paul Allen’s RV Petrel exploring and documenting the remains of the Wickes-class destroyer, USS Ward (DD-139/APD-16).

USS Ward fired the first American shot in World War II on December 7, 1941, and of course is a past Warship Wednesday alumnus.

In a twist of fate, she was lost December 7, 1944, in Ormoc Bay and is now found and announced to the world again on that, now hallowed, date.

The beginning, and the end

A Navy officer views the shrine at the Arizona Memorial, where a marble wall bears the names of 1,177 officers and crew killed on the USS Arizona (BB-39) on 7 December 1941.

(Photo: VA)

A view of the USS Missouri (BB-63), site of the Japanese surrender ceremony in 1945, from the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. To this day, oil can be still seen rising from the wreckage to the surface of the water. The oil seeping is sometimes referred to as “tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”

(Photo: VA)

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