, Winston Churchill
was busy trying to defend the entire British Empire
with a finite number of resources. The farthest reaches of the empire were vulnerable to attack by the Japanese
, and plans for the welfare
of these colonies were confused and conflicting much of the time.
This situation led to the creation of Force Z for the defense of Singapore. Churchill wanted to send the "smallest number of best ships" and composed the force of the battleship Prince of Wales, the battle cruiser Repulse, and four escorting destroyers. This force arrived in Singapore on December 2nd, 1941, and its arrival was announced on the BBC.
The commanding officer of the force, Admiral Tom Phillips, was carrying the responsibility of preventing any Japanese landings on Malaya without the benefit of air cover.
On December 8th, the force sailed in bad weather to intercept Japanese convoys at Kota Bharu. His ships were spotted by three Japanese aircraft and he was forced to return to Singapore without contact.
Upon their return, they received reports of landings at Kuantan, and the destroyer escorts were sent ahead to investigate. They found no trace of the enemy, but were detected enroute by Japanese submarines, and the 22nd Air Flotilla was dispatched from their carriers to bomb the force as it returned once more to Singapore.
Just before noon on the 10th the attack began, and incoming waves of Japanese torpedo bombers made repeated passes at the main ships in the small fleet. Without any aircraft carriers of their own, Force Z was almost defenseless against this onslaught, and at 12:33 the Repulse was sunk. Shortly after, at 1:20, the Prince of Wales took its final blow and sank as well.
The escorting destroyers rescued 2081 of the 2921 sailors from these two ships, but Admiral Phillips was not among them. Just like in the movies, the captain goes down with his ship.
The Japanese went on to invade Singapore unimpeded by naval defenses.
The sinking of Force Z was a major blow to the prestige of the British Navy, and was one of the battles that pointed to the inability of capital ships to operate in modern warfare without air support.