Bells from sunk warships go on display 80 years after tragedy

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were both attacked and sunk by Japanese aircraft on December 10, 1941.

Ben Mitchell
Wednesday 08 December 2021 12:59
Victoria Ingles, senior curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, looks at the ship’s bell from HMS Prince of Wales which was sunk in the Second World War (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Victoria Ingles, senior curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, looks at the ship’s bell from HMS Prince of Wales which was sunk in the Second World War (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Bells retrieved from two Royal Navy warships sunk during the Second World War have gone on display to mark the 80th anniversary of the death of the 842 sailors on board.

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were both attacked and sunk by aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 10, 1941, just days after Pearl Harbour.

The sinking of the two ships is considered one of the Navy’s worst disasters, with 330 crew lost from HMS Prince of Wales and 512 lost from HMS Repulse.

The bells were retrieved from the wrecks in 2002 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The bells from the two ships have now gone on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which is close to the jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base which is home to the aircraft carrier which inherited the name HMS Prince of Wales.

A museum spokeswoman said: “This was the first time that battleships at sea had been sunk solely by air attack and marked the end of the battleship as the pre-eminent ship type, replaced by the aircraft carrier.

“The ships had led the British naval squadron Force Z tasked with deterring Japanese expansion.

“Their sinking left the geographically important city Singapore weakened and contributed to its surrender on February 15 1942, a humiliating defeat for the allied forces.”

Prime minister Sir Winston Churchill recalled in his post-war memoirs: “In all the war, I never received a more direct shock.

Both warships were sunk by Japanese aircraft on December 10, 1941 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me.

“There were no British or American ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbour, who were hastening back to California. Across this vast expanse of waters, Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

Victoria Ingles, NMRN senior curator, said: “We hope our visitors take a moment to reflect on the enormity of the loss.

“Ship’s bells are held in great affection by the crew and it was so important that both were retrieved, with permission, from the wreck sites in 2002. Their display is a fitting tribute to the many lives lost.”

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