KING’S LYNN: Amazing story of how a British battleship was sunk by Japanese aircraft during WW2
A Lynn crew member’s amazing “as it happened” account of the sinking of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales during World War II has come to light.
It was penned by the late Doug Child, who was a sports writer then sports editor of the Lynn News for many years. He used his reporting instincts to record what it was like to be on the ship as it was attacked by land-based Japanese aircraft in the South China Sea, off Malaysia, on December 10, 1941.
HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, which was accompanying it at the time, were the first major British warships to be sunk solely by airpower on the open sea.
Mr Child’s eldest son, Peter, who is 65 today, came across the detailed account by chance while researching his father’s wartime naval experiences, after learning of its existence from an elderly aunt.
Mr Child, of Gaywood Road, Lynn, said: “I had no idea until then that my dad had written this personal account of the attack, which happened while he was below decks on the Prince of Wales.”
His father moved to Lynn in 1935, when he was 15. He worked at the paper from about 1935 until his death from a heart attack in 1981, except for his war service and a spell on the Bury Free Press from 1949 to 1951.
Mr Child said: “During his service in the Royal Marines in the Second World War my father was working as a radio officer aboard HMS Prince of Wales. He was also in the Royal Marines band playing saxophone and clarinet.”
On May 23, 1941, Doug Child was below decks on HMS Prince of Wales in the Denmark Straits, pursuing the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, when he felt a shudder as the British battlecruiser HMS Hood exploded under fire from the German ships.
In August, 1941, HMS Prince of Wales took Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the Atlantic Conference with US president Franklin Roosevelt in Newfoundland. Two months later, it headed to Singapore, where it docked on December 2, 1941.
In the early hours of December 10, 1941, the battleship was dispatched with HMS Repulse and other ships to investigate reports that Japanese forces were landing at Kuantan in Malaysia.
Peter Child said: “On arrival, the reports turned out to be false and at 11am land-based Japanese bombers and torpedo aircraft began their assault on the British force.
“In the second attack, at 11.30am, torpedoes hit Prince of Wales on the port side, wrecking the outer propshaft and causing her to take on a heavy list.”
HMS Repulse was sunk in the fourth attack, at 12.33pm, and six aircraft also attacked the Prince of Wales, with four torpedoes hitting the ship and causing flooding.
Peter Child said: “Finally, a 500kg bomb hit the catapult deck, penetrated through to the main deck and exploded, tearing a gash in the port side of the hull. At 1.15pm, the order was given to abandon ship and at 1.20pm Prince of Wales sank.
“Vice-Admiral Tom Phillips and captain John Leach were among the 327 fatalities. Fortunately, my father was rescued and all this happened just three days after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour.”
He added: “After the war, my father returned to the Lynn News. For many years he was a sports reporter and I used to go to watch the Linnets with him in the press box as a young lad.
“In later years he was sports editor and eventually became a sub-editor. He also wrote the Waterfront column for many years and was very well known in Lynn.”
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