Our ship’s gone, now swim for it

The 24th tor­pedo was one that sank us

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OUR ANZAC LEGENDS SPECIAL TRIBUTE -


Royal Aus­tralian Navy

On De­cem­ber 10, 1941, Guy Grif­fiths was swim­ming for his life.

The teenage mid­ship­man was one of five Aus­tralians aboard the HMS Repulse, a World War I-era Bri­tish bat­tle­cruiser that had been sent to Malaya to dis­rupt a Ja­panese land­ing.

That morn­ing, the ship was at­tacked by a squadron of Ja­panese bombers. Grif­fiths, who was later to be­come a rear ad­mi­ral in the Aus­tralian Navy, was man­ning the anti-air­craft guns.

Cap­tain Wil­liam Ten­nant man­aged to dodge 19 tor­pe­does. But, soon after mid­day, five hit the ship in as many min­utes. At 12.33, Repulse listed se­verely to one side and cap­sized.

There were 1180 men on board but the ship sank so quickly that al­most half of them died.

Min­utes be­fore the Repulse sank, Rear Ad­mi­ral Grif­fiths heard the call to aban­don ship. There was no panic. “I must say it was a very or­derly exit, for those who could get out,” he re­called.

In min­utes, mid­ship­man Grif­fiths and his team had scaled lad­ders, clam­bered around tur­rets, climbed out a port­hole and slid down the side of the ship into the wa­ter, which was thick with oil.

Many of the Bri­tish sailors couldn’t swim well enough to reach the wait­ing ships and died in the wa­ter.

They had life jack­ets but not enough time to blow them up.

Even for strong swim­mers like the Aus­tralians, it was a gru­elling jour­ney.

“I still had my shoes on,” Grif­fiths said. “You swim very care­fully. I was con­cen­trat­ing on get­ting to the de­stroyer quickly. “I did at one stage look back at the Repulse and watched the last por­tion of her bow dis­ap­pear­ing be­low the sur­face. You don’t get too sen­ti­men­tal when you’re flop­ping around in the wa­ter.”

Mid­ship­man Grif­fiths was res­cued by a nearby de­stroyer. He went on to serve in the Korean and Viet­nam wars. Three of the other Aus­tralian mid­ship­men sur­vived the sink­ing and the war.

But Robert Ian Davies of Green­wich, Syd­ney, did not.

As the Repulse sank, he was seen at his gun, shoot­ing at the Ja­panese planes. “In­stead of cast­ing off from his gun, he put him­self in the gun­ner’s po­si­tion,” Rear Ad­mi­ral Grif­fiths said. “It was a very coura­geous thing.”

HMS Repulse.

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