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HMS Repulse

Twelve ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Repulse.

The first was a 50-gun galleon also known as Due Repulse, launched in 1595 and in the records until 1645. The second was a 32-gun fifth rate, originally the French ship Bellone. She was captured in 1759 by HMS Vestal and foundered in 1776. The third Repulse was a 10-gun cutter purchased in 1779 and in the records until 1781. The fourth was a 64-gun third rate launched in 1780 and wrecked in 1800. The fifth Repulse was a 12-gun cutter purchased in 1780 and wrecked in 1782. The sixth was a 4-gun vessel purchased in 1794 and broken up a year later. The seventh was a 74-gun third rate launched in 1803 and broken up in 1820.

The eighth Repulse was a screw-propelled 91-gun second rate launched on February 27th 1855 as HMS Repulse but renamed HMS Victor Emmanuel on December 7th the same year. It was used as a receiving ship after 1873, and sold in 1899. The ninth was an ironclad ship launched in 1868 and sold in 1889. The tenth was a Royal Sovereign-class battleship launched in 1892 and sold in 1911. The eleventh Repulse was a Renown-class battlecruiser launched in 1916 and sunk in a Japanese air attack in 1941. The most recent ship to carry the name was was a Resolution-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine launched in 1967 and laid up in 1997.

The 1916 HMS Repulse was of the same basic dimensions, armourment and propulsion as her sister ship HMS Renown. This ship was laid down in Clydebank, Scotland on 25th January 1915. The ship was launched on 8th January 1916 and completed on 18th August 1916, after the Battle of Jutland. Her construction cost £2,829,087. She served with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea during the remaining two years of the First World War. Repulse relieved HMS Lion as flagship of the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron for the duration of the war.

HMS Repulse passing Forth Bridge c 1916
HMS Repulse passing the Forth Bridge in 1916.

Over the course of 1917 the Admiralty became more concerned about German efforts in the North Sea to sweep paths through the British-laid minefields intended to restrict the actions of the High Seas Fleet and German submarines. A preliminary raid on German minesweeping forces on 31st October by light forces destroyed ten small ships and the Admiralty decided on a larger operation to destroy the minesweepers and their escorting light cruisers. Based on intelligence reports the Admiralty decided on 17th November 1917 to allocate two light cruiser squadrons, the 1st Cruiser Squadron covered by the reinforced 1st Battlecruiser Squadron (less Renown) and, more distantly, the battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron to the operation.

 

The German ships, four light cruisers of II Scouting Force, eight destroyers, three divisions of minesweepers, eight sperrbrechers (cork-filled trawlers, used to detonate mines without sinking) and two trawlers to mark the swept route, were spotted at 7:30 a.m., silhouetted by the rising sun. The light battlecruiser Courageous and the light cruiser Cardiff opened fire with their forward guns seven minutes later. The Germans responded by laying an effective smoke screen. The British continued in pursuit, but lost track of most of the smaller ships in the smoke and concentrated fire on the light cruisers as opportunity permitted. Repulse was detached not long after and raced forward at full speed to engage the enemy ships. She opened fire at about 9am, scoring a single hit on the light cruiser SMS Königsberg during the battle. When the German battleships SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin were spotted about 9:50 the British broke off their pursuit and Repulse covered their retreat, aided by a heavy fog that came down around 10:40am. Repulse fired a total of 54 15-inch shells during the battle and scored one hit on the light cruiser SMS Königsberg that temporarily reduced her speed.

On 12th December 1917, Repulse was damaged in a collision with the battlecruiser HMAS Australia. The ship was present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow on 21st November 1918.

Repulse began a major refit at Portsmouth on 17th December 1918, intended to drastically improve her armour protection. Her existing 6-inch armour belt was replaced by 9-inch armour plates made surplus by the conversion of the battleship Almirante Cochrane (originally ordered by Chile and purchased after the war began) to the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. The old armour was fitted between the main and upper decks, above the new armour belt. Additional high-tensile plating was added to the decks over the magazines. The ship's anti-torpedo bulge was deepened and reworked along the lines of that installed on the battleship HMS Ramillies. The bulge covered her hull from the submerged torpedo room to 'Y' magazine and the inner compartments of which were filled with crushing tubes. The bulges added just under 13 feet to her beam and 11/2 feet to her draught. The refit added about 4,500 long tons to her displacement. Three 30-foot rangefinders were also added as well as eight torpedo tubes in twin mounts on the upper deck. Both flying-off platforms were removed. This refit cost £860,684.
HMS Repulse firing broadside
Repulse test-firing a broadside from her main armament after her refit.

Repulse was recommissioned on New Year's Day 1921 and joined the Battlecruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet. In November 1923, accompanied by HMS Hood and a number of Danae-class cruisers of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, she set out on a world cruise from west to east via the Panama Canal. They returned home ten months later in September 1924. Shortly after her return the ship's pair of 3-inch AA guns and her two single four-inch gun mounts were removed and replaced with four quad four-inch Mark V AA guns. The Battlecruiser Squadron visited Lisbon in February 1925 to participate in the Vasco da Gama celebrations before continuing on the Mediterranean for exercises. A squash court was added on the starboard side between the funnels for the Prince of Wales' tour of Africa and South America that lasted from March to October.

After Repulse completed her 1926 refit she remained in commission, aside from a brief refit in July–September 1927, with the Battlecruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet until she was paid off in June 1932 prior to beginning her reconstruction in April 1933. Most of the existing layers of high-tensile steel that constituted the ship's horizontal armour were replaced by non-cemented armour plates 2.5–3.5 inches thick and the torpedo control tower was removed from the aft superstructure. A fixed catapult replaced the midships 4-inch triple mount and a hangar was built on each side of the rear funnel to house two of the ship's Fairey III aircraft. One additional aircraft could be carried on the deck and another on the catapult itself. Electric cranes were mounted above each hangar to handle the aircraft. The four 4-inch AA guns were moved, one pair abreast the rear funnel at the level of the hangar roof and the other pair abreast the fore funnel on the forecastle deck. Four prototype QF 4-inch Mark XV dual-purpose guns were added in twin-gun Mark XVIII mounts abreast the mainmast. Two octuple Mark VI 2-pounder mounts were fitted on extensions of the conning-tower platform abreast the fore funnel. Above these a pair of quadruple Mark II mountings for the 0.5-inch Vickers Mark III machine gun were added. Repulse received two High-Angle Control System anti-aircraft directors, one Mark II on the fore-top and a Mark I mounted on a pedestal above the rear superstructure. The two submerged torpedo tubes were removed and the vacant spaces sub-divided and turned into store-rooms.

Repulse was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet when she recommissioned in April 1936. She transported 500 refugees from Valencia and Palma, Majorca to Marseilles, France in late 1936 after the start of the Spanish Civil War. The ship was present at the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead on 20th May 1937 for George VI. She was sent to Haifa in July 1938 to maintain order during the Arab Revolt,   was selected to convey the King and Queen during their May 1939 Canadian Tour and she was refitted again between October 1938 and March 1939 for this role. The twin 4-inch AA guns were replaced by two more Mark V guns and two additional quadruple .50-calibre mounts were added. The King and Queen ultimately traveled aboard the liner RMS Empress of Australia with Repulse escorting them on the first half of the journey.

 
HMS Repulse in 1936
Repulse in 1936, following her three-year refit.

At the beginning of the Second World War Repulse was part of the Battlecruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet. She patrolled off the Norwegian coast and in the North Sea in search of German ships and to enforce the blockade for the first couple months of the war. Early in the war the aft triple 4-inch gun mount was replaced with an 8-barrel 2-pounder mount. In late October she was transferred to Halifax with the aircraft carrier HMS Furious to protect convoys and search for German raiders. Repulse and Furious left Halifax on 23rd November in search of the German battleship Scharnhorst after it had sunk the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi, but Repulse was damaged by heavy seas in a storm and was forced to return to port. She escorted the convoys bringing most of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division to Britain between 10th & 23rd December 1939 and was then reassigned to the Home Fleet. In February 1940 she accompanied the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal on an ultimately fruitless search for six German blockade runners that had broken out of Vigo in Spain.

Repulse was assigned to support Allied operations during the Norwegian Campaign in April–June 1940. On April 7th Repulse, along with the bulk of the Home Fleet, was ordered to sea to intercept what was thought to be another German attempt to breakout into the North Atlantic. The ship was detached the following day to search for a German warship reported by the destroyer HMS Glowworm, but the destroyer had been sunk by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper before Repulse arrived and she was ordered to rendezvous with her sister Renown south of the Lofoten Islands, off the Norwegian coast. On April 12th Repulse was ordered to return to Scapa Flow to refuel and she escorted a troop convoy upon her return. In early June the ship was sent to the North Atlantic to search for German raiders and played no part in the evacuation of Norway.

Accompanied by Renown and the 1st Cruiser Squadron, Repulse attempted to intercept the German battleship Gneisenau as it sailed from Trondheim to Germany in July, but they were unable to locate Gneisenau. Until May 1941 Repulse escorted convoys and unsuccessfully searched for German ships. On 22nd May Repulse was diverted from escorting Convoy WS8B to assist in the search for the German battleship Bismarck, but she had to break off the search early on the 25th as she was running low on fuel. The ship was refitted from June to August and received eight Oerlikon 20-millimetre 'autocannons' as well as a Type 284 surface gunnery radar. She then escorted a troop convoy around the Cape of Good Hope from August to October and was transferred to East Indies Command.

In late 1941 Winston Churchill decided to send a small group of fast capital ships to Singapore, to deter expected Japanese aggression. In November, Repulse, which was in the Indian Ocean, was ordered to Colombo, Ceylon to rendezvous with the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales. The carrier HMS Indomitable which was assigned to join them was delayed when it had run aground in the Caribbean. Prince of Wales and Repulse and their escorting destroyers comprised Force Z which arrived in Singapore on 2nd December 1941. On the evening of 8th December Force Z departed for an attempt to destroy Japanese troop convoys and protect the army's seaward flanks from Japanese landings in their rear.

Force Z was spotted during the following afternoon by the Japanese submarine I-65 and planes from several Japanese cruisers spotted the British ships later that afternoon and shadowed them until dark. Admiral Sir Tom Phillips decided to cancel the operation as the Japanese were now alerted. Force Z turned back during the evening, after having tried to deceive the Japanese that they were heading to Singora. At 5a.m. on 10th December Admiral Philips received a signal of enemy landings at Kuantan and correspondingly altered course so that he would arrive shortly after dawn.

The crew of Japanese submarine I-58 spotted Force Z at 2:20a.m., reported their position, and fired five torpedoes, none of which hit any of the British ships. Based on this report the Japanese launched 11 reconnaissance aircraft before dawn to locate Force Z. Several hours later 86 bombers from the 22nd Air Flotilla based in Saigon were launched carrying bombs or torpedoes. The crew of a Mitsubishi G3M "Nell" reconnaissance bomber spotted the British at 10:15a.m. and radioed in several reports. The pilot was ordered to maintain contact and to broadcast a directional signal that the other Japanese bombers could follow.

The first attack began at 11:13a.m. when 550lb bombs were dropped from eight G3Ms from an altitude of 11,500 feet. Repulse was straddled by two bombs, then hit by a third which penetrated through the hangar to explode on the armoured deck below. This inflicted a number of casualties and damaged the ship's Supermarine Walrus seaplane, which was then pushed over the side to remove a fire hazard.
HMS Repulse R and Prince of Wales L under Jap attack 1941

Picture taken by one of the Japanese G3M's of the first attack.

Repulse is seen being straddled by the 550lb bombs on the right,

and Prince of Wales is at upper left.

Anti-aircraft fire damaged five of the Japanese bombers, two so badly that they immediately returned to Saigon. In the ensuing attacks, Repulse was skillfully handled by her captain Bill Tennant, who managed to avoid 19 torpedoes as well as the remaining bombs from the G3Ms. However, Repulse was then caught by a synchronised attack by 17 Mitsubishi G4M torpedo bombers and hit by at least four, possibly five, torpedoes in rapid succession. The AA gunners on Repulse shot down two planes and heavily damaged eight more, but the torpedo damage proved fatal. At 12:23p.m. Repulse listed severely to port and quickly capsized with the loss of 508 of the 1181 crew. The destroyers HMS Electra and HMAS Vampire rescued the survivors. The battlecruiser HMS Prince of Wales was also sunk during this engagement.

HMS Repulse explodes

This spectacular shot, taken from Prince of Wales, shows Repulse

receiving one of the torpedo hits.

The wreck site was designated as a 'Protected Place' in 2002 under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, 60 years after her sinking. Survivors described five torpedo hits; four on the port side and one on the starboard side. The four portside hits were: two amidships, one abreast the rear turret and one near the propellers. The starboard side hit was amidships. A 2007 diving expedition confirmed two of the hits by examination of the wreck: the portside hit near the propellers and the starboard hit amidships. The portside midships section of the ship is buried in the ocean floor thus the hits there could not be confirmed, though the area abreast of the rear turret was accessible and no sign of a torpedo hit was found.

HMS Repulse wreck painting
Painting of the resting place of HMS Repulse.

The two most recent vessels to carry the names Renown & Repulse are two of the Resolution-class SSBN's; the other members of the class being HMS Resolution & HMS Revenge. The Resolution-class was the launch platform for the UK's Independant Nuclear Deterrent from the late 1960s until 1994, when they were replaced by the Vanguard class boats carrying the Trident II ballistic missile system. A fifth boat of the Resolution-class was planned as HMS Ramillies, but it's construction was cancelled in 1965. By necessity, much of the information about the Resolution-class boats remains classified, and as such only a relatively brief mention can be made public of their capabilities and service history.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the UK's nuclear deterrent was based on the RAF's V-bombers; the Victors, Valiants and Vulcans. But in the early 1960s developments in radar and surface-to-air missiles made it clear that bombers were becoming vulnerable, and would be unlikely to penetrate Soviet airspace unmolested, and thus free-fall nuclear weapons would no longer be a credible deterrent.

To address this problem, in May 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan arranged a deal with US President Eisenhower to equip the V bombers with the US-designed AGM-48 Skybolt. The Skybolt was a 1,000-mile range ballistic missile that allowed the launching bombers to remain well away from Soviet defences and launch attacks that would be basically invulnerable. With this range, the V bombers would have to fly only a few hundred miles from their bases before being in range for an attack on Moscow.

Under the agreement the UK's contribution to the program was limited to developing suitable mounting points on the Avro Vulcan bomber, installing the required guidance systems that fed the missiles updated positioning information, and development of their own version of the US W47 warhead to arm it; the RE179.

The incoming Kennedy administration expressed serious doubts of both Skybolt and the US deterrent force in general. Robert McNamara was highly critical of the US bomber fleet, which he saw as obsolete in an age of ICBMs. Skybolt was seen simply as a means of continuing the existence of a system he no longer considered credible, and given the rapidly improving capabilities of ICBM inertial guidance systems, a precision strike capability with free-fall bombs would no longer be needed. McNamara was equally concerned about the UK retaining an independent nuclear force, and worried that the US could be drawn into a war by the UK, or that the Soviets could use the UK as a proxy hostage. He wanted to bring the UK into a 'dual-key' arrangement, whereby both the US President & the British Prime Minister would have to agree before submarine-based nuclear weapons could be launched.

McNamara first broached the idea of cancelling Skybolt with the British in November 1962. When this was reported in the House of Commons, a storm of protest broke out. A meeting was arranged to settle the issue, and Macmillan stated in no uncertain terms that the UK would be retaining their independent nuclear deterrent capability, no matter what the cost. Faced with a clear failure in policy terms, Kennedy gave up on the idea of strong-arming Britain into accepting a dual-key arrangement, and anyway, by the end of the series of meetings, the UK had developed the much more impressive Polaris missile system, and would start development of a new submarine to launch it. The SSBNs would then take over the nuclear deterrent role from the RAF's V bombers from 1968 onwards.

Two pairs of the boats were ordered in May 1963 from Vickers Shipbuilding Ltd, Barrow in Furness and from Cammell Laird and Co. Ltd, Birkenhead. The option of buying a fifth unit, planned as Ramillies, was cancelled in February 1965. Traditional battleship names were used, signifying that they were the capital ships of their time. Vickers Armstrong in Barrow-in-Furness constructed Resolution and Repulse and Cammell Laird in Birkenhead constructed Renown and Revenge. The construction was unusual in that the bow and stern were constructed separately before being assembled together with the American-designed missile compartment.
HMS Repulse at sea colour pic
Resolution-class SSBN HMS Repulse at sea.

The design was a modification of the Valiant-class fleet submarine, but greatly extended to incorporate the missile compartment between the fin and the nuclear reactor. The length was 130 metres, breadth 10.1 metres, height nine metres and the displacement 8,400 long tons submerged and 7,600 long tons   surfaced. A Rolls-Royce pressurised water reactor and English Electric turbines gave them a speed of 25 knots and they could dive to depths of 900 feet. Sixteen Polaris A3 missiles were carried, in two rows of eight. For emergencies there was an EE 200kw diesel generator and six 21-inch torpedo tubes located at the bow, firing the Tigerfish wire-guided homing torpedoes. The boats put to sea with a crew of 143.

 

The first to be completed was HMS Resolution, laid down in February 1964 and launched in September 1966. After commissioning in 1967 she underwent a long period of sea trials, culminating in the test firing of a Polaris missile from the USAF Eastern Test Range off Cape Kennedy at 11:15 on 15th February 1968. Resolution commenced her first operational patrol on 15th June 1968, beginning 28 years of Polaris patrols. The class were part of the 10th Submarine Squadron, all based at Faslane Naval Base, Scotland.

Repulse was the third Polaris Missile submarine of the Resolution class to be planned; HMS Renown was the second. Due to delays with Renown's build at Cammell Laird's Birkenhead shipyard, the Barrow-in-Furness Vickers built Repulse overtook Renown and was commissioned second of class. Repulse famously ran aground on launch, much to the delight of the CND protesters present, and was subsequently "blacked" by the shipyard unions. She survived all of these setbacks to become the longest-serving Polaris submarine. During 1979, Repulse was used to test a prototype DSRV (Deep Submergance Rescue Vehicle) for when submarines become stranded underwater, the results of which remain classified. All four of the class underwent conversion during the 1980s so that they could be fitted with the Polaris AT-K missile which was fitted with the British-developed Chevaline MIRV (Multiple Independantly targeted Re-entry Vehicle) system.

As each of the newer Vanguard-class Trident-equipped submarines entered service, the Resolution class were retired and all boats laid up at Rosyth dockyard with their nuclear fuel-rods removed. All four will eventually be disposed of via the MOD's Submarine Dismantling Project. The method of disposal is not yet agreed, but it is likely that all but the reactor-related components will be recycled for re-use by conventional ship-breaking techniques.

As the Royal Navy chooses its ship names on a rolling alphabetical order basis, there is unlikely to be a further HMS Renown or Repulse for some time.


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