British Far East HQ 8th December 1941. Briefing.
‘Gentlemen, please be seated, you may smoke if you wish’
A hush descends on the room, all sit waiting for the Commander to begin…..
‘You all know that the balloon went up yesterday, we have now been at war with the Empire of Japan for just over 36 hours. You may all have partial knowledge of the situation, the purpose of this short briefing is to bring you all to see the big picture and then we can begin to take actions to sort it out. I will not pretend that the situation is anything other than grave. Much of what is said by me now must remain here lest we give cause for the troops and the populace to panic.’
‘We are aware that there have been limited attacks on our American allies yesterday. These attacks have resulted in landings at San Marcellino in the Phillippines.- it is too early to predict what will happen there though we are assured the Americans will defend their territory well. There were small air raids from what is assumed to be a light carrier operating south of Lagaspi’
‘ In the pacific area we gather that Wake Island has fallen after staunch resistance. Elsewhere all appears quiet, though there appears to be an inconsequential landing on some remote Island called Guadalcanal.’
‘That, gentlemen, is the sum total of the war elsewhere to date. The American planners assumed both that there would be a declaration of war, and that any initial major attacks would be on the Philippines. This appears to be incorrect on both counts.’
‘Some of you are more aware than others of the events in our own area. Let me give you the facts as they played out.’
‘At first light waves of carrier borne aircraft attacked Singapore airfield, estimates indicate from the numbers that this was the main element of the Japanese carrier forces. Most of our bases in Malaya were either bombed or subject to detailed air reconnaissance as the day progressed.’
‘Despite assurance from some of our coastal defence experts, major Japanese troop transports were seen to have passed through the Singapore straits and were observed heading towards the beaches at Johore Bahru..’
‘Force Z were thus faced with a dilemma, no matter how fast they steamed from Singapore, they would, by daylight, still be in sight and range of the position of the Japanese carriers. It was thus agreed that they would head for the transport task forces off Johore, hope to do significant damage to them and then, possibly under cover of bad weather escape to the north.’
‘Unfortunately the Japanese covering surface force, led by the Kongo and Haruna were able to detect our forces approaching. Naval experts tell me that as a matter of course the Prince of Wales and repulse would have been more than a match for these two. The first salvo from the Kongo landed on the POW, penetrated the deck armour and wreaked such havoc that she was unable to return fire. Despite this setback Force Z pressed on with their attack but encountered severe enemy shelling and some torpedo attacks in which the CL Danae and DD Express were sunk. Force Z were unable to intercept the transports and retired northwards.’
‘At daylight, off the coast of Kuala the planes of the Japanese carriers located Force Z and were joined by land based air from Japanese bases in Indochina. Initially the Repulse was observed to be hit by two torpedoes and her speed dropped to almost zero. A second strike was observed to hit her with another 8 torpedoes, some of which struck as she was already listing finally to port. The Prince of Wales was also hit by initially 2 torpedoes, but this was on top of her already substantial battle damage. A third strike then followed in which another 2 torpedoes struck home. I bitterly regret to inform you that both our battleships have been sunk. Much of the rest of Force Z is limping away and it is to be hoped that they will escape further attacks.’
‘Gentlemen, I never dreamed I would witness such a day of treacherous and damnable activity by a supposedly civilised nation. We have been hit very severely indeed, but I know that will simply make us more determined to exacta high price in revenge. ‘
‘I am adjourning this meeting for four hours, when we resume I want a fully worked out plan as to how we can resist this aggression, and what our first moves will be to turn back these impudent savages.’
‘To work gentlemen, to work……’
Chairs scrape, the room rapidly empties... many faces look utterly shocked by what they have just been told.