Thursday, May 26, 2011

Richmond honours the dead of Force Z

STANDING to attention on the flight deck of HMS Richmond, today’s sailors honour the dead of 1941 – and remember one the greatest shocks in the Royal Navy’s history.

The frigate broke off from exercises with the Australian-Singaporean-New Zealand and Malaysian navies to make for 3° 33′ 36″ N, 104° 28′ 42″ E – the approximate last resting place of HMS Prince of Wales.
In December 1941 the battleship – the newest in the Fleet – and her accompanying battle-cruiser HMS Repulse were the firepower of Force Z, sent to the Far East to deter Japanese aggression.

The Empire of the Rising Sun was not deterred and on December 10 1941 the two capital ships were sunk by Japanese bombers after an abortive operation to prevent the invasion of Malaysia.
More than 800 men were lost when both ships went down, including the task force commander Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, and Prince of Wales’ captain Capt John Leach.
69½ years later, Richmond stopped all engines, lowered her Ensign to half mast and mustered her ship’s company on the flight deck for a service of remembrance which culminated in reading the Ode of Remembrance and the laying of a wreath of poppies in the South China Sea.
The frigate’s ship’s company were joined for the ceremony by sailors from the Royal Australian, Malaysian, New Zealand and Republic of Singapore Navies, gathered on a hot, humid, sunny day not entirely different from the weather faced by the men of the Prince of Wales and Repulse on that fateful day in 1941.
“The act of remembrance allowed my ship’s company to remember the sacrifice that was made here and honour the highest standards of the Service that they met all those years ago,” said Capt Mike Walliker, Richmond’s Commanding Officer.
“With this ceremony we renewed our commitment to those standards. It was particularly poignant given that Richmond, like Force Z, is currently endeavouring to ensure stability and security in the region – albeit 70 years later and in a somewhat different world order.”
Richmond is away from her Portsmouth home for seven months; having devoted the first half of her deployment to dealing with piracy off Somalia, the Type 23 frigate has shifted to the Far East to work with Britain’s allies in the region, chiefly the Five Powers Defence Agreement, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2011.
Those five powers – UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore – gather regularly for a major exercise, this year called Bersama Shield, which tests their ability to work together.


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