No Call For Help

Content Author: 
Reagan, David
All he had to do was call for help

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 unleashed a flurry of Japanese attacks throughout the Pacific.  The next day after dark a small fleet of British ships left the port at Singapore in route for Japanese transport ships landing an invasion fleet on the coast of Malaysia.  This fleet, called Force Z, was made up of two battleships and four destroyers.  It was the entire British naval presence in the Far East at this stage of the war.

The capable and well-liked Admiral Tom Phillips commanded Force Z.  He was determined to make a difference for the war effort.  However, Admiral Phillips was convinced that no properly armed and defended battleship could be sunk solely by Japanese aircraft attacks.  His flagship, the Prince of Wales, carried ten 15-inch guns and had a crew of 110 officers and 1,502 men under her command.  He felt that she was ready for anything that could be thrown at her.

Phillips sailed wide of the coast and kept radio silence in order not to be detected.  Unknown to him, a Japanese submarine had spotted the fleet early in the afternoon of December 9th.  The Japanese moved their transport ships out of range and immediately began an intense search for the fleet.  The next day, Japanese spotted and reported the location of the fleet.  At the same time, Force Z knew that they had been found out.

Phillips then wasted valuable time chasing after false reports of another invasion fleet.  Another Japanese sighted their location at 6:30AM on the morning of December 10th.  The British were within easy range of fighter aircraft from Singapore, but Phillips still refused to break radio silence or call for air support.  His decision was fatal.

By 10:45AM, a large formation of Japanese aircraft was seen approaching Force Z.  For the next 90 minutes, several waves of bombers made runs on the fleet.  Although many of the bombs and torpedoes missed their targets, a few did not.  Both the Prince of Wales and its fellow battleship, the Repulse, were sunk.  A total of 840 men went down with the ships including Admiral Phillips.  All of Britain was stunned by the loss of two battleships in one day.  Winston Churchill turned and twisted in bed that night as the news of the losses sank in.

Why did Tom Phillips not break radio silence and call for air support when he knew that an attack was imminent?  We may never know.  The Japanese bombers came without fighter protection and had almost no defensive plating.  The squadron of 11 British Buffalo fighters that showed up after the fighting was over could have torn the Japanese fleet to shreds.  But no one called for them until it was too late.

Perhaps Admiral Phillips was too proud or too sure of himself and his ships.  Perhaps he just did not think it was necessary to call for help.  Whatever the reason, his decision gave a major victory to the enemy.  Do we get like that?  Do we ever get too proud to ask for help even though we are heading for disaster?  Do we get so confident in our abilities that we do not seek the aid we need?  Perhaps we need to learn a lesson from Admiral Phillips.  He was a good and competent leader—but he failed to seek help when he needed it most.

SOURCE: “British Gamble in Asian Waters”, Military Heritage, December, 2001, p.68.
David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 21:4

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.