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Maritime Tales – Liverpool’s Prince

25 June 2007 by stepheng

colour photo of a shiney bell

The Prince of Wales bell

The story of the Prince of Wales and her short but glorious career has been for me, Stephen Guy, one of the great inspirational naval sagas.

In her brief and tragic career of just a few months in 1941 HMS Prince of Wales became one of the legendary warships of the Second World War. The Royal Navy battleship was adopted by the City of Liverpool whose citizens had raised the full building cost of £10 million – a staggering £280 million in today’s money.

The Prince of Wales, built at Cammel Laird’s between 1937 and 1941, was with HMS Hood when that ship was sunk by the enemy battleship Bismarck off Iceland in May. During the action, two shells from the Prince of Wales damaged the Bismarck’s fuel tanks. This caused a large oil slick which led to the German warship being hunted down and sunk.

In August the Prince of Wales carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic for crucial talks with American President Franklin D Roosevelt. Soon after, she was sent with the veteran battle cruiser HMS Repulse into the Indian Ocean to discourage Japanese aggression. On 8 December the two warships left Singapore escorted by four destroyers but without air cover.

Two days later the Prince of Wales and Repulse were attacked and sunk by 86 Japanese aircraft. Three hundred and twenty seven men were lost on the Prince of Wales and 513 on the Repulse. For the Royal Navy and Britain, this was one of the darkest days of the Second World War.

The bell from the Prince of Wales is on display at Merseyside Maritime Museum. Although the wreck is a designated war grave, there were fears that the bell might be stolen by unauthorised divers. In the Royal Navy the ship’s bell has been traditionally regarded as “the soul of the ship”. British divers rescued the bell from the wreck in 2002 after permission was granted by the Ministry of Defence.

The bell has been kindly loaned by the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth. It was presented to the Merseyside Maritime Museum by First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sir Alan West. The moving ceremony took place in May 2003 during the events held on Merseyside to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. The silver-coloured bell is inscribed HMS Prince of Wales 1940. Included in the display are photographs of the ship.

Next week we look at the German battleship Bismarck which the Prince of Wales helped to destroy.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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