HMS Repulse is a historical British WWII Battle Cruiser sunk in the South China Sea by Japanese torpedo bombers.
Whoever dived a wreck in his or her life, understands the lure such an underwater metal object can have on any human being. Diving an infamous historical object is a buzz by itself.
The serenity one feels while gliding over this 242 meter long vessel, which lays port side on the sea bottom of the South China Seas of the Malaysian Peninsular, is an eerie feeling. The disaster that struck this vessel is visible everywhere. This metal giant on the white sandy sea floor in the middle of nowhere holds many secrets.
The east coast of Malaysia is mainly known for its pretty and well persevered bounty islands. Islands like Pulau Tioman, Pulau Redang Pulau Kapas and Pulau Perhentian draw thousands of divers from all around the globe. The white sandy beaches, the island life and the shallow colourful beaches is what brings most divers here.
Magnificent propeller of HMS Repulse
The Malaysian waters hold many wrecks; however wreck diving in this part of the world is still in its infancy. Finding the right charter boat to bring the dive team 65 Nm off shore and keep a group of twelve divers on site for a week is a bit of a different scenario. A technical liveaboard needs to be brought in from other parts of South East Asia.
The HMS Repulse was forgotten for many years until recently divers from the UK started organising trips to the dive site.
Diving a wreck this size needs adequate equipment. Twin sets and double stage cylinders for every diver, a dive lift to get diver and equipment safely back to the dive platform, a boat crew of 5 and tons of safety equipment makes the team ready for a week of expedition diving.
Today the current is mild, and it is easy to swim down the shot line, which attaches the boat to the mid section of HMS Repulse WWII British Battle Cruiser. Once the side of the ship is reached, a huge gaping hole is visible in her bow. One of the Japanese torpedoes struck midships, and the size of the crater-like wound makes one understand: “this war veteran had no chance.”
Knowing that nearly 70 years ago so many men lost their lives at exactly this place is overwhelming. Protecting their country for freedom, that’s what these young sailors did, an incredible brave job, so far from home. The sadness the news of the sinking of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales on 10th December 1941 brought to the home land, United Kingdom, struck the world. HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales both were the lead players in the operation Force-Z Churchill mounted to deter Japan from entering WW2. Tragically the operation went sadly wrong when Japanese torpedo bombers found the convoy on their way to Singapore and sunk both ships with a huge loss of life. The two main battle ships of Force-Z sank within less than an hour and less than 20 Nautical miles apart.
The waters of the South China Seas are notorious and well know for their heavy currents and sudden weather changes. Diving HMS Repulse can be a hazardous ordeal, divers exceed depths well beyond normal safe diving limits. A 50 minute bottom time at 55 meters requires an extremely well trained dive team and all the backup equipment when something might go wrong.
HMS Repulse' ammunition chambers
Every expedition diver prepared with 4 eleven litre aluminium cylinders, two with bottom gas, one with a travel Nitrox mix and one shallow 80% Nitrox for long shallow decompression; now able to make his long way down.
Descending down the shot line at about 18 meters the dark blur on the sea bed becomes visible. The deeper the descend; the more she shows of herself, the size is breathtaking. Touch down at 38 meters; all our efforts come to realization at this very second. The sea floor still seems miles away
From the mid ship gunwale swimming away from the wreck try to see the whole wreck is nearly impossible, even in these 40 meter plus visibility conditions, the sheer size is monstrous. They don’t build them like this anymore. Hanging mid water and looking down clearly the ships layout becomes in view. She lays 90 degrees on her port side, nearly perfectly preserved, the quarters, the decks, the commando towers and even the ships antennas are still clearly visible. Just of to the left, at the edges of peripheral vision something huge sticks out of the sand. Large metal structures, The gentle tide take the diver in the direction of the bow and to amazement, the huge round tubes are the ships 15 inch canons. Three of the six 15 inch guns are clearly visible; the other ones are penetrating the sea floor. Leaving them behind in total awe, minutes away towards the bow where the flag pole still proudly stands. It is time to make the return to the upline. Another 100 meter swim against the current lays ahead and one of the starboard 40mm pom-pom guns pointing upwards as if still ready for action. Hand over hand one has to pull himself against the now heavy current.
Time to check the cylinders, the gauges and the time table and the start of a 1,5 hour decompression procedure can begin. Slowly the ship disappears in the blue green haze. During the long stay at the decompression trapeze underneath the dive boat, the realization on how special this dive was, and paying gratitude to those who lost their lives and the team members for making this dive possible.
Once back on board, running back the mental pictures. An awesome dive; with lots more to explore. The next exploration is only hours away. First the diver’s body needs to release more nitrogen and recuperate with a refreshing drink and some sun rays.
HMS Repulse, You could dive this wreck for two weeks without getting bored for a minute, resulting in memories forever.