Midshipman Robert Ian Davies

By Darryl Bennet

Robert Ian (Bob) Davies (1923-1941) was born on 13 November 1923 at Greenwich, Sydney, son of Thomas Robert Davies (clerk) and his wife Mabel Irene (née Saville). "A friendly, fresh-faced lad", Bob attended North Sydney Boys' High School. In 1937 he entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria. He gained his colours for athletics and for Rugby Union football, a game in which he also showed "strong, determined running". Graduating near the top of his class in 1940, he was promoted Midshipman on 1 January 1941 and sent to England for sea-training. On 8 March he joined the battle cruiser, HMS Repulse. Although involved in little action, the ship spent long periods at sea and Davies demonstrated his mettle as an officer of quarters of close-range guns.

In October 1941 the British government decided to deploy a battle fleet to Singapore with the aim of deterring Japan from entering the war on the side of the Axis powers. It was intended that the principal units of the new Eastern Fleet would be Repulse, the battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, and - to provide "all-important self-contained air cover" - the aircraft-carrier HMS Indomitable. The fleet was not to have Indomitable's services, however, as she ran aground in the West Indies in November. An 'unbalanced token force' of two capital ships and their escort of destroyers arrived at Singapore on 2 December.

On 8 December the Japanese landed troops in Malaya and Thailand. That afternoon Prince of Wales, Repulse and four destroyers sailed, as Force-Z, to intercept enemy transports and their escorts at Singora, Thailand, which was thought to be the main invasion point. Because the Royal Air Force could not provide cover at Singora, Force-Z's only hope was to make a surprise attack and withdraw. Next day Japanese aircraft were seen shadowing the force. The operation was abandoned and the ships altered course for Singapore. At dawn on 10 December they approached the Malayan coast at Kuantan to investigate a report of a new landing. The information proved to be false and they turned east, steaming towards the Anambas Islands. About 10:00 Japanese aircraft were sighted.

Force-Z could have had air support on 10 December 1941. Yet Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, the commander-in-chief, did not request it. His reasons for not doing so are unknown. He died that day. Shortly after 11:00 high-level bombers attacked, causing minor damage to Repulse. Twenty minutes later a formation of torpedo-bombers appeared. Repulse evaded the torpedoes, but Prince of Wales was hit and stricken. Although a second assault by conventional bombers proved as ineffectual as the first, two more waves of torpedo-bombers destroyed both ships. Struck five times, Repulse rolled over and sank at 12:33. Davies's shipmates last saw him 'firing an Oerlikon gun at enemy aircraft when he and the gun mounting were slowly submerging'. He was posthumously mentioned in dispatches.

Darryl Bennet: Davies, Robert Ian (1923-1941), in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 13, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1993, pp. 584-585, as modified for Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs, No. 17.