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“These things happen,” says Hannah Rickard, secretary of the Force Z Survivors Association, whose late father, Ken Byrne, survived the sinking of the Prince of Wales.

Repulse, elegant veteran of the First World War, had already slid beneath the azure calm of the South China Sea, similarly disembowelled.For more than an hour Jim Wren, a Royal Marine, and the other young reserve gun crew had sat inside Repulse listening to the roar of battle before emerging to chaos.“We knew she was going and going fast,” he remembers. Pretty well half the ship was below the water line. The grey, tropical clouds that had helped mask the movement of the two great ships since their departure from Singapore had parted, and now, hanging lazily on the horizon, were Japanese reconnaissance aircraft.The officers of the battleship Prince of Wales and her consort, the battlecruiser Repulse, codenamed Force Z, knew that an engagement of some kind could not be far away.

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