The British admiralty had recently despatched the ships to Singapore to bolster the British presence in the Far East and to ward off Japanese aggression. The Prince of Wales was one of Britain’s newest battleships. She was famous for her role in pursuing the German battleship Bismarck and also for transporting Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Newfoundland for his meeting with Roosevelt and the signing of the Atlantic Charter. The Repulse was a World War I battlecruiser. She was launched in 1916—too late for the WWI Battle of Jutland but in time for the Second Battle of Heligoland.
The British ships had been sailing without air cover. Their sinking, together with the sinking of the American battle fleet in Pearl Harbour, gave the Japanese mastery of the Far Eastern seas—and only three days after the commencement of hostilities.A day-by-day account of events during the month of December 1941 is provided in the book by Craig Shirley, December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America And Saved The World (Thomas Nelson, 2011).
On 11 December 1941, one day after the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Afterwards, both Hitler and Mussolini gave speeches to enthusiastic crowds in Berlin and Rome, respectively.