Tom Spencer Vaughan Phillips

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Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan Phillips

Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan Phillips 1940.jpg
Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan Phillips in 1940. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Born19 February 1888
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, Cornwall
Died10 December 1941, (age 53yrs)
at sea off Singapore, Malaya
AllegianceFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif United Kingdom
BranchEnsign of the Royal Navy animated.gif Royal Navy
Years of service1902-1945
RankAdmiral command Flag RN from 1864.png Admiral
Commands heldHMS Verbena, (1924-25)
8th Destroyer Flotilla (1928)
6th Destroyer Flotilla (1928-29)
Assistant Director of Plans, Admiralty, (1930-1932)
Chief of Staff to Commander-in-Chief, East Indies & Flag Captain, HMS Hawkins (1932-35)
Plans Division, Admiralty Naval Staff (1935-38)
Destroyer Flotillas Home Fleet (1938-39)
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff(1939-41)
Eastern Fleet (1941)
AwardsKCB. CB.

Admiral Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan Phillips KCB, CB, (19 February 1888 - 10 December 1941) was a Royal Navy flag officer who went onto become, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (1939-41), then finally Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet (1941). He is most notable for leading the ill fated task force, Force Z from Singapore in December 1941 which was attacked by Japanese aircraft resulting in the sinking of his battleship HMS Prince of Wales and indeed his life.

Naval Career

Thomas Spencer Vaughan Phillips was born into a military lineage. His father was British Army Royal Artillery Colonel Thomas Vaughan Wynn Phillips and his maternal grandfather was Admiral Sir Algernon Frederick Rous de Horsey of the Royal Navy. Phillips joined the Royal Navy in 1903 and was trained aboard HMS Britannia. On 9 Apr 1908, he was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant, followed by the rank of full lieutenant in 20 Jul 1909. During WW1, he served aboard destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea and in Asia, during which he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander on 15 Jul 1916. He attended the Royal Navy Staff College between Jun 1919 and May 1920.

Between 1920 and 1922, he was a military adviser on the Permanent Advisory Commission for Naval, Military, and Air Questions Board at the League of Nations. In Jun 1921, he was promoted to the rank of Commander. From 1924 until 1925 he commanded the sloop HMS Verbena on the Africa Station. In June 1927 he was promoted to the rank of Captain. On 4 September 1928 he was appointed the commanding officer of the destroyer HMS Campbell and Captain (D) of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla remaining in that command until August 1929,, and briefly on 4 September, 1928 he was appointed Captain (D) of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla. Between 24 Apr 1930 and Sep 1932, he was appointed Assistant Director of the naval staff's Plan Division of the Admiralty.

On 21 September, 1932 he was appointed Flag Captain of the cruiser HMS Hawkins on the East Indies Station and simultaneously appointed Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, East Indies, holding joint roles until July, 1935. After three years in the Far East he returned to the Admiralty to head up the Plans Division of the Admiralty Naval Staff.

Flag Rank

In 1938, he was given the rank of Commodore to lead the destroyer flotillas of the Home Fleet. On 10 January 1939, he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, while also acting as a naval adviser to King George VI of the United Kingdom. On 1 June 1939, Phillips was appointed the Deputy Chief, later Vice Chief, of the Naval Staff. On 7 February 1940, he was promoted to the war time rank of Acting Vice Admiral, recommended by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.

In May 1941, he was informed by the admiralty that he was to be appointed the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet with the war time rank of Acting Admiral, but did not officially receive the post until 21 October, 1941. In the meantime he had sailed from the UK aboard his flagship battleship HMS Prince of Wales via South Africa it arrived in Colombo on 28th November 1941 forming part of Force G. On 30th November 1941 Prince of Wales sailed from Colombo to rendezvous with the remainder of Force G and proceeded to Singapore arriving 2 December 1941. Force G, consisting of 1 battleship, 1 battle cruiser, and 4 destroyers was re designated Force Z upon arrival. On 3 December 1941 the Eastern Fleet was formally constituted.

On 8 Dec 1941, Japan invaded British Malaya. Downplaying the threat of aircraft to his surface ships, Phillips mobilized Force Z to attack the Japanese invasion fleet without air cover. The fleet was spotted by Japanese submarine I-65, which brought an attack by 86 aircraft on 10 Dec, which was later named the Battle off Kuantan. Battlecruiser Repulse sank helplessly, followed by Prince of Wales about 30 minutes later. Phillips went down with the ship.