I've just been re-reading Bloody Shambles, a history of the air war in SE Asia during 1941 and 1942.
The RN had realised a year back that only a minimum of three battleships, a carrier, three heavy cruisers and at least ten destroyers would represent a serious and viable task force against the Japanese. However almost none of that was available at the time, and those that were, were not necessarily the best choices for the role.
For example HMS Prince of Wales had been designed from the start for service in European waters. Her cooling was entirely inadequate for tropical service and among the first things to break from the heat were her radar systems. HMS Repulse on the other hand was designed to serve anywhere in the British empire - conditions onboard her were significantly more comfortable than on PoW. When other ships of the KGV class were sent to the Pacific in 1944, they were first given a major upgrade of air conditioning systems (and a nice "harmless" protective layer of asbestos).
The RAF had offered to have a CAP of 6 Buffalo aircraft overhead during daylight hours at all times. This was turned down by Admiral Philips because he was a desk jocky with zero recent experience of ship operations and didn't understand the need for top cover. He probably would have done equally poorly had a carrier been available. Even just 6 fighters could have caused a lot of havok with the unescorted Japanese torpedo bombers.
Finally the IJN pilots of the time were first class while the training of the RAF pilots in the region ... left a lot to be desired. (For example there was almost no aerial gunnery training as it wore out the guns and required more maintenance than was available).