After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Repulse operated in various hunting groups that were formed to hunt down German commerce raiders. However, she did not engage any. In December, she performed escort duty for troop carriers between Canada and Britain. The start of the Allied campaign in Norway saw Repulse covering minelaying by British forces. In July, 1940, when GlowwormTemplate:WP Ships HMS instances was lost attacking the Admiral Hipper, Repulse took part in the search, but failed to make contact. Towards the end of the campaign, during the evacuation of British troops, due to concern that an invasion of Iceland was in process, Repulse was detached from protecting Norway convoys to search for the invasion force. In fact, no invasion was under way. Subsequently Repulse returned to convoy protection through early 1941.
In January 1941, Repulse participated in the hunt for the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. In May, she took part in the chase of the Bismarck. Originally scheduled to escort convoy WS-8B to the Middle East around Africa, Repulse operated as part of the Home Fleet, but was detached from the main body prior to the last engagement due to fears of a repeat of the loss of HMS HoodTemplate:WP Ships HMS instances and to lack of fuel.
In August, she was transferred to Cape Town, South Africa, and in October, she was transferred to India, arriving on 28 October.