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HMS Hood 1920

HMS Hood, 1920
HMS Hood, 1920

HMS Hood, the 'Mighty Hood' as she was popularly known in the Royal Navy, was the largest warship in the world on commissioning in 1920 and a symbol of imperial strength throughout the inter-war years. Her sinking in one of the most famous naval engagements in history, against the German battleship Bismarck, has etched itself on Britain's popular memory.

Although classified as a battlecruiser, Hood was a fast battleship, an improved version of the Queen Elizabeths. With the same main armament of eight 381mm guns, a higher position for the secondary armament, sloped armour belt and improved torpedo protection, she included the latest ideas of naval construction in 1915. The speed requirement meant an extremely long hull was essential.

Admiral Jellicoe , Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, stated that new battlecruisers, rather than battleships, were needed to combat the latest German ships. So the design was altered with less armour, but incorporating the latest technology, small tube boilers, providing more power with much lighter machinery.

Four ships were ordered, but construction was halted after the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. As a result of lessons from Jutland a considerable amount of armour was added giving Hood a level of protection similar to the Queen Elizabeths. Even with this extra weight and a final displacement of over 42,000 tons, she was still seven knots faster. Work on her three sisters was halted in 1917 to make way for more urgently needed shipping.

The highlight of Hood's career in the inter-war period was the famous world cruise with fellow battlecruiser Repulse in 1923-24 which took them to the Far East, Pacific and United States. She served with the Home and Atlantic Fleets until 1936 when she was transferred to the Mediterranean. On one occasion in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War Hood trained her guns on a Nationalist cruiser which was obstructing merchant shipping. Hood was due a for major refit in 1939, including the removal of the 600-ton conning tower and improvements to her deck armour, but with too few capital ships available she could not be spared.

On the outbreak of war Hood was based at Scapa Flow with the Home Fleet. In June 1940 she was allocated to Force H, the squadron established under Admiral James Somerville to take over French duties in the western Mediterranean. Force H's first task was its most distasteful, to neutralise the French squadron at Oran in Algeria. At 1755 on 3 July 1940 Hood and her compatriots opened fire; the battleship Bretagne was blown up and the Provence and Dunkerque badly damaged.

Hood returned to the Home Fleet and on 19 May 1941 she sailed with the brand new battleship Prince of Wales to intercept the German battleship Bismarck that was attempting to break out into the North Atlantic. Bismarck and her compatriot the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were shadowed on radar by the Norfolk and Suffolk which reported their position to Admiral Holland in Hood. In the Denmark Strait on the morning of 24 May Holland ordered his ships to close the range and shortly before 0600 both sides opened fire. The Bismarck's fifth salvo hit the Hood amidships penetrating the secondary armament magazine. The detonation spread to the main magazine resulting in a catastrophic explosion which tore the ship in half. Only three of her 1418 crew survived.

The loss of the navy's flagship in such dramatic circumstances and the appalling loss of life were greeted with profound shock in Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously signalled to the fleet 'The Bismarck must be sunk at all costs.' Crippled by Fleet Air Arm aircraft, Bismarck was engaged by the battleships King George V and Rodney on the morning of 27 May before being sunk with torpedoes. The destruction of the Mighty Hood had been avenged after one of the most dramatic chases in naval history.

Further reading:

  • D.K. Brown, Warship Design and Development 1906 - 1922 (London: 1999). J. Roberts, Battlecruisers (London: 1997).
  • HMS Hood Association
HMS Hood Statistics (1941)
Period in service: 1920 - 1941
Displacement: 42,462 tons
Length: 262.3m / 860.7ft (overall)
Beam: 32m / 105.2ft
Complement: 1418
Speed: 31 knts
Armament: 8 x 15 inch guns 14 x 4 inch guns 6 x 21 inch torpedo tubes

5-12 inch belt, 2-3 inch deck 12 inch barbettes, 5-15 inch turrets