The “Mighty Hood”
The HMS Hood is exceptional in more ways than one: She was the last battlecruiser, launched way after Japanese Kongo class ships. She was above all the steel ambassador of the whole Royal Navy, her pride, and on top of that the pride of the country. She sailed overseas, making stopover in all major ports, proudly showing the Union jack during a peaceful career that lasted from 1921 to 1941. She was also righteously considered as the most powerful warship in the world after launch and remained such until her fatal encounter of May 1941, at least in the mind of the average citizen reading newspapers.
She was a symbol, but the aura of with could not protect from a fundamentally outdated concept. The hood made that clear by paying the ultimate price, bitterly and violently, a painful demonstration of the concept inanuity. This was at the same time an instant celebrity by a short yet legendary artillery duel with the world’s new most powerful warship then, Winston Churchill’s own nightmare, battleship Bismarck.
The Hood in 1924. The tragedy of this beautiful ship was to never undergo the major refit she needed in order to better withstand the German salvoe, as well as better meeting the needs of the fleet during the war.
The Hood fished first and foremost by an armor designed on plans before the Battle of Jutland. The parabolic shots were estimated then too uncertain (from the point of view of the British whose pointing tools had a very average precision) to constitute a sufficient risk to weigh down the ship. This was sacrificed on the altar of sacrosanct speed. But the Germans, as they showed precisely at this engagement, put many more shots at the goal. But this warning was not followed by the addition of real protection thereafter, and when the Bismarck hired him, the result was clear and flawless…
HMS Hood circa 1932
Ordered during the war, even before the Battle of Jutland (March 1916), Hood’s keel was laid in September 1916, and the ship was launched in John Brown on August 22, 1918. She was however completd after the war, accepted in active service by May 15 1920. Compared to the previous Repulse, he was a perfect example of the “ever more” that prevailed in the admirations of the time, a race to which the Treaty of Washington (1922) came to an end.
She closed at the same time the cancellation of the series, the other 4 sister-ships Hood, which would have been accepted in service around 1922-24. The Hood was 33 meters longer, wider by 4, and heavier by almost 10,000 tons, with two additional 380 mm pieces. So it was de facto the most powerful warship ever built in the world. He stayed until the end of the 1930s… But she was a battle cruiser, and by the will of her parents, including John Jellicoe and David Beatty, his protection remained – in theory – his speed. But this type of building could be the most striking case of crossing the iron with a battleship – from a distance, using its range of fire. In no way was he ready to fight the Bismarck, who was from another generation, the fast battleships, marrying the “best of both worlds” in a terrifying package.
HMS Hood in Sydney Harbour
The Hood, however, benefited from some concessions to progress, including a more efficient DCA consisting of Bofors 40 mm. However, his shooting was obsolete, like most of his detection and telemetry equipment. The “great overhaul” was to take place between the end of 1939 and mid-1941, but the war put an end to this attempt. The Hood was urgently requisitioned, we could not do without it. The Hood began a series of interdiction patrols for the German fleet between Iceland and the Norwegian coast. He then rallied force H in the Mediterranean and took part in Operation Catapult in August 1940 against the French fleet stationed at Mers-el-Kebir.
Graf Spee, HMS resolution and Hood in the background at 1937 king Georges V coronation ceremonies at Spithead
Back to Scapa flow he remained stationed there to intervene in case of German invasion in Channel (operation “Sea lion”). Later, he was joined by the Prince of Wales. The threat of an invasion was temporarily postponed with the success of the Battle of Britain, but a new threat began to emerge. In May 1941, it took shape. The Bismarck accompanied by Prinz Eugen attempted an outing in the Atlantic. It was, however, intercepted by the Hood group, apparently on paper a definite advantage, but as much protection and fire control of the Hood were obsolete, as the Prince of Wales was too recent and not yet fully operational.
But Churchill’s order was clear: “sink the Bismarck”. The engagement was brief for the Hood, he began to shoot at a distance of 16500 meters. The first burst of the Burglar was too short, but the second was a hit. All the sailors of the Prince of Wales saw this frightening spectacle, of a larger jet of fire than the battle cruiser itself, springing up at the rear mast while the hull was lifting up and deforming under enormous pressure. Everyone understood it on board: One of the shells had hit the ammunition hold. The ship, cut in half and on fire, sank very quickly, taking almost all of her crew. There were three survivors…
Painting by Edward Tufnell
n 2001 we rediscovered the wreck of Hood, which was the subject of a report from the BBC. However, a thorough examination of where the explosion began had not solved the riddle of the exact cause of the explosion. Indeed, the descriptions and drawings made of the explosion put the finger on a problem: It had started far from the rear ammunition bay. There was virtually nothing in this place likely to provoke it, or at least not in this magnitude. To date the hypotheses are going well but the truth always escapes the specialists…
HMS Hood just after the remendous explosion that wrecked her, and the Prince of Wales passing in front. The magnitude of the event shook everybody, including the Germans.
|Dimensions||242 m long, 27.4 m wide, 9.7 m draft (full load).|
|Displacement||42 670 tonnes standard -45 200 tonnes Fully Loaded|
|Propulsion||4 propellers, 4 Brown-Curtis turbines, 24 Yarrow boilers, 120 000 hp.|
|Speed||Top speed 31 knots, 8000 nautical mile radius 12 knots.|
|Armament||8 x 381 mm (4×2), 14 x 102 mm (7×2) DP, 8 x 40 mm AA (2×8), 1 rocket launcher.|
|Armor||Belt 300 mm, decks 100 mm, range-finders 152 mm, turrets 380 mm, citadel 130 mm, blockhaus 280 mm.|
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1922-1947
Author’s illustration of the hood in 1941