HMS Hood hunts the KMS Bismarck

Just imagine it, the thrill of the chase as the Royal Navy’s best Battlecruiser charged across the North Sea and North Atlantic in pursuit of “Jerry”. The Army and Air Force had had their moments in the spotlight already at Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain now it was the turn of the Navy to show what it could do.

With the British war on the European Continent over, focus had shifted to the Battle of the Atlantic as the German Armed Forces laid siege to the British Isles. Of major concern to HM Government was the Kriegsmarine, the German Navy attacking convoys using U-Boats and the Surface fleet.

With that in mind significant assets were kept stationed in Britain in the English Channel at Portsmouth and in the North Sea at Scapa Flow. These assets included the Battlecruiser HMS Hood, the largest ship in the British Fleet and rightly nicknamed The Mighty Hood.

At 860ft in length, that’s 2 football pitches, packing six 15-Inch guns in three turrets  and a whopping 300mm of armour in places Hood was one of the grandest and most powerful warships in the world at the time of her commissioning in 1920. She was so heavily armed and armoured in fact that her crew called her “the largest submarine in the Navy”. The weight of the ship allowed water to wash over the quarterdeck during high seas and into air Vents in the galley and crew quarters.

In the early days of the Second World War, Hood sortied around Iceland and the Faroes Islands intercepting German convoy raiders. A mission and operational area she would get to know intimately. In September 1939, she escorted the British Submarine Spearfish back to British Territorial waters but she was damaged by bombing after the vessels were spotted by the Germans.

After a quick refit in port she was sent to Gibraltar as flagship of Force H where she took part in one of the major controversies of the war. In July 1940, just eight days after the surrender of France, the Royal Navy opened fire on and destroyed the French Naval Fleet harboured at Mers-el-Kebir.

Following this action she was re-deployed to the Home Waters where she underwent another short refit and defended the coast against the threat of German Invasion. With the threat diminished however by the actions of the Royal Air Force, Hood was re-deployed on convoy escort in the North Sea again and positioned in the best spot to intercept German raiders.

Twice Hood was sortied against German warships and twice the Admiral Hipper and Admiral Scheer, a German Cruiser and “Pocket Battleship” respectively, escaped her. A refit in early 1941, revealed how poor a state the old ship was in now after 20 years of service. But with the threat of German warships still prevalent and not enough of the new King George V class battleships available there was no time to give her a major overhaul.

And so it was that when the KMS Bismarck, the largest Battleship ever built and the pride of the German Navy, left harbour and made for the North Sea, HMS Hood, 20 years out of date, was sent to intercept her.

Escorted by HMS Prince of Wales and supported by groups of smaller British frigates and destroyers in the hunt for the Bismarck, Hood finally intercepted the enormous Battleship and her escort Prinz Eugen between Greenland and Iceland.

The battle couldn’t have gone any worse though. The Germans had detected the approach of the British ships and although Hood and Prince of Wales opened fire first their shots were not nearly as effective as the German return fire.

The first shell hit Hood's boat deck, between her funnels, and started a large fire among the ammunition for the anti-aircraft guns. Hood then turned to port to unmask her rear turrets, when she was hit again on the boat deck by shells from Bismarck. A huge jet of flame burst out of Hood from the vicinity of the mainmast, followed by a devastating magazine explosion that destroyed the aft part of the ship. This explosion broke the back of Hood and the last sight of the ship, which sank in only three minutes, was her bow, nearly vertical in the water.

Hood sank with 1418 men aboard. Only three survived: Ordinary Signalman Ted Briggs, Able Seaman Robert Tilburn, and Midshipman William John Dundas. The three were rescued about two hours after the sinking by the destroyer Electra, which spotted substantial debris but no bodies.

The sinking of the Hood had a profound effect on Britain. The image of the once great Naval Power that Britain was, lay broken in two. In many ways it was the end of an era for the Royal Navy, Germany, despite the crippling results of the Versailles Peace Treaty was capable of building a warship larger, better armed and as fast as the best of the British fleet. Despite the efforts of the British Fleet, it was Fairey Swordfish Torpedo bombers which brought about Bismarck’s eventual demise, jamming her steering gear leaving her easy prey for the pursuing warships.

Blogger: ThoBen

The crew of HMS Hood can be found on Forces War Records here 

There are over 1 Million records for Second World War personnel on Forces War Records. If you are researching WW2 personnel however we suggest reading our tutorials section here

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