WWII

HMS Hood: Memorial Services Mark 80th Anniversary Of Ship's Sinking

Only three of the 1,415 crew on board HMS Hood survived when the battlecruiser was sunk by the German ship Bismarck on 24 May 1941.

Memorial services have taken place to mark 80 years since the sinking of HMS Hood during the Second World War.

The battlecruiser, a symbol of Royal Navy power for two decades, was sunk by the German ship, Bismarck, at about 06:00 on 24 May 1941 during the Battle of the Denmark Strait.

The fighting lasted roughly 16 minutes.

Only three of 1,415 men on board HMS Hood survived - they were Ordinary Signalman Ted Briggs, Able Seaman Robert Tilburn and Midshipman William Dundas.

The men spent about three hours in the water before being rescued by destroyer HMS Electra.

A memorial service was conducted on board the current HMS Prince of Wales which featured a fragment of shell fired from Bismarck during the battle.

The ship's Second World War namesake was with HMS Hood and engaged in the battle with the German ships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen when she was sunk.

A wreath was also laid at the Navy training centre HMS Collingwood in Hampshire by Commanding Officer, Captain Catherine Jordan.

The HMS Hood Association hosted a virtual service of commemoration and remembrance from St James Garlickhythe Church in London, where a wreath was laid.

The service was part of the group's 'Shine a Light' tribute.

What was HMS Hood?

Until the commissioning of new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and the latest HMS Prince of Wales, there had reportedly never been a bigger British warship than the 'Mighty Hood'.

The ship was 860ft long and weighed 47,000 tonnes. 

It had eight 15in guns in four twin turrets and could move through the ocean at 30 knots.

After her commissioning in 1920, the 'Mighty Hood' had seen relatively little action, beyond attacking the French fleet at Oran the previous summer.

In the spring of 1941, she was old and tired – a refit planned in 1939 had been postponed by the outbreak of war.

The vessel had been superseded by a new generation of warships such as Germany's Bismarck and Britain's King George V class.

How was HMS Hood sunk?

In 1941, HMS Hood and the then-brand new HMS Prince of Wales were dispatched with escorting destroyers to intercept the pride of Hitler's fleet following news of the maiden sortie by German battleship Bismarck and her accompanying heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

The two forces met around 300 miles west of Iceland, a little after 05:30 on 24 May, and closed in until the Germans opened fire at 05:55 at a range of 25,000 yards – more than 14 miles.

Within two minutes the German heavy cruiser had Hood's range and with her second salvo, straddled the battlecruiser and hit fuel stored near her after mast.

The British ship in reply had Bismarck in her sights and was getting the range when at 06:01am a salvo from Bismarck plunged through Hood's deck armour.

It exploded in the battlecruiser's after turret magazine, detonating 100 tons of cordite.

According to the Royal Navy, aboard Bismarck there was a cry: "She's blowing up!" as gunnery officer Burkard von Müllenheim-Rechberg looked through his director to find Hood had disappeared: "In her place was a colossal pillar of black smoke reaching into the sky.

"Gradually, at the foot of the pillar, I made out the bow of the battle-cruiser projecting upwards at an angle, a sure sign that she had broken in two…Huge fragments, one of which looked like a main turret, whirled through the air like toys.

"Wreckage of every description littered the water around the Hood."

From the Prinz Eugen, crew saw the forward part of the ship angled at 45 degrees out of the water. "The turrets, the mast, including the bridge and funnels, were still standing," the log recorded.

Hood sunk within a couple of minutes.

The Germans then turned their attention to HMS Prince of Wales, which had closed to within 15,000 yards of the two German vessels.

Under the weight of the combined fire of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, she heeled to port, battered by seven hits which wiped out her bridge and caused her to ship 600 tons of water.

Bismarck could – and probably would – have finished off the stricken battleship, but that was not its orders - its primary mission was to sink merchant shipping.

The damage Prince of Wales inflicted on her foe ensured she would never sink another vessel.

Rather than strike out into the Atlantic, Bismarck was forced to make for St Nazaire in western France.

However, she was sunk by the Royal Navy three days later. More than 2,000 Germans were killed.

Cover image: HMS Hood at Scapa Flow (Picture: Royal Navy archives).