The Sinking Of The HMS Hood Was The Largest Loss Of Life From One Vessel

Quarterdeck of HMS Hood |

When the British battlecruiser, HMS Hood met the German battleship Bismarck on May 24, 1941, the outcome was disastrous. That day, marked the Royal Navy’s largest loss of life from one vessel.

The Hood did not fight alone that day, but with the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, and six destroyers, but they were up against two ships from the Germans as well, the cruiser Prinz Eugen alongside the Bismark.

The loss of the HMS Hood that day included almost all her crew, but it was also the end of her legacy as the largest British warship. She sank on May 24th leaving behind 21-years of proud service.

The Largest Submarine in The Navy

For the crew on the HMS Hood, they lived a privileged life at sea, but it was also difficult. Hood bragged a venerable service history, but by World War II, she was showing her age.

She was the largest battlecruiser in Britain’s navy, fast for an old ship because she was not completely covered armor. This was despite the Brits adding 5,000 tons of extra armor to the original design.

All that extra weight pushed her down into the water about four feet, earning her the nickname The Largest Submarine in The Navy.

Seawater would flow over the Hood’s quarterdeck, spilling into the living quarters. It wasn’t unheard of for crew members to suffer tuberculosis because of this.

Like a good battlecruiser, HMS Hood was an effective ship for moving quickly toward an enemy vessel for an attack, but also good for outrunning heavy battleships with bigger guns.

Despite these talents, the navy planned a refit in 1939, one she would never see. The Brits forced her back into service before the navy could start the work.

Had they been able to upgrade her, whether she would’ve survived the attack in the Denmark Strait is debatable.

Battle of Denmark Straits

Historically, the 24th of May i a bad day for ships. It was 60 years before the Battle of Denmark Straits in 1881 when a ferry named Princess Victoria sank near London, Ontario in Canada. That day, 200 souls perished.

It was the same day in 1941 that the navy sent HMS Hood and the battleship HMS Prince of Wales to intercept the German ships.

The Bismarck and the heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen were on course for the North Atlantic. The British naval boats were in the area for that very reason, to stop German boats from attacking merchant ships.

The Bismarck was a brand-spanking new battleship, the pride of Germany, with 20 years of youth on HMS Hood. She was comparable to Hood in size, but not in power.

Bismarck was better protected, equipped with more state of the art technology inside, but also better tech outside. Her guns were more powerful and faster. It would have taken a very strategic hit (or series of hits) from Hood to bring down Bismarck, but that wasn’t even close to what happened.

The British ships met the German ones just southwest of Iceland, as they attempted to skate through the Greenland-Iceland gap. They’d planned to sneak up on the Germans, using the sunset angle to hide on the dark side of the German ships, but the plan failed.

When the German’s spotted the British fleet, they knew Hood was vulnerable to certain hits. Hood fired first at the Prinz Eugen, thinking she was the Bismarck out in front.

Prince of Wales hit Bismarck three times, damaging the boat, but when the Germans fired on Hood, they hit her deck. Then Bismarck fired a number of shells at Hood’s mainmast, which ignited her magazines, setting off a deadly explosion.

The ship split in tow and sank in about three minutes taking 1,416 sailors with it. All but three of the ship’s complement perished.

Avenging The Hood

Sinking the Bismarck |

The Bismarck didn’t get too far after the Battle of Denmark Strait. Three days later, thanks to a damaged fuel tank, the British tracked her down and torpedoed her into the sea, killing around 2,300 Germans.

In 2015, in an expedition funded by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, discovered the wreck of the HMS Hood in the North Atlantic.

They successfully retrieved the bell from the ship, then placed it in the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. The navy conducted a ceremony around the event, inviting the descendants and aging children of the sailors who perished.

Raising the bell |