The Destruction of The Battleship Hood
By James Donahue
Built in 1920, the mighty British battle cruiser Hood became a symbol of military power on the high
seas during its 21 years of existence. She was destroyed in an open battle with the newly launched German battleship Bismarck
on May 24, 1941.
The sinking of the Hood and the loss of 1,415 officers and men on her decks sparked the great military
campaign to find and sink the Bismarck. That hunt, which became the subject of a major motion picture, numerous books and
at least one popular song, marked both the Hood and the Bismarck as a major part of world marine history.
At 860 feet in length, and sporting an armament of cannons and guns that gave it a fearsome look,
the Hood was for a time the flagship of the British Navy. The ship was involved in various public flag appearances while circumnavigating
the globe with a Special Service Squadron in 1923 and 1924. She joined the Mediterranean Fleet during the Second Italo-Abyssinian
War and then the Spanish Civil War. The ship was scheduled to return to England for an overhaul and installation of new and
updated artillery in 1941, but this was put on hold when Germany attacked Poland and World War II broke out. Thus HMS Hood
remained in service without the upgrades.
Hood was sent into the North Atlantic where it operated between Iceland and the Norwegian Sea, searching
for German raiders and blockade runners. With Captain Ralph Kerr at the helm, Hood was then dispatched to Scapa Flow where
it operated as a convoy escort and stood by for defense against a potential invasion of the British Isles. That was where
it was when Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales were ordered to intercept the Bismarck, spotted making a run for the open
They met for what became known as the Battle of the Denmark Strait when the Hood was struck by German
shells that struck her aft ammunition magazine. The blast destroyed and sank the mighty Hood. The Prince of Wales was so badly
damaged it was forced to flee the scene to escape a similar fate. It was able to get away because three of its shells struck
the Bismarck, causing enough damage that it, too, retreated from the area.
One of the reasons the British assault mounted by Winston Churchill successfully destroyed the Bismarck
was because the damage caused by the Prince of Wales left the battleship partly disabled and still at sea.
The details of just what happened aboard the Hood that fateful day remain sketchy because of the unexpected
way the ship exploded and sank within minutes. There were no photographs of the event. There were only three survivors. They
were signalman Ted Briggs, able seaman Robert Tilburn and midshipman William John Dundas. They were rescued by the destroyer
Electra about two hours after the sinking.
A board of inquiry later examined all of the information it could gather, talked to over 170 "witnesses,"
and concluded that the Hood was hit by a 15-inch shell from the Bismarck that struck the ship’s aft magazines, causing
all of the ammunition to explode and wreck the stern end of the ship.
Later theorists suggested that the magazine explosion was caused by a fire on the ship that reached
the ammunition storage area, or possibly the torpedo storage, causing everything to explode. If the torpedoes had exploded,
they could have blown the side out of the ship, causing it to sink as fast as it did.
Since the discovery of the wreck and its inspection, researchers have learned that the aft magazines
did explode. Surprisingly a section of the bow just forward of "A" turret also is missing, suggesting that there was a second
explosion of the forward 15-inch magazines. Did this happen after the ship began its plunge under the sea? Also the starboard
side of the Hood is missing. Some are theorizing that a fatal fire internally spread from the aft end of the ship to the bow,
not only exploding the shells, but causing the starboard fuel tanks to blow.
It seems that once fatal events began to occur, the Hood and her crew never had a chance.