HMS Hood - Pride of the Royal Navy
Battleship Hood (although many would say battlecruiser Hood) was the Pride of the English Royal Navy - from the end of World War One, to the first two years of World War Two. She was the most famous battleship, especially within the realms of the British Empire - which extended from Britain to Africa, through India to Australia and Canada. Displacing 43 thousand tons, she was 860 feet long, and capable of a 'top speed' of around 32 knots (through her four propellers, and streamlined hull form). Armed with eight 15 inch naval guns, and twelve 5.5 inch naval guns - she was able to engage both enemy battleships and destroyers. Unfortunately, Hood's armour arrangements did not reflect the 'growing trend' in Naval Conflict - whereby thinner deck armour (to help save weight) went against the very idea of 'plunging shellfire'. Even so, much confusion still exists around the 'exact cause' of her sinking - although it is generally accepted, that a plunging shell (fired from Bismarck) penetrated her thinner deck armour, and exploded internally.
Here we can see the midships area of HMS Hood:
The hull form in this area, was protected by the thickest belt armour - of up to 12 inches. The idea was a simple one: important machinery (such as the boilers and engines), were enclosed in the thickest belt armour, so that warships like Hood, could take punishment under fire, and still maintain a manoeuvrable gun platform (aka the ability to fire their primary naval guns). Unfortunately, Hood's machinery spaces were considerably long (about 391 feet, 45.5 percent of her length), and she had been designed in a time, when plunging shell fire (which would penetrate the deck), had not really been considered. Hence, the midships deck armour was way too thin, and what armour there was (of up to 3 inches thick), was spread over too small an area! Such short comings, were not known to her sailors - who believed her to be the greatest warship in the Navy, and she was :) This view also best showcases Hood's secondary armament - her twelve 5.5 inch naval guns. These were designed to engage surface targets only, such as destroyers - which could have easily launched torpedoes at her. These guns, would also have supported the primary 15 inch naval guns (when in range).
Here we can see the bow of HMS Hood, which was - long and fine:
This was for one simple reason - speed. Without a bow that was long, fine and sheared, Hood could not have attained her top speed of 32 knots. Only the hull form in the vicinity of A turret aft, would have been armoured - with the bow being soft. In retrospect, this arrangement was not adequate. Specifically, the deck area around the base of the two gun turrets and barbettes, was regarded as too thinly armoured, and was not thick enough to guard against plunging shellfire (although plans had been made, to thicken the armour in this area). Another point of interest, are Hood's breakwater arrangements - which were designed to protect the forecastle deck, from bow spray (as was encountered, when she pitched into heavy seas).
At first glance, the most prominent feature of this book (on HMS Hood) - is the fact that it was written, within just a few years of HMS Hood, having been lost:
Initially, I felt somewhat apprehensive - as haven been written in 1959, how good could it be? Well ... Whilst it took me a chapter or two, to get into the text, I was so pleased that I did :) For one simple reason: this book on the Mighty Hood, contains a wealth of information, that you just don't find, in other (more modern) Battleship books. A clue lies in the book's subtitle: The Life and Death of the Royal Navy's Proudest Ship. And it is Hood's Life, that the book primarily concentrates on ... And of this Life, is Hood's Empire/World Cruise, one of the most important parts of the book. For it is here, that I started to feel, just something of the values of the Men, and of the importance of Routine (to the men that served on her) ... For a Sailor learns the Ways of the Sea: where to polish, where to knot, where to stand, where to tuck, where to box, where to train - but not after Rum! For a sailor endures the Trails of the Sea: in the sweats of the Tropic, in the freeze of the Arctic, in the storms of the Pacific, in the fogs of the Vikings, in the cheers of the Empire, in the demands of the Bow. As practice makes perfect - and all is not quite :) For a Warship is Alive: foot-steps in her corridors, meals in her galleys, lights in her decks, breathes in her hull, study in her gauges, commands in her Bridge. For a Warship, is the Heart and Soul of her Crew :) And yet, is there no accounting for luck ... As when Hood's fatal blow was struck, did all of it end: her lights and sounds were no more - just silence. The book's handling of this fate, was just as sudden - which left me with a feeling of, how can this be? How can a warship that sailed around the World, be lost in a matter of seconds? How can a warship that was a Legend the World over, suffer such an instant demise? Well ... We shall never know for sure - although the book does hint, at flaws in her design (especially the thinness of her deck armour, compounded by the stresses of her long hull form). In any case, I found several surprises within this book ... First: Was the level of competitiveness, that existed between the sailors of Destroyers/Cruisers, and the sailors of Capital Ships (such as HMS Hood). Destroyer men, seemed to feel that Capital Ships (such as HMS Hood), could not look after themselves - and did not want to be outdone (especially in terms of seamanship), by the crews of Capital Ships (that to them, almost never put to sea!). It is with some irony then, that such Destroyer/Cruiser men, longed to serve on-board HMS Hood :) Second: Was the level of luck encountered (or lack of it!), on the day of Hood's loss, by her Commander - Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland. For all intents and purposes, decisions that Holland took on the day, all appeared to be logical and correct (as of a wise and talented commander) - but without one key ingredient, luck of any kind! An example would be, when he sent his accompanying Destroyers, further North (to seek the Bismarck), only to stumble upon the Bismarck himself (well away from his Destroyers). The irony is, that at every decision he took (even those that were based upon, sound naval value) - luck simply conferred, his advantage away. For example: He had more heavy calibre Naval Guns (eight 15 inch and ten 14 inch), but his manoeuvrers during the night (whilst seeking the Bismarck), meant that he lost much of his Angle of Approach advantage - and as such, could only bring his forward naval guns to bear (four 15 inch from Hood, six 14 inch from Prince of Wales). Third: was the order, in which HMS Hood fired her guns (one barrel from each turret fired, followed by the other barrel, alternating for continuous fire). It's the first time that I'd read, such a specific fact like this, which I feel is a forgotten fact - from the time that this book was written ... Added to this, did I also find another forgotten fact - the fact that Hood, was not a new ship: she had been heavily used, throughout the oceans of the World, and her boilers plus turbines, were no longer capable of propelling her, at her design speed (of over thirty knots). Thus, it may appear obvious, that she was in need of a service - but I'd not thought about this requirement before (preferring instead, to ponder upon, her potential redesign). Overall: this book contrasts the Life of HMS Hood, against the Loss of HMS Hood. Her life was long, for a warship (around twenty-five years). She'd navigated the World. She was known to most (if not all) of the British Empire. She was known to the VIPs (such as Kings and Queens). She was known to the Children (that in peacetime, had both danced and played - upon her decks). She was known to the Sailors (both those that served on her, and those that wanted to). She was Alive - but she was still a warship. Her guns, that had been primarily used in training, were now for war. She was a Legend (known to all), that bore an Achilles Heel (known to few). Her men knew the calibre of her steel, the power of her guns, and the meaning of her flags. For they served a way of Life, that now no longer exists ... Silence: for those that know the Sea, may never walk upon the Land again - our Mighty Hood.
Analysis Three - Death and Inquest. The fact that HMS Hood was heavily used meant that she never received the overhaul that she so desperately needed:
It's true to say that she was modified (e.g. for better air defence), and that she was overhauled/serviced as required (e.g. to maintain the efficiency of her boilers and her top speed). BUT, what was really required was a complete gutting of the ship, with the addition of thicker deck armour - permitted by the saving in weight gained from fitting new machinery (e.g. smaller boilers and turbines), and perhaps the removal of the entire front conning tower's spotting top (again to save weight). Unfortunately, this never happened. Thus, would one more Atlantic sortie - prove to be her demise! It is here that the book helps recreate some of the events of that particular day - as by all accounts, the crew of HMS Hood viewed their final voyage as just another routine patrol. When reading this chapter, did I feel that the Author played right into this part - as he has presented the tale straight to the point: Hood was gone, and in less than three minutes! With the build-up of the preceding chapters, did I feel shocked (even though I knew what happened anyway). I also found the contrast between this book's two inquests to be something of a shock. Whilst the first inquest (into why Hood was lost) was ridiculed as being too quick and not having looked at all the facts - it is surprising that the second inquest (which looked at all the facts or at least many more) concluded the same as the first: that Hood was lost because of insufficient armour thickness (to guard against plunging shellfire), which allowed a large calibre shell to explode inside the hull-form, which in-turn, caused the explosion of a primary magazine. It is only with the recent underwater expeditions (to look at her shipwreck) that the first conclusive evidence has been found that this is (at least a part of) exactly what happened. Not only that though, as from the state of the wreck (as mentioned in the book) - it appears that there was also a second explosion (in the forward parts of the ship) which when taken together, explain why so few of Hood's crew survived. Overall: a very good book, that I feel - tells the whole story of HMS Hood (both peacetime and wartime). When she sunk, it was not only the men on-board that died - but also (for a time) the spirit of the entire British Empire.
Something of a first for me - as I actually read this Battleship Book from cover to cover within a day and a half:
It helped that the book is on HMS Hood. It helped that the book is a good read. It helped that the book is packed full of so much information, that those pages just kept turning! I feel that this book really comes in three parts (although it's spread across six chapters): Genesis and Design, Peace and War, Death and Inquest. I shall now consider each of these in turn. Analysis One - Genesis and Design. HMS Hood was born from the Battleship race - specifically the need for speed (at the expense of armoured protection) that gave rise to the Battlecruiser concept. This book goes to great lengths to highlight the fact that HMS Hood was originally designed as a Battlecruiser (e.g. through it's use of design tables), and that on the very day that she was laid down (31 May 1916), that all work was suspended - owing to the Battle of Jutland, which had seen three such earlier Battlecruisers blown apart (after suffering magazine explosions caused through plunging shellfire). In all three cases, was the level of horizontal armour protection called into question. It is here that HMS Hood was transformed into something more akin to a Fast Battleship, as her deck armour was gradually increased (e.g. from 1.5 inches, to between 2-1 inches, to between 3-1 inches - the thicker armour was used closer to Hood's magazines). This book not only considers these developments, but also explains Hood's anti-torpedo protection, machinery (such as the Brown Curtis turbines and Yarrow oil-fired boilers), primary armament (including elevation increase), secondary armament (such as why it was not case-mated) and fire control (of primary, secondary and anti-aircraft guns). Analysis Two - Peace and War. HMS Hood was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 15 May 1920. World War Two started on 1 September 1939. This meant that HMS Hood spent most of her life as a Peacetime Warship of (just over) 19 years! The Peacetime chapter shows very clearly how the reputation of The Mighty Hood was earned, especially in the eyes of the public, who (even now) I feel, would be in awe of this stunning warship (if she sailed into port today). Much of this reputation was earned during the famous World Cruise (which saw HMS Hood travel over thirty-three thousand miles to bolster Britain's relationship with it's Empire). Even so, it is important to remember that HMS Hood was still a warship - which meant that her crew participated in regular gunnery exercises (by herself or with other vessels), as she sailed between the various ports of her World Cruise. Thus, when War broke out - was HMS hood (and her crew) available to participate in front line duties. Some of this was to become routine, such as: i) The various skirmishes into the Atlantic to intercept perceived threats (e.g. preventing the break out of smaller German warships). ii) Convoy duty (e.g. helping to protect Iron Ore en-route from Norway to Britain, and helping to protect the transport of troops from Canada to Britain). Some of this was absurd - such as when HMS Hood (and other British warships) were ordered to sink the entire French Naval Fleet at Mers-el-Kbir (North Africa). Whilst I understand the reasons behind this attack (fear of the French fleet falling into German hands), it seems totally crazy that allies would attack each other like this (when they should only have been concerned with defeating Germany). In any case, the book makes one point very clear (both through text and images) that Hood was heavily used both up-to, and during the early stages of World War Two, and as such - the usual polished ship-shape decks were soon covered with the grime of war.
All warships, no matter whether Battleship or Cruiser, Carrier or Destroyer, are to the men that serve on them - the Bastions of the Sea:
Yet in-turn, are the warships themselves, at the mercy of the men that command them, and the men that designed them. In the case of the USS Indianapolis, was it a catalogue of errors - that lead to her loss ... Whilst watching this DVD, I found myself amazed, that she was sunk in the Pacific, because of a denied request (of an anti-submarine escort) and a gargled radio message (that nobody requested clarification of). In essence: no one knew that the USS Indianapolis had been sunk (by at least two torpedoes), and no one knew that she was declared overdue (as radio operators had not received, the message that she was on her way - in the first place!). This DVD shows the horrors of the loss of the Indianapolis, which through the use of computer animation, helps drive home, one simple point: she was all alone, in the middle of the Pacific at night, listing heavily (through her breeched hull), with no ability to call for assistance - as her radio was out, on her top secret mission, that no one knew about! To say that this DVD shocked me, is something of an understatement ... This DVD then shocked me again, as it portrays (at least in part) the true horrors, of her crew's five days in shark infested waters - whilst various elements of the US/Allied Navy, believed her sinking to be a hoax/false report (even after having intersected and decoded, a Japanese Sub's radio message). Thus, can I say that the loss of the Indianapolis, was compounded by communication failures. And it is here that the DVD, plays right into: the loss of HMS Hood ... Hood was the biggest warship of the Royal Navy, a requirement that came from the Navy's desire, to have a battle-cruiser/fast-battleship, that was capable of: over thirty knots. Yet as this DVD shows, this speed - came with a price tag! This time, the blunder occurred, at Hood's design stage - which was itself, combined with two further blunders, on the day of her loss ... The first blunder (for me), was the fact that her Vice-Admiral, ordered both a radio silence, and for her accompanying escort (the battleship Prince of Wales), to turn off it's radar (directed fire), and refrain from using it's spotting aircraft. Thus was Hood, already at a disadvantage ... Which when compounded with the blunder of her design (having too thin/little deck armour), and the blunder of her going up against a fully modernised, enemy battleship (the Bismarck), sealed her fate. Again, the DVD makes use of computerised animation, to help drive home, the dramatic loss of HMS Hood. It also shows some footage, of a genuine magazine explosion (possibly HMS Barham's), which helps to further illustrate, why HMS Hood, stood no chance at all. I too, am in awe of the colour footage of HMS Hood, that's present upon this DVD - as it certainly does feel, as though she really was, invincible! Yet it is here that I found a twist, or should that be, a distort in the lines of communication? For it was known from day one, that her deck armour, was too thinly spread (especially over her magazines), which was itself only known - by a few high ranking, Navy personnel. Thus, were both the USS Indianapolis, and the Royal Navy's HMS Hood - lost on missions, that neither should really have been on - even if on paper, they both seemed up to the task. Overall: I feel that this DVD does a reasonable job, of covering the loss of both the Indianapolis, and the Mighty Hood. There's some great colour footage of the Indianapolis (I liked her camouflage scheme), together with some decent colour footage of HMS Hood (I liked the size and power, of her formidable arsenal of weapons). Added to this, is there some high-clarity (black and white) footage of the battleship Bismarck (who truly did look impressive - with her eight fifteen inch guns, and thick armour plating, especially visible, on her hull-form). And yet, did I find it hard, not to draw parallels, between these so-called blunders, and another frequently encountered term: that of (so-called) friendly fire.
One of the best documentaries I've seen on HMS Hood is - The Battle of Hood and Bismarck:
This DVD tells the story of these two massive warships, both in terms of their history, and in terms of the exploring of their wrecks. There's a fair amount of footage of HMS Hood, which only helps to build up her sense of invincibility. With the footage of Hood's World Cruise, do we realise just how famous The Mighty Hood actually was (as she was known by much of the British Empire - and had for example, been used in the early twenties for entertaining numerous dignitaries/VIPs). I became immersed with the memories provided by Ted Briggs (Hood's last remaining survivor). I felt that he honoured his fellow crew-mates, when he laid Hood's Memorial Plaque, on one of her bow anchor chains. I felt saddened when you see the wreck of HMS Hood on the bottom of the sea bed. For want of a better expression, she's in a terrible state - with the expedition leader (David Mearns) using the phrase: that a wreck is exactly what this is (to describe her). In short: Hood was blown apart by a massive explosion that spread her hull form, guns, and superstructure out over a large area. It is here that this documentary proposes an interesting idea: for it seems that Hood was destroyed by not one, but two magazine explosions (one in the stern, and one in the bow). In turn does this documentary, answer an important question: Why did so few people survive the sinking of HMS Hood? In turn does this documentary, provide an answer: If you have the whole battleship exploding, then it's surprising that any crew members survived at all. As such, I feel that this was the main reason, that Ted's memories haunted him for over sixty years. It is here that this documentary, goes to great lengths, through the use of computerised animations - to explain why ... For me, the most chilling scene, is seeing Hood's bow disappear beneath the waves (with her bow inclined vertically upwards) - and hearing the chilling tale, about how the crew in the front parts of the ship, must have died (essentially the immense pressure of water forcing it's way through the forward parts of the warship - all over in the blink of an eye). The documentary also helps to dispel, other myths about the sinking of HMS Hood. For example, I have heard that various enquiries had proposed the idea that her steel was brittle (hence hastening her sinking). This documentary proves that this was not the case: with the side of her hull form showing evidence, that her steel stretched considerably, before breaking. Even so, I'm still amazed, by the shear amount of devastation, that's present upon the sea bed ... And as you will see, in the second half of this review (see link below), what befell the Pride of the Royal Navy, is somewhat different, to the last moments of - the Bismarck.
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