77 years ago today – HMS Hood sunk during the Battle of Denmark Strait

Bismarck firing on HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales during the Battle of Denmark Strait 24MAY41 photographed from Prinz Eugen

Bismarck firing on HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales during the Battle of Denmark Strait 24MAY41 photographed from Prinz Eugen

Schlachtschiff Bismarck, Seegefecht

Smoke from HMS Hood immediately after an explosion during the Battle of Denmark Strait 24MAY41


A sketch prepared by Captain JC Leach (commanding HMS Prince of Wales) for the 2nd Board of Enquiry, 1941. The sketch represents the column of smoke or flame that erupted from the vicinity of the mainmast immediately before a huge detonation which obliterated the after part of the ship from view. This phenomenon is believed to have been the result of a cordite fire venting through the engine-room ventilators

At 06:00, Holland ordered his force to turn once again to port to ensure that the aft main guns on both Hood and Prince of Wales could bear on the German ships; during the turn, a salvo from Bismarck, fired from about 9 mi (7.8 nmi; 14 km), was seen by men aboard Prince of Wales to straddle Hood abreast her mainmast. It is likely that one 38 cm (15 in) shell struck somewhere between Hoods mainmast and “X” turret aft of the mast. A huge pillar of flame that shot upward ‘like a giant blowtorch,’ in the vicinity of the mainmast, followed by an explosion that destroyed a large portion of the ship from amidships clear to the rear of “Y” turret, blowing both after turrets into the sea. The ship broke in two and the stern fell away and sank. Ted Briggs, one of the survivors, claimed Hood heeled to 30 degrees at which point ‘we knew she just wasn’t coming back’. The bow rose clear of the water, pointed upward, pivoted about and sank shortly after the stern. “A” turret fired a salvo while in this upright position, possibly from the doomed gun crew, just before the bow section sank.[nb 4] Splinters rained down on Prince of Wales .5 mi (0.43 nmi; 0.80 km) away. Hood sank in about three minutes with 1,415 members of the crew. Only Ted Briggs, Bob Tilburn and Bill Dundas survived to be rescued two hours later by the destroyer HMS Electra.

The Admiralty later concluded that the most likely explanation for the loss of Hood was a penetration of her magazines by a 38 cm (15 in) shell from Bismarck, causing the explosion. Recent research with submersible craft suggests that the initial explosion was in the aft 4 in (100 mm) magazine and that it spread to the 15 in (380 mm) magazines via the ammunition trunks. It has been suggested from examination of the wreckage, found in 2001, that the magazine explosion in the 4 in (100 mm) armament near the mainmast caused the vertical blast of flame seen there, and this in turn ignited the magazines of the aft 15 in (380 mm) guns that caused the explosion that wrecked the stern. This explosion might have travelled through the starboard fuel tanks, igniting the fuel oil there, setting off the forward magazines and completing the destruction of the ship.

The wreck of Hood revealed the bow section bereft of any structure. A huge section of her side is missing, from the ‘A’ barbette to the foredeck. The midship section had its plates curled outward. Moreover, the main parts of the forward structure, including the 600 long tons (610 t) conning tower, were found about 1.1 km (0.59 nmi; 0.68 mi) away from the main wreckage.[21] This has sparked theories that the 15 in (380 mm) forward magazines exploded as a result of the force, flames and pressure, caused by the detonation of the aft magazines.[22] However, a team of marine forensic scientists has found that implosion damage to the forward hull due to the rapid sinking of the Hood, is the most likely cause of the state of the forward hull, and they do not support any theory that the forward magazines exploded.[23]

If you have Amazon Prime, I found The Battle of Hood and Bismarck: The Sinking of History’s Greatest Warships to be pretty interesting.

I remember reading The Sinking of the Bismarck by William Shirer in 1979 when I was 8.  I didn’t understand most of it but I liked the pictures and I thought the cover was cool yet sort of creepy.  I think I need to track it down to add to the library.