Hood was the name ship of what was supposed to be a class of four battlecruisers ordered near the close of World War I. Shortly before Hood was laid down, three British battlecruisers exploded and sank at the Battle of Jutland. Hood’s design was re-worked to improve her protection, especially around the magazines. Unfortunately, the redesign was haphazard, and the Royal Navy realized that Hood had some serious protection and weight problems. Hood’s three sisters were scrapped before launching, and the Royal Navy started over with a new class of large battlecruisers.
Nevertheless, Hood was an impressive warship. Her armour was more extensive and thorough than any other battlecruiser of her day, giving her nearly as much protection as the Queen Elizabeth class battleships. Hood was 860′ long, displaced 48000 tons, and carried 8 15″ guns. This made her, by a fair margin, the largest warship in the world. Hood could make 31 knots, which meant she was also the fastest battleship afloat.
In addition to being the fastest and the largest, the Mighty Hood was probably the most famous battleship of the interwar period. She made several cruises to various ports to “show the flag” and demonstrate the power of the Royal Navy. Hood was an impressive looking ship, although true naval aesthetes tended to prefer the smaller, more balanced HMS Tiger. Hood was one of three battlecruisers retained by the Royal Navy under the terms of the 1930 London Naval Treaty. Although British battlecruisers have been criticized for their tendency to explode when fired upon, these three ships proved far more useful to the Royal Navy than the slow battleships retained by other fleets. Indeed, it probably would have been a better move to keep Tiger in 1930 and discard one of the R class battleships.
Hood was such a valuable unit that the Royal Navy, in the interwar period, could not bear to be without her. This was unfortunate. Hood was scheduled for a major overhaul in 1941, but the onset of war made this impossible. The Royal Navy simply lacked the fast ships to spare Hood for an extended period of time. Hood spent 1939 and most of 1940 patrolling for German raiders, although she never encountered either a pocket battleship nor one of the Scharnhorst class. This was probably fortunate for the Germans, for while Hood was old, she was still large enough and powerful enough to deal with most of the new German ships. In July 1940, Hood led the force that attacked the French fleet at Mers El Kebir, destroying Bretagne and damaging Dunkerque and Provence. Hood stripped a turbine chasing the French battlecruiser Strasbourg.
By 1940 the “naval holiday” imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty was clearly over. New battleships were coming into service, and these new ships took advantage of twenty years of technological developments. Most of the new ships carried heavy armaments, heavy armour, and could make high speeds. Largest of these new ships (at least until the commissioning of Yamato in late 1941) was the German battleship Bismarck. Bismarck left Kiel in May 1941 for a raiding cruise in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, only Hood and the new battleship Prince of Wales were available for interception. The rest of the fleet was too slow, in refit, or deployed in other areas.
Hood and Prince of Wales found Bismarck on May 24 in the Denmark Straits, between Greenland and Iceland. Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland knew that Hood was vulnerable to Bismarck’s guns, especially at long range, and decided to close as quickly as possible. This meant that Bismarck would have time to fire full broadsides against Hood and Prince of Wales during the approach. The crew of Bismarck was well acquainted with Hood. I recall watching a documentary on the battle several years ago in which a surviving German sailor described the mood on Bismarck as grim when it became widely known that Hood had found them. Even in the Kriegsmarine, Hood was widely believed to be the most powerful ship in the world. Bismarck was accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, and Admiral Holland unfortunately mistook the latter for the former, ordering fire to be concentrated against the cruiser. This allowed Bismarck to fire without interference. Hood was struck early by an 8″ shell, setting fire to her deck but not seriously threatening the ship.
At about 6am, Hood turned to bring her aft guns into play against Bismarck. A salvo from Bismarck struck her amidships, and she exploded. The exact cause of the explosion has never been ascertained, although multiple theories persist. Hood sank very, very quickly. A fair number of crew members escaped the immediate destruction of the ship only to be pulled into the vortex that accompanied her sinking. Only three sailors, from a crew of 1418, escaped the wreck. It is thought that an enormous air bubble escaped from the engine room and buoyed the three survivors to the surface. They were rescued by the destroyer Elektra. One, Ted Briggs, is still alive and lives in southern England.