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).
The bow view of HMS Hood. From here, you can make out the shear of her hull form:
Which both helped her sea-keeping, and reduced the chances, of an enemy shell penetrating her belt armour (by striking it an angle, as opposed to square on). You can also see, that Hood could bring to bear, just two forward naval gun turrets (aka four 15 inch shells) when approaching end on - as she did, on that fateful day (at the battle of the Denmark Strait), when she was lost, battling the Bismarck. This view also shows, another important fact about HMS Hood, from the shear number of windows and view slits, that are visible from this angle: how important visually sighting the enemy was, in a time before radar.
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.
Without a doubt, this little gem has to be one of the best books on HMS Hood (that I have ever read):
There's three reasons for this. First: is the fact that the book summarises (on the first few pages) exactly what type of warship HMS Hood was intended to be - a bigger, better, faster Queen Elizabeth class battleship. This was what the Royal Navy/Admiralty originally envisaged, and even though various Admirals (such as Sir John Jellicoe) attempted to prevent this (by saying that they had no need for such fast battleships), the Battle of Jutland (which took place at the same time that HMS Hood was laid down - 1916) caused a boycotting of Sir John Jellicoe's ideas - as it was proven that lightly-armoured battle cruisers, were incapable of meeting heavily-armoured battleships in battle. Thus, would HMS Hood be a - bigger, better, faster Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Hood's great length (860ft), meant that similar levels of protection (to a Queen Elizabeth), resulted in thinner deck and side armour as such armour had to be spread over a longer distance. Thus, was it known - that Hood's deck armour was too thin and not in the same-league as a true battleship (even though plans existed to thicken her deck amour). Second: is the fact that this book actually provides, the most realistic/acceptable reason for the loss of HMS Hood (that I have ever read). It had been accepted (at the time) that HMS Hood was lost because of a primary magazine explosion. Now, whilst this may very well be true - witnesses at the time (most-likely those on-board HMS Prince of Wales) reported that there was no sound of an explosion from HMS Hood. This seems a little strange, as it's hard to imagine a room full of 15 inch shells exploding - without any sound! Thus, does this book provide a more realistic/alternative explanation of how HMS Hood could have blown up, without making a sound. This explanation is: that it was NOT a primary shell magazine that exploded, BUT a primary cordite magazine (the source of the charges that were packed in behind a shell - to explode/burn and propel a 15 inch shell, from a 15 inch naval gun barrel). Thus, it seems that a magazine full of cordite, would have burned fiercely, and in doing so - placed overwhelming stress on internal bulkheads (inside HMS Hood). Such forces would not have been contained for long, and would have eventually vented forwards, through the boiler rooms and through the deck vents. It is with this venting, that the book suggests it's reason for the loss of HMS Hood: as with so much heat and force, would Hood's hull form have failed to hold up - and hence, split her in two (without the sound of an explosion). Third: is the fact that this book contains, some of the most amazing pictures of HMS Hood - that I have ever seen! Where possible, I have divided these into categories - before I tell you about them. Category One: The pictures of HMS Hood when she is being constructed. My favourite picture here, shows the construction of Hood's hull form, when the scaffolding is along side. You can clearly see the style/shape, of an important improvement over the Queen Elizabeth's - Hood's anti-torpedo bulges (which formed an integral part of her hull form, as opposed to an after thought). In second place, do I find the picture that looks forward (from the stern) of Hood's decks (before the turrets and superstructures have been installed). You can clearly see the men that built her, who appear to be just normal men doing an honest days work together with the frames for the bow sections (showing that Hood was far from complete at the time the photo was taken). Category Two: The pictures of HMS Hood within the Mediterranean Sea. Two of these photo's stand out for me - as they show Hood's hull form beneath the waterline (in a semi-turbulent sea). Both pictures also seem dynamic (as Hood is at speed), with both pictures also showing her neutrality markings (on B turret) - which were used to help identify her within the Spanish Civil War. Category Three: The picture that shows HMS Hood when she's being painted (presumably in harbour). What I find most exciting about the picture here, is that although it's just a close-up of her midships section - it's hard to miss one simple fact: HMS Hood was massive! This picture (more than any other), causes me to have disbelief that she could ever have been sunk/destroyed by a single lucky/well-placed shell. Yet, that is precisely what happened! Overall: this is an amazing book that contains a wealth of information on HMS Hood, and her nemesis the Bismarck. There's also some good information on the Battle of the Denmark Strait, and the sinking of the Bismarck. For me, there's also one more thing that really makes this book into a little gem. The fact that it explains a battleship's immunity zone - the idea that between certain ranges, that a battleship's side and deck armour could not be pierced (e.g. within a certain range, plunging shellfire is impossible, because the enemy could not elevate their gun barrels to a suitable angle to avoid a skimming shell when it hit the deck of the enemy ship - as it's plunging angle was too low to cause penetration - aka the mathematics of projectile motion).
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.
Of all the Royal Navy's Battleships, there are none more highly regarded, than those of the Queen Elizabeth class - and of those, is there none more renowned, than the lead warship herself - HMS Queen Elizabeth:
HMS Queen Elizabeth, was one of five sister battleships, that having been laid down in 1912/1913, became the workhorses of the Royal Navy (throughout both World Wars). In terms of Naval Architecture, is there an important milestone, that is usually accredited to them: that they are seen as, the World's first true, fast battleships :) For one simple reason - their designs were close to, the ideals of matched: armour, guns and speed! For me, I feel that the Queen Elizabeth, was also the most glamorous (of her sisters) - as she received, the most modifications, throughout her long service life (of thirty-six years). When it comes to the Queen Elizabeth's profile, are there four features, that I particularly liked ... First: Is the arrangement of her primary armament - two naval gun turrets forward, and two naval gun turrets aft. Which for me, has always felt, like it encapsulated, the ideas of balance. And yet, do these ideas of balance, also transfer themselves, to the choice of naval gun calibre. For the Queen Elizabeths, were armed with eight fifteen-inch naval guns, which are believed to have been, the best well balanced guns, within the Royal Navy (of all time). As the fifteen-inch naval gun/shell, met the ideals of: maximised destructive fire-power, with low barrel wear/tear, and considerable engagement range :) Which is perhaps (just slightly) ironic, because it was feared, that the fifteen-inch calibre shell, would not be as successful, as the earlier, thirteen-and-a-half-inch calibre shell, nor as successful, as the much more widespread (and familiar), twelve-inch calibre shell - which had both been fitted, to previous battleship classes. Second: Whilst the earlier profile, of the Queen Elizabeth, was certainly impressive - they are as nothing, when compared to the Queen Elizabeth, when she was overhauled, with her imposing block like, forward superstructure (and conning tower). As this feature, really modernised the appearance of, the Queen Elizabeth :) Whilst at the same time, do I feel that it improved, her fighting capabilities no-end, as there was so much more, available space and vantage points - for fire control :) Third: Originally, the Queen Elizabeth was armed, with sixteen six-inch (case-mated) secondary naval guns - which were again, at the mercy of turbulent seas! The fact that these six-inch guns, were also intended, with the soul purpose of engaging, enemy vessels - meant that they were of little use/value, against enemy aircraft. Thus was I glad, when the Queen Elizabeth was overhauled, with a dedicated secondary armament, of twenty dual purpose four-and-a-half-inch guns - that could target both enemy vessels, and enemy aircraft :) I also liked the fact, that these dual purpose guns, were both enclosed in turrets, and that they were located, at higher levels, above the hull form (e.g. at main deck level), which afforded more usability, in turbulent seas :) Forth: Was the addition of bulges, onto the sides, of the Queen Elizabeth's hull form. Where as earlier battleships, had been coal powered (with the coal providing reasonable levels of dampening, against the shock/power of a torpedo impact/explosion) - there was no such protection, within the Queen Elizabeths (as they were oil fuelled). Thus, did the hull form bulges, provide a layer of protection, against the menace - of the submarine/aircraft launched torpedo :) Despite this, was there one particular modification, to the Queen Elizabeth (and her battleship class), that I was not-so-keen on: their aircraft arrangements. Whilst I understand the logic, of having aircraft launched from a battleship (e.g. a spotter plane), I feel that such modifications, were really too space occupying, and should have been reserved/relegated, to the role of a support ship (such as an accompanying aircraft carrier, or an accompanying destroyer/cruiser - equipped with sonar, for the detection of submerged submarines). Overall: the Queen Elizabeths, were the most heavily used, of all the Royal Navy's battleships. They were present at every major theatre of war, even being useful - when heavily damaged! An example of this, was when HMS Warspite (one of Queen Elizabeth's sisters), was limped into position, to bombard the invasion beaches (of D-Day) - whilst only having six usable, fifteen-inch naval guns. And as for the Queen Elizabeth? Well ... I just loved the fact, that her later modifications, resulted in a truly impressive and imposing - Titan of the Seas :)
If there's one Battleship (more than any other), that best illustrates the requirement of, mounting as many naval guns on your battleship (as possible), then there's no finer example, than the Royal Navy's - HMS Agincourt:
HMS Agincourt (of 1913), mounted no fewer than, fourteen twelve-inch naval guns (in seven twin-turrets). This was done, to both maximise her fire-power, and increase the chances of hitting, an enemy battleship. I like the fact, that her turret arrangement, adhered to the principles of Naval Conflict, that had been learned in the days of Nelson's - HMS Victory: the more guns you have, the more fighting power, your warship - brings to bear :) And yet, perhaps unlike the days of HMS Victory, did this maximisation of guns - come with a price tag! In the case of Agincourt, carrying so many turrets (seven), meant that their weight had to be paid for, at the expense of adequate - armoured protection ... For me, this was particularly apparent, upon the thinness of her belt armour (up to nine inches), the thinness of her deck armour (up to two and a half inches), and the thinness of her bulkheads (up to six inches). Of these, I would say that it's the bulkheads thickness, that would concern me the most - as having seven gun turrets, could easily mean, that a fire/explosion, in one of their magazine's/shell handling room's, could easily spread, to an adjacent gun turret/group of turrets! And given the fact, that HMS Agincourt was regarded (amongst the Royal Navy), as a floating magazine - leads little to the imagination ... Despite this, did HMS Agincourt, have several features to her profile, that I quite liked ... First: was the fact that Agincourt, mounted all of her primary naval guns, on the centreline, of her hull form. This meant that she could bring all, primary guns to bear, on both port and starboard - which maximised her broadside. The adoption/standardised use of centreline turrets, went hand-in-hand, with the Space Age Idea, of super-firing turrets (where one turret's roof, was directly beneath, another turret's barrels). In the case of Agincourt, did this lead to an interesting arrangement, of her aft turrets - a little group of three, that was somewhat unique, in their layout :) Second: having so many primary naval guns (fourteen twelve-inch), was it also a key requirement, for the shell spotters, to have an unimpeded line-of-sight, towards the enemy. Thus, is it good to see, that her forward lookout platform (that's mounted atop the forward-most tripod mast), is actually located, in-front of the forward-most smokestack :) Third: Where as HMS Dreadnought (the so-called grandfather of all later/better battleships), had for the most part, omitted any (dedicated) secondary armament - the same could not be said, for HMS Agincourt. In the case of Agincourt, do I like the fact, that she featured twenty six-inch guns - that were all grouped, within the central third, of her hull form. For me, the inclusion of six-inch (surface target) guns, reflected a decent realisation of the (potential) menace of Destroyers and Patrol Boats (who could both launch torpedoes!). Yet here, do I find, that there's a secondary armament feature, that I was not so keen on ... The fact that her six-inch guns, were case-mated (i.e. built into the hull form), and that they were situated (mostly) beneath main deck level, meant that they would have been unusable, in anything but - a calm sea! Despite this, the inclusion of a (powerful) secondary armament, meant that Agincourt, did at least cater for, two different ranges, of Naval Engagement - both long range (with her twelve-inch guns), and short/medium range (with her six-inch guns). Which really was, a step in the right direction :) Overall: HMS Agincourt, was a (somewhat) novel solution, to the conflicting Naval requirements - of both maximising fire-power, and maintaining survivability. Ironically, the spread of her seven turrets, both aided survivability (as the chances of an enemy shell, knocking them all out - was much reduced), but the chances of an enemy shell, knocking out the entire battleship, was much increased (as the turrets were housed within a hull form, that did not have enough - armoured protection).
If there's one Battleship (more than any other), that's responsible for defining an entire genre of Warships, than that credit of distinction, belongs only to the Royal Navy's - HMS Dreadnought (of 1906):
HMS Dreadnought, was a World Above, the Warships that had come before her (the pre-dreadnoughts), and her design was so radical (at the time), that she gave her name, to all the Dreadnoughts that came after her (which we know by today - as Battleships). I especially like the fact, that HMS Dreadnought, helped redefine the definition/meaning of the phase: Naval Engagement ... This was achieved, through a Space Age Idea - that unified her primary armament, to be of all the same calibre of guns: ten twelve-inch naval guns. This in-turn, supported the idea of Naval Engagements, from greater distances - as shell spotters, only had to look for one type of shell splash (to help correct their aiming). But, why the requirement for a greater range of engagement? Well ... It was believed, that such Dreadnoughts, would no longer be within the range of - enemy torpedoes! It was an idea that was regarded as radical, because Navy Engagements (up to circa 1906), had always been fought, at closer ranges (being somewhat reminiscent, of the days of Nelson's - HMS Victory). When it comes to HMS Dreadnought's profile, there's three features, that stand out for me ... First: her high (ram shaped) bow. This would have helped with her sea keeping (of 21 knots), and have been useful (owing to its shape), for the ramming of enemy warships, and submarines! Second: the poles that extend along the side of her hull form. At first, I thought that these were a part of her armour - but they are in-fact, booms for her anti-torpedo nets (which would have been deployed, when she was in port, and/or when she was stationary). Third: the layout of her primary armament gun turrets (i.e. her ten twelve-inch naval guns). Three gun turrets were located on her centre line, and could fire on either beam - at an enemy located to port or starboard (as the turrets rotated). The remaining two turrets, were located on her beams/wings (one port, one starboard) - but could only fire at an enemy, located on the relevant beam/wing (owing to limited rotation, and no line of sight/fire across her main deck). Thus, do I like the fact, that HMS Dreadnought, could bring to bear: eight twelve-inch naval guns - for a full naval broadside! Despite this, are there two design features (of HMS Dreadnought), that I did not like ... First: was her complete lack (of a true) secondary armament. Having been so revolutionary, it was almost an afterthought, to have added in twenty-seven twelve-pounder guns (5.44 kilograms). These, were all mounted above deck, both on the roofs of her primary gun turrets, and within her topside superstructure. And as such, I find it slightly ironic/reflective, that these were the positions, that were used in later Battleship classes, for anti-aircraft arrangements. Thus did Dreadnought, lack any effective close range, medium calibre guns - that could have been of use, against enemy Patrol Boats and Destroyers (who ironically, could launch torpedoes!). Second: Was the location of her forward most, gun spotting platform (atop the tripod mast). Which could easily be smoked out, when she was at speed! Although to be fair, this particular design flaw, also affected - later Battleships. Overall: Dreadnought was the first of her kind, who sparked a Naval Arms race (as other countries wanted Dreadnoughts). Even so, there's one particular area, that Dreadnought often receives flak for - and that is, that her thickest belt armour (of 11 inches), was actually located beneath the waterline (when she was at sea), where it would do - little good! In any case, Dreadnought was a step in the right direction, as many of her novel features, made it successfully into - later Battleship classes :)