There has always been 'much mystery' surrounding HMS Hood: Was she a battlecruiser or a battleship? What colours were her turret markings - and what did they mean? What was the 'cluttered equipment' on her decks used for?
This book discusses those questions (amongst others) whilst 'aiming to remember' HMS Hood - with regard to: her technology, crew and missions. HMS Hood appears primarily in her 1937 configuration (author's 3D polygon models), together with her 1941 'final guise' and author's 'concept version'. The lineage of HMS Hood is also considered, from the days of HMS Victory, through HMS Warrior - together with Hood's 'family name'. Whilst ending with a conclusion, that is perhaps 'just a little strange' ...
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Here we can see the stern deck area of HMS Hood. What I most liked about Hood's stern profile, was the fact that she had a matched pair of naval gun turrets, mounted astern:
Later battleships (including both American, and Japanese), would only have a single gun turret, mounted astern. I feel that the matched pair (in Hood), catered for a more balanced profile - both in terms of her appearance, and in terms of her firepower. Hood's stern deck, was an interesting area of contradiction! For on her Empire Cruise (when she sailed the British Empire), was this area often where the VIPs (such as Royalty) were entertained. With the wooden handrail ladders (middle-bottom right), leading to the Admiral's Day Cabin - came much pomp and ceremony. And yet, when Hood was at sea, even in a fairly calm sea, was this entire stern deck area, often awash with sea water! The stern deck had been designed too low in the waterline. Yet, there is some irony here. For in the wreck of HMS Hood (at the bottom of the North Atlantic), is it the stern deck and it's flag pole, that stand up from the sea bed, as if in salute.
| Nebula Hawk | Web: HMS Hood Wreck - Stern Deck
HMS Hood was an Empire Ship that sailed the world. As such, her upper decks were an interesting mix, of both peacetime and wartime:
For me, the peacetime is represented by the variety of smaller boats that she carried on-board. I believe that these were used when she was in port, or when she had anchored off some tropical island, for some rest and relaxation (for her sailors). Yet, she was still a warship, with the armament to match! Here we can see: a 5.5 inch naval gun (lower left), a 4 inch high angle anti-aircraft gun (middle-bottom), and a quadruple 0.5 inch anti-aircraft gun (middle-bottom right). Now, I've heard it said, that sailors don't have a fear of heights! Hood's main mast, would appear to test this theory - with the mast's ladders being used to gain access, to both lookout posts, and wireless radio equipment. The long horizontal boom, that stems from the base of the main mast, is the main derrick, which was 65 feet long! I believe this was used, to lift both the smaller boats, and other heavy equipment (such as ammunition crates).
Some of the stern gun arrangements of HMS Hood:
From left to right we have: the aft-most eight barrelled 2 pounder anti-aircraft pom poms gun, two 4 inch high angle anti-aircraft guns, and one of the fifteen inch naval gun turrets (with it's local control range finder on-top). The anti-aircraft guns, were situated atop the Admiral's Day Cabin, and much pomp and ceremony, is often associated with the wooden handrail ladders, that lead to this area (bottom left). This was particularly true, of Hood's Empire Cruise, where she entertained VIPs (such as Royalty), from around the World.
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.
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.
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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