This is the first Warship book that I've read, which has actually been written, by one of the survivors, of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis - the retired US Navy Marine, Edgar Harrell:
I found within it's pages, a retelling of the Loss of the USS Indianapolis, that serves to highlight, both the absurdities of War, and the Refusal of the Human Spirit - to give up! An absurdity of War ... Two Marines sleeping on a Turret roof one night (owing to the heat of the Pacific), with one Marine (Edgar Harrell), choosing not to the second night - only to have that same Turret roof, blown sky high (by a Japanese Torpedo / Magazine Explosion), knowing for well that your friend is gone (as he slept on the Turret's roof again that night). A refusal to give up ... Bobbing away, in a sun bleached sea, with a life jacket that's waterlogged, in a circle of corpses (your former crew-mates), surrounded by sharks (whether you knew it or not), with a parched mouth, and swollen lips - then out of the distance, something bobs up and down, a crate of potatoes, half rotten but Heaven! And it is here, that Edgar Harrell, felt that he would Survive, the ordeal of the Crew of the USS Indianapolis, floating in the Pacific Ocean (for up to four and a half days) - because he knew for well, that God had a plan ... Yes indeed, did I find that this retelling, is as much to do with God, as is the fact, that the US Navy blundered - knowing not (through various absurdities of Command), that the crew of the Indianapolis, were adrift at sea! In places, I found this book hard to read (or at least to relate to), because I don't believe, that I'm very religious (although I like the idea, of such a hierarchy and it's symbolism). Granted, it's hard to say for sure, how many of us would behave (and what we would choose to believe in), having just witnessed, several of our former crew-mates, being ripped to bits by sharks, whilst those very same sharks, chose to pass us by! In any case, there's several parts of this book, that stood out for me ... First: the USS Indianapolis herself. She was a workhorse of the US Navy, featuring in many of the campaigns of the Pacific. I especially liked the recounting, of the bombardment of Iwo Jima - as the power of the Indy's five inch, and eight inch Naval Guns, is made very clear. Added to this, is the technology of a Warship, which even in 1945, could hone a five inch shell, onto the path of an incoming enemy plane - through the marvel of Radar :) Second: the horror of having a Warship, fall apart beneath you. It's hard to imagine, that solid steel could bend and buckle, until you see it - Edgar Harrell did, the bow was gone! I was shocked, by the truth of his recount - at the injuries of the men, who were just trying to make their way, to the decks of a ship, that was rapidly taking on water, whilst exploding all around them, in Fires of Hell! Yet even then, would those same men, have chosen to remain on-board, if only they had the choice. Third: the reality of floating in a sea/ocean (for several days). You can't escape it, unless you die. You have to ride it, even a fifteen foot wave. You have to take it, sun blistered skin. You have to bear it, darkness of night. You have to go with it, this endless tide. For there's simply nowhere, you can go! Your at the mercy of the sea. As was Edgar Harrell, and his fellow survivors. Whilst reciting his tale, did I feel that Edgar, answered an important question - just how would you pass the time? As Edgar was blessed with a working watch, both a blessing and a burden (as he says). I felt that I connected with, an idea that was proposed here - were going to swim for the coast! Though it be, hundreds of miles - were a Marine, and we Strive to Survive :) Fourth: is the disbelief that was encountered, by Edgar Harrell and his fellow survivors, at the persecution (and court-martial) of their Captain - Captain McVay. It seems absurd to me, that you can blame a Captain, for the loss of his warship, whilst they were at war - especially when it was higher up, that the blunders occurred. The fact remains that the Indianapolis, should never have sailed unescorted, through hostile waters. I fully agree with Edgar, that McVay was not at fault - and I feel that the various letters of correspondence, really adds a unique perspective, to the contents of this book. Fifth: Is a further absurdity of War ... Which for me, is perhaps the most striking part of this tale. Whilst many of the survivors, may very well have survived four days at sea (through strength, belief, willpower, luck, etc.), it was that last half a day (from when they had been spotted), that I feel for many, the real test came! For one simple reason: they'd almost run out of, the energy to keep going (e.g. the ability to tread water) - yet they had to wait, for the various rescue ships, to arrive on the scene! It must have been a true Test of Faith, where I suspect minutes felt like hours, and a still mind-numbing thought: that they had been left afloat for so long, in the first place! I wonder how many more would have been saved, if they'd been found, half a day earlier? As at the end, all strength fails - you succumb to the sea. Overall: this book really is, a recounting of one man's Quest for Survival, and the Strength of his Character - amongst the Cruel Sea, of a Pacific War. Whilst I might not share, all of Edgar's views and beliefs (pertaining to God), I feel that I can relate, to two important points that he makes. The first: Edgar won't go near the sea/ocean these days. I can understand why. It would almost be like going back. And as Edgar says: the visions of the dying throws of the Indianapolis, are still raw in his mind (let alone the sharks). The second: when not everything is going to plan, and your entire World seems to be falling apart (let alone a Warship), just remember one thing - God Wills It (at least I believe, that's what Edgar was hinting at). Peace.
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.
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.
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).
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.
| Nebula Hawk | Web: | Read More: Hood and Bismarck - Part Two