Until the outbreak of World War II the battlecruiser Hood was the world’s largest warship and, as many believed, the finest one ever built. She inspired awe not just because of her sheer size but also because of the power of her armament.
It is no wonder she quickly became to be known as the “Mighty Hood”. Her end was sudden and violent: she exploded and sank after a short battle with the German battleship Bismarck. Only three of her crew survived.
The Grand Fleet warships of the World War I era had many deficiencies. Their low freeboard combined with the placement of the medium battery guns in casemates put the ships in danger of flooding and made the low-mounted guns virtually unusable in rough sea conditions. It was clear that the new generation of ships would have to feature high freeboard and gun batteries mounted high above the waterline. In October 1915 the Board of Admiralty instructed the Director of Naval Construction to begin work on the new, experimental warship design. The new ship was to be a modified Queen Elizabeth design with the draught reduced by 50 percent. Additionally, the new class would feature enhanced armor protection below the waterline to improve its survivability. However, in February 1916 the plan to design a fast battleship was questioned by Admiral John Jellicoe, who believed that the Royal Navy already had a clear advantage over other nations in that category of warships. What Jellicoe proposed instead was the design and construction of heavily armed battlecruisers which could match the capabilities of the new German Mackensen class warships. On February 17 the Admiralty designers submitted six different proposals for warships armed with eight 15 inch (381 mm) main guns, or with four to eight 18 inch (456 mm) weapons and protected by 8 to 10 inch (203 – 254 mm) armor. Two more design concepts of warships featuring 15 inch main battery guns were submitted on March 27. After the most promising design had been selected, the construction of four vessels was given a green light. In April the Admiralty placed an order for construction of the battlecruiser HMS Hood at John Brown & Co. in Clydebank, Scotland. The other three ships were to be built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead (HMS Howe), Fairfield in Govan (HMS Rodney) and at Armstrong Whitworth in Elswick (HMS Anson). The order for the construction of the latter was placed in July 1916. Since the new battlecruisers were all named after British admirals, the new warships became to be referred to as the “Admiral” class. Displacing as much as 36 200 tons, the new vessels were expected to reach the speeds of 32 knots. However, the installation of heavy 140 and 381 mm guns necessitated the reduction of the ships’ protective armor. In fact it was barely heavier than the armor of the Minotaur class cruisers – the vessels which were only half the size of the new battlecruisers.
The Hood was laid down on May 31, 1916, but her construction was almost immediately halted following the tough lessons learned from the battle of Jutland that took place on that very day. In the battle three Royal Navy battlecruisers (Indefatigable, Queen Mary and Invincible) were lost after the well-placed German shells penetrated their hulls causing massive explosions of the ships’ ammunition magazines. The commission tasked with investigating the tragic incident established that the root cause was inadequate armor protection of the ships’ decks and ammunition magazines. The findings led to the introduction of a series of modifications to the design of the new battlecruiser, which made the vessel appear more like a battleship. The thickness of the main armor plates was increased by about 50 percent, the 203 mm main armor belt was replaced with 305 mm of armor and the thickness of horizontal armor protection rose from 137 mm to 161 mm. Ammunition magazines also received enhanced armor plating. The 5 000 tons of additional weight reduced the ship’s projected top speed from 32 knots to 31 knots. However, during sea trials in 1920 she did manage to reach the top speed of 32.07 knots. In fact the Hood would consistently achieve speeds of over 30 knots until about 1941 when they dropped to 28 knots due to her deteriorating condition. The battlecruiser was powered by four sets of Brown-Curtis steam turbines which received steam from 24 Yarrow small tube 3 drum boilers installed in four boiler rooms.
The Hood was laid down once more on September 1, 1916. The changes to the design introduced in the aftermath of the battle of Jutland were followed by more modifications added throughout the construction period. HMS Hood had overall length of 860 ft, 7 in (262.3 m), the beam of 104 ft, 2 in (31.8 m) and draught of 32 ft (9.8 m). She was therefore 30 m longer and 4 m wider than the older class of battlecruisers. The weight of added armor plating increased the Hood’s draught by 4 feet (1.2 m) and lowered the freeboard, which led to frequent flooding of the ship’s decks. In rough sea conditions, or whenever the warship was steaming at full speed, the sea water would enter the crew’s living quarters through ventilation shafts making the ship’s interior permanently damp. This, combined with poor ventilation, made many of the battlecruiser’s crew suffer from tuberculosis.
The construction of the Hood’s sister ships Anson, Howe and Rodney was suspended in March 1917, although the work on their design continued. All the changes introduced to the Hood’s armor protection were automatically added to the blueprints of the other three ships. However, following the end of the war and cuts in the Royal Navy shipbuilding budget, the construction of the three battlecruisers was finally cancelled in October 1918. It was decided that the money needed to finish the warships would be better spent on the re-building of the British merchant fleet, which suffered great losses to German U-boats during the war.
HMS Hood was launched on August 22, 1918 and christened by Lady Hood, widow of the late Admiral Horace Hood (lost at Jutland on HMS Invincible). Admiral Hood was the great-great-grandson of Admiral Samuel Hood, after whom the battlecruiser was named. The outfitting of the ship continued for the next two years until January 1920 when the battlecruiser left for Rosyth under her own power. She was docked at Rosyth on February 20, 1920 where the outfitting continued until March 29, 1920. After a series of trials the Hood entered service with the Royal Navy on May 15, 1920 under the command of Captain Wilfred Tomkinson. The total cost of the battlecruiser’s construction was 6 025 000 pounds. In mid May 1920 HMS Hood became the Flagship of the Battlecruiser Squadron, Atlantic Fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Sir Roger Keyes.
In the same month the warship steamed out of Rosyth. Most of her over one thousand-man complement were the sailors and officers who had formerly served on HMS Lion and took part in the battle of Jutland. The wartime exploits of the Lion’s crew under the command of Rear Admiral Sir David Beatty earned her a lot of recognition and respect. Now that she was going into reserve, the Hood would take her place as the Navy’s new gem in peacetime. On May 31, the fourth anniversary of the battle of Jutland, the Hood’s crew paid tribute to their fallen comrades during a ceremony held off the coast of Denmark. The ships of the Battlecruiser Squadron (including HMS Hood, the battlecruiser HMS Tiger and nine destroyers) received orders to set course for Kronstadt to support the British Baltic Squadron in their operations against the Bolshevik forces. However, the orders were then changed and the ships were directed to go to Scandinavia instead. HMS Hood made several port calls, including Christiana (today’s Oslo), Kalmar (to allow the crew to visit Stockholm, which at that time was off-limits to battlecruisers) and Copenhagen. Wherever she went the ship attracted huge crowds of spectators. In Sweden, Denmark and Norway the Hood was visited by kings Gustav V, Christian X and Haakon VII.
In the spring of 1921 the Hood, accompanied by HMS Tiger, departed for a cruise of the Mediterranean and Gibraltar. En route the ships made port calls at Malaga, Valencia and Toulon. In summer the battlecruiser returned to Rosyth where she underwent repairs followed by speed trials and armament tests. In the spring of 1922 HMS Hood arrived at Gibraltar once again. After her return to home waters in the summer of 1922 the battlecruiser was inspected by King George V at Torbay.
The Washington Naval Conference of 1921 – 1922 was convened to slow down the naval arms race following the Great War. The participating nations agreed to set the top limit for the displacement tonnage of battlecruisers and battleships at 35 000 tons. As a result a number of large warships exceeding the agreed limit were ordered to be scrapped. However, the Royal Navy was allowed to keep their newest battlecruiser as an exception to the rule. The move allowed HMS Hood to maintain her status as the world’s largest warship over the next several years.
In the second half of 1922 the Hood and battlecruiser HMS Repulse visited Brazil to represent the Royal Navy at the Brazilian Independence Day celebration. In Rio de Janeiro the ship was visited by Brazilian president Epitácio Pessoa. During the rest of the cruise HMS Hood made port calls at West Indies, the Canary Islands and Gibraltar. En route the crew performed a series of gunnery and torpedo exercises. A year later the battlecruiser paid another visit to Norway and Denmark where it was inspected by King Haakon VII and Queen Maud of Norway.
Between November 27, 1923 and September 1924 HMS Hood was the centerpiece of the Special Service Squadron on a cruise around the world. The Squadron, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Frederick L. Field, included battlecruiser Repulse, cruisers Delhi, Danae, Dragon, Dauntless and Dunedin and nine destroyers. The purpose of the 40 000 mile cruise (in which the King himself was personally involved) was to showcase the power and the global reach of the Royal Navy. In the ten months it took to complete the voyage, HMS Hood had almost 750 000 visitors at various ports around the world, which helped to reinforce her reputation as the most recognizable warship in the world. During the cruise the Special Service Squadron visited South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. While visiting Australia the Hood escorted HMAS Australia on her way to be scuttled as a result of the Washington Treaty.
After the return from the “Empire Cruise” in 1924 the battlecruiser spent the rest of the year at Rosyth and Devonport undergoing maintenance and repairs. In January 1925 she rejoined the Atlantic Fleet and remained in service until 1929. During that period the ship attended Vasco da Gama celebrations in Lisbon (1926), paid a visit to Malaga where she was inspected by Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain (1928) and participated in a number of routine exercises.
In May 1929 the ship was docked at Portsmouth where she stayed for the next two years undergoing a major refit. The work included installation of the new HACS fire control system, extensions to the compass platform, installation of additional armor and the addition of a pair of eight-barrel pom-poms (QF 2-pounder AA guns). The ship also gained the capability to launch and recover sea planes after a catapult and a crane had been installed on the quarterdeck. After the completion of all the work the battlecruiser underwent a series of sea trials.
In May 1931 HMS Hood resumed her role as the Flagship of the Battlecruiser Squadron. In Early 1932 the ship, accompanied by the Repulse and several other vessels, went on a cruise of West Indies. During the return journey, on January 21 1932 the Hood suffered damage to two of her propellers after she encountered a major storm. The ship then arrived at Portsmouth for repairs.
A year earlier, in September 1931, some of the ship’s crew took part in “Invergordon Mutiny” over the proposed reduction of pay rates in the Atlantic Fleet. Following the mutiny, the Atlantic Fleet was re-named the Home Fleet in 1932. During the Hood’s early days of service in the Home Fleet the ship was once more officially inspected by the King.
Between 1933 and 1939 HMS Hood deployed to the Mediterranean on several occasions. While there the battlecruiser engaged in routine exercises and made a number of port calls, including Gibraltar, Madera, Canary Islands, Malta and Greece. In January 1935, while returning from West Indies, HMS Hood was involved in a collision with battlecruiser HMS Renown in which she suffered damage to one of the propellers and a section of the port side. The damaged ship set course for Gibraltar where temporary repairs were carried out allowing the battlecruiser to continue on to Portsmouth. She remained at Portsmouth for the next three months undergoing repairs to areas affected by the collision. In the aftermath of the incident the commander of the Battlecruiser Squadron and the captains of the two ships faced the court martial proceedings, but only the captain of the Renown was found guilty and stripped of his command. However, the Admiralty took a different view and strongly criticized Rear Admiral Sir Sidney R. Bailey for sending inconsistent and confusing signals in the moments leading to the collision of the two warships.[...]
Klimczyk Tadeusz – Monografie Morskie 6 – Hood, AJ-Press 1997
Roberts John – The Battlecruiser Hood, Conway Maritime Press 2001
Taylor Bruce – The Battlecruiser HMS Hood, An Illustrated Biography 1916 – 1941, Chatham Publishing 2005
HMS Hood Association – www.hmsHood.com
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