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The Loss of HMS Hood

12 May 2016

On 24 May 2016, CWGC will mark the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hood during the Second World War.

'The Mighty Hood' was one of the largest warships in the world and the most famous ship in the Royal Navy. Her destruction was met with disbelief and grief among the British public. It also led to one of the most famous episodes of the war at sea, when Royal Navy forces hunted and sank the warship which had destroyed HMS Hood - the German battleship Bismarck.

There were only three survivors from more than 1,400 on board HMS Hood. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates most of those who lost their lives on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

On the 75 anniversary of the loss of HMS Hood, the CWGC urges people across the UK to remember its crew on 24 May 2016, and visit the memorials where they are honoured.

The Battle of the Denmark Strait

After the fall of France in the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany controlled much of the European continent. British resistance now depended on a constant flow of supplies from America and the British Commonwealth.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the sailors of the Merchant Fleet faced a deadly gauntlet of submarine attacks, and travelled in convoys for safety. However, if heavy German surface ships could get into the Atlantic these slow moving convoys would be easy prey, and Britain could be starved into surrender.    

On 21 May 1941, the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen left the safety of Bergen harbour in Norway, and slipped into the stormy waters of the North Sea. Bismarck's location had been reported by Norwegian resistance and, after images were captured by RAF reconnaissance aircraft, the Royal Navy prepared to intercept.

Warships set sail from across the British Isles, and in the early hours of 24 May, the British battle cruiser HMS Hood, along with the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, engaged the German ships just south of the Denmark Strait, between Greenland and Iceland.

Bismarck turned her guns on HMS Hood and opened fired. A shell penetrated Hood's armour, and detonated the explosives in one of her magazines. Hood blew apart, the force of the blast ripping the ship in two. Some ten minutes after the engagement began HMS Hood vanished beneath the icy waters of the North Atlantic, taking with her all but three of her 1,400 crew.       

HMS Prince of Wales was also damaged, but managed to escape destruction. The German ships made for the safety of the French Atlantic coast.

The loss of HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy and flagship of the Home Fleet, was a devastating blow. In response, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the order "Sink the Bismarck!"

On 27 May, after the Bismarck had been crippled by British air attacks, Royal Navy ships closed in and fulfilled Churchill's orders.