Clyde shipyard was scene 100 years ago for launch of ill-fated HMS Hood


HMS Hood was the final battle-cruiser built for the Royal Navy.

A ceremony is being held in Clydebank to mark the centenary of the launch of one of Britain’s largest warships.

The battle-cruiser HMS Hood was launched at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank on this day, August 22, 1918.

Until the commissioning of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, there had never been a bigger British warship than The Mighty Hood.

The ship was sunk in 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck, with the loss of all but three of the 1,418 crew.

The laying of the keel for HMS Hood got under way at John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank on 1 September 1916 and it was launched two years later just before the end of World War One.

Lady Hood launched Hood in 1918 in memory of her late husband Rear Admiral Sir Horace Hood, who was killed in his ship, HMS Invincible, at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916.

Hood was the final battle-cruiser built for the Royal Navy.

Hood sailors A group of sailors have a laugh trying to squeeze out of a small door aboard the HMS Hood during naval manoeuvres in 1928

Battle cruisers were similar in size and offensive capability to battleships but usually carried less armour so they could reach higher speeds.

The ship was equipped with eight 15-inch guns and was capable of 32 knots.

HMS Hood was revered as the most powerful warship in the world for more than 20 years, earning the nickname “The Mighty Hood”.

But in May 1941 – during the battle of the Denmark Strait in the North Atlantic – it was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck.

The British and German ships were separated by about 10 miles of sea but the Bismarck soon found its target.

The Bismarck was probably the most powerful warship in commission at the time and the Hood was a battle cruiser, rather than a battleship.

The Hood’s magazines exploded, sinking the Royal Navy’s largest vessel in just six minutes

This meant it had less armour than a battleship, particularly horizontal armour against plunging fire – shells coming down from on high at a long range.

HMS Hood was struck by several German shells near its ammunition magazines which subsequently exploded, causing the ship to sink.

It sparked a huge Royal Navy pursuit of the Bismarck, which was destroyed three days later. More than 2,000 German sailors lost their lives.

Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, the president of the HMS Hood Association, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland: “Hood was the largest ship in the Royal Navy until our two new aircraft carriers.

“She was, in the inter-war years, the iconic figure for the Royal Navy, for the country, and in those days, for the Empire.”

Rear Admiral Wilcocks said the John Brown yard in Clydebank was accustomed to building big ships but when Hood was launched it was the biggest ever in the UK.

He said Hood spent most of her time patrolling around the UK or in the Mediterranean.

“But in 1923 she went around the world with the Special Service Squadron,” he said.

“She went to South Africa, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, back across the Pacific to the United States.

“At that stage she was one of the largest ships to go through the Panama Canal.

“She ended up in Canada and then came on back. She was nearly a year steaming around the world.”

Rear Admiral Wilcocks said the sinking was a tragedy, leading to one of the largest losses of life for the Royal Navy.

“It was the equivalent of three battalions of troops lost in three minutes,” he said.

“My uncle, my father’s youngest brother, was killed on board.

“My grandmother was devastated by the loss but she was just one of the many who had to come to terms with the loss of so many people.”

Clerkhill pupils sent comfort parcels and pen pal letters to the sailors

Clerkhill girls who supported the crew of HMS Hood. Pic from MT RaineySome of the Clerkhill pupils who sent letters and comfort parcels to HMS Hood.

The ill-fated HMS Hood, sunk with the loss of nearly 1,500 lives, was the last battle-cruiser to be built on Clydeside for the Royal Navy. Commissioned in 1920, she was named after the 18th-century Admiral Samuel Hood, and “adopted” by the pupils of Notre Dame High School in Dumbarton.

One of four Admiral-class battle-cruisers ordered in mid-1916, Hood had design limitations, though her design was revised after the Battle of Jutland and improved while she was under construction at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank. For this reason, she was the only ship of her class to be completed. As one of the largest and most powerful warships in the world, her prestige was reflected in her nickname ‘The Mighty Hood’.

Hood was involved in several “showing the flag” exercises between her commissioning in 1920 and the outbreak of war in 1939, including training exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and a circumnavigation of the globe with the Special Service Squadron in 1923 and 1924. She was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet following the outbreak of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Hood was officially assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet until she had to return to Britain in 1939 for an overhaul. By this time, advances in naval gunnery had reduced Hood’s usefulness. She was scheduled to undergo a major rebuild in 1941 to correct these issues, but the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 forced the ship into service without the upgrades.

When war with Germany was declared, Hood was operating in the area around Iceland, and she spent the next several months hunting between Iceland and the Norwegian Sea for German commerce raiders and blockade runners. After a brief overhaul of her propulsion system, she sailed as the flagship of Force H, and participated in the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. Relieved as flagship of Force H, Hood was dispatched to Scapa Flow in Orkney, and operated in the area as a convoy escort and later as a defence against a potential German invasion fleet.

In May 1941, she and the battleship Prince of Wales were ordered to intercept the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were en route to the Atlantic, where they were to attack convoys. On 24 May 1941, early in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Hood was struck by several German shells, exploded and sank. Only three of 1,418 crew survived the sinking. Due to her perceived invincibility, the loss had a devastating effect on British morale.

Remarkably, the loss was felt badly in Dumbarton, where the pupils of Notre Dame High School at Clerkhill had “adopted” the crew of HMS Hood. Many of the pupils’ fathers had worked on the Hood when she was under construction in Clydebank.

The pupils knitted socks for the seamen and sent them comfort parcels and pen pal-type letters and were deeply shocked when the news of the Hood’s sinking was conveyed to them at morning assembly.

A photograph of HMS Hood hung on the wall outside St Patrick’ High School headmaster William B Monaghan’s office for many years after the war. I remember the days when pupils at St Patrick’s High were given sight of this photograph while waiting for an admonition and maybe even the belt.

  • The HMS Hood connection with West Dunbartonshire is covered in Bill Heaney’s book, Two Minutes Silence, which can be purchased at democratonline.net



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