Built at John Brown’s yard in Clydebank, HMS Hood was launched on August 22, 1918.
The 860ft ship was laid down at the world famous yard on September 1, 1916 and during the two year construction, there were 1,000 men working on her at any one time. The 150ft Titan crane, still a tangible and poignant Clydeside landmark, was used during her fitting out.
HMS Hood remains the largest warship ever to be commissioned into the Royal Navy – only the new super carriers, currently in build in Rosyth, will be bigger.
And, even though her base port was in Portsmouth, HMS Hood’s refits during her lifetime were undertaken at the Fife naval dockyard, as it was the only dry dock in the UK big enough to take the ship – one of the very reasons the new carriers find themselves under construction there.
Perhaps her saddest Scottish connection, though, was that her final, fateful journey in 1941 began from Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands – the natural harbour which became home to the Royal Navy’s fleet during World War II.
If recovered successfully, the bell will form a fitting memorial to the ship and the 1,415 men from a crew of 1,418 who were lost in her when she was sunk by the Bismarck in the North Atlantic on May 24 1941.
HMS Hood is the largest Royal Navy vessel to have been be sunk, causing the heaviest loss of life suffered by any single British warship. Over 70 of those lost were under 18 - the youngest sailor was 16 years and four months; the youngest Royal Marine was 16 years six months.
The Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy are grateful for the very generous offer by the US philanthropist Paul G. Allen, to recover the bell at no cost to MOD. Mr Allen’s yacht Octopus, equipped with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) will be used for the operation which will be supported by Blue Water Recoveries Ltd which specialises in the search and investigation of shipwrecks.
In a previous expedition which did not disturb the wreck, the bell was discovered and photographed by Blue Water Recoveries. It is lying on the seabed well away from the parts of the battle-cruiser’s hull which will not be disturbed by the recovery operation.
The recovery is fully supported by the HMS Hood Association whose members include veterans who served in the ship before her final mission in 1941, and relatives of those lost with her.
President of the Association is Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks whose uncle was among those who died on board Hood. Admiral Wilcocks said today: “There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea. For those who lost their lives in HMS Hood, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in the Museum will mean that, well after the remains of Hood have gone, future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage and personal sacrifice of Hood’s ship’s company who died in the service of their country.”
If the recovery mission is successful the bell it will be put on display by the National Museums of the Royal Navy (NMRN) and will form a major feature of a new exhibition hall dedicated to the 20th and 21st century Navy. It is due to open at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 2014. It is a fitting location as HMS Hood was based in Portsmouth.
Commenting on the proposal, Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General NMRN, said: "It will be an honour and privilege to display the bell from HMS Hood. Our new galleries, opening in April 2014 will recall and commemorate the heroism, duty and sacrifice of the people of the Royal Navy in the 20th and 21st centuries. Hood's bell encapsulates the whole of that story as no other single object could."
The wreck of HMS Hood is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. The Government has licensed the recovery of the bell: as well as providing a memorial, the recovery will prevent it being taken by any illegal operation for personal gain.
Director of Blue Water Recoveries, David Mearns, located the wreck of HMS Hood in 2001 and is coordinating the current expedition on behalf of Vulcan. He said today: “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to return to the wreck site of Hood with camera and lighting technologies far superior to that available to us 11 years ago.
“Our aim is to conduct a comprehensive, non-intrusive video investigation of the wreckage, which we believe will allow experts to definitively determine what happened to Hood in her final moments before she sank and answer why the loss of life was so great. Hopefully the weather and subsea conditions will be right for us to recover Hood's bell so that it is protected beyond doubt and returned to the Royal Navy.”