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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : HMS 'Hood' Sunk by 'Bismarck'

24 May 1941

Location: Denmark Strait
Players: Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland, Admiral Gunther Lutjens
Outcome: Destruction of HMS 'Hood', with the loss of 1,416 lives.

A pre-war photograph showing HMS Hood in the Panama canal
A pre-war photograph showing HMS Hood in the Panama canal©
On the evening of 21 May 1941, battle cruisers HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were ordered to leave Scapa Flow immediately and head for Iceland, from where they could intercept the German battleships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, which were attempting to break out into the Atlantic through the Denmark Straits.

The cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk were already in the area, but they opted to shadow the two German ships and call for assistance rather than engaging the German vessels directly.

The Hood, an unmodernised ship commanded by Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland, lead with the new and untried Prince of Wales following. Both groups of ships were steaming directly towards one another, although due to damage to the radar system on the Bismarck, the German commander Admiral Lutjens was unaware of the approaching enemy.

Just after midnight on 24 May, contact with the Bismarck was temporarily lost and only regained again at 3am, causing Holland to alter his course to meet the enemy. At around 6am, visual contact was made with the German ships, and Holland again changed course to meet the opposing battleships head-on, opening fire on the lead German ship which he erroneously believed to be the Bismarck.

The Prinz Eugen and Bismarck concentrated their fire on HMS Hood, which continued to steam towards them, at the same time attempting to turn sideways on to bring all her guns to bear and to absorb salvos on her thick side armour. In so doing, HMS Hood was hit first by an eight-inch shell from the Prinz Eugen which ignited ammunition stored on her deck, and then by a 15-inch shell from the Bismarck which hit her magazine amidships, causing a massive explosion and breaking the Hood in two.

The Hood sank almost instantly, taking with her 1,416 men, among them Vice Admiral Holland.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


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