Culture

Commemorating HMS Hood

Another Orkney Production’s annual event “Celebrating Scapa Flow” will this year commemorate HMS Hood with an online programme, on 21st and 22nd May, thanks to the Orkney International Science Festival. 

Shortly before midnight on 21st May 1941 HMS Hood weighed anchor and sailed out of Scapa Flow through Hoxa Sound to patrol the waters south of Iceland and prevent Germany’s largest battleship Bismarck, from reaching the North Atlantic. HMS Hood was accompanied by the newly commissioned battleship HMS Prince of Wales and six destroyers. 

Launched in August 1918 and commissioned in May 1920 the battle cruiser HMS Hood was the largest ship in the Royal Navy until the recently built aircraft carriers. She was also the most famous, in part due to the “Empire” Cruise which took place between November 1923 and September 1924 when, accompanied by HMS Repulse and a squadron of light cruisers, she visited many ports around the world.

In the early years of WW2 HMS Hood was a frequent visitor to Scapa Flow.  By 1941 she was a veteran of 21 years, still the largest ship in the Royal Navy and badly in need of a refit.

By comparison the battleship Bismarck, the largest ship in the German Navy, was of similar size but had been newly commissioned in August 1940.Her sheer size, speed and weaponry made her a major threat to allied shipping.  

When she arrived in Norway in May 1941 accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, intelligence suggested she was heading for the North Atlantic.

The battle which took place on 24th May in the Denmark Strait resulted in HMS Hood sinking within minutes of being hit with the loss of 1415 of her crew of 1418. 

Commemorating HMS Hood (AOP)

The programme will open with an introduction by Captain Chris Smith, Royal Naval Regional Commander for Scotland and Northern Ireland and will include talks on Hood’s construction, her visit to Australia in the 1920s, and the events leading up to her final departure from Scapa Flow. There will also be a film about the recovery of her bell and the work of the HMS Hood Association.

Renowned maritime historian and author Ian Johnston tells the story of her construction in  “BUILDING HMS HOOD” and describes events at Clydebank from receipt of the order in April 1916 to completion in January 1920, using photographs taken by the resident shipyard photographers, by courtesy of the National Records of Scotland.

HMS HOOD TO AUSTRALIA” by Naval historian Graeme Lunn gives an account of HMS Hood’s visit to Australia as part of her world tour of 1923-4 and the massive crowds that came to see her.

In “ORKNEY’S ROLE IN THE HUNT FOR BISMARCK” Naval historian and author Commander David Hobbs covers various topics including how the movement of ships in Scapa Flow was controlled; the events from Hood’s departure up to her loss in the Denmark Strait, and the critical role played by 771 naval air squadron and RNAS Hatston.

Rob White’s documentary ‘For Years Unseen’ tells the story of the recovery of HMS Hood’s ship’s bell (with thanks to Paul G. Allen) after many years hard work by renowned wreck finder David Mearns who first discovered HMS Hood in 2001 for a Channel 4 series about the great battlecruiser.The title is derived from ‘Lost Sailors’, a book of poetry by Bee Kenchington, whose brother was lost with HMS Hood.

Commander William Sutherland, chairman of the HMS Hood Association, will talk about the organisation which was established in 1975 by a group of former crew members including two of the survivors of her sinking.

The association’s website, http://www.hmshood.org.uk/ commemorates HMS Hood and her crew, providing details of all the ship’s technical specifications and history, with links to many photograph collections. There are memorial pages for all 1415 men who were lost where you can find out more about each crew member.  Association members include relatives of those lost, veteran sailors and enthusiasts interested in naval history. New members are always welcome.

The talks will be available live on the Orkney International Science Festival YouTube Channel.

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