Nine months after its retrieval from the murky depths of the Denmark Straits, the bell from HMS Hood was unveiled today by HRH The Princess Royal during a commemorative service to mark the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. Hood was the largest Royal Navy vessel to have been sunk, causing the biggest loss of life suffered by any single British warship.
Princess Anne struck eight bells at midday at a ceremony at The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard as descendants of some of the 1,415 sailors who lost their lives when the ship was hit by Bismarck on 24 May, 1941 looked on. Only three of Hood’s crew survived and it was the expressed wish of one of them, Ted Briggs, to recover the ship’s bell as a memorial to his shipmates.
Following the unveiling, the bell was carried by a Royal Navy guard to Boathouse 5 for the official opening by Princess Anne of the exhibition 36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War which marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland. Lady Hood launched Hood in 1918 in memory of her late husband Rear Admiral Sir Horace Hood KCB DSO MVO who was killed in his ship, HMS Invincible, at the Battle of Jutland, fought one hundred years ago on 31 May. An inscription on the side of the bell reads: “In accordance with the wishes of Lady Hood it was presented in memory of her husband to HMS “Hood” battlecruiser which ship she launched on 22nd August 1918”
The bell’s retrieval from one and a half miles below the surface was led by a team assembled by US philanthropist and entrepreneur, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and included Blue Water Recoveries. The expedition was launched from Allen’s his yacht M/Y Octopus, equipped with a state-of-the-art Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that was adapted to safely retrieve the bell.
At the time of the recovery, the President of The Hood Association, Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, whose uncle died on board said:
“There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea. For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in The National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth will mean that 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.”
Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy received the bell formally from Navy Secretary, Rear Admiral Simon Williams and said:
“HMS Hood’s bell provides an extraordinary and moving link between the sacrifice of the Royal Navy in 1916 at Jutland and those made by a new generation of sailors in the Second World War. The bell was presented to the Royal Navy’s newest battlecruiser when she was launched in 1918, by the widow of Rear Admiral Sir Horace Hood, great-great grandson of Sir Samuel Hood after whom the ship was named. Sir Horace died at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, one of 1,026 officers and men who died in seconds when HMS Invincible blew up and sank, and the bell is inscribed to that effect. HMS Hood was, of course, subsequently destroyed in very similar circumstances by the German battleship Bismarck at the Battle of the Denmark Strait on 24 May 1941, with the loss of 1,415 men. The bell is a memorial to two battles, separated by 25 years but joined by centuries of tradition and sacrifice.”
The project to assess and conserve the bell was managed at Portsmouth Naval Base by BAE Systems’ Non Destructive Examination Centre in collaboration with the Naval Air Squadron, as part of the company’s community investment fund. The conservation was by Mary Rose Archaeological Services, which was particularly keen to help The Hood Association, and funded by David Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries. The immediate priority was to place it in a tank of fresh water to remove any salts absorbed over its 74 years in the North Atlantic.
The bell was in good order, despite its long submersion, and there followed a series of metallurgical tests and analysis to consider its condition. After a discussion to determine the level of finish for the bell, it was concluded that there would be a minimum of surface cleaning, leaving the staining and the calcified work casts as evidence of the time spent in the sea.
The distinction of the Hood bell is the two engravings, one around the base and the other on the side of the bell and these would be made legible because of the story they tell.
The inscription around the base of the bell reads: “This bell was preserved from HMS Hood battleship 1891-1914 by the late Rear Admiral, The Honourable Sir Horace Hood KCB, DSO, MVO killed at Jutland on 31st May 1916.”
David Mearns, Director of Blue Water Recoveries said: “I am extremely pleased that we have been able to fulfil one of the last wishes of Ted Briggs to recover the ship’s bell as a memorial and we are delighted that it is now on display as a reminder of the service and sacrifice of her men.”
36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War is open for three years. Details on visiting are available on www.jutland.org.uk