Home » News & Analysis » Bell of Sunken WWII Battlecruiser HMS Hood Recovered From Ocean Floor


Bell of Sunken WWII Battlecruiser HMS Hood Recovered From Ocean Floor

Screen grab of the ship's bell of HMS Hood plucked from the ocean floor on Aug 7, 2015.

Screen grab of the ship’s bell of HMS Hood plucked from the ocean floor on Aug 7, 2015.

In May 1941, the British battlecruiser HMS Hood chased down the German battleship Bismarck in an attempt to protect the flow of American supplies to Great Britain. Within 15 minutes of firing its first shot, Hood was hit, exploded and sank to the bottom of the Denmark Strait, taking with it 1,415 of its 1,418 crew members.

On Friday, after sitting on the ocean floor for 74 years, Hood’s bell was recovered by a research team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The team retrieved the bell on Aug. 7 using a remotely operated vehicle from Allen’s yacht, M/Y Octopus, giving the Ministry of Defence and Royal Navy the gift of a memorial for the fallen sailors’ families.

“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,” Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, who serves as president of the the HMS Hood Association and whose uncle died on the ship, said in a statement.

The bell was first discovered and photographed in 2001, lying away from the rest of the ship’s hull. Allen led an expedition to recover it in 2012 but was hindered by weather and technical difficulties. The ship wreckage is protected under the Military Remains Act of 1986, but the bell was allowed to be salvaged to serve as a memorial ashore and to protect it from being taken illegally.

The bell is in good condition, according to those involved in the operation, but will undergo about a year of restoration work due to the decades it spent in seawater. Once the restoration is complete, the bell will be put on display as a centerpiece of the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s new exhibit on 20th and 21st Century Navy.

HMS Hood in May 1941, just before it was sunk by German battleship Bismarck. Photo courtesy HMS Hood Association.

HMS Hood in May 1941, just before it was sunk by German battleship Bismarck. Photo via HMS Hood Association.

HMS Hood was the largest British ship to be sunk and caused the largest loss of life suffered by any single ship. Only three crew members survived the explosion and sinking. The last remaining survivor died in 2008 and requested that the bell be made into a memorial for his shipmates.

“I am extremely pleased that we have been able to fulfil one of the last wishes of Ted Briggs, one of only three survivors of Hood’s crew of 1,418 men, to recover the ship’s bell as a memorial to his shipmates,” Blue Water Recoveries director David Mearns said in the statement. Blue Water Recoveries assisted Allen’s team in the 2012 attempt and again last week.
“Despite 74 years of immersion in the hostile depths of Denmark Strait the bell is in very good condition. The inscriptions decorating its surface clearly indicate that the bell was preserved for use on the battle-cruiser Hood after first being used as the bell of the Battleship Hood from 1891 to 1914. This bell has therefore seen action in two capital ships of the Royal Navy spanning a period of 50 years. … The bell we recovered is a unique historical artifact, which shows just how important Hood was as flagship of the British Battlecruiser Squadron.”

Categories: News & Analysis
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.

  • Fritz641

    Definitely not the largest loss of life from a single ship.
    IJN Yamato – 3,056 dead
    KM Bismark – 2100+ dead
    IJN Taiho – 1,650 dead
    just to mention a few
    And if you count civilian ships that were sunk in the war the Wilhelm Gustloff, carrying German civilian evacuees from the east, was sunk by a russian submarine and was by far the largest loss of life from a singe ship coming in at over 9000+ dead.

    • Rexford L

      Probably meant on a British warship.

      • Fritz641

        yea that’s what I was thinking it must be too.

    • USNVO

      The sentence is not very well written but from context it clearly refers to just the Royal Navy. To paraphrase the old adage, you can have it cheap, fast, or well written, pick any two. Since it is already free, that leaves either fast or well written. Since the news section probably doesn’t get the same editorial support as their fine magazines and books (I’m good with that), you end up with cheap and fast. The occasional ambiguous sentence is just something you have to live with.

  • Ruckweiler

    Amazing that the ship’s bell was recovered. RIP to the crew of HMS Hood.

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  • Navyjag907

    It was a beautiful ship. I can’t think of another steel warship that was as striking with those clean lines.

    • John B. Morgen

      The KMS Bismarck is a lot more striking and very modern than the HMS Hood.

      • GordonBlessington51

        Her modern design didn’t help against Fairey Swordfish bi-plane torpedoes or the 16″ guns of the old battleship HMS Rodney.

        • John B. Morgen

          As for the Bismarck’s failure of not shooting down British Swordfish, her flak guns were not calibrated correctly, so the shells could explode on a timely manner against very slow moving targets. Design had nothing to do with it. As for the Rodney, the Bismarck’s speed was reduced down to 10 knots; thus, making her an easy target. And another problem for the Bismarck there was no control of the ship’s rudders because they were damaged by a lucky hit. This might be consider as a hull design issue, or bad commands of not given to evade the oncoming torpedoes.

        • david

          The Bismark was scuttled by her crew, not sunk by the Royal Navy.

          • GordonBlessington51

            By then Bismarck was basically a pile of twisted steel sitting on a hull. Rodney got too close for plunging fire into the deck.

  • Jim Valle

    When ships are sent to sea with major design flaws it catches up sooner or later and it’s the sailors that pay the price.

    • John B. Morgen

      I agree. The United States Navy and other Western navies will pay the price for flawed close-in defense systems, and that is, not having enough of them built into the design of the whole warship.

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  • Mike Mike Scott

    This event is one of the most remembered in the world’s history. All historical events should be remembered and protected from all threats.

  • John B. Morgen

    It’s very sad that many men died on the HMS Hood, but the design concept of the battlecruiser was flawed from the very outset. The Hood shouldn’t have been built for the Royal Navy after the Battle of Jutland in 1916, which three Royal Navy battlecruisers were lost to German naval gunfire. Furthermore, the Royal Navy failed to update the Hood’s structure when the Royal Navy had the chance to do so during the 1930’s. Again, it is sad that many men died on 24 May 1941.