A Bit of History: HMS Hood and “Failure to Launch”

First, let’s go ahead and take care of the obvious.  HMS Hood was sunk in the Battle of the Denmark Strait on May 24, 1941.  She was sent to the bottom by the German battleship Bismarck as the latter vessel attempted to break out into the Atlantic Ocean and raise havoc with Allied convoys between the United States and England.  Without a doubt, Hood is most famous for this tragic fate; her sudden, cataclysmic destruction resulting in the loss of 1418 crew (out of 1421 aboard that day) is the stuff of naval legend and lore.

There are thousands of pages available online and in print devoted to breaking down that battle and what went wrong for the British vessels engaged in it.  One more synopsis will do little in the grand scheme of things, and so this is the last we’ll hear of it here.  It is, in short, the end of Hood‘s story.

The death of HMS Hood

Eyewitness sketch of Hood’s destruction. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Instead, let’s talk about the beginning.

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Commissioned in 1920, HMS Hood was intended to be the lead ship in a class of four powerful battlecruisers.  These vessels, incorporating the lessons of the First World War (in general) and the battle of Jutland (in particular) were begun during the war.  With the exception of Hood, the class was stillborn, the British Admiralty instead focusing its labor and finances on merchant shipping.

Hood entered service too late for the war, but soon enough saw service as one of the most visible symbols of British naval power.  After being named the flagship of the British Atlantic Fleet’s Battlecruiser Squadron, the ship participated in a number of cruises and port visits, most notably the 1923-24 “Empire Cruise” in which she traveled more than 40,000 nautical miles and visited dozens of ports.  In addition to cementing her role as  a physical embodiment of England’s long seagoing reach, this global transit also allowed more than 750,000 visitors to see firsthand what was then the world’s largest and most powerful warship.

HMS Hood in 1924. Image Credit: Naval History and Heritage Command

With advances in technology come the need for refits, and Hood was no exception to this rule.  Over the course of the next seven years, the ship entered drydock a number of times for upgrades and modifications including more advanced fire-control suites, additional armor and armament, and – most notably as far as my recently completed model build is concerned – an airplane catapult and recovery crane installed on the ship’s stern in 1931.

Bearing in mind the early-twentieth century mindset of “well, airplanes are here to stay – what do we do with them?”, Hood had actually been equipped with an “Aircraft flying off platform” atop her B turret since early in her career – you can see it in the above photograph from 1924.  The attached floatplanes were intended for spotting of shell splashes and, to some extent, aerial reconnaissance.  With advances in naval aviation technology, it was decided to equip Hood with a modern steam catapult, the logic being that it would result in a safer and more reliable launch method.  The refit to add this catapult complete, the ship set sail for post-refit trials on June 16, 1931.

Hood setting to sea after completing her 1931 refit. Image Credit: Naval History and Heritage Command

Ten days later on June 26, Hood attempted her first live test of the catapult off the coast of Weymouth, England.  The catapult was primed, the Fairey IIIF floatplane was made ready, and with a roaring burst of steam…the aircraft careened over the ship’s side and promptly sank.

Into the sea

In lieu of a photograph, this will have to suffice.

Thanks to the photographic record, we do know that the aircraft and its pilot or pilots were recovered:

Fairey

The Fairey post-crash and post-recovery. Note the damaged propeller.  Image Credit: Warship Pictorial 20: HMS Hood

We also know that, on at least one occasion, the ship was able to successfully launch its floatplane from her stern catapult:

Fairey Launch

A successful launch. Image Credit: HMS Hood Association

This would not be enough to guarantee the system long-term.  Hood‘s quarterdeck rode too low in the water for launches to be successfully carried out in anything but the calmest seas, and by August 30, 1932, Hood‘s brief flirtation with catapult seaplane launches had ended.  The catapult was removed, and the now-defunct turret launch platform soon followed.  In the future, range spotting would be accomplished using traditional sight methods, newly-developed ranging technology, and carrier-borne aircraft, leaving this brief era in Hood‘s life in her wake.

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I chose this modeling subject (a vignette I’m calling “Failure to Launch”) due to both finding a great deal on Trumpeter’s 1:700 HMS Hood 1931 kit and my personal penchant for recreating specific moments in time that may otherwise be overlooked.  I’ve seen dozens of builds modeling Hood as she appeared on the day of her loss (something that, admittedly, I will myself likely build one day) and a smattering of her appearance in her earlier glory days; I have seen none that call to mind this singular mishap in her career, that represent this tiny hiccup in her daily routine.  That is why I built it, and that is why I hope you read this.

So concludes this build series examining the build of HMS Hood.  An overall summary will be posted in the next day or so, officially closing the books on this build.  Stay posted for progress updates regarding other builds, examinations of modeling techniques, and small glimpses at the history that we as modelers strive to recreate.  I hope to see you along the way but, until then, happy modeling.

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