Search



ABOUT SSL CERTIFICATES

 
 

Rebuilding Hood
By Kristin Ann High and Steven Ford High
March 2017

His Majesty's Battle Cruiser Hood was the first of the Admiral-class dreadnought battle cruisers laid down, and the only one to complete. Laid down for the second time on 1 September 1916, launched 22 August 1922, Hood completed in May of 1922. The ship was named in honour of Admiral Viscount Hood of Whitley, who held several important sea commands in the last half of the 18th century, including vice commander-in-chief of the North American Fleet under Rodney during the American Revolution, and commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet during the French Revolution.

HMS Hood was lost 24 May 1941, while in action against an enemy then flying. Of 1,418 officers and ratings aboard her that day, only three survived.

Hood at sea, watercolor by Edward Tufnell, RN.

 
To add a ship never built to a wargame scenario, or to change the availability of ships damaged, scuttled, or not finished working up, is an altogether different proposition than resurrecting a ship lost in action with the enemy. Such ships are war graves, for in them lie the memories and mortal remains of the men who died aboard them. If we are to create new Hoods, and to fight them in battles she did not survive to see, then it is my opinion that we must do so understanding what it is we are putting aside, even if only for the space of a few hours.

We may resurrect Hood in cardstock and ink, but we cannot resurrect the men who died with her on 24 May 1941. We cannot recreate their futures, for they had no futures. We cannot make again what they might have made, nor add to our world what they might have added. They are gone, and all that they might have done, or been, or caused to be, is gone with them. Those who had families never returned to them, those who had none would never have them. What might a young family have done with its father home from war that it did not, could not, do without him?

Here, then, are some variant Hoods. It is my hope that, when you lay out one of them on the operational or tactical map of a Second World War at Sea game, you will spare a moment's thought for the men who perished in her, and for those that loved them.

A Battle Cruiser

Battle cruisers were an answer to the particular problems of trade defence that confronted Great Britain in the last years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. They were first and foremost intended to protect that trade, in the sense that the Royal Navy then conceived the concept of such protection: They were built to hunt down and kill enemy commerce raiders. Like the German Panzerschiffe of a generation later, Great Britain's battle cruisers were built so as to master any warship they might encounter, either by the power of their main battery, or by the power of their engines.


Speed is not armour. HMS Invincible explodes at the battle of Jutland, 1916.

 
Fisher's emphatic declaration that "Speed is their armour" was based on the facts of naval construction as they then stood. That it was no mere boast, Admiral Graf von Spee discovered at Falkland Islands on 8th December 1914, with fatal result. As Fisher had said they would, the battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible bore down on Spee's squadron and savaged his armoured cruisers, if not precisely as an armadillo would ants in an ant hill, very nearly like (see Cruiser Warfare and Cone of Fire).

But as with the German Panzerschiffe, the caveat to their power lies in that deceptive and problematic phrase, ". . . as they then stood". Moreover, Falkland Islands was the first and last battle of its kind. The raison d'être of the battle cruiser was vindicated, and a powerful raiding squadron of the enemy had been brought to action and destroyed. Yet in its vindication, a more profound question lay exposed, and one whose answer proved both intractable and prolonged.

A battle cruiser cost as much to build, crew, and maintain, as a dreadnought battleship. A battle cruiser had the same main battery armament as a dreadnought battleship, and was as large and as heavy as a dreadnought battleship. A battle cruiser even looked like a dreadnought battleship. Despite all these similarities, the battle cruiser was not a dreadnought battleship.

Battle cruisers were the ultimate expression of the cruiser, not an evolutionary branch of the battleship. The temptation has always existed to see in battle cruisers the antecedents of "fast" battleships, and not a few naval enthusiasts have taken it one step further and called battle cruisers the first fast battleships.

This is particularly the case with Hood, if for no other reason than she was larger than any battleship afloat during most of her life, with a deep load displacement of 45,200 tons as built, increased to 48,360 tons by her final sortie. Modernized and reconstructed, with their full late-war anti-aircraft and electronics fit, Queen Elizabeth and Valiant displaced 38,450 tons, while Nelson and Rodney displaced 41,250 tons at "extra" deep load — that is, with their anti-torpedo voids filled with fuel oil and feed water. The King George V-class battleships displaced 42,076 tons deep load, as built. Vanguard displaced 51,420 tons deep load as built, finally surpassing Hood.

No refit planned or performed could have remedied Hood's many weaknesses, for the simple reason that Hood did not have the spare displacement to take a major rebuild, much less an extensive reconstruction like that given to Renown, Queen Elizabeth, and Valiant.

Hood's actual refits followed the model for British capital ships in general. With modernization driven by necessity remaining the prime mover for funding, it simply was not politically possible to argue for modernization and then refit the newest ships first, politicians and The People being what they are.

Also working against Hood was her carefully nurtured public image as "Mighty Hood". The Admiralty and successive governments had worked to create an aura of power about Hood that the ship itself simply could not support, and it had worked well enough that the German naval command considered Hood to be a real danger to the new Bismarck-class battleships: Bismarck and Tirpitz both ran extensive wargames against her during their working up. Hood's combination of speed and powerful armament meant she could pace the German ships, and do them real harm in the bargain.

Given such a reputation, it was impossible for any British government to nominate Hood for the kind of massive work it would need to reconstruct her reality to match her publicity, and nothing short of that would be worthwhile. Money spent on Hood was frankly better spent on building new battleships, or on reconstructing Repulse to match Renown.

But Avalanche Press is nothing if not forgiving of some elasticity in national politics, physical laws, and fiscal realities, not to mention historical fact, so having stated it to be nearly impossible, wholly impracticable, and positively wasteful, here are some variant versions of Hood.

Mighty Hood

This variant presumes Hood is massively reconstructed in the late 1930s, along the lines of the reconstructions given Valiant and Queen Elizabeth — at least partly as a result of studies done for new battleships. Going into the yards at Chatham in early 1937, she would have completed in late 1940, probably having to be moved to Rosyth or Devonport as was Queen Elizabeth. By March of 1940, then, Hood is with the Battle Cruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet.

Hood will now have the classic "castle" bridge structure of reconstructed British heavy ships — Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, Malaya, and Renown — with nearly as much room as the new-construction King George V. Her fourteen 4"/ 45-calibre Quick Fire HA Mk.XVI dual-purpose secondary rifles are replaced by twenty dual-purpose 4.5"/45-calibre QF Mk.I /III rifles in ten Mk.II BD twin-rifle mounts, fitted as in Renown.


Prinz Eugen and Bismarck in action against Hood and Prince of Wales, oil by Claus Bergen.

Her main battery has also been replaced, the eight 15"/42-calibre BL Mk.I main battery rifles in four Mk.II twin-rifle mounts, with nine 15"/45-calibre BL Mk.II rifles in three triple mounts. The new-design 15-inch rifles are all-steel designs, thus lighter than the Great War-era Mk.Is, and they wear better when firing heavy APC at high velocities.

Even with three triple turrets, Hood's top weight is reduced, while the rifles themselves are superior to every other British capital ship weapon except the untried 16-inch rifles intended for Lion. Indeed, Hood's new 15-inch Mk.II rifles were considered for both the King George V and Lion classes, but the need to conform to Treaty limits in the former, and desire for a heavier shell in the latter, made these weapons surplus and thus eminently suited to Hood. The triple-mount Mk.II turret has more reliable anti-flash protection than the troublesome 14-Inch Mk.III quadruple-mount turret of King George V, and with only three mounts as against four, tolerances are eased enough that Hood's rifles will perform more reliably in action: no more rifles jammed in the loading position, or whole turrets motionless for minutes at a time.

The aft superfiring turret and its barbette are deleted, the aft superstructure being extended over most of that deck space, thereby making room for another octuple Pom-Pom in a Mk.VIA* mount. This new Pom-Pom adds to the three existing mounts to improve her close-in anti-aircraft firepower, permitting three Pom-Poms to bear to either beam fore and aft, two dead ahead, and one dead aft.

The latest high-rpm turbine technology is coupled with very-high-pressure steam generators to produce the 130,000 shaft horsepower (shp) Hood will need to push her 50,000+ tons Deep Load displacement through the water at 30+ knots. Her bunkerage is reduced to that of her design, from 4,615 tons of fuel oil down to 4,000 tons, but endurance is unaffected thanks to the improved machinery, and her new hull form, including a sheered bow. Although she does not have a transom stern, she is given the most modern anti-torpedo system that can be backfit, with voids, fills, and armoured bulkheads and extensive bulging to keep her belt above the waterline.

The belt itself is not changed, nor are the armoured transverse bulkheads altered, but her internal armour scheme is significantly altered. By moving crew accommodation and deleting the aft magazine serving the deleted 'X' turret, and by reducing her conning tower armour to 3"-2" from 11"-9", her armour deck is dramatically improved, from 3" over the magazines and 1.5" over the machinery spaces, it is increased to 5" over the magazines and 3.5" over the machinery spaces. Nothing can be done about its location at this late date; like many of her Great War contemporaries, her armour deck is too low in the ship to protect communications and control spaces. But a new armour deck is laid, adding 1.5" over the magazines and 0.50" over the machinery spaces. Not as strong as single deck, the two decks may just be enough of a margin under air attack, or should an enemy ship score a hit at long range.

The torpedo fittings are finally removed, and their warheads, magazine, and fire controls also. This weight saved is put into a new athwartships catapult and hanger accommodation, built on the foreward end of the aft superstructure, permitting her to operate spotter floatplanes (or the Walrus seaplane). Finally, Type 279 Air Warning RDF is fit.

Refit again in January of 1941, she receives Type 282 Air Warning RDF, Type 273 Surface Warning RDF, a Type 284 Main Battery RDF for each of her three main battery DCTs, and the new Type 243 Aircraft IFF set. Her masts and superstructures are readied to take additional RDF fits and accommodate new technology as it enters the fleet. She receives her first fit of 20mm Oerlikons, eight weapons in single mounts.

By the time she joins the Eastern Fleet, Hood is equipped with Type 282 Air Warning RDF, Type 273 Surface Warning RDF, a Type 274 Main Battery Blind-Fire RDF for each of her three main battery DCTs, a Type 275 Secondary Battery Blind-Fire RDF for each of her DP DCTs, and the Type 253 Aircraft IFF set.

Hood, Resurrected

This variant assumes that Hood survives the action with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

In my opinion, to give Hood a reasonable chance of survival against the German squadron, it is probably necessary to presume that Holland had more luxury in the action with Bismarck; thus his cruisers and destroyers are with him when he is ready to deploy for action. He may well have elected to bring his cruisers up to shadow astern and draw the German squadron's focus away from his heavy ships, or something very like it. With his light forces available, he can force the Germans away at least twice, with the threat and actuality of torpedo attack.

Holland thus moves across the bows of the German ships, presenting the narrowest possible target picture to the German squadron and forcing them to chose either to sail into the British force as the British find the range, or to turn aside to open their "A" arcs and attempt to counteract Holland's advantages.

Sinking of HMS Hood, oil by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt.

 
With that, the British cruisers move in to divide the German fire, a move that would likely have shifted Prinz Eugen's fire away from the British heavy ships and onto the British cruisers, and a classic North Sea melee develops, albeit in the Atlantic proper. Ice, mines, and the nearness of Iceland stand in for the restrictions of the North Sea, and once again, the foes are unevenly matched: the British greatly superior, the Germans caught out. This time, however, there is no trap, no waiting Jellicoe with the whole strength of the Grand Fleet to envelop the German squadron, no High Seas Fleet sortie waiting to trap the British fast ships. Lutjens is indecisive even among a service with more than its share of careful, politically-sensitive officers, and no trace of Spee or Hipper is to be found in him. If Holland is cast in something of the mould of Beatty, without the latter's political and marital baggage, Tovey is no Jellicoe.

Rather than sweeping down with all the power to hand, forcing the Germans to seek action or fly, Tovey is plodding along 350-odd nautical miles away with King George V and Victorious — the only carrier with the Home Fleet, though her aircrew are not fully worked-up — trying to gather in more ships to augment a force he himself ordered divided.

Let us presume, then, that Hood takes a beating but survives. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen are also battered, but draw away after Holland is forced to break off the action. Prince of Wales is also damaged, and with her not yet fully worked-up, the poor design of her quadruple turrets is exacerbated by green gun crews. Holland cannot continue the action with Hood, nor risk the damaged and unreliable Prince of Wales, so he must send his cruisers, which have also taken some damage in drawing Prinz Eugen's fire, after the German squadron to shadow.

In the gloomy weather, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen shake the shadowing British cruisers, but this time Admiral Lutjens is wounded in the action with Hood or perhaps one of his officers, filled with the not unreasonable desire to keep the admiral from giving away their position, conks him on the head and burns his ridiculous and lengthy despatches before anyone can send them off on the wireless. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen reach the outermost limit of the Luftwaffe's operating range, and the Bf.110s and Ju.88s that form a makeshift CAP are more than a match for the Fulmars and Swordfish of Victorious and Ark Royal; the German ships make it to Brest, there to endure the same mixture of luck that Scharnhorst and Gneisenau do, though Bismarck is better protected against the RAF's high explosive bombs, and thus is likely to be in better condition at any point in time.

But Bismarck will have to sail to St. Nazaire at some point, as that harbour holds the only dock large enough to hold her.

Hood is a floating ruin, her aft main magazine flooded after a direct hit from one of Bismarck's 15" APC rounds, her aft decks torn up by the heavy German APC rounds and some of Prinz Eugen's 8-Inch HC (High-Capacity, also known as High-Explosive). Once Lutjens decided on flight, both German ships concentrated on Hood, and her upper works, secondary batteries, and superstructure all show the marks of those cruel attentions. Several of Bismarck's 15" APC rounds have penetrated her belt armour and damaged her machinery spaces, and one aft turret is knocked out, its armoured roof peeled back by the force of the explosion in her handling rooms.

Hood is headed for the U.S.A. for repair, probably escorted by Rodney, the battleship having been en route to the Boston Navy Yard for refit when Tovey summoned her. In the U.S., Hood will join a steadily-growing list of battered British warships, some from nearly every type and class, being repaired and refit in U.S. Navy Yards. For the sake of argument, we'll set her in the New York Navy Yard for repairs and refits.

Hood 's savaged superstructure will be replaced with the classic "castle" bridge structure of reconstructed British heavy ships. Her obsolete 4"/ 45-calibre QF HA Mk.XVI dual-purpose secondary battery is replaced with twenty dual-purpose 4.5"/45-calibre QF Mk.I /III rifles in ten Mk.II BD twin-rifle mounts, fitted as in Renown. Her masts and superstructure will be readied for RDF to be fit when she returns to Great Britain for completion of her refits and working-up.

Hood is ready to sail by the time Illustrious, Formidable, and Indomitable are formed up to return to Home Waters, and so she crosses the North Atlantic in company with the three carriers.

In home waters, Hood is fit with Type 282 Air Warning RDF, Type 273 Surface Warning RDF, a Type 284 Main Battery RDF for each of her four main battery DCTs, and the new Type 243 Aircraft IFF set. She receives her first fit of 20mm Oerlikons, eight weapons in single mounts.

Hood is laying at Scapa Flow in January 1942, working up with Duke of York for service with the Home Fleet, when the Admiralty learns from "Hilarion" and that the whole of the German Battle Squadron at Brest will be ready for sea by the last week of January, or the first week of February 1942. Bismarck will sortie with Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Admiral Hipper, and Prinz Eugen, possibly to draw off the Home Fleet and permit Lützow and Tirpitz to breakout, possibly to attack the massive WS.16 convoy headed to the Far East.

Whatever the reason, Bismarck will sortie, and Hood will have her revenge. . . .

You can download the new Hood counters here.

You can download ship data for the new Hood counters here.

End Notes

[1] That is, "Jackie" Fisher, then Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher, First Sea Lord, later Admiral of The Fleet Lord Kilverstone, and again made First Sea Lord upon the outbreak of the Great War. Fisher was responsible for the revitalization of the Royal Navy during the 1890s and 1900s, bringing about a great deal of change not only in ship design but in the ways the Royal Navy would fight those weapons.

[2] Spee's East Asia Squadron by then comprised the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (the German is Großer Kreuzer, literally "Large Cruiser", but the ship type is the same), and the light cruisers Leipzig, Nürnberg, and Dresden (The German is Kleiner Kreuzer, literally "Small Cruiser", but the ship type is the same).

[3] Displacement is measured according the weight of sea water that would otherwise occupy the space "taken over" by a ship; that is, literally the weight of the sea water displaced by the presence of the ship. Merchant ships are generally given in Gross Registered Tons (GRT), but warships evolved increasingly convoluted measurements as ships and navies manœuvered around Naval Limitations Treaties and parsimonious governments. Standard Displacement is generally accepted as the displacement of the ship with all armour and weapons aboard, but carrying only "typical" fuel, feed and fresh water, and stores — sometimes stretched to include ammunition — which was "generally accepted" as being 2/3 normal. Deep Load Displacement was ships fully fueled, provisioned, and armed.

[4] All figures quoted are from "Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships, 1906-1922," © 1985 Conway Maritime Press.

[5] "Quick-Fire" ammunition may be either fixed — a very large version of an infantry rifle cartridge — or separate, with the shell going into the breech first, and the case, containing the propellent charge, after.

[6] The term is sometimes put as "Bag Loaded" and sometimes as "Bag Layed"; in any event, it indicates a weapon using separate ammunition, in which the propellent charge is contained in bags which are layed/loaded into the breech.

[7] The new model of 15-Inch rifle did not, in fact, exist. The British went through considerable agony in trying to draw up modern heavy-bore naval rifles, and they were not particularly successful at it. The information I have used is based on that in "Naval Weapons of World War Two," by John Campbell, © 2002 Naval Institute Press.

[8] The 2-pounder "Multiple Pom-Pom" was a 40mm/39-Calibre Mk.VIII Heavy Automatic Cannon (HACN) in Mk.VIA* mounts.

[9] The 20mm/70-Calibre Oerlikon Mk.II Light Automatic Cannon (LACN).

[10] That is, Vice Admiral Sir Lancelot Ernest Holland, CB, RN, Vice Admiral Battle Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet. By tradition, Vice Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Force (or Squadron), was also the Vice C-in-C Home Fleet. Perhaps the most interesting question that arises from Hood's survival in the action against Bismarck and Prinz Eugen is the impact of Holland's survival on the Royal Navy, particularly in the situation posited here, where Holland would undoubtedly have come off better than the bumbling Tovey. My thoughts are that Holland would have gone to the Eastern Fleet, and Phillips to the Home Fleet, which was second in strategic importance behind the Mediterranean Fleet.

[11] These courses of action are predicated on the tactical orders comprising the Fighting Instructions, and to assume that Holland would make use of them, given the chance, is not overly speculative, given the premise of Hood's survival.

[12] This, too, was standard practice in the Kriegsmarine, and in the actual event, Prinz Eugen was set up to fire on the shadowing British cruisers, her main battery loaded with base-fused HC ammunition with a ballistic cap and a windscreen. At least one of Prinz Eugen's SprGr L/4.7 rounds struck Hood.

[13] That is, Admiral Sir John Cronyn "Jack" Tovey, KCB, DSO, RN, Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet.

[14] The German Navy was famously—and justly—careful about radio frequency transmission security, and the actual signal Lutjens sent was answered by OKM with an order to "STFU," albeit in German, and couched in the traditions of the German Naval service. It was too late, and though even then Tovey's caution and bungling nearly retrieved the situation for Lutjens, the German Admiral had committed more mistakes even than the hapless Tovey, and reaped the result.

[15] The Normandie Dock, so named for the great French liner for which it was built. This dock was the target of the famous Operation Chariot, the commando raid in which HMS Campbeltown — a 'Town'-Class destroyer of the "destroyer-for-bases deal" — was rammed into the locks and exploded.

[16] The German is Panzersprenggranate L/4.4 (mit Haube); armour-piercing capped rounds with windscreen.

[17] The German is Sprenggranate L/4.7 Bodenzünder (mit Haube); base-fused HC ammunition with a ballistic cap and a windscreen. This was essentially a semi-armour-piercing (SAP) round, though the similarity ought not to be taken too far.

[18] Some confusion exists over exactly how that crossing was effected — several sources claim there was a collision between two carriers, but which two, and how extensive, is nowhere made clear — and whether or not Indomitable was a part of it all the way to Home Waters. Historically important, but not of direct import to the matter of Hood.