Mission to recover HMS Hood’s bell called off

EXPLORERS At the site of HMS Hood
EXPLORERS At the site of HMS Hood
Poppies at Fort Nelson. Picture: David George

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AN HISTORIC attempt to recover the bell of the Second World War battle-cruiser HMS Hood has been postponed due to worsening weather conditions in the North Atlantic.

Wreathes were laid where the ship sank before time was called on the mission aboard the Octopus super yacht owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul G Allen.

After more than 10 days working in worsening weather and difficult deep currents, the recovery team were reluctantly forced to discontinue the operation.

The bell was found in 10,000ft of water in the Denmark Strait, where it has lain since Hood was sunk by the German warship Bismarck on May 24, 1941.

Yesterday, on a rain-swept flight deck, Octopus crew members laid wreathes in tribute to the 1,415 sailors who died when Hood went down.

Mr Allen said: ‘I was honoured to be involved in this project, and I stand ready to help the Royal Navy try again in the future.

‘Recovering this bell is a way to commemorate the hundreds of brave sailors who were lost at sea, and I want to see it through.’

Mr Allen had offered to recover the bell without cost. It was due to be donated to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth where it would have been displayed as a memorial to the men killed on the Portsmouth-based warship.

A remote-controlled robotic submarine (ROV) was used by Blue Water Recoveries, which specialises in the search and investigations of shipwrecks.

The recovery was backed by the HMS Hood Association whose members include veterans who served in the ship before her final mission in 1941 and relatives of those lost with her.

Association President Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, whose uncle was among those who died on board Hood, said: ‘While hugely challenging conditions have precluded a successful recovery of HMS Hood’s bell on this occasion, the Hood Association continues to hope that another attempt will be made at some stage in the next year or so.

‘Our objective remains the provision of a unique memorial in the National Museum of the Royal Navy for this iconic warship and her gallant crew.’

A Royal Navy spokesman said: ‘After days of trying to recover the bell of HMS Hood, poor weather and other issues have made it impossible to successfully retrieve the bell on this trip.

‘We will be co-ordinating with all parties to see if and when we can make another attempt some time in the future.’

David Mearns, of Blue Water Recoveries, who first found one of the two ship’s bells in 2001, said: ‘Despite our limited dive time we were able to relocate the bell relatively quickly and confirm that the ROVs manipulator arms were able to physically reach it in order to attach recovery tools.

‘This information will be vitally important in planning a future recovery attempt. The high definition video showed the bell was in excellent condition and thus another year or so on the sea bed will cause it no harm.’

If recovered at a later date, the bell will form a major feature of a new exhibition dedicated to the 20th and 21st century navy which is due to open at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 2014.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, director-general of NMRN, said: ‘I am deeply grateful to Paul Allen, Blue Water Recoveries and the HMS Hood Association for all their hard work and support in attempting to recover the bell.

‘A place will be reserved in our new galleries dedicated to the 20th and 21st century navy, a place that we hope to fill in the future when Hoods bell is successfully recovered.’