Portsmouth called to 'shine a light' and honour 80th anniversary of HMS Hood's sinking

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FAMILIES across Portsmouth are being urged to ‘shine a light’ in tribute to a renowned Royal Navy warship destroyed during the Second World War.

Battlecruiser HMS Hood was destroyed by the German battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on May 24, 1941.

Only three of its 1,418 crew survived, making it the worst loss of life from a single British warship.

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More than 250 of Hood’s crew came from the Hampshire area, with many of them being in their teens when they died.

HMS Hood entering Vancouver harbour. UndatedHMS Hood entering Vancouver harbour. Undated
HMS Hood entering Vancouver harbour. Undated

Now, as the tragedy approaches its 80th anniversary, relatives of those killed on the ‘The Mighty Hood’ have asked the vessel’s home city to honour its loss by lighting candles in memory of the ship.

Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, president of the HMS Hood Association – which is behind the plea – lost his uncle Erik when the ship was sunk.

He said: ‘The sinking of HMS Hood was devastating. Hood’s loss was the largest single loss of life in the navy’s history.

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‘1,415 men died, including my uncle Erik, who was a 19-year-old gunnery rating on one of Hood’s four-inch guns.

5th May 1941:  The last picture of HMS Hood seen from HMS Prince of Wales as she went into action against the German battleship 'Bismarck'.  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)5th May 1941:  The last picture of HMS Hood seen from HMS Prince of Wales as she went into action against the German battleship 'Bismarck'.  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
5th May 1941: The last picture of HMS Hood seen from HMS Prince of Wales as she went into action against the German battleship 'Bismarck'. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

‘Of the 1,415 people killed, 256 were from Hampshire, with most of those being from the Portsmouth area.

‘This is an opportunity for us to remember those who died at sea. Unlike so many on land, there are no gravestones at sea. The only permanent memorial is the bell of HMS Hood. So it’s so important we don’t forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.’

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Hood was the final battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy and up until the construction of the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, she had been the largest vessel ever built for the Senior Service.

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The ship, which had been based in Portsmouth from 1932, was revered as the most powerful warship in the world, earning the nickname ‘The Mighty Hood’.

But she was destroyed by the Bismarck, which pummeled her with shell fire causing a cataclysmic explosion near one of Hood’s ammunition magazines.

Bismarck was destroyed by the Royal Navy three days later. But the sinking of Hood had scarred the nation.

Alex Ray, a committee member of the HMS Hood Association, said: ‘Everyone remembered where they were when they heard the news Hood had sunk.

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‘It was that generation’s JFK or Twin Towers moment. There were stories of grown men breaking down in tears and weeping over what had happened.

‘It was a massive shock to the country. No-one expected it.’

Traditional commemorations in Portsmouth to honour the loss of the ship had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alex added this anniversary was likely going to be the last significant one involving relatives who knew some of those who died on the ship.

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Those keen on supporting the commemorations are being urged to visit the HMS Hood Association’s website to find out more about how they can take part in the tributes.

A film marking the 80th anniversary, entitled 'HMS Hood - Mighty Then, Mighty Now', will be available freely via the association’s website and on YouTube, from around the anniversary date.

Looking for the latest Royal Navy updates from Portsmouth? Join our new Royal Navy news Facebook group to keep up to date.

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