The sinking of HMS Hood on Empire Day, the 24th of May 1941, resulted in the single largest loss of life for the Royal Navy during World War II. 1,415 were lost. There were no tangible traces of any crewmen, living or dead, save the three survivors, Ted Briggs, William Dundas and Bob Tilburn. There are four main factors that likely contributed to such an overwhelming loss of life. The Hood was struck early in the engagement: High explosive shells fired by Prinz Eugen struck Hood’s shelter deck somewhere near the main mast. This salvo started a fire which soon spread. As it did so, it fed on notable quantities of cordite propellant found in the “ready use” ammunition. A number of men assigned to these exposed action stations may have been killed by the detonation of Prinz Eugen’s shell. A number more may have been injured or killed when Hood’s own antiaircraft ammunition and rockets began sporadically detonating in the fire. Still more men may have been injured or killed later in the battle when a 15″ shells from Bismarck may have passed through the Spotting Top and lower bridge structure (
One fact in Hood’s sinking is certain: something ultimately caused her 15 inch magazines to rapidly burn or detonate, causing the area of the ship between “Y” turret and the second funnel to be violently devastated. The fire was so intense that it likely caused the instant deaths of the majority of the crew in the affected areas of the hull and at upper action stations. After the main explosion, there are indications that the ship’s interior may have been swept by fire followed by a second explosion forward.
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