Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Last survivor from HMS Hood sinking dies

HMS Hood

HMS Hood

One of the sad facts that we reflect on in here on occasion is the dwindling number of war veterans, and every so often a select group will expire completely.

Len Briggs was the last remaining survivor of HMS Hood, the British battlecruiser which sank in less than three minutes during an eleven minute encounter with the German battleship Bismarck in the Battle of the Denmark Strait on May 24, 1941.

Due to a problem with communications, Hood was out of position, as were the heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk. Instead of intercepting Bismarck as planned, they had to chase her, and her consort, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

Rather than engaging Bismarck with a broadside attack (which would have helped protect her deck), Hood had to engage Bismarck head on, and from behind, which was a disastrous tactic. Hood’s decks were poorly armoured timber, and facing Bismarck head on made her an easy target. Worse still, being behind Bismarck meant that the plunging (high-trajectory) gunfire of the German ships (from their aft turrets) would be raining directly down on to Hood’s vulnerable deck.

Within minutes, Hood’s deck had been holed by the German shells, and a huge explosion tore through the ship. Of 1,418 on board, only three survivors were picked up by HMS Electra.

The dramatic loss of such a well known symbol of British naval power had a great effect on many people – some later remembered the news as the most shocking of World War II. Following the loss of Hood, Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued the order to “Sink the Bismarck”, spurring a relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy. Two days later, with safer waters almost in reach, Fleet Air Arm aircraft torpedoed Bismarck and jammed her rudder, allowing heavy British units to catch up with her. In the ensuing battle on the morning of 27 May1941, Bismarck was heavily attacked for nearly three hours before sinking. Prinz Eugen escaped, and Bismarck was scuttled by her Captain to avoid capture – although her upper decks had been smashed, the British attack had not destroyed her hull, or completely disabled her engines. HMS Dorsetshire and Maori stopped to rescue survivors, but a U-Boat alarm caused them to leave the scene after rescuing only 110, abandoning the majority of Bismarck’s 2,200 man crew to the mercy of the water. The next morning, U-74 was dispatched to try and rescue Bismarck’s logbook (and reported hearing sinking noises from a distance), and the German weather ship Sachsenwald picked up five survivors.

Mr Briggs, who was 18 years old at the time of the Hood sinking, died at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth on Saturday. His friend and the chairman of the HMS Hood Association, Peter Heys, said he was a “perfect gentleman. He was a humorous man but he did not like to be reminded of the sinking as he had to be pulled out of the freezing water.”

Mr Briggs is survived by his wife Clare.

Midshipman William Dundas, who died in 1965, and able seaman Bob Tilburn, who died in 1995, were the other survivors of the sinking.

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October 6, 2008 - Posted by | Naval, World War II | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. May this great gentleman rest in peace. We are indeed loosing our great veterans; here in America close to a thousand a day are dying. One of my cousins died in air combat over France; other relatives were at the Battle of the Bulge and Pearl Harbor. Thank you for posting this notice; I didn’t know how many of “The Hood” survivors were still alive.

    Your site is great; did I mention my husband and I are both of Scottish descent? Bring on the pipes and haggis.

    Like

    Comment by from the USA colonies | August 6, 2010


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