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Winston S. Churchill and Ted Briggs Liveblog World War II: May 22, 1941


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H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: Crew Information - Remembering Hood - Excerpt from "Flagship Hood, The Fate of Britain's Mightiest Warship": As special sea duty men fell in this Thursday night, light rain and a thin mist turned the flow into a lacy veil. My station on the compass platform with the admiral's staff allowed me a commentary-box view of the fleet, and a little before midnight our destroyer escort slipped their moorings in Gutter Sound, formed a line ahead and paraded through the Switha Gate to wait for us on the edge of the Pentland Firth. When the procession had ended, the Hood was swung around on her engines and headed southwards to the Hoxa Gate. In our wake came the newly constructed Prince of Wales, still with dockyard civilians on board. At the gate the massive underwater mesh of anti-submarine netting was hauled aside by the crew of the boom vessel, and we glided through with the destroyers taking station ahead.

The wind was scything into us from the north already, and although it was a May night the cold soon began to penetrate into anyone not below decks. It was atypical, boring six-hours spell at sea, one which in two days time I was to yearn for. The next day, while I was breakfasting on the mess deck, Commander Cross's calm and carefully controlled voice briefed us over the broadcasting system. He revealed that the Bismarck and a Hipper-class cruiser -at this stage no one knew she was the Prinz Eugen -were expected to leave Bergen, and that our squadron were proceeding to Hvalfjord to cover an area to the north and close to Iceland, while Tovey in King George V and the rest of the Home Fleet guarded a section further south. Aircraft and a line of cruisers were patrolling the area affected, and we were assured there would be a definite warning of the approach of the Nazi raiders. The announcement did not cause a stir. We had heard it all before and nothing had happened. We were fairly confident it would not happen this time, and if it did, the Hood was capable of handling any 'jumped-up German pocket battleship'. What in fact we did not know was that the Bismarck, far from being a mini-battle cruiser was superior in every way to the Hood and also to the Prince of Wales, which had just left the dockyard, had not completed gunnery trials and was still having trouble with her turrets, on which civilian experts were working even at this moment....

We steamed on until 2230 on 22 May, when we were about to enter the approaches to Hvalfjord. Then I carried this signal from Tovey to the compass platform:

'Bismarck and consort sailed. Proceed to cover area south-west of Iceland.' Half an hour earlier the 'lost' ships were reported no longer at their anchorage by an observer in a Maryland of Coastal Command, which sparked Tovey, still biding his time in Scapa, to sail in the King George V, with the carrier Victorious, the cruisers Galatea, Hermione, Kenya and Aurora and seven destroyers, to take up covering positions to the north-west.

As soon as the Hood had altered course in accordance with the 2230 signal of the C-in-C, Commander Cross updated the ship's company.of the situation, and for the first time the nervous feeling of an approach to battle began to build up. 'Perhaps this is it.' I wondered. 'Perhaps this is the big one.' The feeling that I was hungry, yet did not want to eat, nagged at my stomach. Looking around me, I could see my mates yawning nervously and trying to appear unconcerned. We all knew it was an act, yet we did not discuss the possibilities of action seriously.

I slept undisturbed that night, surprised to awake in the morning to find that there had been no alarms...