Bell From HMS Hood To Be Recovered

An operation is to take place to recover the bell of the battle cruiser HMS Hood, which was sunk in 1941.

If recovered successfully, the bell will be used as a memorial to the ship and the 1,415 men who were lost when it was sunk by the battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic.

Hood is the largest Royal Navy vessel to have been sunk, causing the biggest loss of life suffered by any single British warship.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said US philanthropist Paul G Allen had offered to recover the bell at no cost to it.

The Microsoft co-founder's yacht Octopus, equipped with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) will be used for the operation, which will be supported by Blue Water Recoveries Ltd, which specialises in the search and investigation of shipwrecks.

In a previous expedition, which did not disturb the wreck, the company discovered and photographed the bell, an MoD spokesman said.

It is lying on the seabed well away from the parts of the ship's hull, which will not be disturbed by the recovery operation, he added.

If the recovery mission is successful, the bell will be put on display by the National Museums of the Royal Navy (NMRN), and form a major feature of a new exhibition hall due to open at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in 2014. HMS Hood was based in Portsmouth.

Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, president of the HMS Hood Association, whose members include veterans who served on the ship before its final mission, and relatives of those who were lost, said:

''There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea.

"For those who lost their lives in HMS Hood, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in the museum will mean that, well after the remains of Hood have gone, future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage and personal sacrifice of Hood's ship's company who died in the service of their country.''

Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general NMRN, said:

''It will be an honour and privilege to display the bell from HMS Hood. Our new galleries, opening in April 2014, will recall and commemorate the heroism, duty and sacrifice of the people of the Royal Navy in the 20th and 21st centuries.

"Hood's bell encapsulates the whole of that story as no other single object could.''

The wreck of HMS Hood, which was discovered in 2001, 2,800 metres under the waves, is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

The Government has licensed the recovery of the bell - as well as providing a memorial, the recovery will prevent it being taken by any illegal operation for personal gain, the MoD spokesman said.

Director of Blue Water Recoveries David Mearns located the wreck of HMS Hood in 2001 and is coordinating the current expedition.

He said: ''This is a wonderful opportunity for us to return to the wreck site of Hood with camera and lighting technologies far superior to that available to us 11 years ago.

''Our aim is to conduct a comprehensive, non-intrusive video investigation of the wreckage, which we believe will allow experts to definitively determine what happened to Hood in her final moments before she sank and answer why the loss of life was so great.

''Hopefully the weather and subsea conditions will be right for us to recover Hood's bell so that it is protected beyond doubt and returned to the Royal Navy.''

The sinking of the Hood on May 24 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck managed to shock a nation by then used to war. Only three of its 1,418 crew survived the sinking during the Battle of the Denmark Strait.

The fifth salvo from the Bismarck hit the ship's magazine resulting in a catastrophic explosion, which tore it in half, and it sank in less than three minutes.

The flagship of the fleet was part of a force ordered to engage the Bismarck and her escort cruiser Prinz Eugen off Greenland.

In the days after the sinking, Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill ordered the Bismarck found and sunk.

On May 27, the battleship was finally sunk after several days of attacks by Royal Navy ships and the Royal Air Force.