-H.M.S. Hood Reference Materials-
ADM 116/4351: Report on the Loss of H.M.S. Hood
Updated 22-Mar-2007

This document is a modern transcription of a portion of Admiralty record ADM 116/4351. The original record concerns the enquiries into the loss of H.M.S. Hood in 1941. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

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Appendix III

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE TAKEN AT A BOARD OF ENQUIRY HELD AT DORLAND HOUSE, REGENT STREET, S.W.L.

On 27th and 28th AUGUST, 1941 and 1st SEPTEMBER, 1941 BY A COMMITTEE APPOINTED TO ENQUIRE INTO THE LOSS OF H.M.S. "HOOD" IN ACTION WITH THE GERMAN BATTLESHIP "BISMARCK" ON 24th MAY, 1941.

MEMBERS OF THE BOARD.
Rear Admiral H.T.C. Walker, Royal Navy (President)
Captain R.G. Duke, Royal Navy
Captain L.D. Mackintosh, D.S.C., Royal Navy

LIST OF WITNESSES

Name and Rank or Rating. Question Nos.
1. Lieutenant William Norman Kennedy, R.N.V.R. 1 - 14
2. A.B. Robert E. Tilburn, PJX.153249. Late of H.M.S. HOOD 15-86
3. Ord. Signalman Albert Edward Briggs, PJX. 157404 Late of H.M.S. HOOD 87-121
4. Captain William Wellcose Davies, R.N. 122-138
5. Commander Robert Alexander Currie, R.N. 139-153
6. Captain Alfred Jerome Lucian Phillips, R.N. 154-173
7. Lieutenant Esmond Knight, R.N.V.R. 174-197

 

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SECRET

SERIES "D"

EVIDENCE TAKEN AT DORLAND HOUSE, REGENT STREET, S.W.1. On 27th AUGUST, 1941

Lieutenant William Norman Kennedy, R.N.V.R., (Spec. Branch.) H.M.S. NORFOLK.

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter II.

1. Where were you at the time of this action?

On the Compass Platform as Officer of the Watch.

2. Were you watching the HOOD closely?

Yes sir.

3. Through glasses?

Yes sir.

4. Tell us what you saw.

The HOOD opened fire on the enemy ships; she fired a few salvoes when I noticed she was on fire. She had obviously been hit. She seemed to be on fire aft about the mainmast, then she blew up. There was a dense cloud of smoke and I could see large pieces of wreckage in the air, and when the smoke cleared away she had sunk.

5. What was the colour of the original fire?

I could not identify it - but it was a reddish glow.

6. Can you describe the explosion a little more fully?

No, Sir, I could not.

7. Would you say that the bits of debris you saw were big or small?

Large pieces.

8. Could you identify any of them?

No, Sir.

9. Do you remember either Midshipman Buckley or Summers making any remarks to you about the explosion?

No.

10. Do you remember seeing anything anything that could be described as balls of fire in the explosion?

No, Sir. I did remark to either the Navigator of the Captain that the HOOD was on fire. I was watching with binoculars at the time.

11. Did you see any flash of the explosion?

No, that was one thing I could not understand at the time.

12. Did you see black smoke coming from the ship or did it appear suddenly over the ship?

I cannot remember.

13. Was it black smoke?

Yes.

14. Did any turret fire after the fire and before the explosion?

Yes, the forward turret.

(An honest cautious witness.)

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Evidence of Robert E. Tilburn, PJX.153249., A.B. late of H.M.S HOOD

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter 11.

15. Where were you at the time of the action?

Sheltering underneath the forward bridge on the port side; just before the port forward U.P. mounting; Position "P" on Exhibit "M".

16. On which deck?

The boat deck. (Note from Website Editors- The "Boat Deck" was officially referred to as the "Shelter Deck")

17. Tell us what happened from the time HOOD opened fire.

We opened fire with the 2 forward turrets and fired about 2 or 3 salvos, when there was a hit by the midship U.P. (at "Q" on Exhibit "M".)

18. Would you say that it was one or more that hit?

Just one, Sir.

19. Would you say it was a big one or a small one?

A small one, because I don't think the deck was very thick and I think a big one would have gone through.

20. Could you say whether this shell penetrated the deck or not?

I don't know.

Continuing his evidence the witness said -

A fire started - it was a very fierce blaze - pinkish colour, with not much smoke.

(Witness picked out the colour as No. 6 on Exhibit 2.)

21. What was your impression of what this fire was caused by?

My idea was the U.P. ammunition had caught fire because some ammunition exploded. It may have been the ammunition lockers.

22. Do you know if the U.P. guns were loaded?

Yes, Sir, they were.

23. Was it your impression that they went off as a result of this hit?

They did not all go off at once - but my impression is that they did at various intervals. There were two U.P. ammunition lockers just abaft the mounting and 2 - 4" ammunition lockers just abaft L.I.4" H.A. mounting.

24. Could you say exactly where the fire seemed to start?

No, it was somewhere between L.I. and the U.P. mountings.

25. Which way did it seem to spread?

It did not seem to spread at all. It kept on blazing while we were in action but it did not seem to spread to the picket boat or anywhere else, though I cannot say definitely whether the picket boat took fire of not. Anyway, it did not come before L.I. 4" mounting.

26. Could you see the men dealing with the fire?

No. There was an order given to put the fire out, but it was countermanded almost immediately because of the ammunition exploding.

27. Can you describe the nature of these explosions?

They were fairly small explosions, rather like a big Chinese cracker. I heard the explosions but could not see any results of them. The order to put the fire out was given and countermanded by Petty Officer Bishop who was a Gunners Mate in charge of the 4" guns.

28. Have you any idea how long this fire went on burning?

No, Sir.

29. Did the HOOD fire any of her turrets while this fire was burning?

Yes.

30. Do you know which turrets?

"A" and "B". After the fire had been going on for a good while it fired about 6 salvos altogether, when we started turning round to port and we were hit somewhere, and the whole ship shook and a lot of debris and bodies started falling all over the decks. She started going down by the stern and slowly going over to port. As she tilted over at an alarming angle I got up from where I was and jumped on to the forecastle which was nearly under the water At the time. I took off my gas mask and coat, and the water, which was coming over the forecastle, washed me over the side. As I was in the water swimming I looked back at the ship and saw her coming over on top of me. Some part of the mast struck me on the legs and I was partly pulled down by it, but I managed to cut my seaboot off and free myself, and when I came to the top just the bows were stuck out of the water, practically vertical, and then she slid under.

31. How much of the bows could you see?

Before the foremast breakwater.

32. I suppose you were not alone when the explosion occurred?

I was with three other men. One was killed, one was hit in the side or the stomach, I believe, and I presume the third was blown away because I never saw him again.

33. Did you feel any particular blast yourself?

No, Sir.

34. How do you think these men were hit?

I don't know.

35. Did you see any other people alive in the water besides the 2 who were saved with you?

Nobody at all, alive or dead.

36. Could you see any flame or smoke of this explosion?

There was a lot of grey smoke, just hanging around the ship, but otherwise I did not see anything of the explosion.

37. Was there much noise accompanying the explosion?

No, it was just the same as if the guns had fires.

38. Did you hear any noise of men shouting after the explosion?

No, Sir, there was dead silence after the explosion.

39. Have you any personal knowledge of where this last hit occurred or it (sic) there was more than one hit?

I do not know, but some of the bodies I saw falling were those of Officers.

40. Did the bodies start coming down before the explosion, or after?

Directly afterwards as if they were part of the explosion itself.

41. Can you describe the movement of the ship when the explosion occurred?

She shuddered and then seemed to stop altogether.

42. Were you thrown off your feet?

Actually I was lying down all the time.

43. Are you absolutely certain of the position of the first hit so far as you have described it?

Yes, Sir.

44. Did you know if all HOOD'S turrets fired during the action?

Only "A" and "B" turrets.

45. Did you form any impression of the direction in which the debris and bodies came from?

I could not tell.

46. Could you see any of the after part of the ship after the explosion?

No.

47. The mainmast must have been noticed. Did you notice that?

No, Sir, I did not notice anything further aft.

48. With regard to the first fire, could you tell if it spread aft or not?

I have no idea how far aft.

49. Did you get any impression that the ship had broken in two?

No, Sir.

50. Do you know if the mantlet doors for the torpedo tubes in HOOD were closed or open at the time?

I had nothing to do with Torpedoes.

51. Do you know where the petrol storage in HOOD was. Can you show us on the diagram?

(Witness indicated positions on both sides abreast the mainmast, close abaft the 4" mounting.)

I think there were 2 or 3 ten gallon drums with a big drum on the slipway.

52. Do you know if the big tanks each side were released before the action started?

I do not know.

53. Have you any reason to suppose there was a fire below the boat deck?

No, Sir, except when I was going into the water there was just one flash of flame came round between the control tower and "B" turret - it came just above the forecastle deck.

54. Did you form any idea as to whether the shock on the ship was upwards, fore and aft or athwart ship?

I could not tell.

55. Were any men standing near you?

There were none standing.

56. Did you smell anything after the explosion?

No.

57. Could you give any rough estimate of the time from the explosion until you went into the water?

About a minute.

58. Did you know whether the foremast was intact?

I could not tell.

59. Did you notice any oil on the water after HOOD had sunk?

Yes, there was oil on the water.

60. Was any of the oil burning?

There was one fire some distance away but none of the oil near me was burning.

61. Could you feel any vibration of the HOOD'S engines where you were lying?

Yes.

62. Do you think she slackened speed at any time between the original fire and the explosion?

No, Sir.

63. Did you hear any escaping steam after the explosion?

No, Sir.

64. Did you see any debris floating on the water after the HOOD had sunk?

Yes, there was a lot.

65. Could you recognise any of it?

There were a lot of steel tubes, sealed at both ends.

66. Could you say very approximately their length and diameter?

Roughly 15 ft. long and1 ft. diameter.

67. Can you say the colour of these tubes?

Rusty.

68. Can you describe how the ends of these tubes were sealed?

All the ends I saw were sealed, like the bottom of a bottle - slightly concave - apparently of the same metal as the rest of the tube. I saw about 10 of these.

69. Could you describe any of the other debris that went up first, apart from the bodies?

No, Sir.

70. Can you remember any more details of the first hit?

We felt the slight shock when the shell hit us and then the fire broke out.

71. Can you remember any of the remarks of your guns crew at the time?

One of them said "that has hit us somewhere."

72. Can you tell us any more about the final hit?

There was just a tremendous vibration and the debris falling down.

73. Were you able to see any splashed at the same time?

No.

74. Have you any idea if the U.P. ammunition already in the guns was going off or not?

That is what I was meaning when I said the U.P. ammunition was going off.

75. Can you explain to us why you are so certain "X" and "Y" turrets never fired?

From the sound, and from the fact that there were no flashes from aft; also from the vibration of two guns firing instead of four.

76. Did it cross your mind when you saw the first fire that it was possibly petrol?

No, because I thought it was too far forward for petrol.

77. What was your impression of the cause of the fire?

My impression was that it was the U.P. ammunition in the gun that was on fire.

78. What do you think the explosions were coming from in the fire?

From the U.P. ammunition exploding in the gun.

79. When the shell arrived which started the fire, did you hear any noise or see any splinters flying up?

No, Sir.

Note: The evidence of Ord. Signalman A.E. Briggs, PJX. 157404 was next taken, after which A.B. Tilburn was recalled.

Robert E. Tilburn PJX. 153249. A.B. (continued)

80. After the explosion did you notice any smoke boiling out of the water?

No.

81. Can you give us a little more information as to what positions the ship took up as she sank?

When I was in the forecastle deck she had a very heavy list to port - about 10 or 15° - and she was down by the stern. When I was in the water I saw from the after funnels forward and her bows were all well out of the water, heeling over at an angle of about 60° . I could not say whether the mainmast was there or not. I then started swimming away and the mast hit me and when I looked again all I could see was the starboard side of the bow nearly vertical.

82. Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

When I was on the forecastle I noticed a badly twisted belt of pom pom practice ammunition. It was just by me.

83. Do you know where the practice pom pom ammunition was stowed?

There was one stowage just abaft the mainmast and there was one either side of the forward end of either battery in the superstructure.

84. Do you know anything about the supply for the 4"?

It came up through the hatch abreast the after funnel.

85. Do you know if this hatch was open or shut?

It was shut. I had asked the Officer for orders and he had told me to leave it shut.

86. Do you know where the spare U.P. ammunition was stowed?

In lockers along the forecastle.

NOTE: A very clear headed and intelligent witness, but it is doubtful if he is correct about "A" and "B" turrets only having

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(starting at page 364)

Minutes of a Board of Enquiry held on board HMS "DEVONSHIRE" on the 12th August 1941, to enquire fully into the circumstances attending the loss of HMS "HOOD". (Continued)

EVIDENCE OF ORDINGARY SIGNALMAN ALBERT EDWARDS BRIGGS, PJX.157404 late of H.M.S.HOOD.

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter 11.

87. Where were you at the time of the action?

On the Compass Platform

88. Was the Compass Platform in the Hood still covered in?

Yes, Sir.

89. Tell us what you know from the time the HOOD opened fire.

The HOOD opened fire with the forward turrets 17 miles range, and the BISMARCK and the PRINCE EUGEN we about 30° on the starboard bow and when the HOOD opened fore the PRINCE EUGEN definitely turned away and the BISMARCK was thought to turn away. This I gathered from conversation between the Admiral and the Captain. We altered course 40° to starboard bringing the BISMARCK right ahead, 40° together and we closed in to 12 miles range. We hit the BISMARCK with our second salvo right amidships and the BISMARCK did not open fire until we had fired about 4 or 5 salvos and she hit us, according to the Squadron Gunnery Officer "on the starboard side of the boat deck aft, causing a fire in th 4" ready use lockers".

90. Can you remember what the S.G.O. actually said?

Yes, he said "She has hit us on the boat deck and there is a fire in the ready use lockers".

91. Did the Gunnery Officer say 4" ready use lockers?

No, Sir.

92. Did he say starboard side?

No, but the explosion was on the starboard side, because we all tended to fall over to starboard.

93. Did you see this hit?

No, Sir, I did not see it.

94. What did you say the Admiral said about not putting the fire out?

He said to the S.G.O. "leave it until the ammunition had gone". I think they were his exact words. The next think (sic) that I know about the Captain picked up the telephone to ring the Spotting Top and he could not get through. A midshipman told me afterwards that he had seen bits falling from the Spotting Top but I did not see it. We got into 12 miles and we did a 40° turn to port and it was either just immediately after or whilst we were doing this turn that the explosion took place.

95. Are you absolutely certain that the first turn was 40° to starboard and the second turn was 40° to port?

Yes Sir, blue 4, and 4 blue.

96. Do you know if the Executive Signal had been made before this last signal before the explosion occurred?

I am not certain but I think it had. There was not a terrific explosion but the officer of the watch said to the Admiral that the Compass had gone and the Admiral said move over to the after control. During that she had listed 6 - 7° to starboard and shortly after what the Admiral said she listed right over to port. She had gone about 25° to port and the crew were trying to get away - by crew I mean people on the bridge, but the Admiral did not make any attempt to get away. I got out of the starboard door and there was the Navigator just in front of me and the S.G.O. just in front of him. I had just got out of the door and the water by that time had got level with the Compass Platform. I did not remember anything more then until I found myself on the surface. The bows of the HOOD were vertical with the water about 50 yards away.

97. Were the bows listed at all or not?

No, when I looked the bows were vertical with the water. I was looking at the bottom of the ship.

98. Can you describe at all the explosion which caused the HOOD to sink?

The only thing that I knew about it was that everybody was thrown off their feet and it was not a terrific explosion at all as regards noise. I thought that she had been lit (sic) on the waterline and was listing as she normally would have done, but then she listed right over the other way.

99. Did you see any flames or smoke accompanying the explosion?

No.

100. Did you see any debris coming down?

No.

101. When you were in the water did you see a lot of debris then?

Yes.

102. Can you describe any of the debris?

There were small rafts and pieces of deck planking. I could not identify anything else.

103. Are you quite sure the ship listed to starboard first?

Yes, Sir.

104. Can you remember if this was before everybody was knocked down or after?

It was after - I had just got to my feet.

105. Could you see any of HOOD's boat deck from where you were on the Compass Platform?

No, I was at the back and could only see forward.

106. Throughout the whole period had you any view of the ship's aft at all?

No, Sir

107. During the first fire on the boat deck did you hear any of the ammunition exploding?

No.

108. You say that as a result of the main explosion everybody on the bridge was thrown down - could you say whether you yourself was (sic) thrown up or down or sideways?

I was just flung forward on my face.

109. Did the other people on the bridge fall in the same direction?

No, they were falling in all directions.

110. Which compass was it that you heard reported out of action after the explosion?

I am not certain. I only know the Officer of the Watch said the Compass had gone.

111. Do you know whether it was a giro compass or not?

No, I do not.

112. Did you smell anything at the time of the explosion?

No.

113. Did you see any oil on the water after the explosion when you were in the water?

Yes, it was about 4 - 6" thick where I was.

114. Was any of it alight?

After the ship had gone down there was a fire where the bows had been but I do not know what happened to it - I was swimming away and when I looked round again it had gone out.

115. Do you know if HOOD slackened speed between the time of the first hit and the time of the explosion?

No, we were doing 29 knots.

116. Am I right to understand you to say you saw no boats floating after the ship had sunk?

There was nothing at all.

117. The water must have come up very quickly to the compass platform for you to step straight into the water. Could you say how you think the ship sunk. Did she trim down by the stern or do you think she had broken her back in such a way that the bridge would drop into the water?

My impression was as she went over to port, that she was going to capsize but when I came up in the water the bows were vertical. I would not like to say how she went down.

118. In other words you had no feeling that she was trimming aft, but heeling over to port?

Yes, heeling over to port.

119. Can you remember any other remarks after the explosion on the compass platform other than that the compass was out of action?

No, Sir.

120. Did you notice any smoke coming out of the water after the explosion?

No.

121. Did you notice any smoke as you were leaving the compass platform?

No.

NOTE: Quite intelligent but not in a position to see very much. His evidence as regards turn of 40° to port is not correct.

 

EVIDENCE OF CAPTAIN WILLIAM WELLCOSE DAVIES, R.N.

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter II.

122. When did you leave the HOOD?

I left the HOOD about the 20th September 1940.

123. Do you know if the armoured doors of the torpedo tubes would be likely to be open or shut during an action?

Shut.

124. Is that knowledge based on any orders that you are aware of?

From my recollection of the Ship's Torpedo Standing Orders, the doors were always closed until the Captain indicated torpedo target.

125. Do you know anything about the orders as regards shipping pistols in warheads?

The pistols were always shipped on the torpedoes in the tubes in their first degree of readiness; standby torpedoes did not have their pistols shipped.

126. Can it be definitely assumed that the warheads would be shipped on the spare torpedoes?

Yes.

127. Would the spare torpedoes be in the normal stowage position over the tubes or run back ready for loading?

Normal stowage position over the tubes. The above replies are based on personal observation.

128. Have you a good knowledge of the stowage of the U.P. ammunition.

Yes.

129. Can you remember if the position of the U.P. lockers on Exhibit "M" are correct?

Yes, they are.

130. Can you tell us where the spare U.P. ammunition was kept?

They were kept in lockers on the forecastle deck.

131. Have you any idea how many there were and how they were spaced?

There were about a dozen each side. They were spaced about 6" clear of the inboard fore and aft bulkhead. The U.P. lockers themselves were about 2 ft. apart and standing clear of the deck by about 18 inches.

132. Can you give the position of the forward and after of the lockers.

My recollection is there were 2 forward, between 170 and 190 stations, and the remainder were spaced evenly between 215 and 245 stations.

133. Can you tell us what would be the state of the doors of the 4" supply?

The 4" ammunition supply doors in the ship were closed until the Captain passed the order "supply 4" ammunition." This organisation resulted from an incident when the ship was bombed at the end of September or beginning of October 1939, as it was found that 4" ammunition was being replenished before any order had been given. I can visually confirm that this procedure was rigidly adhered to as I was on the boat deck during subsequent bombings of the ship during the action off Oran.

134. Will you show us on Exhibit "M" the position of the 4" ammunition hand-ups on the boat deck.

Witness indicated 4 hatches marked "A".

135. Can you tell us about the Petrol stowage?

Yes, the petrol stowage was as follows: When the ship proceeded to sea, all petrol, except approximately 2 gals., was left in the drifter. This was kept behind to enable the power boats to be started up on return to harbour. There was a special organisation for landing a number of 50 gallon drums which were kept on the boat deck adjacent to the sea lifebuoy abreast the mainmast. The quick-release drums originally supplied to the ship were released into the sea and not recovered or replaced, on the first occasion of the ship being attacked by aircraft, about 3 weeks after the outbreak of war.

136. Do you think the deck by the stowage of the petrol drums would be impregnated with petrol?

I don't think so; the drums were stowed on trays and the stoker who looked after the stowage was so proud of his care that he told me he could not fill a petrol lighter.

137. Is there any further information you could supply which you think might be useful to us?

a. The first thing is a considerable number of the protected type 4" ready use lockers on the upper deck had been replaced by a lighter but more waterproof type.

b. The water-tight door organisation was extremely thorough and efficient and was practiced every day at sea. All doors were marked in plain language.

138. Had you any opinions about the U.P. ammunition and its stowage and did you express these to anybody?

The U.P. ammunition and the stowage arrangements were viewed with considerable concern owing to their unprotected positions and the likelihood of their causing fires on the boat deck and the forecastle deck. This view had been expressed whilst the ship was being equipped with this armament, but it was decided to place the ammunition in these exposed places as no other stowage was available.

 

EVIDENCE OF COMMANDER ROBERT ALEXANDER CURRIE, R.N. Plans Division, Admiralty.

Taken on 28th August, 1941.

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter II.

139. When did you leave HOOD and what was your appointment there?

I was Squadron Gunnery Officer and Staff Officer Operations and I left the HOOD about the 9th April, 1941.

140. Do you know if the armoured doors in the ships side covering the torpedo tubes would be likely to be open or closed during an action?

I cannot say anything definite or from observation.

141. On this plan (Exhibit "M") are shown the positions of the ready use lockers for U.P. ammunition. Can you say if their number and position are correct?

The numbers shown on the deck plan is correct but there were other stowages in the forecastle deck.

142. Can you say where the stowages on the forecastle deck were?

There were about 6 lockers each side on the forecastle deck; the foremost group of 2 or 3 being just abaft 175 station; the after group between 217 and 239 stations, and against the fore and aft bulkhead.

143. Can you state definitely what would be the state of the hatches on the boat deck connected with the 4" H.A. supply?

The Ship's Orders were that they should be closed and from all my personal observations these orders were carried out.

144. Can you point out the position of these hatches?

There were 2, one each side at 280 station. I think that there was also one each side at 239 station. The ammunition hatch amidships at 217 station was no longer used. I don't remember any hatches further forward.

145. Do you know anything about the stowage of petrol in the HOOD?

There were 2 drums aft and also they had, as far as I remember, a stowage on the boat deck for drums, this was, as far as I remember, in the vicinity of the mainmast.

146. Do you know what the orders were as regards petrol when the ship went into action?

Yes, Sir, that it should be thrown overboard.

147. Did you ever see this put into effect?

Yes, on one occasion when the ship was subject to a bombing raid. The tanks were released but I don't know if the drums were thrown overboard.

148. Can you say approximately how many rounds of U.P. ammunition was stowed in each of the lockers on the forecastle deck?

I think there were about 20.

149. Can you say if the lockers on the forecastle deck were of the vented type?

Yes.

150. Do you remember if there were any small mountings or gear of that nature on the roof of "X" or "Y" turrets?

On "Y" turret there was nothing; on "X" turret there may have been some of the remains of the catapult, but there were no guns mounted on "X" turret.

151. Were there any particular safety arrangements in connection with U.P. lockers on the boat deck?

Yes, Sir, there were heavy plates mounted inboard to prevent the flash of an explosion coming inboard.

152. Do you know if the doors of the 4" ready use lockers would be open or closed in action?

In the circumstances of the action which was taking place I think they would be closed.

153. Can you saw whether the 4" ready use lockers were of the protected type or of the light type?

The lockers had patches on the side and the doors had a large cross on them and therefore I think that all the lockers were of the light type.

 

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EVIDENCE OF CAPTAIN ALFRED JEROME LUCIAN PHILLIPS, R.N., H.M.S. NORFOLK.

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter II.

154. Will you tell us where you were and what you saw of the HOOD's action.

I was handling my ship on the compass platform and saw the approach of the HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES towards the BISMARCK and PRINZ EUGEN and the commencement of the action. NORFOLK was fine on the starboard quarter of our heavy ships, both of which were plainly visible from near the waterline upwards. HOOD opened fire first - probably from all turrets - followed shortly by BISMARCK. Shooting on both sides appeared accurate and HOOD was very quickly straddled; straddles were also observed on the BISMARCK. After a few minutes of action I observed what appeared to me to be a hit, which I should estimate to be on or near the starboard above water torpedo tubes. This hit, which was quite separate in time from the firing of HOOD's salvoes, had the appearance of a brilliant splash of flame, as I have tried to indicate in rough sketch Phase I. I remarked on this to Admiral Wake-Walker and suggested that she had been hit near the torpedo tubes. HOOD continued firing and almost immediately afterwards there appeared a very large fire on the boat deck aft. This fire appeared to be in the form of a semi circle of flame, orange-red in colour.

(Witness was asked to identify the colour from Exhibit 2 and he indicated Nos. 5 and 6)

I have tried to indicate this in rough sketch on Phase II. This fire shortly afterwards died down, spread forward and pulsated rather like the appearance of a setting tropical sun and it appeared to me to get somewhat lighter in colour. I have tried to indicate this in rough sketch Phase III. HOOD appeared to continue firing and I particularly noticed either "X" and/or "Y" fire at this stage and I remarked on the fact at the time. Very shortly after this there appeared to be another salvo from the BISMARCK, 2 rounds of which I should say landed short, and she immediately blew up with an enormous explosion and was not seen again. I have tried to indicate this in rough sketch Phase IV, the explosion being very brilliant yellow to dull red and I particularly noted an almost incandescent ball of fire very high up which I have indicated in this sketch.

 

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155. Are the colours on your sketches those you actually saw?

No, I would have liked to have made the hit in Phase I and the centre part of the explosion in Phase IV more brilliant yellow. The outside of the flame of the explosion was orange-red in colour but the centre was brighter and in parts almost incandescent, particularly the ball of fire which I observed ascending rapidly in the centre.

156. Was there any smoke accompanying this explosion?

A very large of smoke, drifting from starboard to port. There had been a good deal of smoke prior to the explosion, partly cordite smoke, I should say, the smoke from the fire, and the smoke of the explosion appeared to me to be mainly on the after side of it, and was dirty black grey in colour.

157. Did you see any debris in the air?

I personally did not, but others told me that they had seen some.

158. Would you care to say with any exactitude where you think the centre of that explosion was, with reference to the mainmast of the HOOD?

My general impression was that the base of the explosion came from approximately the mainmast or a little before the mainmast, but there again there was so much smoke that I would not like to say for certain.

159. You say you saw the hull of the HOOD. Could you say if the armoured doors over the tubes were open or closed?

She was too far off.

160. Were you looking through glasses?

Yes, intermittently.

161. Did you see anything at all of the hull of the HOOD after the explosion?

Probably not, though I thought I saw a black object to the right of the explosion which may or may not have been the bows sinking.

162. Can you explain to me the difference in what you would expect to see between a warhead going up and a magazine going up?

I have never seen a warhead going up, but I should imagine that when a magazine goes up there is a very large amount of unburnt cordite which may. Or may not, burn in the air.

163. Were you watching the HOOD through glasses when you saw the first hit?

Not actually at the moment of the hit, but it was definitely at a time when HOOD was not firing and therefore could not be mistaken for the discharge of one of HOOD's salvos. The Board then showed Captain Phillips page 3 of H.011031/41 (report of previous Board) in which the following phrase occurs: "he observed a brilliant flash under the aft funnel which he attributed to the explosion of the warheads in the upper deck tubes."

Captain Phillips informs us that he had never attributed the flash to the explosion of the warheads but that as he had already told us, in answer to question No. 154, he had remarked that it appeared to be a hit near the torpedo tubes.

164. Was the flame of the explosion of any appreciable duration?

Yes. It is difficult to gauge the time but I should say perhaps 5 seconds.

165. Did you see any light streaks in the final explosion?

Yes, I did.

166. Do you think these could have been caused by the U.P. ammunition?

Although I have experienced the spontaneous ignition of U.P. ammunition in H.MS. NORFOLK I am unable to say whether in the midst of this enormous explosion, one could have detected U.P. ammunition from the main explosion.

167. You appeared to find some little difficulty in explaining the source of the smoke. Would it be correct to say that you were suddenly aware of the existence of the smoke and that you were not conscious of its actual arrival?

I could best answer that question by explaining that I was, in addition to looking at the HOOD, busy with handling my own ship, so I was not continuously looking at the HOOD.

168. Was the black of the smoke that which you would associate with the detonation of a bomb falling?

Possibly, though I would not like to commit myself.

169. You have said that you had never seen a warhead detonate above water. Have you see the explosion of a magazine or large quantity of cordite?

I have often seen a large quantity of cordite being burnt, e.g. at Priddys Hard, but I cannot say other than the discharge of heavy guns, that I have ever seen an actual explosion of cordite.

170. Was the appearance of the final explosion in HOOD in any way similar to the appearance of the burning of cordite to which you have just referred?

No, it was violent and therefore much more rapid and much more streaky.

171. Can you describe the ball of fire more fully, particularly with reference to its size?

I should say the diameter of the ball of fire was comparable with the beam of the ship. It ascended rapidly and disappeared in the smoke.

172. Was it your impression that the HOOD went up in one explosion or two or more rapid explosions following?

One.

173. Would you expect any or all of the witnesses from your ship to be able to give a fairly accurate and reliable account of what they saw?

Yes. I should think that the evidence from Lieutenant Royd, Commander Luce and the Chief Yeoman of Signals would be the most reliable.

EVIDENCE OF LIEUTENANT ESMOND KNIGHT, R.N.V.R., H.M.S PRINCE OF WALES.

1st September, 1941.

The witness was cautioned in accordance with K.R. Chapter II.

174. Were you in the PRINCE OF WALES at the time of the BISMARCK's action with the HOOD?

I was, Sir.

175. Where were you?

In the Air Defence Position.

176. Were you watching the HOOD closely?

Yes, I was.

177. Through glasses or not?

I was watching her through glasses during the first part of her action and later with the naked eye.

178. Will you tell us what you saw.

HOOD opened fire with her forward turrets. The first salvo fired from BISMARCK fell just astern of HOOD and slightly on the port quarter. It was very near indeed. The second salvo from BISMARCK fell just on HOOD's starboard beam, very very near indeed again.

179. Do you think any of the shell from that salvo would have hit the HOOD under water?

I should think it was extremely probable. It looked so close that it is quite possible that the fire which started immediately afterwards may have been started by that second salvo. Anyway, a third salvo followed which coincided with an immediate and very serious fire which spread very rapidly over the whole of the boat deck of the HOOD.

180. Do you know whereabouts on the boat deck it started?

Slightly forward - the forward part of the boat deck and spread immediately aft. It was a most enormous fire, it seemed to burst into flames so rapidly. High licking red flames and dense pitch black smoke. I remember thinking that they would have a very hard job to put it out. It was so complete that it seemed to involve the after part of the ship almost.

181. Whereabouts on the boat deck do you think it started?

That is difficult to say because it seemed to be such a general fire.

182. With relation to the mainmast say?

I should say that it probably started in the forward part of the boat deck and spread aft immediately, but the spread of the fire was so quick and so complete that it was almost in the nature of an explosion turning into a very big fire. It appeared to me as if some ready use cordite had probably caught fire and was burning. At the same time as this was going on, I think PRINZ EUGEN or somebody was firing some H.E. which was bursting just over us, slightly on our port beam, and I saw 3 bursts of it just astern of HOOD. It was apparently H.E. bursting in the air, bits of which were spraying into the water all round. I did not understand that at all, as I did not understand how they could be using their L.A. guns to explode these shells on a time fuse at such good range. It was going off with a crack just astern of HOOD. Then I should say, not more than 20 seconds after this great fire had started in the after part of the HOOD - I did not see any other fall of shot with it - but the HOOD exploded from absolutely amidships. I did not see any fall of shot with it, but suddenly from amidships the whole thing absolutely lifted up. An enormous piece of wreckage flew 300/400ft. in the air and dense smoke in one central column of yellowy white smoke rose into the air and I was just able to distinguish through the smoke the bows of the HOOD lifted into the air, which made me think that she had broken clean in half.

183. Could you say where the seat of this central column was?

Absolutely amidships. It was just forward of the fire and it appeared to me as if the explosion was not on the upper works of the ship, but was definitely an explosion from below, absolutely amidships. The whole ship opened up.

184. Did you see any debris in the air as a result of the explosion?

Yes, I saw a piece - it was difficult to say what it was - but it was slightly curved in shape, probably 60ft. long - it looked like a great section of girder. That was blown I should think, 250 ft. in the air, and several other large pieces were all blown into the air emanating from this central part.

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185. Might this large piece have been a portion of the mast?

It might have been, but it seemed rather unlikely _ I cannot think of any part of the mast that corresponds to that shape. It might, of course, have been the complete side of one of the ships boats or something like that, but I do remember that one large piece particularly and hundreds of other small fragments all burning as they were in the air.

186. Was this fragment bent like a pencil?

More or less, Yes. I seem to remember it had some jagged pieces on it as well, as if it were part of the ship torn away.

187. How much of the ship forward could you see before the smoke enveloped her?

I could see her completely from the bow to just aft of the foremost funnel and remember immediately before, or even at the time, she fired her last salvo with those forward turrets.

188. Are you quite definite that you saw the ship as far aft as the foremost funnel?

Yes, it was certainly aft of the foremast anyway, and as I remember the construction of the HOOD her foremost funnel was pretty near up against the foremast. I would like to emphasize that the effect of the explosion was vertical.

189. Did you see any part of the ship's side blown away?

No, I did not. The smoke which followed immediately after the explosion became so complete that it very quickly enveloped the whole ship in probably a split second.

190. On the day of the action did you know if the armoured doors in the ship's side covering the torpedoes were open or shut?

I cannot say.

191. Did you know if the after turrets "X" and "Y" fired at all during the action?

No, as far as I know, no because we were closing at such a fine angle it would be impossible for the after turrets to bear at such a fine angle.

192. Are you certain whether the explosion took place before or abaft the mainmast?

Before, Sir.

193. Could you describe the colour of the smoke from the explosion?

I have a very vivid memory of that. Smoke from the fire which was burning before the explosion was definitely a black smoke, absolutely black smoke with no grey or white in it at all, I remember that particularly; but the smoke from the explosion was of a whitish dark yellow, bluish shadow, dark yellow and white like the smoke from a gorse fire. (NB. There has been a manuscript annotation here of the word "cordite")

194. Could you see the after part of the ship at all after the explosion?

I should say that if one had had an opportunity, or had been prepared and was actually looking for it, it would have been possible to have seen as much of the after part as the forward part at the time of the explosion, but as one has naturally a right-handed bias, one was apt to notice the forward part rather than the aft, but perhaps the aft was enveloped more quickly that the after part.

195. Did you notice the after part after the explosion?

No, I did not.

196. Did you see much flame with this smoke from the explosion?

No, particularly little. That was a rather surprising thing about it. I should say that the actual flame one saw was mixed up with smoke which certainly did not reach much more than three quarters of the way up the mast, and it was surprising that one saw so little flame. That again gave me the impression that the explosion was entirely internal and had probably blown, perhaps even exploded, downwards.

197. Did you hear anything?

That was a very peculiar thing also - I don't remember even hearing the explosion at all. I remember listening for it and thinking it would be a most tremendous explosion, but I do not remember it, because practically immediately after that we altered course and the shell which came through the Compass Platform was the one that knocked me out. I don't remember much more after that.

NOTE: the witness has lost the sight of one eye and at present cannot see out of the other. He is still in a very nervous state but this is obviously observant and his previous training in the stage has helped this.