Mighty Hood's bell recovered from sea bed after 74 years below

Encrusted with marine life, this is the bell of the ‘mighty Hood’ – on its way to the surface of the Atlantic after more than seven decades on the seabed.

The symbol of the battle-cruiser, which lies more than a mile and a half down on the bottom of the Denmark Straight, was recovered by team led by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Paul G Allen.

Three years ago the American was thwarted in his efforts to pick up the bell by the weather in the waters between Iceland and Greenland.

This summer he returned with his yacht Octopus and its state-of-the-art robot submarine from the same firm, Blue Water Recoveries, which found the Hood’s wreck back in 2001.

Now the 18in-high bell, which was cast for the previous battleship of the same name, will be restored and placed on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

This was clearly a special bell for a special ship and it will forever serve as a fitting memorial to the mighty Hood – and a reminder of the service and sacrifice of her men

David Mearns, director of Blue Water

David Mearns, director of Blue Water, said the iconic bell was in surprisingly good conditions despite 74 years below, with inscriptions – such as one by Lady Hood, the widow of Admiral Sir Horace Hood killed at Jutland – still legible.

“This was clearly a special bell for a special ship and it will forever serve as a fitting memorial to the mighty Hood – and a reminder of the service and sacrifice of her men,” he said.

“I’m extremely pleased that we have been able to fulfil one of the last wishes of Ted Briggs – one of only three survivors of Hood’s crew – to recover the bell as a memorial to his shipmates.”

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas said HMS Hood had been “a magnificent symbol of the power of the Royal Navy in the inter-war years. ‘The mighty Hood’ is one of the greatest fighting ships in our nation’s long and glorious maritime history.

“That she was lost with her guns thundering in defence of the convoys that formed Britain’s lifeline is a tragic reminder of the high price that our island nation paid for survival, and for the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today.”

No ship embodied the Royal Navy more between the two world wars than the battle-cruiser.

No shock was greater to the Royal Navy in WW2 than her loss in a brief, brutal encounter with Hitler’s flagship Bismarck on May 24 1941.

The ship blew up, her magazines detonated by a German shell, and she sank in minutes, taking all but three of her 1,418 crew down with her. She remains the largest British warship lost and the Royal Navy’s heaviest loss of life in a single ship.

As Hood sank, the battle-cruiser broke in two and debris, including the bell, was scattered around the sea bed.

The bell was mounted on a high wooden stand, which was kept on the warship’s quarterdeck in harbour and typically outside the captain’s quarters when at sea.

It was sounded by a Royal Marine to mark daily routine and watches on board, but would also be struck in the event of fire or other calamity aboard.

Once restored – the conservation work is likely to take around 12 months – it will be reunited with the bell of HMS Prince of Wales, which took part in the same Denmark Strait action with the Bismarck but survived, only to be sunk at the end of the year by the Japanese in the South China Sea.

“There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea,” said Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, president of the HMS Hood Association; his uncle went down with the battle-cruiser.

“For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in the National Museum of the Royal Navy will mean that 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.”

Earl Howe Minister(Lords), who welcomed the recovery of the bell from HMS Hood, said, "We should never forget those who were lost on this iconic ship and the families that still mourn their loved ones. 

"I hope that the bell will act as a memorial for the families and future generations who should acknowledge the loss and the bravery of those who served their country and who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

You can read more about the recovery mission and see more photographs at: www.paulallen.com/news/news-articles/hood-bell-recovery