Explorer finds wreck of UK's great battleship ? and grave of 1,415 men

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The Independent Online

The wreckage of HMS Hood has been discovered for the first time since it was sunk by the German warship Bismarck during one of the greatest naval broadsides of the Second World War.

HMS Hood, the pride of the British fleet and for more than 20 years the world's largest warship, was discovered 3,000 metres below the surface of the north Atlantic.

The search team was surprised at the large extent of the damage suffered by HMS Hood, which despite its size, was lightly armoured and vulnerable to shelling.

HMS Hood blew up when a shell from the Bismarck crashed through the decks into one of its weapons magazines. The warship was split in two and sank in a few minutes, and the debris was scattered on the bottom of the ocean.

Only three people survived the attack in May 1941, which killed 1,415 men and came at one of the low points of the war when London was being pounded every night by German bombers.

The ship was discovered in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland by the respected explorer, David Mearns, using sonar equipment, special cameras and remotely operated vehicles. The search for HMS Hood, on which more than 10,000 men served during its service life, was backed by the Ministry of Defence and veterans' groups.

Mr Mearns said: "The images we have seen are a constant reminder that the wreck site is a massive war grave and in that regard, I have the deepest respect for the 1,415 men who died here 60 years ago.

"Before we leave the site we plan to leave a bronze memorial plaque that lists all their names with the hope that their relatives can be comforted by the knowledge that their grave is properly marked."

HMS Hood, built at Clydebank and launched in 1920, was ordered to find the Bismarck which had left the Baltic for its first wartime mission to attack allied food convoys from America to Britain.

Two British cruisers spotted the Bismarck going into the Straits but they lost contact with HMS Hood in the run-up to the battle because of a snowstorm.

In company with a new battleship, the Prince of Wales, HMS Hood opened fire on the Bismarck and its accompanying heavy cruiser, the Prinz Eugen. The German ships targeted the Hood and it was destroyed.

The British Navy pursued the Bismarck across a huge area and finally destroyed it with the loss of 2,100 lives in a battle that marked a turning point in the battle of the Atlantic. The Mearns expedition has already found the wreck of the Bismarck.

Ted Briggs, who was the flag lieutenant's messenger on the HMS Hood and its sole living survivor, will fly to the site to lay the memorial. He said he would be finally able to lay a ghost to rest that had haunted him for 60 years.

He said: "Many of the relatives of the men lost with the Hood have spoken to me to say how happy they are that we are going out to the site.

"This is a chance to say a final goodbye to the men who died there."

Channel 4, which paid £2m for the search, will screen a documentary about the search in August.

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