-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
Biography of Leonard C. Williams
Courtesy of the Williams Family
Updated 06-May-2014

Leonard joined Hood in 1936 as a Seaman Torpedoman and left her in the spring of 1941 on promotion to Petty Officer.

After leaving the Royal Navy Len decided to write a book of his memoirs. The book, just published, is called "Gone Along Journey" and runs to over 200 pages. Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the years that Len spent in Hood. We have been given special permission by Len's family to publish portions of these two chapters on the H.M.S Hood Association web site so that everyone interested in the ship can share his memories of those special years. We highly recommend the book. You can learn more about it by clicking here.

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BOOK EIGHT- H.M.S."HOOD" 1936 - 1939
In joining "Hood" I knew that I was joining the pride of the navy. This 42,000 ton monster, 860 feet long and with a speed of 32 knots, was the most beautiful ship in service. When it came to her hull and superstructure, her designers had excelled themselves. Her long sweep of forecastle, the identically sized funnels, the armoured tower, masts of exactly the same height, and her long, low quarterdeck, sweeping up to the stern, made her the finest looking ship in this, or any other navy. She was probably the best loved ship in the service, and I, her latest, and very humble torpedoman, was very proud to be of her company.

"Hood's" torpedo division were a happy go lucky lot; we were about 90 to 100 strong, and by age and service, were the oldest division in the ship. Over 50% of us were three badge men, which meant that they had at least 13 years service to their credit. At this period, most torpedomen were fairly senior men due to the great competition to get into the branch to begin with.

My first job in "Hood" was with the torpedo maintenance section. We had four tubes, mounted two each side between decks, but above the Water line, with armoured doors fitted on the outboard ends of the tubes. We carried eight 21" Mark lV* torpedoes, one in each tube and a spare in the racks above each tube. These torpedoes were almost obsolete, since the more modern Mark 1X* was now being widely used throughout the fleet. However, we were hot a new ship, and since our tubes were only adapted for use with the older type torpedo, these were the mark we had to have.

I had only touched but very briefly on the Mark 1V* in "Vernon", most of our training having being with the newer weapon. However, one soon became familiar with them, and I began to like my new surroundings.

Our first job, soon after commissioning, was to change the colour of "Hood's" paintwork. Almost from the time she was built, her colour had been dark Home Fleet grey, and I think we all enjoyed slapping on the Mediterranean light grey, and when completed, the old lady looked more like a ballerina. I have never seen a ship look so different!

We also had to paint a red, white and blue tricolour flash across the roof of "B" turret. This was to identify us from the air when undertaking Spanish Patrol duties, since Spain was indulging in a civil war at his time.

We carried an Admiral too! and flew Vice-Admiral Geoffrey Blake's flag at our Fore masthead and took over the duties of second-in-command, Mediterranean Fleet, so we would now be enjoying the berthing and other little privileges that went with a flagship. Our Commanding Officer was Captain A. F. Pridham, and the executive officer, Commander D. Orr-Ewing, who, after a short while, came to become affectionately known as "Big Hearted Dave" on account of his nibbling at our spare time!

Len as a torpedoman aboard HoodIn October, after provisioning, storing and ammunitioning, "Hood" left Portsmouth for Gibraltar, and so we began our commission. Our passage across the Bay of Biscay was calm, although there was a considerable ground swell, which caused the ship to develop a slow roll. This roll, among other things, swept the Wardroom breakfast table bare, smashing a considerable amount of crockery.

Three days later the familiar hump of Gibraltar loomed up over our port bow and in an hour or so we passed through the Mole entrance and secured alongside the jetty. It was here that we had our first casualty of the commission. As we were warping our stern into the jetty by means of a wire around the after capstan, a sudden gust of wind caught the stern and tautened the wire, which became jammed on the capstan. The wire started to "sing" and everybody jumped clear as the wire hawser snapped like a piece of thread, but one unfortunate seaman did not move fast enough, and the wire whipped back viciously and amputated both of his legs. He died the same day in hospital. One always had to be careful when using wires in conjunction with moving the ship. You had to be ready to immediately ease the wire when the strain became too great.

From the moment we arrived, "Hood" took over Nyon Anti Piracy Patrol Duty off the Spanish Coast. There had been several incidents when torpedoes had been fired at vessels of all nations by unknown submarines. Also, Spanish gunboats, cruisers and destroyers, occasionally interfered with our merchant ships. To combat this, France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, formed this anti piracy patrol, named after the Nyon Conference.

Operating with "Hood" on alternate patrols was "Repulse" also we had a few destroyers seconded from the Home Fleet. I believe they were the "Firedrake", "Fortune", "Fame" and "Fury". The Germans had two of their pocket battleships, "Deutschland" and "Graf Spee". One or other of them being either in Tangier, Gibraltar or on patrol. Whilst performing this duty, we had warheads fitted to our torpedoes and our shell was fused, ready for instant use.

During one of these routine patrol trips, the destroyer "Hunter" struck a mine which blew a huge hole in her bottom and side, in the vicinity of the bridge, killing some 30 of her crew. It was a sad affair and we were really wild about this. Of all the vessels belonging to the opposing sides in the civil war, it had to be one of our ships to be caught by their wretched mines.

I watched "Hunter" being towed into dock. She was in a sorry mess, with decks awash and a burned and blackened hull and bridge. After she had docked and the water had been pumped out, the sad job of removing her dead began. After this had been completed, I walked over to the dock to have a look at her damage. There was a huge hole in her bottom just beneath the bridge and another in her side. One could have driven a double decker bus through them. It speaks volumes for the builders of "Hunter" that she managed to remain afloat at all!

Our patrol in "Hood" was between Gibraltar, Tangier, Palma and Marseilles. Occasionally it would be brightened by an odd incident such as the time when "Potato Jones" ran the Spanish Blockade to land his cargo of potatoes to the besieged population of Bilbao. On this occasion "Hood" was in Gibraltar, and half of us were ashore on night leave. We received an urgent signal from the Admiralty to proceed at full speed to the Bilbao area to give protection to "Spud Jones" and his ship which was being threatened by a Spanish cruiser.

The recall flag was flying from the yard arm, and periodically "Hood" blasted her syren to attract the attention of the men still onshore, of whom I was one. We libertymen hurried down to the harbour and got back onboard. The ship sailed at 5 a.m. and, at 25 knots we belted out of the Mediterranean, and turning northwards, headed for Bilbao, arriving off the port at 7 a.m. next morning.

On arrival we found a large Spanish cruiser and "Spud Jones's" steamer within hailing distance of each other. Spud himself always wore a bowler hat, and we could see him on his bridge gesticulating to the Spaniard. We received a signal from him to the effect that the "Blankety Blank" cruiser was stopping him from going in to Bilbao to unload his potato cargo, which, by this time, was beginning to go rotten. Attached to "Hood" at this time were the Home Fleet destroyers "Firedrake", "Fortune" and "Flame", and we informed Jones that he could proceed into Bilbao and that the three destroyers had been detailed to escort him in. Thumbing his nose to the Spanish cruiser, and with a puff of dirty black smoke from his steamer's funnel, "Spud Jones" went on his way with a destroyer on either side of him and another leading the way. "Hood", with her crew at action stations, circled the cruiser to prevent, any further interference.

"Potato Jones" was a persistent old cuss, and on more than one occasion he and his ship had to be got out of scrapes; but he and his ilk were the salt of the earth. He had the freedom of the ocean, and he wasn't going to be kicked around by Spaniards or anybody else! Leaving the victorious Jones, we returned to Gibraltar. My shore going pal at this time was an old shipmate from "Royal Sovereign" days. We had shared the same mess then, and on joining "Hood" it was natural that we teamed up, since we knew each other. Harry was a gunnery rating, so we did not, on this occasion share the same mess; but we went ashore together, both on swimming trips and on the rounds of the bars. He was a quieter sort of chap than Snowy had been, preferring the less patronized bars. However, we got on very well and had some enjoyable runs ashore.

Eventually "Repulse" arrived at Gibraltar, and relieved us of our patrol duties and we quietly slipped our wires and shaped our course for Malta. On the way we did our quarterly full power trial, which was designed to produce the makers guaranteed speed.

To be in "Hood" when she was at speed was quite an experience. At about 28 knots or over, the bow waves caused fountains to shoot up each anchor hawsepipe; while the wash from her bows broke onboard at the forward end of the quarter-deck and washed aft to join the high pipe up at her stern.

In the bright Mediterranean sunlight, these fountains gave off the brilliant rainbow effect of the spectrum, in a kaleidoscope of colour, the falling water bouncing off the deck like a shower of diamonds scintillating in the sun.

The ship reached 31.5 knots, and it gave one a thrill to see the deep blue of the sea thrown up into boiling, brilliant white foam as we sped along. After 4 hours, we began to ease down until our speed had dropped to 15 knots, and we resumed our more leisurely way towards Malta.

Passing the island of Pantalleria, we entered the last: leg of our passage to Valetta, and soon we saw the familiar slender masts of Rinella W/T Station, and the dreaming spires and domes of the many churches in the island.

Due to her length, "Hood" had a special problem in entering the Grand Harbour. We had been allocated a berth in Bighi Bay, just below the R.N Hospital. As this billet was almost a sharp left turn inside the entrance, and since the entrance itself was rather narrow, the ship had to enter bows first, then turning to starboard in her own length, proceed dead slow ahead towards the shore, until her stern lined up with the stern buoy; then reversing engines she would go astern, gradually bringing her bows around to starboard until she came to rest dead between her mooring buoys.

It was a masterpiece in big ship handling in a confined space. We expected that, at our first attempt there would have, been some difficulty in manoeuvring so long a vessel, but our Skipper brought "Hood" in as if she had been a destroyer with all the room in the world to play with. We were most impressed with his skill at ship handling.

We spent the next few weeks working up to Fleet standard, and carrying out firing programmes, then we were detached from the Mediterranean to attend King George VI's Coronation Review at Spithead. This made a welcome break for the ship's company, as they were able to visit their homes for a brief spell.

During the Review, "Hood" in common with the rest of the fleet, illuminated ship each night. As torpedomen, responsible for the electrical installation of the ship, this job was dropped into our lap. We outlined the silhouette of the sh4: with lamps, and a large Royal Cypher GVIR was constructed and suspended half way between the after funnel and the mainmast. We also created our Vice-Admiral's flag in lights, and this was hoisted to the top of the mainmast. The whole effect was like something out of Fairyland. "Hood" cast her reflection on the water like jewels on rippled velvet. We also gave a searchlight, display in company with the whole fleet, and followed it up with a gigantic firework display.

After the review, "Hood" returned to the Mediterranean, when completing a further period of Spanish Patrol Duty, we sailed for Malta. Harry, my shore going pal was drafted to "Barham" so I saw little of him, although we kept in touch by means of fleet letter whenever our two ships happened to be in company, and in this way we managed a few trips ashore.

About this time I became on friendly terms with Doug, who was a wireless operator. The "Sparks" mess was on the same messdeck as ours, and sometimes we would take a walk on deck together. Whether there was something about me which invited confidences I do not know, but Doug used to pour out all his troubles in my ear, and gradually we got on shore going terms.

He was more like Snowy than Harry had been, preferring the bright lights and cabarets to the quiet places. It was like old times aqain. We went swimming together at weekends, followed by an evening down the "Gut". In Doug's company I began to enjoy life again.

I changed my job onboard from Torpedo maintenance to ventilating fan maintenance which was a watchkeeping job, necessitating a visit to every running fan in the ship during one's period of duty. These large fan motors provided the forced ventilation between decks, some being supply fans and others exhaust. It was essential that the lubrication and the electrics of each fan be checked during each watch. As there were hundreds of these fans of all shapes and sizes, and in various awkward positions, it took one the whole of one's four hour watch to get around them all.

With the watch-keeping job, one also enjoyed the privilege of watchkeeper's leave, which meant that, providing one returned onboard four hours before one commenced duty, one could lie abed late when on shore leave. Both Doug and I had watchkeeping jobs, so we were both able to enjoy this privilege.

In our runs ashore, Doug and I always included a visit to the "Forty Three" club in Floriana. We usually started here, before proceeding along the Strada Reale to the Gut. This club was run by a man of about 40, known to all the fleet as "Charlie". He was a female impersonator, who, when dressed up resembled Mae West and took that famous lady off to a "T".

Charlie's pianist was a youth of about 19, named Jackie, whose ability on the piano must have put him among the concert pianist class, had he so desired. Both Doug and I were fond of good music, and between Charlie's tonsorial expeditions, we used to get Jackie to play more serious stuff. It was an education to hear this lad render Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" or "Liebestraum", or perhaps some of Chopin's delightful piano pieces. During the breathless magic of his playing one could hear a pin drop, and when he had finished, the large room would echo with the thunderous applause from the men of the fleet, and there were many, for the "Forty Three" club was extremely popular.

Charlie's own piece-de-resistance was a rendering of "September in the rain" and "Pennies from Heaven". Dressed like Mae West, padded out around the bust and wearing a fabulous silver lame gown and a blonde wig, he sang amid the cheers of the audience. Usually the lads quietened down as Charlie's voice came to be appreciated, and he always received a tumultuous reception.

Sometimes we would take a bus or taxi over to Sliema and visit one or two of the bars. These were mainly patronized by the destroyer men, since Sliema Creek was the destroyer anchorage. One bar in particular, The 'Empire', staged a female boxing contest as their cabaret show, and we sailors would be treated to an orgy of boxing contests. The contenders, dressed in one piece swim suits, wore a coloured sash across their chests indicating a "Miss England" or a "Miss Austria", or some other nationality. Although to watch two buxom wenches knocking each other about seemed pretty revolting to us, most of us cheered them on as we sipped our iced beer, but the atmosphere was so clouded with tobacco smoke that it was sometimes difficult to see the contenders at all!

Malta provided some pretty hilarious nights which will long live in my memory and, no doubt, in the memories of hundreds of thousands of sailors the world over. We owe a lot to the patience and kindness of "Joe", the average Maltese lodging house and bar keeper, who on numerous occasions, would help the worse for wear matloes to bed.

After a night ashore, we would both get up about 10.30 a.m. and after washing and dressing, go and have a rum, coffee and a light snack in a bar near the waterfront. Then strolling along the road to the Custom House, we would catch the ship's Picket Boat, which was sent in at 11.30 to pick up the stewards and postman. It was a grand life and we both appreciated it.

On nights we were not ashore, Doug and I slept on the upper deck under the huge forecastle awning. We both had camp beds and we would lie and watch the signal lamp, high up on the mast of the Castille Signal Station, flashing its messages to the fleet lying in the Grand Harbour. It was the limit of our vision before the awning blotted out the stars. It was pleasant lying there, listening to the bells of the horse drawn carozzins or gharries, as we usually called them, and watching the lights of the waterfront bars and cafes ashore and the bobbing lights of the dghaisas going about their business. We would talk until the lights ashore began to go out one by one, and soon, we ourselves would grow tired and fall asleep.

I was usually awake long before the hands were called. The angle of the early morning sun, caused its brilliant rays to slant under the awning and bore into my eyes like a golden avalanche. One stirred and was wide awake immediately. The freshness of the early Mediterranean morning was intoxicating. The air was like wine, and like a rich vintage one sniffed it appreciatively.

In that half hour or so before "Reveille", I would stretch luxuriously and let my thoughts run riot, while Doug and the rest of those sleeping on deck still snored. I could hear the endless chatter of the dghaisamen as they cleaned and polished their boats and, in the distance, the deep tone of church bells calling their early devotees to prayer. The Maltese are a very religious people, and the numerous church bells, with their varied tones was a common everyday feature of life in the island. Most sailors hated the perpetual ringing, but to me they were Malta, citadel of Christendom and home of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. But perhaps I was prejudiced, for I loved this ancient island.

In due course we went off on our summer cruise, around the Greek Islands, to Athens, the Adriatic and Palestine, calling at the French Foreign Legion base at Arzieu on the North African Coast. We saw the glorious Acropolis at Athens, the modern towns of Haifa and Jaffa, and the many glories of ancient Greece spread over the host of islands in the Aegean Sea.

We had our swimming and sailing parties, and our trips ashore here and there, finally arriving back in Malta in early October, when "Hood" went into the floating dock for the periodical bottom scrape and paint, and the overhaul of our underwater fittings.

Our story of Malta over the October - January period, followed the usual fleet pattern of refit, docking, painting and relaxation ashore in the cabarets, cinemas and cafes. Doug and I had a couple of pleasant months together, going ashore and enjoying ourselves before the Spring Cruise began, although for "Hood" this turned out to be another period of Spanish Patrol duty.

Shortly before we sailed, Doug was drafted to the destroyer leader "Hardy", and I saw very little of him afterwards. I missed him of course, but thereafter, when going ashore, I usually picked. a casual friend to go with. It was not quite the same, since Doug and I had been together a year and we each knew the others likes and dislikes, and we always got on so well together, but navy life is like this; friends come and go, and one has to make the best of it. We arrived at Gibraltar and relieved "Repulse" who then proceeded on her courtesy cruise of the French and Italian ports. For the next six weeks we oscillated between Gibraltar, Tangier, Palma and Marseilles.

At Tangier, we were in company with the German "Graf Spee" and French and Italian naval vessels. It was interesting to note that when ashore, it was always the Germans and ourselves who seemed to fraternise, and seldom, if ever, the other two nationalities. We maintain that it was because the Germans and ourselves were beer drinking types, whereas the others usually drank wines.

We had a party of officers over from "Graf Spee" to visit us. They lunched onboard and were shown over the ship. Whilst touring the vessel one of the Germans remarked on the absence of an armoured deck. Well he might, for this vital fact was to contribute, in my opinion, to "Hood's" downfall three years later, and at the hands of the Germans!

After our spell of Patrol duty, we commenced our visit to the Riviera ports, visiting Mentone, Juan-les-Pins and other popular watering places before returning to Malta in April.

During our spell in Valletta, we went to sea on odd days for full calibre firing practices, using the radio controlled battleship "Centurion" as a target. On this particular occasion we took the C-in-C, Sir Dudley Pound out with us to witness the shoot.

As sometimes happens when one wants things to go right, this time everything went wrong! and after a series of irritating delays, we began the run in for the opening phase of the firing.

"Centurion" was controlled by the destroyer "Shikari" who took up her station some half a mile astern of her charge. By some error in the setting of the fire control instruments, our opening salvo of 5.5" shells passed between "Shikari's" funnels, causing a frantic exchange of signals.

I was on deck watching the firing, and looking at the direction in which our guns were pointing, it was obvious that it was not going to be "Centurion" who was going to receive our bricks. Why this simple observation was not also noticed by the gunnery people, heaven only knows, but it was a very long time before they lived it down. History does not record what the C-in-C might have said!

While we were enjoying the short stay in Malta the international situation was building up in Europe. With Hitler's impossible demands, it was becoming obvious, even to us, that before long Germany would be challenged into a position where she would either have to fight or back down.

At about this time, the Italian Fleet paid a courtesy visit to the island. As the Italians had allied themselves to the Germans, they were no longer popular with either us, or the Maltese people, and there were fears on the part of the powers that be as to whether there would be incidents when the Italians were ashore. However, sailors the world over, have a knack of conveniently sweeping under the carpet any political rumpus, as having nothing to do with them; and so it was with us. There was time to worry when a war actually started!

With their piano accordians and mandolins, the Italians spent quite a few happy evenings in the bars of Malta. I know, for I was in their company with a lot more of our men, singing away with them, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. On this occasion Hitler and Mussolini were consigned to the dustbin!

The visit was a huge success, and in due course, they left, leaving us with very pleasant memories, international situation or no international situation. Not long after their departure, we too sailed for the Western Mediterranean and the Spanish Patrol.

During our stay in Malta we had a change in command. Our old skipper, Captain Pridham, returned to the U.K. and Captain H.T.C. Walker took over. He was a very much alive skipper, despite the fact that he had lost an arm at Zeebruge in 1918. Naturally, he came to be known as 'Hooky'!

We continued our patrol until the end of August, when the international situation began to burst at the seams, and by September the Government had begun to mobilise the Reserve Fleet, and RMS "Aquitania" was on her way to Gibraltar full of Naval Reservists for the fleet.

The German pocket battleship "Graf Spee" or "Deutschland" (I am not sure which) had slipped away from Gibraltar, and was somewhere in the Atlantic. In order to protect "Aquitania" in the event of hostilities, "Hood" slid quietly out into the Atlantic with a destroyer escort, and making contact with the liner, brought her safely into Gibraltar Bay.

All the world knows of how the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, bought us a year of time at Munich, and so ended the September crisis in 1938. The ships dispersed, and "Hood" returned once more to Malta.

We stayed in Valletta through October, November and December, enjoying the fruits of the land. Since Doug had left, I did not have a permanent friend, but nevertheless I had several trips ashore with this one and that.

"Hood's" commission was now drawing to a close and rumour had it that we were leaving for home in the New Year. I had now taken over another watchkeeping duty, this time in the ship's Main Switchboard, where for 24 hours at a time, in four hourly shifts, I worked with three others in controlling the ship's electrical installation. It was an interesting job, and I liked it, particularly as it also carried the late morning leave privilege with it.

Apart from our change of Commanding Officer, we also had a change of Flag Officer. Due to Vice Admiral Blake retiring for health reasons, we had Vice-Admiral Geoffrey Layton to replace him for a short while, then he too, in his turn, was replaced by Vice-Admiral A.B. Cunningham, or "Cutts" as he was popularly known, and we managed to keep him until the commission ended.Rumour proved correct about our proposed movements, and in January, 1939, "Hood" left Malta for Portsmouth, where we gave leave to the ship's company. This was my last contact with Malta. To my regret, I have never returned; but my seven years in the Mediterranean I shall always remember, as possibly some of the happiest years of my life, and Malta I will never forget.

The Spring passed and our ship's company all returned from their foreign service leave, and we were expecting to "Pay Off" and be sent back to the Depot. The International situation at this period was so tense and doubtful that it was decided to keep "Hood" in commission, and only a handful of ratings were drafted to the various schools to qualify for higher Gunnery, Torpedo or Signal ratings.

I had applied to qualify for Leading Torpedoman, but our Torpedo Officer had stopped me going on the grounds that I was considered one of the "key" ratings, whom it was advisable to retain, since the switchboard required experienced operators. I had to accept this with the promise that my turn would come when circumstances permitted.

About June, we managed to get in some summer leave for both watches of the crew, which took us into July. During this time, the dockyard had seen to our defects list, and we re-painted the ship in dark Home Fleet grey, to the disgust of most of us, me in particular. We topped up with stores, oil, provisions and ammunition, and at the end of August we sailed to Northern waters, during which journey, we conducted a shadowing exercise in the area between Scapa Flow and the coast of Norway.

We were under no illusion as to the prevailing situation. There was little doubt in our minds that within days we would probably be at war, but it was hard to believe that it could happen to us. A few months ago we were enjoying ourselves in Malta, now we were on the verge of a holocaust.

After the exercise, we and the rest of the fleet, passed through the boom defence gates of Scapa Flow, where 25 years earlier, another, but mightier fleet had taken up it's war station.

On almost the last day of August, "Hood" and her destroyer escort of three, sailed from Scapa Flow, out into the westering sun; and, as we watched the low hills of the Orkneys turn to purple and slowly dip below the horizon, we new in our hearts that when next we saw them, we would be a country at war.

On September the first, while cruising somewhere in the North Atlantic, we received news that Germany had invaded Poland at dawn, and that Britain had issued her ultimatum which expired at 11 a.m. on the 3rd September.

On receiving this information we realised that it could now only be a matter of hours before the balloon would go up. Our ship's company had taken up cruising stations, and our shell was fused. Our torpedoes had their war heads fitted, and in all respects we were ready. We did not have long to wait. On Sunday morning, the 3rd of September at about 11.20 a.m. we gathered around the loudspeakers (I with a few pals and our Torpedo Officer, were listening to a portable radio belonging to one of our torpedomen and heard the weak and utterly weary voice of Mr. Chamberlain bring Britain into war with Germany.

It was a relief. Now we knew where we were going. However long and difficult the road ahead, we had to get to the end. And so "Hood" and her company went to war.