-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 NINE- H.M.S."HOOD" 1939 - 1941
After hearing the declaration of war, we sat for a while around the portable radio. We were sitting on ventilators, boat crutches, on anything else available, for we were up on the boat deck.

It was a fine morning, with the ship lazily lifting her bows to the long Atlantic swell. Over on the port beam steamed one of our escort. I watched the thin spiral of smoke languidly rising from the destroyer's galley funnel, while the brilliance of this September morning warmed my bones.

I saw her crew going about their duties on the upper deck, and the forecastle gun's crew huddled behind their gun shield. Every now and then she would dip her bows to the swell, and, occasionally, a sea would break on board, to sweep aft in a shower of spray which sparkled in the sunlight like cascading diamonds. It was a day to be at sea. Only one thought marred the peaceful scene and beauty of the morning. Somewhere beneath this heaving ocean, enemy submarines were at their war stations, and we were a prize target. As a single man, with no responsibilities, I received the news with a certain amount of indifference. I was annoyed, of course, because the tenure of my life was now about to be disturbed, which was I suppose, a selfish way of looking at it. There was the other side to be considered too. For years, we had trained for just such a possibility as this. Now it was up to us to see that the taxpayer got a return for his money.

I tried to assess my ability to face up to the new situation. I knew my limits under normal conditions, but how would I react under war conditions, possible action, with all it could mean? I tried to detach myself like a shadow, and study myself from a position outside. "Will you be afraid", I asked myself, "or will you be the stuff of which heroes are made?" I am afraid we all asked ourselves similar questions, and, like myself, received the same answer. "Wait and see!"

After all the bulletins on the radio had finished, there was a long silence, then we began to discuss our possible part in the war. We went on talking until the hands were piped to dinner, then, going below, we partook of our first war time Sunday dinner. At least the news had not affected our appetites.

Now the war had started, each of us took stock of our situation. From now on we had to be very particular about closing and properly clipping all watertight doors and hatches behind us. There was that little extra alertness and awareness about us, as we went about our tasks. We all carried inflatable lifebelts everywhere we went. These were like motor car inner tubes, covered with a light canvas material, and fitted with a harness and a non return valve for inflation purposes.

It was advisable, if one was obliged to abandon the ship, to blow up the lifebelt first, as it was almost impossible to do so when in the water.

One of the first things I did was to provide myself with an electric torch and a whistle, the latter I tied to my lifebelt. It was obvious to me that if the ship received damage sufficient to sink her, then it was practically certain that all the lights and power would fail, therefore one had to find one's way out of the ship. Then, once in the water, particularly at night, it was essential to attract attention. Hence the torch and whistle.

My job was still at the main switchboard, although my action station was in the engine room attending one of the dynamo supply breakers. It was not a comforting thought to realise that the switchboard was well down in the bowels of the ship, and directly over the forward 15" magazines; and that in order to get out, one had to squeeze through numerous manholes, (fitted in the armoured hatch covers) just large enough to pass one's body through. But we did not think long about such things. We just hoped that nothing unpleasant would happen to us.

Whilst the phoney war was going on in France, and the R.A.F. were plastering the Germans with leaflets, the war at sea began immediately and, before the first day was over the liner "Athenia" had been torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic. Our new Captain, Irvine Glennie, broadcast the news to us over the ship's loudspeaker system, with a few choice comments of his own.

"Athenia's" loss served to bring us all down to earth. We now knew that we were dealing with the same old Hun that our fathers had known. These people were inhuman monsters, There was no possible excuse for sinking "Athenia" She was carrying passengers, of whom a large percentage were women and children. We were very bitter about this outrage, and it left us resolved, more than ever, to settle Germany's hash once and for all.

After about two more days, we returned to Scapa Flow to re-fuel. I think the only reason we had gone to sea was to keep clear of Scapa when war was declared, in case of a concentrated air attack on the anchorage. Whilst at Scapa we had several air raid alerts, but apart from one of our own aircraft which was fired on by the shore batteries, for approaching the Flow from the wrong direction, we had little interference at this time.

Towards the end of September, one of our submarines, H.M.S. "Spearfish", was heavily depth charged whilst on patrol in the Heligoland Bight. The damage sustained was such that she was unable to dive and could only proceed on the surface at a reduced speed.

The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Charles Forbes, decided to take the entire fleet to Heligoland on a rescue operation, presumably also, in the hope of catching any German vessels who may be tempted to interfere with "Spearfish".

It was a big decision to take, for the area concerned was right on Germany's doorstep. However, we in the Navy have a reputation for looking after our own, and we soon found ourselves headed on a south easterly direction towards "Spearfish".

When the fleet first arrived in the Bight, "Spearfish" was slowly struggling homewards, but was constantly in danger of air attack. Whereas a solitary submarine could possibly have avoided detection, a fleet spread over several miles of ocean, certainly could not. It was not long, therefore, before we were spotted by a German patrol aircraft and our position duly reported to its base. We could now expect severe air attacks. We were not disappointed!

Within a short space of time the fleet was attacked by bombers coming down out of the sun, for it was a beautiful day, with a smooth sea. "Hood" being positioned well out on the screen, was not immediately involved. The carrier "Ark Royal" was severely bombed, and at tines, was completely obliterated by smoke and spray, the pilot of the aircraft concerned, claimed "Ark Royal" as sunk, and we later learned that he was awarded an Iron Cross for his "brilliant feat" and made a national hero. The truth was, "Ark Royal" was not even hit, and suffered no damage whatsoever. For months afterwards, the enemy maintained that she had been sunk and repeatedly asked over their propaganda radio "Where is your "Ark Royal"?"

Our AA gunners in "Hood" had a grand-stand view, since we were some five miles away from the main attack. Then, quite suddenly, and without any noise or other warning, a Dornier bomber approached "Hood" from astern and out of the sun. As it passed over our mainmast, it dropped a fair sized bomb. Not satisfied with this, the pilot waved his hand as he sped by. Fortunately, the missile bounced off the ship and struck the water about fifteen feet off our port beam. It blew a hole in our torpedo protection bulge; but apart from scattering the tiles in the stoker's bathroom and covering with debris and dust, the repair party stationed there, it did little damage and no casualties were incurred.

So sudden had been the attack, we had not even been able to fire a shot. Captain Glennie immediately broadcast orders that the gun's crews were in future, to open fire without waiting for orders. This had been a lesson to us. We were still versed in the peacetime practice procedure, where one waited for orders before opening fire on the target. We had got off lightly on this occasion, but there was to be no further dallying, and the skipper made this point quite clear.

The attacks on the fleet eased off on the approach of darkness, and finally ceased altogether, and we made our way homewards, escorting the badly damaged 'Spearfish'. We had been very lucky this day, for we were all intact. It had been our first brush with the Luftwaffe, and, whilst we now knew their fibre, we had also found the chinks in our own armour.

Returning to Scapa, "Hood" re-fuelled and after a day or so, sailed for what was to become our regular patrol area; that cold, sometimes misty stretch of water between Greenland and Iceland, the Denmark Straits. Here "Hood" enacted most of her war service, and finally found her grave.

We always hoped that sooner or later we would catch an enemy raider trying to break out into the Atlantic, and in the effort of doing this, we spent countless hours on watch, in exposed positions, in all sorts of beastly weather, straining our eyes due to long periods of looking through high powered binoculars.

At night the crew went to Defence Stations, and my station in this particular organisation, was the searchlight control sight on the starboard wing of the bridge. Two of us shared this duty, and high up on the open sweep of the bridge wings, we felt the full blast of the icy wind. Muffled up to the ears in woollies, we braced ourselves against the bitter elements and swept the tumbled horizon with our binoculars.

For four hours at a stretch we shared this duty, working in conjunction with each other so that one of us could squeeze under the bridge platform for a cup of hot cocoa and a temporary respite from the freezing wind. Always we had to be in the immediate vicinity of the searchlight control position, and always it was bitterly cold.

Far below us, we could hear the swish of the sea as it broke against our huge hull, whilst above us, the heavens spread wide in a black velvety void, on which lay a million brilliant scintillating stars; bigger and brighter than any I had seen before.

Those short, star spangled nights in the Denmark Straits will always live in my memory. The sharp, biting, salty wind, beating relentlessly against one's face, and finding every loophole in one's clothing; and the brilliant display of the Aurora Borealis, weaving across the heavens like a gigantic silvery fan, was an artistic feast to delight one's red rimmed eyes.

After four hours in the crisp cold night air, one's watch was over, and, still wide awake, for the air was like wine, we were relieved by the morning watch, and we tumbled down below to get a cup of thick steaming cocoa, before retiring on the mess table for what was left of the night.

We had our false alarms, like the occasion when we almost sent a 15" broadside into a peculiar cloud formation on the horizon, when looked for all the world like a squadron of ships.

Patrol after patrol we endured this existence, until, with the approach of summer, and the entry of Italy into the war, we were transferred to the Mediterranean and to better and warmer operating conditions. But this was to come later.

Returning from this patrol, "Hood" was diverted to Loch Ewe on the north western corner of Scotland, where, on our arrival, we found the rest of the fleet. It appeared that, whilst we had been away, a "U" boat had managed to penetrate the net defence of Scapa Flow and had sunk the "Royal Oak", with the loss of approximately 800 lives. The fleet therefore, found an alternative base whilst the defences of Scapa were overhauled.

Loch Ewe, whilst being a fine natural harbour for the fleet, was far from being ideal for the personnel. The only civilization was a small village containing one small pub to cater for the whole of the fleet! In view of this leave was restricted to only 25% of each crew per day and then only for about five hours.

Since the tiny pub could only hold about forty people, it was allocated for the use of Chief and Petty Officers only, but junior rates could buy their beer throuqh a side window and sit on the hillside and drink it. Glasses were at a premium, so Jack, not to be denied his beer, bought up all the galvanized buckets in the local hardware store, and men could be seen tottering up the hill carrying bucketfuls of beer, until, stocks exhausted, the publican had to frantically telephone to the nearest town for further supplies. Some months later, NAAFI erected a temporary canteen but those first few weeks at Loch Ewe were murder.

After a few days break, "Hood" again sailed north for the Denmark Straits, and with winter upon us, we experienced icy gales and fog, which made night watches in the open positions extremely uncomfortable. To combat the bitter weather, I wore on top of my overall suit, a sweater, overcoat and an oilskin over the top. Balaclava helmet and gloves finished it off.

Most of these woollen garments were knitted and sent to the fleet by kind souls at home, who, by so doing, were helping the war effort in the only way they could. Let me assure them that we seamen blessed them for their efforts. I know I did, for the Denmark Straits in winter is not a nice place to know.

Our patrol lasted fourteen days and we returned this time to Greenock on the Clyde. It seemed that every time we returned from a patrol we saw "Rodney" and "Nelson" peacefully at anchor in the harbour. This would irritate the ship's company no end. However, we all realized that there was no point in these slow vessels sharing our patrol duty, since high speed would be required against any enemy vessel trying to break through the Denmark Straits, and both "Rodney" and her sister were only capable of about 23 knots flat out. Most of their work consisted of convoy protection. Many is the time I have heard one or the other of our crew remark "I see those two fat baskets are swinging around on their milk tins again!" It is rather ironic, therefore, that it was "Rodney" more than any other ship, which finally battered the "Bismarck" into a flaming wreck, thereby avenging "Hood" and that she had left a convoy to be able to do so.

After a further trip, this time half way across the Atlantic, to escort the Canadian Troop convoy home to Britain, "Hood" was detached with orders to proceed to Devonport for a brief refit and boiler cleaning. Proceeding down the Irish sea we arrived in Plymouth Sound and went into the Dockyard. Our ship's company being able to snatch ten days' leave, one watch at a time.

This was our first visit south since the blackout came into being, and to find one's way around Devonport at night, when not very familiar with the place was quite an experience.

I was in the second watch for leave, but was recalled to the ship when only half way through it. This was due to the Armed Merchant Cruiser "Rawalpindi" being sunk in an engagement with German cruisers.

I was in a Portsmouth cinema when the telegram was received by my mother, who arranged with the manager to have my name and address projected onto the screen. The slide was superimposed on the film being shown, and to my surprise, I saw it appear on the side of a flying boat, which, on the film was being launched down a slope. Leaving the cinema, I met my mother at the Box Office and she handed me the recall telegram.

I hastily packed my few things, and taking a packet of sandwiches with me, I kissed mother goodbye and took a bus to the station, where I found about two hundred others from "Hood" and a special train laid on to return us to Plymouth.

On arriving at Plymouth, we discovered that "Hood" had already been moved out from Devonport dockyard and was anchored in the Sound with a full head of steam. We sailed with about a hundred and fifty of our crew still or leave, most of them key gunnery ratings. The local depot hurriedly drafted a like number of men to us before we sailed, but, on sorting them out we found they were mostly stokers.

We left Plymouth Sound in what, in my view, was some of the worst weather I have ever experienced. It was vile, with high winds and mountainous seas, which, for all her forty two thousand tons, threw "Hood" about like a shuttlecock.

In this operation, we were accompanied by the French battleship "Dunkerque", one or two French destroyers, and our own destroyer escort, which in the prevailing weather, were having a bad time of it; so much so, that the French admiral, who was in charge of the operation, ordered them to return to base until the weather moderated.

Our job was to hunt down and destroy the "Rawalpindi's" adversaries, but in weather like this, it was a hopeless task; besides which, we did not know whether they had broken out into the Atlantic or returned to Germany, which was more likely on account of the alarm raised by their sinking of the "Rawalpindi".

Unknown to me at this time, "Hood" was being filmed by a newsreel cameraman on one of the escorting vessels, showing how we were being buffeted by the high seas. I mention this, because when the film was shown in the cinemas later on, it was seen by a certain young lady, who, taking pity on we poor sailors, wrote to our Paymaster and asked for the name of a sailor to whom she could send magazines and sweets etc. Out of our company of some one thousand and four hundred men, he picked my name. That lovely girl is now my wife, and I have been happy ever since,"KISMET"?

The search for the enemy vessels proved fruitless, and after a week we returned to the Clyde for a few days rest and to have a temporary degaussing circuit fitted to counter magnetic mines.

During our brief stay at Greenock, our ship's company were allowed ashore until about 10.30 pm, one watch each night. It was an education to watch the scramble back on board, particularly in the blackout. The landing place for libertymen was the inner harbour, and the motor fishing vessels used to convey libertymen ashore, had to tie up alongside the jetty wall and large wooden ladders were then laid against the wall and the men climbed out of the boat. There was a considerable difference in height between high and low tide in the Clyde area, and, when the lads began to come back from leave, some of them the worse for wear and singing their heads off, it proved quite an evolution to get them safely down the steep ladders and into the boat.

Captain Glennie, being a wise gentleman, and knowing the ways of sailors, had told the ship's company that he did not mind how his lads got back on board, provided that they DID get back. "I do not wish to go to sea in an emergency with any of my crew missing" he warned us. Consequently, many and varied were the conditions the sailors were in when we finally got them on board. On one occasion we lowered a steel provisioning net into the liberty boat, and loading the helpless ones carefully into it, hoisted them inboard with the main derrick. However, I cannot remember us ever letting the skipper down, we always sailed with a full crew.

As soon as our degaussing circuit was fitted, we once more sailed for the Denmark Straits. During this patrol we received the news of the brilliant River Plate action, which bucked us up no end. Apart from the atrocious weather; snow, blizzards, fog and rough seas, the patrol was uneventful, although we had to keep a sharp lookout, because it was during such weather that escapes through the Straits were most likely.

Living as we did, cheek by jowl, in close contact with each other, often led to strong friendships. The sort of relationships not found amongst men in civilian life, where friends meet only occasionally, and where lives are lived in separate houses. Here we lived together as a giant family. We knew each other's failings and weaknesses, and liked each other in spite of them. We slept in close proximity, in swaying hammocks. We even bathed together in the communal bathrooms. In fact we lived candidly with one another, accepting the rough with the smooth.

This sharing and living together, forged a comradeship which one can never find in civilian life. Nor was the ship herself left out of our lives, for everything we did was for her. On our smartness, the way we dressed, in fact everything we did depended our ship's efficiency rating in the fleet. She was our constant task mistress. While we could, and often did, call her all the rough names under the sun when things went wrong, heaven help those, not of our company, who tried to do the same.

This is the team spirit we miss when we leave the service, for it is something very fine. Something which, through countless ages, has scaled the highest mountains; fought and won the hopeless battles, and has made the Royal Navy the finest influence on international affairs the world has ever seen.

As one would expect, the first few months of the war revealed loopholes in our fighting efficiency. Reports were received by the Admiralty from various ships who had received damage in action. This information was thoroughly gone into by experts and various remedies were produced, which were put out in fleet orders. For instance, it was found that a "close by" underwater explosion caused messdeck steel ladders to jolt out of their housings, thereby crashing to the deck and preventing escape to the upper deck. To overcome this, we fitted all such ladders with wire strops, shackled to the ship's structure, so that if the ladder lifted out of it's housing, the strop prevented it falling to the deck.

Other ships had reported that "Near Miss" explosions caused the dynamo supply switches to be automatically thrown off due to shock, thereby plunging the entire ship into darkness, and bringing all ventilation and auxilliary machinery to a standstill.

This meant that should it become necessary for the crew to abandon the ship, they would have extreme difficulty in finding the ladders and escape routes, apart from the additional hazards of falling kit lockers, loose equipment, and the possible acute angle of the listing ship.

We adopted two cures for this trouble. First we drilled the covers of all the dynamo switches and fitted a bolt into the hole, which penetrated the insulated part of the switch arm, thereby locking the switch in the "ON" position. This, of course, upset the overload safety arrangement, but the risk had to be accepted. Secondly, we fitted automatic electric batten lanterns, which, when the mains failed, the battery took over and automatically lit the lamp. These were placed in strategic positions throughout the ship, such as near ladders, hatchways and corridors.

At this period, I had recently been promoted to Leading Seaman, and was put in charge of all the electrical emergency circuits, which included these auto lanterns, temporary circuits, sick bay operating lamps etc. I had an assistant, and it was a full time job, for we had some seven hundred of these auto lanterns alone to check over and maintain. They had to be kept charged up, and periodically tested to see that the relays did not stick. In view of what happened later, it was heartbreaking to know that no opportunity was given to the ship's company to make use of these safety arrangements when trouble did come.

In a tremendous flash, a split second of searing time, "Hood" was gone, rendering all our efforts null and void. After serving for four and a half years in the ship I knew every compartment, nut and bolt in her. I can almost picture the terrible scene between decks when that fatal shell struck. The gigantic sheets of golden cordite flame sweeping through the narrow corridors and passages, incinerating everything in its path. The terrific hot blast, the bursting open of the armoured hull under the colossal pressure; and, finally, the merciful avalanche of the cold sea, cleansing the charred and riven wreck, and bringing peace to those gallant souls I knew so well. On more than one occasion I have dreamed this scene and have returned to consciousness with the thought that "There, but for the grace of God went I."

We continued the Northern Patrol duty into 1940 usually working fourteen days at a time on patrol with a week in port in between. Then, about the beginning of April, we again went to Devonport Dockyard to have our obsolete 5.5" guns removed, and twin mounted dual purpose 4" guns installed in their place. We also gave our ship's company fourteen days leave. Once again I had second leave, and during the second week, went to Wembley and met my "Girl of the Storm", and spent a wonderful week, becoming engaged before returning on board.

During this refit period at Devonport, life for those left on board was most uncomfortable. The dockyard men were working day and night, getting the old guns out, and putting the new twin mountings in. The clattering of the rivetting hammers kept us from getting any sleep, and it was a frequent occurrence to have a shower of red hot fragments and sparks descend on one's dinner when sitting at the mid-day meal, where the white hot giant rivets, holding down the new mountings came through the deck head.

During this period, Germany was carrying out the conquest of Norway, and volunteers were called for to man our 3.7" howitzer, and to take it over to Norway. In the confusion and the retreat, the gun was left behind, and it was only with great difficulty that our men got back. So ended our efforts at playing soldiers.

As soon as our refit came to an end, "Hood" (complete with fourteen new 4" guns in seven twin mountings) sailed for the Mersey, and went into the Gladstone dock at Liverpool for a bottom scrape and the supposed fitting of an armour bomb proof deck. In actual fact, we only managed the bottom scrape, because in early June, Italy came into the war, and we were hurriedly re-floated and sent posthaste to Gibraltar, where we formed and became, the first flagship of the famous FORCE "H", with Admiral Sir James Somerville as our Flag Officer.

Force "H" as far as my memory goes, consisted of "Hood", "Valiant", "Ark Royal", "Resolution", two cruisers I cannot remember, and the necessary destroyer escorts. The whole being based on Gibraltar. It was not an ideal base in war time, because Algiciras, being in neutral Spain, and only about five miles across the Bay from Gibraltar, still had an active German and Italian Consulate. With a pair of prismatic binoculars, one could spot every movement made by our ships, so we had to use every ruse and tactic to fool these Diplomatic gentlemen across the water. More than once, when leaving Gibraltar in daylight, we steered westwards through the straits, only to reverse our course after dark and re-enter the Mediterranean at speed.

Whenever we berthed in Gibraltar harbour we always had a battle practice target moored alongside our seaward side. This was done to take the blast of any torpedo fired from such enterprising submarine as may risk a shot through the breakwater entrance.

Also at this time there were rumours going about that German engineers were installing 11" guns at Algiciras, with a view to placing a few well directed salvoes in our midst should Spain decide to abandon her neutrality. To enable us to make a quick get away in the event of this happening, we arranged our berthing wires in such a way that they could be slipped immediately if the emergency arose. It never did.

After the weather conditions we had put up with in the Denmark Straits during the past winter, it was a relief to be in the Mediterranean. To me, it was very familiar territory, for I loved this inland sea. It was full of history and intrigue. There was not a mile of coastline which could not, over the centuries, have told its own tale of courage, cruelty, adventure and romance. Now here were we, to add further lustre to its story, or so we hoped; for we were thin in numbers, and our adversaries very fresh.

Whilst at Gibraltar the ship's company were allowed to swim in the harbour every evening between 5 and 6 pm. Religiously every night at 6 pm sharp, and just as we were finishing our swim, an Italian spotting plane came over the harbour for a look around. After about ten minutes of circling the Rock, he would buzz off home. He came to be known to us as "George", and his regular appearances were our signal to get out of the water and back on board, for we never knew what might follow his spying.

Tragedy at Oran
About this time, France capitulated, leaving the Allied naval situation in desperate straits. Our Navy would now have to cover areas normally protected by the French in addition to our own heavy commitments. There was also the very big risk that the Germans or Italians would take over the French Fleet, which consisted of some very fine, modern and fast ships. To allow them to do this would be to change the whole naval balance of power in their favour.

As far as we were concerned, the French Vichy Government were an unknown quantity. We did not know if, under pressure, they would turn their ships over to German control, and we certainly could not afford to take chances on it. Mr. Churchill therefore ordered "Force H" to proceed to Mers-el-Kebir, Oran, where a large part of the French Fleet were based.

We were instructed to offer the French the choice of several alternatives. I cannot remember the exact preamble, but it ran something like this:

(a) Come out and join your British Allies for the duration.
(b) Immobilise your ships.
(c) Proceed to Martinique and intern yourselves
(d) Let us destroy your ships.
(e) In the event of failure to carry out any of the above conditions, we, the British Fleet, would regretfully be obliged to open fire on your ships and destroy them.

At 5 p.m. on the 2nd July 1940, "Force H" led by "Hood", left Gibraltar and steamed towards Oran. We knew that the French had a considerable naval force in Mers-el-Kebir harbour, and as we slid through the quiet, starlit night, we hoped that our old comrades-in-arms would join us in the common effort against Germany and Italy.

We arrived off Oran at approximately 7am the next morning. It was a brilliant day, with a calm sea and blue skies. We could see the French Fleet ranged alongside the breakwater, and behind them, the white buildings, drowsing in the early morning sunlight.

"Force H" began cruising up and down outside the breakwater. Captain Holland, who spoke fluent French and who had recently been the British Naval Attache in Paris, was sent ashore to negotiate the terms with the Admiral-in-Charge, Vice Admiral Gensoul. The forenoon passed uneventfully, and, apart from the defence watch, the hands went to dinner.After dinner "Force H" went to Action Stations as a precautionary measure; meanwhile the talks ashore seemed to be meeting difficulties, since no result had been forthcoming.

As the hot afternoon wore on, we hoped that the French Admiral and his staff would see reason, and that it would not be our miserable lot to have to fire on our old allies. With these morbid thoughts passing through my mind, I went back over the years to the wonderful times my shipmates and I had spent along the French Riviera. And that memorable dinner we had as guests of the French Navy at Toulon.

As these pleasant memories flooded back, I hoped against hope, that the ultimate tragedy would be averted. It was not to be, however, and once again in history, valuable lives were to be uselessly destroyed at the behest of idiotic political decisions.

At 4.30 pm the French asked for an extension of the 5.30 pm time limit. This was readily granted and for another hour the haggling went on. It was noticed however, that the French ships had been raising steam and furling their awnings; a sure sign of preparation for sea. We did not know whether this meant that they were contemplating coning out to join us, or whether they were preparing to fight us. We were therefore on the horns of a dilemma!

A further signal was sent to us asking for more time, but on instructions from London, and taking into consideration the approaching darkness, a final time limit of 5.55 pm was given. Beyond this, we would take such action as was necessary to render their fleet inoperable. Besides this, we had received reports that further French re-inforcements from Algiers were at sea and we did not want further complications.

Captain Holland had managed to get back to "Foxhound" and at 5.55 p.m. sharp, "Force H" opened fire on the vessels in Mers-el-Kebir harbour.

For the next ten to twenty minutes the bombardment continued, without respite, causing severe damage to the French Fleet. We, in our turn, received the attention of forts behind Mer-el-Kebir and the combined guns of the vessels in the harbour. Our ships were fortunate, since none were hit. We, in "Hood" received only superficial damage from shell splinters. Our casualties amounted to two men wounded. It had been hot while it had lasted, and as darkness fell, we left the burning shambles, and made our way back to Gibraltar. We returned, not as exultant victors, but as extremely sad allies, forced by circumstances beyond our control, to bring death and destruction to those we had called our friends. Never had the uselessness of war been brought home to us so starkly. It was a sorry squadron that finally berthed under the shadow of the Rock.

It had been our first involvement in a fleet action. It was not a pleasant experience to be fired on, particularly when it is known that the projectiles coming your way weighed almost a ton. I, and most everyone else, was scared stiff. To begin with, my action station was three decks below, in an electrical repair party, and although we could hear the shells passing over us like express trains, we could not see what was going on. We did see our two wounded men being helped down to the dressing station below us, and their blood-stained appearance did not help us any.

I had often searched my soul to try and analyse my feelinqs should I ever be faced with this sort of situation. How would I react? Would I show my feelings? Could I take it? Yes, fear was present without a doubt, but I was consoled by the fact that none of the others looked very happy either! and this made me realise that it was only a question of mastering it, and not breaking down under the strain.

Had we been given something to do, it would have helped. We just had to wait for a shell to come through the deck and, if it did not either kill or wound us, we could then proceed to repair the damage. We talked when we did not feel like talking and we walked up and down in the limited space at our disposal, and in this way we tried to forget what was going on above us.

We were all very thankful when the gunfire ceased and we were told that the action was over. Our highly strung nerves relaxed and we began to live again. It was some time before the memory of Oran faded from our minds.

Our next operation was to escort "Ark Royal" on a bombing sortee against the Italian air base at Cagliari. This was cancelled at the last moment, but on the way back we were severely bombed by high level bombers. Although they did not hit any of our ships, they gave us some very uncomfortable thrills!

One gets a tingling sensation down one's spine when being deliberately bombed, which is not relieved until you see the splash of the missile striking water; then one heaves a sigh of relief, relaxes one's taut nerves and hopes that there won't be any more like that.

It is one thing to be bombed in a city, where you are not the prime target, but in a ship, particularly a much sought after ship like "Hood" , it is not so funny, especially when you know it is your vessel they are after. We were glad when darkness descended and we were left in peace. Even so, one of our escorting destroyers was torpedoed and sunk during the night by some cute submarine, who, doubtless aware of our little aunt, patiently awaited our return.

Admiral Somerville endeared himself to Force "H" inasmuch that he usually departed from the conventional. For instance, when we set off on the Cagliari mission, we received this signal from him:- "We are about to test the quality of the ice cream". From this terse message we deduced the rest. No doubt those most concerned with the operation were well briefed, but the rest of us had to be content with his ice cream message.

One other amusing signal which revealed the type of senior officer we were blessed with, came from Andrew Cunningham, who was C in C Mediterranean, and stationed at Alexandria, which was at the other end of the Mediterranean. It so happened that James Somerville had received a second Order of Knighthood, and Cunningham being a bit of a wag and unable to resist the opportunity, signalled "Fancy twice a knight at your age". These little quips helped to brighten things up a bit at a time when we certainly needed it.

Our next trip was to convoy the first consignment of Hurricane fighters to within flying distance of Malta. These were carried in the old aircraft carrier "Argus", and flown off her deck when within reach of the Island. Since we had to come fairly close to Sicily we expected heavy air attacks, however, to our surprise, we were left alone. Our time was occupied for the rest of our stay in the Mediterranean, in escorting similar conveys part way to Malta, fortunately without incident. Soon our time came to leave this famous "Force H". It had come to be known as the "Force H Club", and we considered ourselves to be a cut above the rest of the service. It was an honour to belong to this famous squadron and we prided ourselves on having the finest Admiral in the Navy as our Flag Officer. Sir James Somerville had welded us into a Flying Squadron to be reckoned with, and we all thought the world of him.

About the middle of August, "Hood" left Gibraltar and "Force H", and returned to Scapa Flow, where we transferred the Admiral and his staff to "Renown" who became the new flagship of the famous squadron. I had enjoyed my spell in the Mediterranean but now we once more resumed our patrol of the Denmark Straits, which we continued to do periodically until Christmas. We maintained this patrol with a fast capital ship because the new German battleship "Bismarck" had moved up to Norwegian waters, and it was imperative that she should not be allowed to break out into the Atlantic. She was constantly being watched by our aircraft, and every time she was reported missing from her usual anchorage, everyone immediately got into a flap, until such times as her whereabouts were known. She became a regular pain in the neck to our Naval Command, and we were all heartily sick of her.

During our brief spells in Scapa I managed to take the Petty Officer's examination, which involved power boat handling, boat sailing and numerous other practical and theoretical seamanship subjects. I had to read and send a message in Morse code, using a flashing lamp, and due to those far off days when Doug and I lay on deck in Malta, watching the signal lamp on the Castille, I was able to do this with ease. This was how I first learned to read Morse. After a bit of swotting in my spare time, I succeeded in passing the complete examination, and my name was forwarded to the Depot and placed on the Roster for advancement when my turn came along.

Christmas 1940, we spent at sea on another "Bismarck" alarm, and then carried ort with our routine patrol, but this time we were cheered by the news that, on our return we were to proceed to Rosyth dockyard for a short refit, and to have Radar fitted in the ship.

Apart from the customary snow storms, fog and rain, our patrol passed off quietly, and after fourteen days of this, we steamed south towards the Firth of Forth, finally arriving early in January 1941. We were taken into Dockyard hands immediately and were soon over run with dockyard men of all shapes and sizes, with their inevitable tool boxes, air lines and other paraphernalia connected with the yard.

Leave was given to both watches and this time I was in the first leave party. As my wedding banns had run out, I telegraphed my fiancee that I would be home on the 17th January and to go ahead with the wedding plans.

Arriving home on Friday, I helped my fiancee to make all our arrangements, and next morning we had to go to Westminster to obtain a Special Licence. We were married on Sunday, 19th January and our reception was held to the music of the AA gunfire, although few of the guests were aware that an air raid was in progress.

Photo is of Len's wedding to Kay. He is also shown with his best man and shipmate Bill Fairchild

On returning to the ship, we had to "de-perm" the hull and structure whilst she was in dry dock. This was done to remove the magnetism which had been put into the ship by our degaussing generators. In order to remove this magnetic effect, thick heavy cables were put around the ship in an opposite direction to the run of the degaussing circuit, i.e. the cables were run under the keel and up over the deck and bridge structure; and continued along the whole length of the ship until we were lying in the middle of a spiral of heavy cables. A heavy electric current was then passed through the circuit for a few seconds, thus de-magnetising the ship.

It was heavy, backbreaking work, hauling the cables across the bottom of the dock, and up the sides of the ship, and it took us a week to complete the job, and all for a few seconds flash of current!

During the re-fit, I thoroughly overhauled our emergency electrical system, and with the aid of some old motor car headlamps, was able to produce some fairly efficient emergency operating lamps for our action medical teams.

On the 28th February I was promoted to Petty Officer, and at the same time received a Draft note to H.M.S. Vernon, the Torpedo School, to take the Leading Torpedoman's course, which I had been prevented from taking in 1939.

I received the draft with mixed feelings. Due to my long service in "Hood", had grown attached to her. We had travelled many thousands of miles, and had visited many distant places together; besides which I liked my shipmates, most of whom, like myself, had served a very long time in the ship. On the other hand, I wanted, eventually, to qualify as a Torpedo Gunner's Mate and Instructor and to do this I must first of all clear the hurdle of the Leading Torpedoman's Course, which was the next step. Also of course, I had recently married, and this course would give me a brief snatch of home life. Next day, I left the old ship with Bill Fairchild, who had been my Best Man, and Matt Reed, another messmate.

As our train passed over the Forth Bridge, we looked across to the dockyard and saw the "Old Lady" lying alongside the basin wall. I would not be honest if I did not admit that I was very close to tears as we watched her pass out of sight, as our train sped onwards towards Edinburgh. I had joined her a very humble Seaman Torpedoman, and had left, a Petty Officer. I owed "Hood" a lot and I was grateful.

Although I had now left the ship, in view of the short span left to her, I feel that this is the time to write her epitaph.

Events leading up to the destruction of "Hood" are so well known, that I have no intention of delving too deeply into them here. However, there are one or two things which might help to refresh one's memory. The Admiralty decided to detach "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" with instructions to intercept "Bismarck" who had been reported as heading towards the Denmark Straits. In doing so, they had no other choice, since these were practically the only heavy ships available with the necessary speed to catch "Bismarck".

A further complication was the fact that "Prince of Wales" was a new ship, which had only just joined the fleet, with a crew not yet used to her. As a point of interest, the ship still had dockyard men working on board when she sailed. Add to this the fact that the new 14" guns were giving trouble, which had not, as yet, been remedied, and you have a pretty tricky situation.

In sending "Hood" to intercept the "Bismarck" Sir John Tovey, the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, must have been a very worried man. He, of all men, knew that "Hood's" big weakness lay in her absence of deck armour. She belonged to an obsolete design known as the battle cruiser, and, of course, she was 25 years old.

In this class of ship, speed and gun power were the main features, consequently, in engaging an enemy of "Bismarck's" calibre, "Hood" had to close the range as quickly as possible to ensure that any hits received would strike the side which was armoured, rather than the deck which was not.

This range had to be below approximately 13,000 yards, when the trajectory of the enemy projectiles would be fairly flat. To fight an action above this range would be to invite plunging salvoes, which would penetrate her weak decks, thereby risking magazine explosion!

In the effort to close the range quickly, "Hood" put herself in an unfavourable attacking position, since only her forward guns could bear. At the same time she offered her full length of 860 feet: as a target for "Bismarck's" guns all of which were able to bear. Before "Hood" could turn to port to bring her after guns into action, she was struck in the vicinity of the mainmast and a fire broke out amongst the ready fused A/A ammunition lockers. At 6 a.m. as the ship was turning to port, she was straddled by a salvo from either "Bismarck" or "Prinz Eugen", the range was then approx between 13,000 and 14,000 yards. She was struck by this salvo, and immediately blew up in a colossal explosion. Only three survived out of a crew of some 1,400 men.

As an ex-member of "Hood's" crew I can recall numerous discussions we had in our mess about a possible meeting with either "Bismarck" or her sister "Tirpitz". We were not at all happy about such a prospect. We knew our weakness, and the risks of not, having an armoured deck. We had the speed, yes, and we had the gun power; but we did not have our armour in the right place!

Another significant failure in our older capital ship design, was the siting of the magazines above the shell rooms, instead of the other way round; a fact which further increased the risk of magazine explosion from plunging shells.

All these factors we discussed among ourselves. We thought that with 23 years between the two wars, our older ships should have either been scrapped altogether, or at least modified to meet modern gunfire methods, even if it did hurt the taxpayers' pockets.

Even when "Nelson" and "Rodney" were built, the design fell short on the speed requirement. These two vessels were admirable for gun power and armour protection, but with only 23 knots as a maximum speed, what use were they against the fast ships then coming into use with the other navies? Could not our people project their minds ahead a little? Could not they appreciate that even with armour and guns, one still had to catch the enemy?

The sublime complacence of pre-war governments in failing to provide sufficient funds to replace outdated warships, or the time to have them properly converted, was, in my opinion, a national scandal. I am fully aware of the various naval treaties that existed which prevented Britain renewing her navy, but if we were only to be allowed to retain certain units, then it was up to the nation to see that those units were the most modern available. As it was, we entered the war with 3 battle cruisers at least 21 years old and ten battleships built around about 1914-15. All of them potential risks to their crews in the light of modern high velocity naval gunnery. One or two had been modernised, but only so far as their speed and guns were concerned. Their decks and magazine siting remained the same.

I recall the unenviable position of Admiral Sir James Somerville, who, as C in C Eastern Fleet, was fatuously expected to sally forth and do battle with the modern, fast Japanese Fleet, with a small force of old "Royal Sovereign" class battleships, built circa 1914-16, only capable of 21 knots if pushed, and long overdue for the scrap heap.

It would have been funny, if it hadn't been so damned serious, and the men of the fleet who had to man these relics did not like being considered expendable! It is to the credit of Sir James that he evidently thought along very similar lines.

People may say that these old ships could be useful if used under this particular set of circumstances, or that particular tactical situation etc. but experience shows that these peculiar situations seldom, if ever, occurred. These ideas are simply figments of the imagination, dreamed up by out-dated armchair tacticians, who, by voicing them, indicate that they belong to another and much older generation of thinking.

Modern wars demand modern machines, modern tactics, and most important of all, a fair fighting chance for the men who have to use them. It simply is not good enough to neglect the navy in times of peace then send it into a modern war with outdated weapons, and badly designed warships, and expect their crews to work miracles. But in spite of all, miracles were worked, but at what cost in valuable lives.

It was a very long time before I got over the shock of "Hood's" loss. As a ship's company we had been together a very long time. We had shared the joys and excitement of peace. In war we had welded ourselves into true comradeship that had weathered the Arctic gales and outshone the Mediterranean sun. As long as sea history is written, "Hood" and her gallant band. of men will be remembered, and theirs will be a golden page in the book of time.