Ted Briggs, last survivor from The Mighty Hood

HMS Hood sank with the loss of more than 1,400 men in the Battle of the Denmark Strait on 24 May 1941. The Mighty Hood, the emblem of British naval sea power in inter-war years, was lost in pursuit of the Bismarck. Fast, heavily armed but comparatively lightly armoured, the Hood typified the faulty thinking behind the idea of the battlecruiser, defects that were exposed in 1916 in the Battle of Jutland. The Hood was always earmarked for a vital upgrade to deck armour, but never received it; it was always more important to keep the Hood in action, a reassuring presence on the seas.

Its loss shocked a nation, already rocked by British military setbacks in the early part of the Second World War.

My great uncle, Hector Rae, served on the Hood. He was one of the 1,415 men who perished that day, and his name is commemorated on the war memorial at All Saints Church, Freshwater. Only three crewmen survived: William Dundas, Bob Tilburn and, the longest surviving of them all, Ted Briggs, who passed away on 4 October 2008.

Today, therefore, I pause to think about HMS Hood and the men who served on her.

I also stop to think about the men who served on the Bismarck. The sinking of Hood led to Winston Churchill’s imperative “sink the Bismarck”, in which aerial attacks by Fairey Swordfish, torpedo attacks by destroyers, and finally the guns of King George V and Rodney laid waste to the symbol of German seapower, which sank on 27 May 1941. Far more sailors died on Bismarck than perished on Hood: 1,995, making it technically a bigger naval disaster.

Many brave men died in the related actions. Ted Briggs was a remarkable survivor. Within a very short time of his rescue, he was serving on HMS Mercury. He has been a great figurehead for the Hood Association and will be missed.

HMS Hood Association: http://www.hmshood.com/

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