As a ship ages, its machinery and structure experience "wear and tear." The degree of wear and tear depends of course, upon the conditions under which the ship was operated, as well as the quantity and quality of maintenance received. Often, regardless of how well-maintained a ship may be, deficiencies in its design and/or equipment come to light and must be addressed. As a result of any of these factors, modifications in the form of refits or repairs are periodically necessary.
Hood herself was certainly no exception: she received some form of refit for nearly every single year from the time of her launching until the time of her loss. Of the approximately 20 more notable refits, most involved modifications to secondary guns, fire control and range finding equipment. The scope of the refits varied in size. Only one (1929-1931) was actually a major refit/overhaul.
By the late 1930s, Hood, due to the poor condition of key internal components (i.e., engines) was once again in need of a major refit. It was also apparent that she was not up to the standards of the current generation of modern battleships. Thus, in late 1938, preliminary plans were discussed with Captain Walker and crew. Hood's key deficiencies and shortcomings were outlined and a rough plan was formulated. This plan was officially referred to as the "Large Repair."
Unfortunately, detailed final plans were not created – only preliminary planning sketches were drawn-up. According to sources, the sketches were simply overlaid or drawn-over drawings of Hood in her then present configuration. Logically, the sketches showed an arrangement extremely similar to that of Renown following her 1936-1939 refit/overhaul. The whereabouts of these sketches is unknown and are they are believed to have been lost. Therefore, any attempt to draw a reconstructed Hood is hypothetical at best.
The work (based on pre-war considerations) would have taken between two and three years to complete at a cost of as much as £4.5 million. Sadly, due to budgetary constraints and the fact that there were other ships in need of more immediate attention, Hood's refit was not scheduled to commence until at least Spring 1942.
What follows is a list of the proposed work:
- New internal machinery and improved subdivision. It was desirable to upgrade and relocate engines and boilers. Alternatively, at a minimum the boilers would be replaced.
- Rearranged/remodelled torpedo bulges and side armour. Most likely the side bulges would have been extended to the top of the 7" armour belt rather than to the top of the 12" belt.
- Improved deck armour/protection over vital areas.
- Removal of armoured conning tower and the 5" side armour.
- New superstructure and masts fore and aft. Most notably, the forward superstructure would have been a "block" type similar to that of Renown, the Queen Elizabeths or the King George Vs (KGV).
- New funnels. These would have been something similar to those on Renown as KGV funnels would have been too small.
- Addition of a catapult, dual hangars and Walrus seaplanes. (See "Some Considerations" below)
- Improved antiaircraft (AAA) protection. This would include the removal of all existing weaponry and replacement with a total of 6 Mark M eight-barreled pom poms and lastly, the addition of either 12-16 x 5.25" guns (same type as KGV) or 16 x 4.5" (same type as Renown). Of course, the ship would likely have also received updated 0.5" machine guns and multiple 40mm mounts. (See "Some Considerations" below)
- Upgraded fire control. She would have received updated radar, fire control tables, comms, directors, etc.
- Extended forecastle deck. Hood's stern was notoriously wet due to her overweight condition. An extension was considered for the simple fact that it might help keep the quarterdeck a bit drier. The extension would retain the rough "V" shape but would instead, extend to "X" turret. (See "Some Considerations" below).
We feel that due to certain circumstances, of the above list, a few items would likely have been changed or possibly not implemented:
- Catapult/aircraft gear– By 1944/1945, the Royal Navy had reexamined the need for aircraft aboard battleships and battle cruisers. Due to key considerations, not the least of which was the improvement in aerial surveillance radar, it was decided to remove such equipment. Therefore, Hood, under construction during this period. would likely have had changes made. It is possible that if aircraft were not used, the space they would have occupied would have gone to boats and/or possibly increased 0.5" and 40mm antiaircraft batteries.
- 5.25" or 4.5" Secondary Battery– Though the 5.25" were preferred, there were availability issues with the guns. Instead, the widely available 4.5" guns seem a more likely choice for Hood. It was also a more standard round (Queen Elizabeth class, Renown, carriers, etc.). Although a typical arrangement for large ships of that time was 20 guns (ten twin barreled turrets situated on the starboard and port sides in clusters of three forward and two aft), this would not have been the case for Hood. Due to her internal arrangements, she would likely have been outfitted with just 16 guns in four turrets. The exact location of these guns would depend on the extent of modifications being carried out and available space for gun machinery and magazine stowage.
In the case of Hood, we feel that it was unlikely for guns to have been installed in typical fore and aft clusters. This is because they would have obstructed the senior officer's cabins and baths if installed in standard fashion. If installed aft, they would either have to be individually situated and staggered (like Hood's actual final 4" guns were) or located somewhere else on the ship. If this were the case, the most likely place would be in banks of four per side on the forward Shelter Deck abreast the funnels and bridge.
- Extended Forecastle deck– This would only have been done if other modifications did not result in a significant reduction in displacement/increase in freeboard. If Hood sat higher in the water, there really would have been no need for the extension.
- Location of shell rooms and magazines– This, Hood's "Achilles heel," would not have been fixed. The powder magazines would still have been situated dangerously over the shell rooms. Even with the addition of protection its likely she would have remained vulnerable to similarly armed warships.
Hypothetical Profile Drawings of a Fully Refitted Hood
Hypothetical Photographic Conceptions of a Fully Refitted Hood
Hypothetical Model/Miniature Conceptions of a Fully Refitted Hood
It is possible that even had she survived her encounter with Bismarck, Hood would still not have undergone a full refit or a large repair. As stated above, the proposed "Large Repair" was based upon pre-war considerations. With the war well underway, resources and finances would have been severely limited. Resources would be diverted to building new ships and repairing damaged ones.
Additionally, the Navy may not have been able to spare an important asset like Hood for a full three years. At worst, Hood would likely have had her engines repaired/updated, some slight modifications to her superstructure (weight saving attempts such as the removal of her conning tower for instance) and a significantly increased antiaircraft capability. If that were the case, she may have looked something like a cross between her actual final appearance and one of the drawings shown above (Note- because of the extreme uncertainty involved, we have not attempted such a drawing). After a refit of 1 to 2 years, she would have been right back out on front line service.
Conclusion - Hood's Likely Fate
What would have happened to a refitted Hood had she survived the war? Some people believe she would have been retained and later saved as a museum ship like H.M.S. Belfast in London or many of the remaining American battleships. This is a romantic idea, but highly unlikely. The simple truth is that although Hood was indeed a very well known ship in her day, she was not the icon that she is now. Her present status was brought about by her tragic end and the overwhelming loss of life associated with it.
Indeed, Britain had newer and in many ways superior warships such as the KGV class and of course, Vanguard. There were also some very famous battle-hardened veterans of two wars deserving retention - ships such as Queen Elizabeth and Warspite (the one - in my opinion - which really deserved saving). Without exception, all were paid off and ultimately scrapped. To an island nation with a long naval history, such ships come and go. There will be others to take their places. This mindset, combined with dire economic needs would have resulted in Hood coming to the same end as the other large British warships of her era.