-History of H.M.S. Hood-
Rear-Admiral the Hon. Sir Horace Lambert Alexander Hood, K.C.B, D.S.O
Updated 26-Nov-2018

The following originally appeared in The Navy Society's "The Naval Review" of 1935. It has been transcribed for us by Mike Nottage.

Chainbar divider

In Chapter 53 of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” Gibbon writes:- The discipline of a soldier is formed by exercise rather than by study; the talents of a commander are appropriated to those calm though rapid minds, which nature produces to decide the fate of armies and nations; the former is the habit of a life, the latter the glance of a moment; and the battles won by lessons of tactics may be numbered with the epic poems created from the rules of criticism.”

These words describe the essence of Hood’s character. His mind always worked like a flash of lightning and enabled him to see beyond the horizon in any situation and in any atmosphere. His judgement combined extreme rapidity with unerring accuracy. His mind may not always have appeared to be calm, but this was probably because his speed of thinking was so very great that it was often difficult to keep up with his thoughts. While one was groping blindly amid a forest of obstacles, he would have dodged through them so quickly and so calmly that he hardly realised their existence.

Rear-Admiral Horace Lambert, Alexander Hood was born on the 2nd of October 1870. The K.C.B. was awarded after his death at the Battle of Jutland. He passed into the Britannia first on the list. He always was first in every examination; and on many occasions he obtained a record number of marks.

As a Midshipman he spent most of his time in the Calliope on the Australian Station, and he was on board her when in 1889 she fought her way out of Apia harbour in the teeth of a hurricane which wrecked several warships of other Powers. Like most of his contemporaries, he had the advantage of a thoroughly practical schooling in masts and yards. He was promoted to lieutenant before he was twenty; and he did his watchkeeping time on board the Trafalgar, when she flew the flag of the Rear-Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet.

Having qualified as a gunnery lieutenant, he broke adrift from the usual routine of an appointment on the junior staff of one of the gunnery schools and he went flag lieutenant to Admiral Fitzroy commanding the Channel Squadron.

His next seagoing appointment was gunnery lieutenant of the Cambrian, commanded by Prince Louis of Battenberg in the Mediterranean Fleet. From there he went to the command of the Nile gunboats, and after the Battle of Omdurman both he and Beatty were promoted to rank of commander.

I wonder how many people are aware that Kitchener was largely responsible for the early promotion of three of the youngest admirals who distinguished themselves during the Great War - Hood, Beatty and Cowan.

In January, 1900, Hood was appointed commander of the Ramillies. She was the flagship of Lord Charles Beresford, the Rear-Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet, and she was commanded by Robert Swinburne Lowry. At the same time I had the good fortune to be appointed to the Ramillies as a watch keeper. Hood was by far the youngest commander in the fleet. With the exception of his contemporary, Beatty, no one had been promoted to commander at so early an age since the year 1882. Beatty had just been appointed commander of the Barfleur, the flagship of the Rear-Admiral of the China Station. A great many eyes were focused on these two young commanders. Hood had to keep up the reputation of a smart ship and Beatty had to smarten up a slack ship. I do not know which is the more difficult job. They were both highly successful.

When the Ramillies recommissioned, Lord Fisher had been Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean for only a few months, and he was turning everything and everybody upside down and inside out, shaking up people till their bones rattled and their teeth chattered. Those were the days when every routine duty was treated as an evolution and performed at lightning speed.

Hood had caught a bad attack of fever while he was up the Nile, and he had never properly recovered. On top of this came Malta fever, and all through the commission he was struggling with very bad health. In 1901, he had to go Switzerland for a short while in order to recoup. He used to say that a strong constitution is far more valuable possession than a strong brain. But the more he suffered in health, the greater grew his energy. If ever, in the course of his intense struggle, he was unduly hasty in either word or action, the quality of his mind enable him to realise immediately the true facts of the case, and the inherent nobility of his character led him to make the most generous amends. On the occasion of one of my many misdeeds he told me to remain on board, although it was my day off. When, at evening quarters, he found me on board, he asked me why I had not gone on shore, and when I reminded him of his order he replied “Well, you ought to have known that I had only lost my temper, Go on shore at once”; and he placed his gig at my disposal.

He was a firm believer in decentralization, and he ran the ship entirely through lieutenants. He seldom gave detailed orders and he invariable judged methods by results. The book of the words meant very little to him. This practice sometimes got him into hot water with senior officers who had been brought up on the principle that the commander should do everything himself and that all matters should be referred to him. When accidents happened he always took full responsibility.

He overheard some lieutenants discussing and complaining of the general inferiority of petty officers. He immediately exclaimed, “You young fellows are most damnably unjust. You expect to find every petty officer qualities which are exceptionally rare even among admirals of the fleet.” His immortal sense of humour was an ever present sign that underneath the surface his temperament was always tranquil.

After the recommissioning refit of the Ramillies was complete, we were preparing for sea with all dispatch. I had been sent to draw our cables from the resting house and to place them on board a lighter. During this operation, a shackle of cable took charge and went overboard between the jetty and the lighter. In great consternation, I rushed back to the ship, which was lying alongside the dockyard, and reported to Hood, “I am sorry, Sir; but I have dropped a shackle of cable overboard.” “Oh yer ‘ave’ ave yer?” he replied and shouted with laughter. My blunder obliged him to send down divers and work was seriously delayed, but I never received one single word of reproof. I am certain he realised immediately how deeply ashamed I was of myself, and that no reprimand could add any pain to what I already felt.

The Ramillies and Victorious were ordered to carry out searchlight experiments after dark in order to find out the effect of the glare of searchlights on guns’ crews. This was in the days when it was imagined that ships would fight at a range of 1,200 yards. The two ships were to steer opposite and parallel courses, and each was turn her searchlights on to the other. The flag captain was on the sick list and Hood was in temporary command of the Ramillies. The navigator, an officer of great reputation and long experience, was several years older than Hood and only six weeks junior as a commander, Hood left him in charge of the ship and came down into the port battery. The two ships were closing rapidly with every searchlight blazing, when suddenly Hood sprinted up on to the bridge shouting “Hard to Port.”  He was only just in time to avoid a collision. What had happened I never knew, but I presume the eyes of those on the bridge of both ships had been dazzled by the searchlights. As soon as the Ramillies was well clear, Hood returned to the port battery. He had wished to spare the navigator’s feelings by leaving him a free hand, but he had been the first to grasp the situation.

Hood was mad keen to have a smart ship, but everything had to give way to fighting efficiency. Although a gunnery specialist he thought that specialization could be overdone, and he considered that specialists should never relieve their senior officers of responsibility for technical efficiency. When going through a torpedo course on board the Vulcan at Plataea, I was sent away in charge of one her second class torpedo boats while running torpedoes. A chief torpedo gunners mate was in charge of the class, handling the torpedoes, which were carried in dropping gear and were charged up to full pressure. The first torpedo we fired failed to run and sank like a stone. The chief torpedo gunners mate had forgotten to see that the stop valve was open. He was blamed and I was exonerated by the captains of both Vulcan and Ramillies, but Hood gave me a severe dressing down. When I pleaded that I was only responsible for the boat, he said, “If this sort of thing goes on, we shall soon get to the stage of laying out an anchor, with a lieutenant responsible for the safety of the boat and a boatswain responsible for handling the anchor.”

During the winter of 1901-1902, Lord Fisher appointed a committee, consisting of Captain Charles Cross, Commander Murray Aynesley, Commander Hood and Commander Leveson, to work out a scheme for improving gunnery of the fleet. The result was the first battle practice, which was carried out at Aranci Bay in May, 1902.

Hood was promoted at the end of 1902 and went home. After a period of service at the Admiralty, he went out to the Hyacinth in the East Indies as flag captain to Admiral Atkinson Willes. He was chief of the staff in the Battle of Illig, for which he received the D.S.O. It was rumoured that he was given his choice between a C.B. and a D.S.O. and he chose the latter, saying that there was plenty of time for a C.B. to come later, but if he got a C.B. now he would never get a D.S.O. later.

In 1913 I was shipmates with one of the first batch of mates. This officer had fought at Illig as an able seaman. In the course of describing the battle, he said:- “A lot of Somalis were firing at us from out of caves in the side of a cliff, and a party of us was sent to clear out these caves. We were firing into the caves when Captain Hood came along and said: ‘That’s no use, follow me,’ and he, with a midshipman called Mr Onslow, walks slap into one of the caves. We followed, but very soon a couple of Somalis jumped out of a corner on top of him, and he would have lost the number of his mess if Mr Onslow had not been mighty quick with his pistol. Then we cleared all the Somalis out of the caves. Oh! theres no mistaking the breed that Captain Hood belongs to.”

After Hyacinth, Hood was appointed to the Berwick, and he very kindly took me with him as first lieutenant. The Berwick was in the Second Cruiser Squadron, commanded by Prince Louis of Battenberg. We spent most of our time in the Mediterranean. Hood had a bulldog on board called “Sammy” after Hood’s great-grandfather, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, who became the first Lord Hood. Hood’s coxswain, a huge, burly man named Best, had been coxswain of the second gig on board Ramillies, and continued to serve with him until the end. One morning the staff surgeon had just been called and was blinking over his cup of tea when Best entered the cabin with a note. The note contained the following words written in Hood’s bold and flowing hand :- “Please give my coxswain a large dose of castor oil.” The staff surgeon gazed at the coxswain, who was looking even healthier than usual, and asked, “What’s the matter with you” “Nothing, sir,” answered Best in startled tones. “Then why do you want castor oil?” “Please, sir,” explained Best, “It’s not for me; it’s for the Captains bulldog.” The staff surgeon re-examined the note, and discovered below the signature the words, “for my bulldog” written in miniature letters. Best had a narrow escape.

One of the ships in the squadron did very bad battle practice; and I stupidly remarked to Hood that she would probably be in the Admiral’s blacklist. He jumped down my throat with, “For God’s sake, never talk like that. Whenever I hear of a brother officer getting into trouble, I humbly bow my head and say, ‘There, but for the grace of God, goes Horace Lambert Alexander Hood,’”

The Berwick had anchored with both bowers inside the mole at Naples, and we were trying to secure her stern to the mole, and the hawsers were continually parting. Two Italian tugs endeavoured to tow the ship’s stern to windward, but they were simply dragged stern first after the ship. The gale increased, and it looked as if the stern would be blown on to some rocks lying to leeward of the mole. Both bower cables were veered, so that they should not bind the ship, until at last they were both out to a clinch. Hood gave the order “Stand by to slip both cables.” In getting ready to slip some delay occurred, but Hood never spoke a word or showed the slightest sign of impatience. When at length I reported both cables ready for slipping, he said very quietly, “First Lieutenant, on an occasion like this it is essential that everything is done instantaneously.” Fortunately at this moment there was a lull, and the tugs gathered headway, so that we were to secure to the mole.

The Berwick was order to proceed from Gibraltar to Tetuan Bay and carryout gunlayers tests. Umpires from other ships were sent on board. The senior umpire was a commander who had joined the service for years before Hood. When this commander came on board Hood received him at the gangway, conducted him to the captain’s quarters, turned over to him the after sleeping cabin, and entertained him as the most honoured of guests during the whole week he remained in the ship.

The Berwick arrived at Lagos Bay to rejoin the Second Cruiser Squadron after a refit in Gibraltar Dockyard. Practically every ship in Home and Mediterranean waters was moored in Largos Bay before taking part in manoeuvres. It was a bright, calm forenoon and nearly everybody was on deck watching the Berwick take up her berth. The port anchor was let go, then the starboard anchor, but the ship still forged ahead. Finally the cable ran out to a clinch and parted. Hood ordered the Bugler to sound the “still” and called out, “First Lieutenant that was not your fault in any way, but entirely mine for having too much way on the ship. Bugler, sound the ‘carry on.’”  

From the Berwick Hood went to Washington as naval attaché, and when he came back to England he was appointed to command the Commonwealth in the Channel Fleet. Then came the command of Osborne College, followed by the command of the Centurion. On being promoted to rear-admiral he was employed on various committees at the Admiralty.

When riding in Richmond Park his horse bolted along the road which leads to Richmond Gate. It was a fine, sunny day and numbers of children with their nurses were gathered near the gateway. He found it impossible either to stop or turn his horse. Ahead of him was a cart which a man was loading fallen leaves. He shouted to this to pull his cart across the road. This was done and the horse struck the cart with such force that it was killed instantaneously. Hood was thrown over the cart and badly damaged.

When the Great War started, Hood was Naval Secretary to the First Lord, whom he accompanied to Antwerp. He was then appointed to Dover Command. He chose as his flag lieutenant Jameson Boyd Adams, who had been an R.N.R. lieutenant in the Berwick. Since the Berwick days, Adams had been to the Antarctic with Shackelton as second in command of the expedition, and on returning to England had given up the sea, obtained an appointment under the Board of Trade, and joined the Territorials. Hood had him reinstated in the R.N.R., and got him appointed as flag lieutenant, and he remained with Hood till shortly before the end, when the Government insisted on his returning to the Board of Trade.

Several excursions to bombard the Belgium coast had convinced Hood that such operations were useless and wasteful of ammunition unless there was also military co-operation. The German submarines were becoming increasingly active and the Dover Destroyer Force was fully employed against them. On stating his opinion to the First Lord, who was wildly enthusiastic for ships to engage fortifications, he was instantly ordered to strike his flag. This almost broke his heart. He was given command of a small force of obsolete cruisers engaged in patrolling the coast of Ireland. But Winston Churchill, before giving up the post of First Lord endeavoured to make amends, and he appointed Hood to the command of the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, of which the flagship was Invincible.

On the afternoon of the 31st of May, 1916, Hood’s squadron, which had been detached from the Battle Cruiser Force for gunnery exercises at Scapa Flow, was stationed ahead of the Grand Fleet when news arrived that the Battle Cruiser Force was engaged with the Germans, and was ordered to scene of the action. He dashed off through the mist, steering to the sound of the guns, and came upon a squadron of German light cruisers, which he punished severely. But these were not his real game, so, after dodging a torpedo attack he rushed on till the Battle Cruiser Force came in sight. His squadron was badly wanted. The Indefatigable had gone, the Queen Mary had gone, the Lion was severely injured. He led his ships into action, ahead of the Lion and opened fire with excellent results. “Keeping firing as quickly as possible,” he called to the gunnery officer in the forecontrol “You are doing a splendidly; every shot is telling.” But four German battle cruisers and a German battleship concentrated their fire on the Invincible and she vanished in a sheet of flame.

The calm though rapid mind that always saw the right so clearly had steered this valiant sea gentleman to where he could give his all when it was most needed.


(Editor upheld request to anonymity.)