H.M.S. Hood Today
The July 2001 Channel 4 Expedition to Locate
and Film the Wrecks of Hood & Bismarck

Updated 18-Jul-2016

This article and its accompanying pages is a brief look at the July 2001 Channel 4 sponsored expedition to locate and film the wrecks of Hood and Bismarck. It includes around 150 photographs as well as a look at the official findings of the expedition.

We want to thank expedition leader David L. Mearns for his invaluable support in the creation of this article and related pages. Also, special thanks to his team members Rob White, Bill Jurens and Dr Eric Grove for their combined input since the mission. Additionally, we would also like to thank renowned author and draughtsman John Roberts for his invaluable assistance in helping us to identify from the wreck of Hood. Lastly, a very special thanks to Thomas Schmid for the use of his excellent computer graphics.

Chainbar divider

The locations of Hood and Bismarck today
Click to enlarge

Sixty years after their epic battle that altered the course of the naval war in the Atlantic and resulted in the deaths of over 3,500 men, Blue Water Recoveries Ltd. (BWR) have successfully found and filmed the wrecks of the German battleship Bismarck and the British battle cruiser H.M.S. Hood.

Led by David L. Mearns, Survey Director of BWR, the 35-day expedition aimed to answer questions that have fired controversial debate ever since 1941: Was Hood's rapid sinking the result of her thin deck armour, leaving her vulnerable to plunging shells? Was Bismarck really sunk by British torpedoes or had she been scuttled by her own crew?

The expedition was funded by UK-based Channel Four Television (Channel 4) and and was the subject of a major series of documentary programmes and a book that traces the history of these awe-inspiring vessels and sheds new light on the events leading to their sinking. A dedicated web site traced every step of the expedition and achieved a UK Internet "first" of streaming live-video from the wrecks using a marine-based satellite communication system known as SeaCast.

The international team assembled by BWR first relocated Bismarck in 4,700 metres of water and extensively filmed the intact hull to determine the amount of damage that had been inflicted by British gunnery and torpedoes. Although the wreck was first located in 1989 by a team led by Dr. Robert Ballard, the precise seabed position had been kept a secret so the wreck had to be relocated by side-scan sonar. Broadcast quality video and digital photography of the sides of the hull revealed shell and torpedo damage previously unseen leading to fresh ideas about what actually caused Bismarck to sink.

The M.V. Northern Horizon
The Survey Vessel "Northern Horizon"

The expedition's focus then shifted 1,100 nautical miles north to the last known position of Hood in the Denmark Strait. Unlike Bismarck, no attempt had ever been made to locate Hood. Although the team had been prepared to search for 8 days and cover roughly 600 square nautical miles in its hunt for Hood, the wreck was located in just 39 hours. David Mearns says: "our painstaking archive research and navigational analysis really paid off in the fast finding of Hood and saved the project about six days of costly sea-time."

The investigation of Hood concentrated on trying to learn precisely why she sank so fast (in less than 3 minutes) after being hit by a shell from only the 5th salvo from Bismarck. The filming was complicated by unusually strong underwater currents in the 2,800 metre waters where Hood lies and by heavy corrosion and marine growth on the wreck. While no smoking gun answer was found to the main question about the loss of Hood, startling new evidence was uncovered which helps to explain why her sinking was so catastrophic and the loss of life so high - only 3 men from the crew of 1,418 survived.

Memorial services were conducted at the site of both wrecks in honour of the men that died serving on the ships, which included the placing of professionally crafted bronze plaques on the wrecks. The plaques incorporated a digital Roll of Honour listing the name, rank, serial number and service organisation for every man that lost his life. In the expedition's most moving moment, Ted Briggs, the sole living survivor from Hood, was transported to the expedition vessel to pay a final tribute to his former friends and shipmates and was allowed to physically release the memorial plaque on to Hood. Special legal permissions were granted to David Mearns for the expedition from both the UK and German Governments. The expedition, which was conducted on a strict "look but don't touch basis", also enjoyed the support of the H.M.S. Hood Association, the Royal Naval Association, the Royal British Legion, and the Kameradschaft "Schlachtschiff Bismarck".

Ted Briggs and David Mearns with the Hood Roll of Honour plaque
Ted Briggs and David Mearns with
the Hood Roll of Honour plaque.

BWR was supported on the project by a number of key subcontractors: MARR Vessel Management provided the survey vessel Northern Horizon; Oceaneering Technologies provided the Ocean Explorer 6000 side-scan sonar and Magellan 725 ROV systems and operations team; Insite Tritech provided video and digital still cameras; Thales Geosolutions provided DGPS navigation services; Metworks provided weather forecasting; IMC Superhub provided e-mail communications; and BFS Engineering provided consulting services.

The first documentary, "Hunt for the Hood", was aired by Channel 4 in early August 2001 less than a week after the expedition ended. It was followed in December 2001 by the two part documentary "The Battle of Hood and Bismarck". The programmes were produced by ITN Factual. The book "Hood and Bismarck- The Deep-Sea Discovery of an Epic Battle", written by David Mearns and Rob White, was released to accompany the two part documentary.

Not only did the expedition help to answer some of the questions surrounding Hood's loss, it also helped raise the level of awareness about the ship and the sacrifice of her crew. This in turn, had a direct effect on Hood being recognised as a war grave (a "Protected Place") under the auspices of the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 (PMRA 1986).

 

Wreck Information and Photo Pages
Photos and descriptions of both wrecks can be accessed by clicking on the links below: