Six locals lost as battlecruiser sunk by Germans

THE sinking of the Royal Navy’s battlecruiser HMS Hood on 24 May 1941 affected British morale deeply at a time when the Second World War was going very well for the Axis powers

Only three members of Hood’s crew survived – 1,415 men, including six locals, were lost.

The Hood was destroyed by the German warship Bismarck, when a shot struck the battleship’s magazine.

Hood had been in the North Atlantic taking part in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. With several other British ships, she was pursuing German vessels including the battleship Bismarck.

The British spotted their enemy at 5.37am and prepared to attack, but the Germans had already detected them. The Royal Navy opened fire at 5.52am, with the German ships quickly firing back.

A shell, believed to have been fired from Bismarck, hit Hood on her deck between her funnels and started a fire in her ammunition stores.

A clipping from the 6 June, 1941 News & Mail, detailing the local boys who were lost when Hood was sunk.

One or more shells from the Bismarck’s fifth salvo destroyed the aft part of Hood, breaking her back. In less than three minutes she sank vertically, stern first.

The three survivors were rescued from the icy sea a couple of hours later by the destroyer HMS Electra. Although debris was observed, no bodies were recovered.

The official Admiralty communiqué on the loss, reported that Hood had “received an unlucky hit in a magazine and blew up”. The Royal Navy sank the Bismarck three days later. Out of her crew of more than 2,200 men, only 114 survived.

The News & Mail of 6 June 1941 ran five photographs alongside its report of Hood’s demise. The article said: “These portraits are of five local young men, who, as reported in our last issue, were serving on HMS Hood when she blew up in action off Greenland. They have all been reported missing, presumed killed on war service.”

Of the 1,418 crew members aboard HMS Hood, only three survived the explosion and subsequent sinking of the ship.

Listed with their parents’ addresses were: Acting Leading Seaman SK (Keith) Cox, aged 21, 10 Vale Road, Woking; Boy SA Jelly, aged 17, 28 Gloster Road, Old Woking; Boy Percy Collyer, aged 17, Redcot, High Street, Horsell; Leading Signaller CWE (Eric) Gibbs, aged 20, Springfield Cottages, West End, Chobham; Able Seaman Eric Weldon, aged 20, 1 Rosedene, Alpha Road, Chobham.

Other newspapers’ reports provided further details of some of those who were reported missing. They stated that Eric Weldon had joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 and arrived on Hood in 1939. Keith Cox had been in the service for seven years.

Eric Gibbs also joined up as a boy and had been with Hood since the war began. Percy Collyer had been in the Royal Navy since he was 13.

Reports said that Leading Cook Edward Reuben Harvey, of Foxhills Road, Ottershaw, was “also feared to have lost his life”. Having joined the Royal Navy in 1933, he had served on the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous before joining Hood. He had been married only five months and had written home to his mother the previous week saying he had just passed exams qualifying him for the rank of petty officer.

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: davidrosemedia@gmail.com

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