Staff Writer (Updated: 8/27/2013):
HMS Hood VS the Mackensen
HMS Hood was conceived of as the lead ship in her Admiral-class of warships to number four in all, being specifically devised to combat the upcoming German battlecruiser Mackensen then under construction. Mackensen was also to lead a four-strong class of battlecruisers to include the Graf Spee, Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the Furst Bismarck. However, precedent within the German Navy at the time held that production focus on the dreaded U-Boats instead. As such, the Mackensen and her kind languished through to the end of the war unfinished - none of her class were completed and she became the final battlecruiser to be ordered for Germany. What was left of all four was quickly dismantled following the dismantling of Germany herself per the Versailles Treaty.
The Battle of Jutland Exposes a Weakness
The Battle of Jutland exposed some frailty within the designs of British battlecruisers to the point that three such vessels were lost in the battle. The battle began on May 31st, 1916, and ceased on June 1st. Fighting was concentrated in the North Sea near the Denmark coast and failed to prove a victor between the Royal Navy of the British Empire and the Kaiserliche Marine of the German Empire. By the end of the conflict, the Battle of Jutland was recorded as the single largest naval battle of the First World War - 28 Royal Navy battleships faced off against 16 Kaiserliche Marine battleships along with several battlecruisers, destroyers and lesser ships in attendance. By the end of it all, 6,094 Royal Navy sailors were dead, joining the 2,551 German sailors on the other side. Hundreds were wounded or captured in the fracas. Key to the German side was the loss of three British battlecruisers (lost to subsequent internal cordite explosions at her magazines) and eight destroyers to the loss of just one German battlecruiser.
Righting Past Wrongs
As a result, design of HMS Hood was revised to incorporated some 5,000 tons of additional armor (making up over a quarter of her end-product displacement) and bracing to help protect her vital spots from more powerful main guns. Her main belt was 12-inches thick while her middle belt was given 7-inches of armor. Her upper belt topped at 5-inches with the exception of 4-inch protection held aft. Plating along the main deck came about very late in the stages of the Hood's construction. Her turret forward facings were given up to 15-inches of armor while their sides sported up to 12-inches. Their tops were limited to just 5-inches of protection. Anti-torpedo protection was addressed through the then-conventional practice of "torpedo bulges" along her lower hull - this involving an empty hull space supported further by steel reinforcement. During testing, it was found that the Hood would have little in the way of proper armor protection for the next series of gun calibers and projectiles in development. Additionally, her armor design would prove highly susceptible to "plunging fire", that is, incoming enemy fire from above as opposed to the sides. Nevertheless, the Hood was allowed to exist for there was no going back on her construction at this point.
Going in the Wrong Direction
While this armor address proved a novel attempt, the end-product proved a rather hasty revision that never fully satisfied all-around protection for the ship - not to mention making her a heavier girl than originally intended. She sported a three-deck layout which assumed the top deck would contain and retard any incoming projectile's explosion. However, by the end of World War 1, delayed-fuse projectiles were becoming the norm, rendering the three deck theory more or less useless. Delayed-fuse projectiles could penetrate upper decks and still explode below deck, closer to the vital components of any ship and, ultimately, sink or cripple her. As such, the Hood sat lower in the water than anticipated and would always sail forth with a good deal of stress placed against her understructure. Despite the flaws, the ship was pushed into the water and evaluated to satisfaction.
Birth of the Hood
HMS Hood was ordered, along with three other sister battlecruisers, as part of the Admiral-class under the "Emergency War Programme" during World War 1. Along with Hood, there was to be HMS Anson, HMS Howe and HMS Rodney. However, construction of these three vessels was soon stopped in March of 1917 though work on the Hood was allowed to continue. It was seen that any near-future work by the Germans on their own battlecruisers was severely in doubt with the changing nature of the war. HMS Hood was ordered on April 7th, 1916, and laid down on September 1st later that year in Clydebank, Scotland by the John Brown & Company shipbuilder. She was launched to sea on August 22nd, 1918, and formally commissioned on May 15th, 1920. She carried the same of Samuel Hood, the First Viscount Hood remembered for his service in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars and, himself, serving as a mentor to Horatio Nelson of the Napoleonic Wars fame. The widow of Rear-Admiral Sir Horace Hood - great-grandson to Lord Hood - was the sponsoring party. Captain Wilfred Tomkinson, CB, was awarded the helm as her first commander and HMS Hood became the flagship to the Atlantic Fleet Battle Cruiser Squadron of the British Empire. Her first voyage saw her journey to Scandinavia in 1920 and then on to Brazil and ultimately the West Indies.