Why did HMS Hood sink so quickly in 1941?

HMS Hood was one of the fastest and most powerful warships in the world when she entered service in 1920

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But when she sank in 1941, the Admiralty was left baffled as she went down in a matter of minutes. The vital clues to the Hood‘s fate have only recently reached the surface. 

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Her elegant lines and impressive appearance made her popular, so she undertook a wide range of ‘showing the flag’ voyages and visits.

When the German battleships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen broke out into the North Atlantic in May 1941, the Hood and battleship Prince of Wales were sent to hunt them down. Battle was joined on 24 May, but after only seven minutes the Hood blew up and sank almost immediately. Of 1,418 men on board, only three survived.

In the aftermath of the sinking, the Admiralty held two inquiries into the sinking, but were unable to establish what had happened or why it sank so quickly. After the wreck was found in 2001, photos were taken that helped establish the cause.

The photos revealed that a detonation in the rear magazine, holding the 15-inch shells and cordite propellant for those guns, sank the Hood. This devastating explosion appears to have been triggered by a blast in the magazine under the mainmast. The Hood’s armour, however, was too thick for a direct hit from the Germans to have caused this explosion.

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Witnesses on the Prince of Wales saw a fire on the boat deck raging for some minutes before the explosion. It is thought that a shell from Bismarck may have caused enough damage to the armour plating that a fire could have penetrated through the air vents and set off the fatal blast.