-History of H.M.S. Hood-
The Construction of H.M.S. Hood
Written by Ian Johnston
Updated 04-Dec-2017

This article contains information derived from the actual construction records of Hood created by John Brown &Company, Ltd of Clydebank, Scotland. These records are now maintained by the Glasgow University Archives and Business Record centre. The photos of the shipyard featured herein were taken circa 2002 and are courtesy of Ian Johnston. Ian lives in Glasgow and is the author of "Ships for a Nation." This book is the definitive and official history of John Brown & Company, Ltd ship works in Clydebank. He is also co-author of the book "The Battleships" (which accompanied the TV documentary). Ian has also authored or co-authored several other excellent books.

John Brown & Company Limited, Builders of H.M.S. Hood
The John Brown Works at Clydebank on the River Clyde near Glasgow, Scotland, covered an area of about 80 acres and comprised two main sections: the shipyard, which employed about 7,000 men, and the engine works, where the ship's main propelling machinery was constructed. The engine works employed about 3/4,000 persons.

John Brown & Company, Ltd Offices in 2002
The former offices of John Brown, 2002
Click to enlarge

Some Ships Built by John Brown & Co Ltd
H.M.S. Hood was a very large warship, in fact, the longest built for the Royal Navy until the appearance of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers in 2014. For John Brown & Company however, large ships were something of a speciality going back to the last decades of the 19th Century when the company was known as J&G Thomson. The largest liners of the day, Servia (1880) for Cunard and City of New York (1888) for the Inman Line, not to mention battleships for the Royal and Imperial Japanese navies all left the slipways at the Clydebank shipyard. In 1899, John Brown & Co, forgemasters at Sheffield, bought the Clydebank shipyard as an outlet for its armour plate and cast steel products. Their timing could not have been better with a naval race in the making between Britain and Germany. This 'race' also extended to the mercantile domination of the North Atlantic, the most prestigious seaway in the world. German competition had effectively relegated British ships and shipping lines to second place a position which did not sit comfortably with British national pride. To respond to the German challenge, the Cunard Co., with the financial backing of the British Government, planned the construction of two enormous liners which would decisively wrest the honours on the North Atlantic away from the Germans.

The result was the turbine driven Lusitania (787' x 87'6" x 60'4.5" x 32,500grt Turbines, 76,000shp 26.7k) completed in 1907, representing a very large step in the increase in size which hitherto had not exceeded 22,000grt in any ship. At the same time that the contract for Lusitania had been booked, the company won the order to build one of the Invincible Class battle cruisers - the very first ships of that type. Although John Brown could and did build every class of ship, they would build more battle cruisers than any other British yard. John Brown's Invincible Class battle cruiser was the Inflexible, (567' x 78'5" x 40' 4" x 17,250disp Turbines, 46,947shp 26.48k). Inflexible was followed in 1911 by the battlecruiser Australia (590' x 80' x 42' 2.5" 19,200disp Turbines, 44,000shp 26.89k) essentially an expanded version of Invincible and, in 1913, the even larger Tiger (704' x 90'5" x 44'3" x 35,000disp. Turbines (BC) 108,000shp 29k) mounting 13'5" guns. In 1910 the Cunard line placed the order for Aquitania, (901' x 97' x 49'7" x 45,647gt Turbines 62,000shp 23.35k) which at 45,000grt and an overall length of 901" was a very large ship indeed. The next major warship was the Queen Elizabeth Class battleship Barham (634'6" x 90'6" x 44'9" x 31,100disp. Turbines (BC) 76,575 shp 24k) completed in 1915 in time to work-up and take her place in the 5th Battle Squadron at the Battle of Jutland the following year. In 1915 the yard was given the order to build the battlecruiser Repulse (794' x 90' x 40' 10" x 30,835disp. Turbines 119,025shp 31.72k) which First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Fisher wanted built in one year. While that timescale was impossible for a ship of that size, she was built in less than 18 months representing a triumph of organisation, application and communication between the Admiralty and John Brown. Given that Repulse was half as big again as the battleship Dreadnought which was built in 14 months this stands as a comparable shipbuilding achievement particularly as the yard was busy with many additional contracts at the same time. As Repulse was in the final stages of completion, John Brown was told that another battlecruiser contract was in the pipeline. This was to become Hood.

Origins of Hood
Although by 1914 Britain had easily out-built Germany in numbers of battleships and battle cruisers, there was still pressure to build larger ships with heavier armament and high speed. When it seemed that the Germans were contemplating a class of fast battle cruisers armed with 15" guns (the Mackensen class), the Admiralty drew-up plans for a British equivalent. Several sketch designs were considered and the decision was made to proceed with four 36,000 ton, eight x 15"gunned, 32-knot ships. These ships followed preceding battle cruiser classes in having a relatively small percentage of overall weight devoted to armour. The design was approved by the Admiralty on 7 April 1916. While the intention was to lay these ships down in the summer of 1916, the Battle of Jutland was fought with the loss of three British battle cruisers As Hood was in many respects a larger version of the ships that had been sunk, her design was reconsidered. Numerous changes were made including most significantly a substantial increase in armour. The thickness of the main armoured belt was raised from 9" to 12" the same as the Queen Elizabeth Class battleships. The reworked design was approved on 4 August 1916. The new Admiral Class battle cruisers were in effect closer in armour protection to the recently built and much acclaimed Queen Elizabeth Class battleships than to preceding battle cruisers.

The berth where Hood was built. Shown here in 2002.
Hood's berth, 2002. This area has
since been redeveloped into
West College Scotland
. Click to enlarge.

Four ships were laid down in the late summer of 1916 including John Brown's ship which was laid down on 1 September. The other ships were to have been Howe (Cammell Laird), Rodney (Fairfield) and Anson (Armstrong Whitworth). Eventually, as it became clear that Germany would not complete the Mackensens which they had under construction, the other three ships of the class were cancelled. Hood survived because her construction was well advanced. Progress on John Brown's ship, which was given the shipyard number 460, was hesitant for the first six months as constant revisions were made to her design.

At the end of the First World War, the British Admiralty had much to consider regarding the performance of its ships and the effect this would have on future designs. For a time it seemed that a new naval race was in the making this time between the US, Japan and Britain. While the first two navies had already laid down large battleships and battle cruisers, the British had not. New designs were developed incorporating all the lessons of the war. The ships which were designed, known as the G3 battle cruisers, bore little resemblance to Hood. Hood, therefore, was very much the last of the line reflecting in her design the development of the British battlecruiser over a period of just over ten years from when Inflexible was laid down in 1906.

Building Hood
Today, ships are fabricated in large welded blocks weighing in many cases hundreds or thousands of tons (modular "super cells"). These blocks or units are taken from the fabrication areas and erected on the building berth or dock and brought to the launching stage. Up until the 1940/50s ships, including Hood, were built by a different method. This involved cutting, shaping or bending individual steel plates, bars or angles to the required shape and punching them with rivet holes. These parts were then taken piecemeal to the building berth where they were first bolted together and then riveted using steel rivets. Originally, riveting was carried out by a rivet squad comprising four or five men. These were a left and right handed riveter to literally hit the red hot rivet with a rivet hammer, a 'holder on' who held the rivet in place while it was riveted, a 'heater boy' whose job it was to heat the rivet to the appropriate temperature, (this was done visually, i.e., red or white heat). While some hand riveting would have been done on Hood, much of it would have been completed using pneumatic hand tools and larger hydraulic machines. It is likely that around 1000 steelworkers were involved in building Hood at any one time.

The lefmost crane was used in the fitting out of Hood. Shown here in 2002.
The crane on the left was used in the
construction of Hood. Click to enlarge.

Once the hull was completed it was launched and taken into the fitting-out basin where heavy items like turbines, condensers, boilers and, of course, turret mechanisms, armour plate and guns, were fitted. Once completed, the ship ran trials to ensure that she had achieved contract conditions.

The basic material for building Hood, steel, came from works in the Glasgow area. Armour for the ship's belt, barbettes, conning tower, decks, turrets etc., and stern and stem castings, shaft brackets and hawse pipes came from a number of steel works and forges around the UK including John Brown's works at Sheffield, and Beardmore's works in Glasgow. The ship's main propelling machinery, Brown Curtis geared turbines, were the most powerful manufactured at that time with a designed output of 144,000 shp. A vast inventory of equipment such as telemotors, rangefinders, galley equipment, pumps, winches etc. was supplied from manufacturers throughout the UK.

The John Brown Shipyard Today
After the completion of Hood, John Brown & Co. went on to build arguably the most famous ships in maritime history, the Cunard liners Queen Mary (1936) and Queen Elizabeth (1940). The last great liner built by the company was Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2). In 1972 the company ceased ship construction and sold the yard to US oil rig builders Marathon Manufacturing. The site was later owned by UiE who are also involved in oil related activities. In 1999, UiE completed their first 100,000-ton FPSU (Floating, Production and Storage Unit) for the North Sea oil fields. The shipyard was sold in 2001. The shipyard remained quite recongisable until the area was heavily redeveloped in the mid-late 2000s. Despite the changes, some elements of the former shipyard are still visible though- the ends of the slipways, the fitting out dock and of course, the Titan Crane.

Note from website staff: The shipyard itself was redeveloped into West College Scotland. The 150 ft tall Titan Crane used to build Hood as well as many other famous vessels, is open to the public during non-winter months. Click here to learn more.

Hood took a little under three and a half years to build, partly because of changes to her design following the Battle of Jutland and partly because her completion was less pressing after World War One had ended. The following construction chronology is based on reports made on a regular basis by management at the John Brown shipyard. References to Hood are missing in the reports for the year 1917 and part of 1918 - presumably on grounds of secrecy. To chart the building period, the shipyard photographer took regular 'progress of construction' photographs of the ship from keel to completion. These number, in the case of Hood, over 500 images in total. The shipyard reports and other material relating to Hood's construction are held at Glasgow University Archives and Business Record centre. The glass plate negatives and photographic print volumes are held by the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. All of these are available to the public normally by making an appointment to view.

Construction Chronology Based on shipyard reports (UCS 1/5/15 to 21)

  • Report, 4 May 1916 – Notification from Admiralty on 21 April that they wished us to prepare for the construction of a vessel similar to Repulse for which we would shortly receive drawings and particulars but not urgent in nature
  • Report, 25 July 1916 – Informed by letter on 14 July 1916 that the ship is to be called Hood.
  • Report, 27 July 1916 – On 14 June, we received a letter from the Admiralty advising that the Treasury agreed that one ship of the new battle cruisers is to be proceeded with. It is to be ours, ship No 460. Editor's Note: Hood's keel was officially laid on 1 September 1916. Based on some anecdotal mentions in an Admiralty file, some authors have noted 31 May 1916 as the "first keel laying date." The records of John Brown Shipyards do not support this. The official date for the ship that became Hood as we know it, was 1 September of that year. This date is reportedly also backed-up by the "Ship's Books" (ADM 136/13) held at The National Archives.
  • Report, 2 November 1916 – Sufficient information is gradually being obtained from the Admiralty to enable more material to be ordered for this vessel and to employ a few more men on her construction, but in view of the alteration in her design, comparatively slow progress can only be made until beginning of next year.
  • Report, 1 March 1917 – Informed by the Admiralty that Hood is to be pushed with all despatch.
  • Report, 22 June 1917 – Satisfactory progress but more men would help progress of hull.
  • Report, 30 January 1919 – Satisfactory progress continues to be made with the hull work and with the armour. A commencement has been made in closing in the decks and other structure over the forward engine room.
  • Report, 27 February 1919 – The second funnel has now been shipped on this vessel, also part of the conning tower, and a commencement has been made with the laying of planking on the forecastle deck forward.
  • Report, 27 March 1919 – Good progress is being made with the fitting of side armour on this vessel, as also the armour walls of the conning tower. The bridge erections, which are of unusual dimensions, are now being erected on the ship. The fourth set of turbines will be steamed this week, and it is hoped to dismantle them and place them on board ship in the early part of April.
  • Report, 1 May 1919 – The fourth set of turbines has been shipped onboard and good progress is being made with replacing the decks over same. The closing-in of upper portion of buoyancy tube space adjoining lowest strakes of armour is also proceeding satisfactorily.
  • Report, 29 May 1919 – Shipwrights are making good progress with forecastle deck planking. The decks are now closed up over fourth set of turbines and the erection of the shelter deck is making good progress.

Click here to see photo of deck being laid over quarterdeck

  • Report, 26 June 1919 – The erection of side armour is now completed. The stowing of buoyancy tubes in anti-submarine bulges is completed on starboard side and 90% completed on port side. The pit trials have been successful and delivery of the first 15-inch mounting at Clydebank is promised by the 8th July.
  • Report, 31 July 1919 – The large antisubmarine bilge compartments of this ship were completed before stopping for the holidays, when the last strakes of plating on the port side were riveted up and caulked. The first pair of 15-inch mountings was completed at Vickers Works early in July, but they have not yet been able to deliver them to Clydebank owing to the difficulty in obtaining a ship for transporting same.
  • Report, 21 August 1919 – The first pair of 15-inch mountings are now erected on 'X' barbette and the guns are in place. Messrs Vickers have undertaken to deliver the second set of mountings, namely, for 'X' barbette, at the beginning of September. Whenever these are in place, it will be possible to proceed with the alignment of the machinery
  • Report, 3 September 1919 – As the result of reports to the Cabinet by Sir Joseph McLay and the Controller General of Merchant Shipbuilding, the controller of the Navy, Sir William Nicholson and his staff, came to Clydebank on 8 August and discussed the question as to what expenditure of labour was involved in completing the Hood at Clydebank, and what consequences would be involved as far as the completion of new merchant work and the reconditioning of vessel returned from the Navy to merchant work was concerned. After discussions, the Controller requested me (Sir Thomas Bell, managing director of the shipyard) to write officially about what I had said to him for consideration by the Board of Admiralty and as a result, we received notification from the Admiralty, on 25 August, intimating that work on Hood could be proceeded with.
  • Report, 30 October 1919 – The second barbette with the guns complete, was erected on board the ship at the beginning of October, this enabling the alignment of shafting and the setting-up of the main engines in place to be proceeded with. The additional protective plating over the magazines has now been completed. Satisfactory progress is being made by the joiners and electricians in the living quarters of the ship.
  • Report, 27 November 1919 – The third barbette, as also the guns, are now erected on board and the fourth barbette has just been delivered and a commencement has been made with the erection of same. Satisfactory progress is being made with all internal work, especially electrical work and ventilation. The rigging of masts and derricks is making good progress. Due to the weights on board, the machinery has now been entirely set-up, and it is proposed to have a Basin Trial on the 9th December. A conference is being arranged for Friday 28th November as to whether the fitting of the guns and other parts of the armament will admit of the ship leaving this yard on the 9th January.
  • Report, 18 December 1919 – The fourth barbette with the guns and gun shields complete is now erected on board. The basin trials of the engines took place on 9th and 10th December, and it is now being officially arranged that the vessel shall leave Clydebank dock at mid-day on Friday 9 January.
  • Report, 28 January 1920 – This vessel was safely taken down the river on Friday 9th January. On Saturday she carried out a satisfactory preliminary trial, working up to over 130,000-horse power and on Monday she left for Rosyth arriving there at midday on Tuesday the 13th. She is now in dry dock in Rosyth and it is anticipated that the official trials will commence on the 8th or 9th of March. Hood was safely dry docked on Tuesday 20th of January, and it is anticipated she will have her guns completed and leave Rosyth for her official trials at the end of the first week in March.
  • Report 31 March 1920 – The trials of the Hood were completed satisfactorily on Tuesday evening, 23rd March, and the vessel left that night for Rosyth. The full power trails were carried out on Thursday 18th march, with most gratifying results. On the measured five mile run off Arran, a mean speed of 32.07 knots was attained, the horsepower being 151,000.

Throughout these trials, everything worked without the slightest hitch, and reflects the greatest credit on Engineering Commander Wood and the whole of the engineering staff at Clydebank.

The trials of Hood are proceeding most satisfactorily and on Thursday 18 March, the full power trial was carried out, with most gratifying results. With a horsepower of 151,000 a speed on the mile of 32.07knots was obtained, everything working without the slightest hitch and reflecting the greatest credit on the whole engineering staff at Clydebank. Editor's Note: It should be mentioned here that when Hood undertook her 32.07 knot run (a speed which exceeded her planned speed of 32 knots), she was doing so during poor weather/Force 6 winds).

The Admiral in command of the First Battlecruiser Squadron, Vice Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, attended on the trial and before leaving last night, said he was very proud indeed of his new flagship and delighted with her in every respect.

On Friday 19 March, circle turning and steering trials were satisfactorily completed. The vessel is now at anchor off Greenock. On Saturday and Sunday she will take on the requisite oil and water to increase her displacement to the figure required for the deep draught trials which will take place on Monday and Tuesday at the conclusion of which the vessel will return to Rosyth.

Dock Movements of Hood From the Shipyard Diary (UCS 1/10/2)
The shipyard maintained a diary which logged every movement a ship made while in the yard. The short list below, a verbatim account of the diary for Hood, refers to the period after her launch when she was taken into the fitting-out basin under the 200 ton fitting-out crane for shipping heavy items such as machinery, boilers, armour plates, guns or turret mechanisms. As the crane was fixed, the ship had to be moved along the quay side until it was adjacent to the area required.

Minutes UCS 1/1/1

22 January 1918 – It was reported that an estimate of cost of H.M.S. Hood had been submitted to the Admiralty.

Explosion on H.M.S. Hood, Monday 19 May 1919 (Abbreviated from the Dumbarton Herald, 9 July 1919)
The ship was in an advanced state of fitting-out in John Brown's basin at Clydebank when the incident occurred. The explosion was in an airtight compartment immediately underneath the Carpenters' Heavy Store and resulted in two men being killed and a third injured. The men who lost their lives were John Morton and James McGregor. A Fatal Accident Enquiry held at Dumbarton Sheriff Court in July could find no obvious cause for the explosion although it was the view of experts called that it was most probably caused by a build up of gas in the compartment. The floor of the Carpenters' Store was torn up indicating a very serious explosion. The compartment, part of the ship's double bottom, had been closed-up for three weeks prior to the explosion although the air plug on the manhole cover had been removed two days prior to the men making entry. Morton was found in the Carpenters' Store with his clothes on fire while McGregor was 50 yards away also with his clothes on fire. A third man by the name of Small had gone to another compartment to get his tools and was only slightly injured.

John Morton, engineer, 25 years of age of 35 Dumbarton Road Clydebank.

James McGregor, 32 years of age of 39 Bannerman Street Clydebank.

For photos of Hood under construction and on her trials, CLICK HERE.