Armor Up!

HMS Hood was once the pride of the British navy. But one flaw resulted in it being sunk in an epic World War II battle. What can we learn from this flaw?

World War II had been raging for nearly two years.

Much of continental Europe had been conquered by Nazi Germany. England had endured Dunkirk and won the Battle of Britain, but had suffered much death and destruction from the Nazi bombings. Germany was one month away from invading Russia, which provided Britain relief from air attacks—but that was not the end of the story.

As an island nation, Britain needed imports to survive. Germany’s U-boats had been unleashed to blockade the island and sink ships coming into Britain. The nation teetered on the brink of starvation. The United States, neutral at the time, was helping Britain with the Lend-Lease Program, but would not officially enter the war until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seven months later.

Christians are in a war against three major enemies: Satan, the world and our own human natureEnter the Bismarck

Now Germany was sending its brand-new, state-of-the-art battleship into the Atlantic: The Bismarck. Fast and lethal, the Bismarck seemed primed to make Nazi Germany much more effective in waging naval warfare against Britain.

Britain instantly responded by sending ships to hunt for the Bismarck. After days of searching, the British engaged the Bismarck in battle on May 24, 1941. The attackers were led by the one ship capable of standing up to the Bismarck—HMS Hood. Although launched in 1918, the Hood was still the pride of the Royal Navy, the symbol of national prestige to the British people. Though still a powerful ship in 1941, the Hood was aging. Ship for ship, the two vessels appeared to be equals, with similar displacements, large guns and comparable speed—although the Hood’s top speed was slowing.  

The Hood’s crucial weakness

Yet one crucial difference remained. Whereas the Bismarck was a battleship with thick deck armor to protect the ship’s vitals from what was called “plunging fire,” the Hood was a battle cruiser. Its construction was based on the concept that “speed is armor.” The Hood had the guns of a battleship and the speed of a cruiser—but protective armor was sacrificed to achieve that speed. This compromise proved to be the Hood’s fatal flaw.

In less than 10 minutes of combat, a chance shell from the Bismarck tore through the Hood’s thin deck armor, exploding one of the magazines (the area where ammunition was stored). The Hood burst into flames and sank rapidly. Of the 1,418 officers and sailors on board, only three survived.

Britain was plunged into gloom; but under the bulldog leadership of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Royal Navy galvanized into action.

Just as the Hood was wounded by a chance shot, the Bismarck was crippled two days later when an obsolete biplane survived a hail of antiaircraft fire to drop a torpedo that destroyed the Bismarck’s rudders. This is considered by many to be one of the many miracles of World War II.

Unable to properly navigate, the Bismarck’s fate was sealed. Cornered and surrounded, the Bismarck was sunk the next morning by a British torpedo bomber.

It should be mentioned that the Hood’s armor deficiency was no secret. The ship was, in fact, scheduled for a complete refit prior to the outbreak of World War II. In addition to other upgrades, newer and thicker armor was to be installed.

But lack of funds due to the Great Depression of the 1930s and the outbreak of the war kept the upgrades from ever being installed. Time had run out, and the ship was sent into battle ill-prepared to compete against the modern, armored Bismarck.

The lesson of the Hood

The key lesson to learn is that the proper armor is necessary before going into battle. We are instructed to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10). Christians are in a war against three major enemies: Satan, the world and our own human nature (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:4; James 1:14). We need the armor of God to strengthen us against all three enemies.

Don’t neglect the daily disciplines of prayer and Bible study, supplemented by occasional fasting. Don’t put it off, because our warfare doesn’t stop! We face fresh battles from our three enemies every day! One of “the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16) can attack us where we are weak at any time.

Remember the Hood. Armor up!

To learn more about the armor God has given us to fight our spiritual battles, read “Put on the Armor of God” from the November/December 2014 issue of Discern magazine. 

About the Author

John Fox

John Fox and his wife, Lynn, live in Utah. He enjoys history and weight lifting, and he writes on a variety of topics. He attends the Salt Lake City congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.