Why did so few men survive the sinking of HMS Hood?

HMS Hood was sunk on May 24, 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck, during the Battle of the Denmark strait. Out of 1418 men aboard, only three survived. This is a casualty rate of 99.8%. Even in previous catastrophic maritime disasters, more people survived.

There are several reasons for such a massive loss of life. In the early stages of the battle, Hood had been hit on her boat deck by the German battlecruiser Prinz Eugen, which set fire to her ready use ammunition for her anti-aircraft guns. Any number of men on deck may have been killed by this fire and the subsequent detonation of much of the ammunition stored on deck.

The fatal blow would come when Bismarck hit Hood again, causing her aft 15" inch magazines to explode, destroying much of the after portion of the ship and break her back. This explosion was devasting and caused an intense fire, almost certainly killing most of the crew in this area. When the wreck was visited in 2001, there were indications that this fire had swept her interior areas, which could account for a majority of the casualties.

This explosion caused the Hood to split into at least two sections, causing her to sink quickly. The stern of the ship, separated from the rest by the devasting explosion among the after turrets, sank vertically within seconds, leaving almost no time for any men to escape. The bow sank slower, but still much too fast, within three minutes of the explosion. Anyone who managed to escape the lower decks would likely have been caught in the ship's suction as it sank. The three that did escape were likely saved by air bubbles, such as those from an exploding boiler, that propelled them to the surface. Combining all the factors; the explosion, the ensuing fires, the splitting of the ship and the speed with which it sank beneath the waves, it is, unfortunately, no surprise that not many escaped.

This would not be the only tragedy. Though the Hood is possibly the best known, ships lost with all hands are disturbingly common in wartime.

The HMS Hood Association's roll of honour for those who died can be found here