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Microsoft co-founder recovers bell from WWII shipwreck

A screen grab from video of the HMS <em>Hood</em> bell recovery mission. YouTube

Microsoft co-founder recovers bell from WWII shipwreck

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen’s interest in World War II history and his fascination with exploration—both space and undersea—culminated this year in what are considered two major feats of deep sea exploration and recovery.

On Aug. 7, a research team led by Allen used a remotely piloted submarine from his yacht, M/Y Octopus, to recover the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood, a British battlecruiser sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. Five months earlier, after an eight-year search, Allen and his team located and photographed the wreck of the largest battleship ever constructed, the Japanese warship Musashi, sunk by U.S. forces in 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

HMS Hood intercepted the Bismarck as it attempted to strike convoys crossing the Atlantic from the United States. But a single shell from Bismarck penetrated the deck of the Hood between the stern and mid-ship, exploding and detonating ammunition in the Hood’s magazines. The ship broke in two and sank within three minutes.

“This effort commemorates the hundreds of brave sailors who were lost at sea,” Allen said in a statement. “It is a true honor to undertake the expedition to recover the bell from ‘The Mighty Hood.’”

Before he died in 2008, Ted Briggs, one of only three survivors from a crew of 1,418 on board the Hood, said he hoped the ship’s bell would be recovered and restored as a memorial to those killed in what was the Royal Navy’s worst loss of life from a single ship during the Second World War, according to a report in the Telegraph.

The bell was first discovered and photographed in 2001 by Blue Water Recoveries, the firm that assisted Allen in its recovery this month, as well as an earlier attempt in 2012 aborted due to poor weather and technical problems.

“Despite 74 years of immersion in the hostile depths of Denmark Strait, the bell is in very good condition,” Blue Water Recoveries’ director David Mearns said in a statement.

Royal Navy News reported the bell will undergo 12 months of restoration and will be donated to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, England, where it will be on display with the bell of the HMS Prince of Wales, which took part in the same Denmark Strait battle but wasn’t sunk until the end of the war.

According to the Paul G. Allen Foundation website, Allen’s passion for “preserving and sharing historic military technology is inspired by his father’s service in WWII.” His eight-year quest to locate the wreck of the Musashi was the culmination of an effort that combined historical data with advanced technology to “not only help fill in the narrative of WWII’s Pacific theater, but bring closure to the families of the lost.”

The Musashi’s exact location remained unknown for 71 years, despite eyewitness accounts of her sinking by U.S. torpedo planes and dive bombers. Philippine historian Manolo Quezon III told AFP the discovery, if verified, “would be like finding the Titanic.”

“The Musashi is truly an engineering marvel and, as an engineer at heart, I have a deep appreciation for the technology and effort that went into its construction,” said Allen in a statement. “I am honored to play a part in finding this key vessel in naval history and honoring the memory of the incredible bravery of the men who served aboard her.”

Michael Cochrane Michael is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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