|Born||13 September 1887
Middleton Cheney, Banbury, England
|Died||May 24, 1941
On board HMS Hood, Denmark Strait
|Years of service||1902–1941|
|Commands held||Battlecruiser Squadron|
|Battles/wars||Wars: First World War and Second World War
Campaigns: Battle of the Atlantic
Battles: Battle of the Denmark Strait
|Awards||Companion of the Order of the Bath (1939)
Mentioned in Despatches (1941 posthumously)
Commander of the Order of the Redeemer (1932)
Vice Admiral Lancelot Ernest Holland, CB (13 September 1887–24 May 1941) commanded the British force in the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May, 1941 against the German battleship Bismarck. Holland was killed during the battle.
Admiral Holland was one of six sons and a daughter of a doctor who was also a brewer for the firm, Hunt and Edmonds. He was born in Middleton Cheney and was raised in the Banbury area. He entered the Royal Navy on 15 May 1902. On leaving HMS Britannia in September 1903, he was drafted to the China Station to join HMS Eclipse. He served in the Far East until August 1905, the later part of his time there being spent in HMS Hampshire.
Returning home, he saw brief service during the summer of 1908 in the Admiralty surveying ship HMS Research. But the surveying service proved not to be Holland's forte and three years later on 14 September 1911 the young Lieutenant Holland joined HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy's gunnery school at Whale Island, Portsmouth to start the 'Long Course' which would qualify him as a lieutenant (G).
Having qualified as a gunnery lieutenant and gone on to take the advanced gunnery course at Greenwich, Holland sat out the years of First World War in a teaching role aboard HMS Excellent. He was promoted to commander on 31 December 1919 and captain on 30 June 1926.
During the period May, 1929 to February, 1931, Holland was flag captain to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, aboard HMS Hawkins. From May 1931 to September 1932, Holland headed the British Naval Mission to Greece. As a rear admiral he was flag captain aboard the battleship HMS Revenge from July 1934 to July 1935.
After a 1937 stint as naval ADC to King George VI, he was promoted to vice admiral and commanded the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet from January 1938 to August, 1939, flying his flag in HMS Resolution. He then became Admiralty representative at the Air Ministry.
Second World War
From July, 1940, Holland commanded the 7th Cruiser Squadron, serving in the Mediterranean. During the course of this command he led his cruisers in the Battle of Cape Spartivento on November 27, 1940.
By this time, Holland had established himself as a gunnery specialist.
The North Atlantic and Nemesis
Holland's next assignment was in command of the Battlecruiser Squadron. Britain had only three of these ships left. They were capital ships that carried heavy guns, but sacrificed armour protection for speed. They were especially vulnerable to plunging fire penetrating their decks and exploding their ammunition magazines. They were a concept of Admiral John Fisher before the First World War. Conventional naval thinking in the 1920s and 1930s was that the battlecruiser was designed to hunt and overtake fast commerce raiders, such as a pocket battleship or another battlecruiser, a ship too powerful for a cruiser to destroy and too fast for a battleship to catch. HMS Hood was the last battlecruiser built by the Royal Navy.
Until the KGV class, also at 28 knots,no British battleship was fast enough to catch the new German battleship Bismarck, then the most powerful in the world. Her mission was to evade action and make for the open seas to attack convoys. Hood was needed to stop her. The navy recognized that Hood needed to be rebuilt to strengthen her decks to protect the vulnerable magazines but by 1938, with war threatening, the Admiralty felt that they could not risk taking her out of commission. Britain had only three battlecruisers to match the three German pocket battleships.
Holland was 53 years old, a short, trim man with almost white hair. He was rather shy, but intelligent, well read, very capable and quite ambitious.
In May, 1941, the new German battleship Bismarck attempted to break out into the North Atlantic, accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Their mission was to attack Allied convoys. Holland flew his flag aboard Hood, which was accompanied by the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales, which mounted ten 14" guns as opposed to the eight 15" on the Hood and the Bismarck. On 22 May, just after midnight, Electra, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, and Icarus, escorting the Hood and Prince Of Wales, sailed to cover the northern approaches. Prince of Wales had not had time to complete the training of her new crew, and was pressed into service with builders' representatives still aboard. The intention was that the force would refuel in Hvalfjord, Iceland, and then sail again to watch the Denmark Strait. On the evening of 23 May, the weather deteriorated. At 2055, Admiral Holland aboard the Hood signalled the destroyers "If you are unable to maintain this speed I will have to go on without you. You should follow at your best speed." At 0215 on the morning of 24 May, the destroyers were ordered to spread out at 15 mile intervals to search to the north.
At about 0535, the German forces were sighted by the Hood and, shortly afterwards, the Germans sighted the British ships. In the ensuing Battle of the Denmark Strait, though Holland's dispositions and tactics are generally regarded by naval historians as sound, the Hood suffered a catastrophic magazine explosion at 0601 that broke the ship in half; the admiral and all but three of the crew of over 1400 were lost. One of the survivors, Ted Briggs, later confirmed that Holland was last seen still sitting in his admiral's chair, making no attempt to escape from the sinking wreck.
Prince of Wales made her escape with some damage, including a hit on her bridge which killed most of her officers. One of the salvos from Prince of Wales damaged Bismarck's fuel tanks, and prompted her to make for France.
Admiral Holland was married to Phyllis and had one son, John, who died of polio at the age of 18 in 1935.
Admiral Holland and his family attended the Anglican parish Church of St John the Baptist at Boldre in the New Forest, Hampshire, England. They had a memorial to their son installed there and later a Hood Memorial Chapel was dedicated. An annual memorial service is held to remember Admiral Holland and the crew of the Hood. A public house in Banbury, The Admiral Holland, is named after him.
- Hood and Bismarck by David Mearns and Rob White
- The London Gazette: . 10 October 1941. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
- Pursuit: The Sinking of the Bismarck, Ludovic Kennedy. Collins/Fontana, Glasgow, 1975
- The Mighty Hood, Ernle Bradford. Coronet Books (Hodder and Stoughton), Sevenoaks, Kent, England, 1961
Sir William Whitworth
|Commander, Battlecruiser Squadron