Lancelot Holland

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Lancelot Holland
Amm.Lancelot Holland.jpg
Born (1887-09-13)13 September 1887
Middleton Cheney, Banbury, England
Died 24 May 1941(1941-05-24) (aged 53)
On board HMS Hood, Denmark Strait
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1902–1941
Rank Vice Admiral
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.

Early life[edit]

Lancelot Holland was one of six sons and a daughter of a doctor who was also a brewer for the firm Hunt Edmunds. 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 latter part of his time there was spent in HMS Hampshire.

Returning home, he saw brief service during the summer of 1908 in the Admiralty surveying ship HMS Research. However, 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 spent the First World War in a teaching role aboard HMS Excellent. After the war 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.

Senior officer[edit]

After a 1937 stint as naval ADC to King George VI, he was promoted to vice admiral and became commander of the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet in January 1938, flying his flag in HMS Resolution and commander of the 3rd Battle Squadron in August 1939. He then became Admiralty representative at the Air Ministry.

Second World War[edit]

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 27 November 1940.

By this time, Holland had established himself as a gunnery specialist.

The North Atlantic and nemesis[edit]

Holland's next assignment was in command of the Battlecruiser Squadron. Britain had only three of these ships. They were capital ships that carried heavy guns, but sacrificed armour protection for speed. 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. 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.

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 20:55, 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 02:15 on the morning of 24 May, the destroyers were ordered to spread out at 15 mile intervals to search to the north.

At about 05:35, 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 06:01 that broke the ship in half; the admiral and all but three of the crew of 1,418 were lost.[1] One of the survivors, Ted Briggs, later stated he last saw Holland sitting in his admiral's chair, making no attempt to escape from the sinking wreck.[2]

Prince of Wales made her escape with some damage, including a hit on her bridge which killed many of her officers. One of the salvos from Prince of Wales damaged Bismarck's fuel tanks, and prompted her to make for occupied France.

Holland was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches.[3]


The Admiral Holland public house, Banbury

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.


  1. ^ "HMS Hood Association: Frequently Asked Questions". HMS Hood Association. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Hood and Bismarck by David Mearns and Rob White
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35307. p. 5947. 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

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir William Whitworth
Commander, Battlecruiser Squadron
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded