66970 1

Portrait of Capt Ralph Kerr of HMS Hood by Oswald Birley, estimate £2000-3000 at Dawsons.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The human cost was also a shock: only three crew members survived out of 1418 after a ferocious and brief exchange of gunfire with German battleship Bismarck. Among the dead was Hood’s commander, Captain Ralph Kerr.

Eighty-three years later almost to the day, on May 30, Berkshire auction house Dawsons will be selling a collection of medals reflecting Kerr’s long Royal Navy career from his early days as a cadet to participation in the Battle of Jutland, 1916, to his command of Hood.

HMS Hood Medals May24 1X1

Medals awarded to Capt Ralph Kerr of HMS Hood, estimate £3000-5000 at Dawsons.

Also on offer are a ceremonial naval sword, a depiction of Hood at port in Valetta and a portrait of Kerr by artist Oswald Birley. Reflecting on his grandfather’s legacy, a family member said: “I never knew my grandfather, but the details of his face are etched on my mind... My mother always said it was a very good likeness, apart from the hands which just didn’t do his hands justice.”

Long service at sea

Born in 1891, Kerr joined the RN at 13 and after serving at Jutland, in 1918 he assumed command of the destroyer HMS Cossack. His leadership aboard destroyers, including several flotillas stationed in the Mediterranean, earned him widespread admiration. In one incident he was mistakenly reported drowned, only to prove otherwise.

HMS Hood Watercolour Of The Hood At Valetta Harbour 1X1

Painting of HMS Hood at harbour in Valetta from Capt Ralph Kerr collection, estimate £300-500 at Dawsons.

Despite his obvious ability, Kerr’s appointment as commander of Hood in early 1941 was a surprise given his background in destroyer operations. The battlecruiser was scheduled to undergo a major rebuild that year to keep up with advances in naval gunnery, but this was not possible due to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Hood met its end in the Straits of Denmark at the hands of the Bismarck, itself sunk three days later by a large British force.

Kerr’s older brother had been killed in the First World War and tragically his son Russell died in 1945 serving in the army in Burma.

HMS Hood Ralph Kerr Ceremonial Naval Sword Detail May24 1X1

Hilt of ceremonial sword given to Capt Ralph Kerr of HMS Hood, estimate £300-500 at Dawsons.

Family source

All the items have been consigned by family. The Birley portrait is estimated at £2000-3000 in the Maidenhead auction and the medals plus some associated papers at £3000-5000. The ceremonial sword and depiction of Hood in Valetta are to be sold as separate lots, each carrying a guide of £300-500.