HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941)

HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941)

HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941)

HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941) was the first purpose built large aircraft carrier to be completed for the Royal Navy, and one of the most famous warships of the Second World War. Part of her fame came from repeated German claims to have sunk her, but she also took part in the campaign off Norway, the hunt for the Bismarck and the first two years of the war in the Mediterranean, before finally being sunk by U-81.

The Ark Royal followed a series of large carriers that had been converted from battlecruisers, and its design reflected the experience gained on those ships. Structurally the main change was that the flight deck was an integral part of the hull, a role that had previously been played by the existing main deck of the converted ships. This made her more rigid than her predecessors. The flight deck itself was 720ft long and 95ft wide, with a squared off bow and a very long overhanging stern. The flight deck was 56ft above the deep load waterline (compared to 38ft on the Illustrious class). This could be important when an aircraft was struggling to take off, dipping below the level of the flight deck before beginning to climb. The Ark Royal had two catapults, each capable of launching a 12,000lb aircraft at 66kts, and a series of arrestor cables. The island and funnel were carried on the starboard.

The Ark Royal had two hangers. Both were 60ft wide and 16ft high. The upper hanger was 568ft long and the lower 452ft. They were connected by three rectangular lifts, two of 45ft by 22ft and one of 45ft by 25ft. The lifts were unusual double-decker affairs, with one platform linking the flight deck to the upper hanger and a second that connected the two hangers. This could allow two aircraft to be moved at once, but it also made it much more difficult to move an aircraft from the lower hanger to the flight deck. This involved three movements of the lift - the aircraft would be loaded onto the lower platform, the lift would rise and the aircraft unloaded onto the upper deck. The lift then had to be lowered to allow the aircraft to move onto the upper platform, before finally moving to the deck.

The Ark Royal was protected by an armoured belt, and by a 1.5in protective bulkhead 13ft 4.5in from the side under the water line. This was designed to protect against a 750lb charge. She had three boilers and three engine rooms, carried in a row across the ship. The smoke ducts linking the three sets of machinery ran below the lower hanger, and would prove to be a fatal weakness.

The Ark Royal could operate sixty aircraft, although she rarely carried a full complement. This was much better than the next generation of Royal Navy carriers, where weight was taken up by the armoured hangers and decks, but still not as good as contemporary American carriers. The Ark Royal and all contemporary British carriers were also limited by the poor performance of their carrier aircraft. At the start of the war the Fleet Air Arm had no high performance carrier fighter, and relied on the biplane Fairey Swordfish as its main torpedo bomber.

The Ark Royal was armed with sixteen 4.5in guns, carried in open-backed mountings at flight deck level, meaning that they could fire across the flight deck to hit targets on the opposite side of the ship if required. The original allocation of 32 2pdr pompoms was increased to 48 in May 1941, carried in six eight-gun mountings.

The Ark Royal was still a very new warship at the start of the Second World War, having only been completed in November 1938, while her first aircraft came aboard early in 1939.

Wartime Service

At the start of the Second World War the Admiralty decided to use its fleet carriers as the focus of roving hunting groups, searching for U-boats. This cost them the Courageous, sunk by U-29 on 17 September 1939. This came three days after U-39 narrowly missed the Ark Royal. The idea was quickly abandoned, and after a period patrolling the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean the Ark Royal was allocated to the Mediterranean Fleet. She was still there during the hunt for the Graf Spee, although an elaborate bluff convinced Captain Langsdorff that the carrier was rapidly approaching Montevideo, and helped convince him to scuttle his ship.

In April 1940 the Ark Royal was recalled to the Home Fleet to take part in the fighting in Norway. Her aircraft made their first contribution before the Ark Royal had actually returned from the Mediterranean. Nos.800 and 803 Squadrons had been left behind during that move, and on 10 April their Skua dive bombers attacked and sank the damaged German cruiser Konigsberg at Bergen. Three hits were scored, causing internal explosions and setting the Konigsberg on fire. She was then destroyed by another explosion, which split her in half. Only one Skua was lost.

The Ark Royal left Scapa Flow for Norway on 23 April, operating with HMS Glorious. While the Glorious flew RAF fighter aircraft into Norway, the Ark Royal provided air support for the Allied ground and naval troops in the country. Late in May she returned to Scapa Flow, before on 31 May departing for Norway again, this time providing air support for the evacuation from Narvik. She also took part in an attack on the Scharnhorst, scoring one hit with a 500lb bomb at the cost of two Skuas.

After the end of the Norwegian campaign the Ark Royal moved to Gibraltar, where she formed part of Force H, operating in the western Mediterranean and western Atlantic. At this point she carried two squadrons equipped with Rocs and Skuas (Nos.800 and 801) and two with the Swordfish (Nos. 10 and 820). Force H had a busy time. In June 1940 it took part in the attack on the French fleet at Oran. On 2 August the Ark Royal's aircraft bombed the Italian air force base at Cagliari in an attempt to keep the Italians on the ground while Hurricanes were shipped to Malta. In September she raided Elmas, again to pin down the Italians, this time while the Illustrious made her way through the Mediterranean. In September she took part in Operation Menace, the unsuccessful attack on Dakar. This began on 23 September when her aircraft dropped leaflets over Dakar, before fighting broke out. Eventually the Allies were forced to retire after it became clear that the Vichy French defenders of Dakar had no interest in joining de Gaulle and the Free French.

In November 1940 the Ark Royal returned to Gibraltar, where she swapped No.803 Squadron's Skuas for No.808's Fulmars. November was a busy month. On 9 November she attacked Italian airfields on Sicily to divert attention from Illustrious's raid on Taranto, on 17 November she supplied cover for HMS Argus on a supply mission to Malta, and on 27 November she took part in fighting off Cape Spartivento.

1941 was a quieter year, but the main events were perhaps more dramatic. In February 1941 the Ark Royal carried out a torpedo attack on a dam at Tirso on Sicily. On 22 March she was damaged when a Swordfish crashed on take-off and its depth charges exploded, but the damage was not considered serious, and on 24 May the Ark Royal ferried Hurricanes to Malta.

May 1941 saw the German battleship Bismarck break out into the Atlantic after sinking the Hood. A massive operation was put in place to catch her, but despite this she nearly managed to circle around the British Isles and reach Brest. The key moment came on 26 May. The Ark Royal and Force H had been sent out of the Mediterranean to join the hunt, approaching the main battlefield from the south. On 26 May the Ark Royal was finally able to launch her Swordfish against the Bismarck, scoring two hits, one of which jammed the Bismarck's rudder. The Germans were forced to steam in circles while they attempted to repair the damage, but before they could do strong elements of the British fleet caught up with her, and on 27 May she was sunk.

After this drama the Ark Royal returned to the Mediterranean. In October 1941 she took part in Operation Perpetual, yet another attempt to get RAF fighters to Malta. On 13 November, on the way back from Malta, the Ark Royal was hit by a torpedo from U-81. The torpedo hit low on the starboard side, close to the starboard boiler room, and tore a 130ft by 30ft hole in the side of the ship. At first it seemed as if the ship would be saved, but the design of her engine rooms doomed her. As she settled lower in the water the engine intakes were submerged. This allowed water to flood into all three boiler rooms. The pumps were unable to remove water fast enough, and eventually electric power failed. On 14 November, Fourteen hours after being struck, the Ark Royal capsized and sank. Fortunately only one crewman was killed.



No.800 Squadron operated Skuas and Rocs during the early anti-submarine patrols and in the South Atlantic and Indian oceans. The squadron was left in the UK when the Ark Royal first moved the Mediterranean, taking part in the attack on the Konigsberg during this period. She then returned to the Ark Royal, taking part in the attack on Oran. In April 1941 the squadron transferred to HMS Furious


No.801 Squadron reformed in January 1941 with six Skuas. She operated from the Ark Royal against targets in Norway, before moving to HMS Furious.


No.803 Squadron was operating the Blackburn Skua on the Ark Royal at the outbreak of the war. On 26 September 1939 the squadron scored the first victory by any British fighter squadron shooting down a Dornier Do.18. The squadron spent the winter of 1939-40 onshore, replacing its last Rocs with Skuas. The squadron took part in the land-based attack on the Konigsberg, and was on the Ark Royal for the attack on the Scharnhorst of 6 June, where it lost all but two aircraft. When the squadron was re-equipped it moved to HMS Formidable.


No.807 Squadron was equipped with the Fairey Fulmar II in April 1941, and then embarked on the Ark Royal to take part in Operation Perpetual. The squadron was thus on the Ark Royal when she sank, although four of her aircraft did escape.


No.808 Squadron's Fulmars joined the Ark Royal in October 1940. Over the next ten months Nos.807 and 808 Squadrons claimed nineteen victories, mostly while attacking targets on Sicily or defending Malta convoys. After the Ark Royal sank No.808 Squadron was absorbed by No.807.


No.810 operated Fairey Swordfish from the Ark Royal from the start of the war until September 1941. On 14 September 1939 her aircraft made one of the attacks on a U-boat. In September 1941 the squadron was reduced to six aircraft and transferred to HMS Furious.


Transferred to the Ark Royal from HMS Furious in the late summer of 1941, but had aircraft airborne when the Ark Royal was torpedoed, allowing the squadron to reform at Gibraltar.


Transferred to the Ark Royal from HMS Furious in the late summer of 1941, merges with No.812 Squadron after the loss of the Ark Royal.


No.818 Squadron joined the Ark Royal on 25 August 1939, but by October most of her aircraft were on-shore, and the rest were on HMS Furious. The squadron rejoined the Ark Royal in the Mediterranean, and took part in the attack on Oran and the hunt for the Bismarck. Two of the squadron's aircraft scored the vital hit on her rudder. The squadron then transferred to HMS Furious to return to Arbroath where it converted to the Albacore.


No.820 Squadron was the first squadron to fly aircraft on the new carrier, early in 1939. Her Swordfish remained on the Ark Royal until June 1941 when the squadron transferred to HMS Victorious.


No.821 Squadron's Swordfish operated from the Ark Royal from the start of the war until the squadron was disbanded in December 1940.


No.828's Albacores were briefly on the Ark Royal after transferring from the Argus in early October 1941. Flew off to Hal Far, Malta on 18 October.

Displacement (loaded)

22,000t standard
27,720t deep load

Top Speed



11,200 miles at 11 knots

Armour - belt


- bulkheads



685ft pp/ 800ft oa


60 aircraft
Sixteen 4.5in/ 45 QF Mk I HA guns in eight two-gun mountings
Thirty two 2pdr pompons in four eight-gun mountings
Four 3pdr saluting guns

Crew complement



13 April 1937


16 November 1938


14 November 1941

HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941) - History

First purpose built carrier to be completed for the Royal Navy since the original Hermes (Unless it is the Fisherless RN when these ships comes after the Apollo). The Commonwealth overall had plenty of experience with aircraft carriers with the converted ships like Furious and Eagle. The conversions had shown that too much early attention had been taken on ship armament features to the detriment of aircraft handling facilities. With this class the strength deck was the flight deck and this was supported on a double height hangar (see cross section).

Entering service in late 1937 and early 1938 the Ark Royal and Golden Hind proved excellent in service, with large amounts of attack and defense aircraft compared to earlier ships. The Brazilian Navy ordered two ships, only one of which was delivered in 1939, while the second, that was also under construction for Brazil, (see Santa Catarina class) was completed for the Royal Navy as HMS Saint George in 1941. The Brazilian ships were completed to a slightly differing design with less armour and displacement than the Royal Navy ships, otherwise they were, externally, identical. The vessel (HMSAS Kwazulu) built for the Southern African Navy arrived just in time to undertake its working up period then with the outbreak of war, help to defeat the Argentinian and Germanic States fleet units in a series of battle around the Falkands Islands and Tristan da Cunha. Golden Hind was the Royal Navys aircraft carrier contribution to the same battles. These three carriers proved extremely effective against the Argentinian and Germanic States ships. It was only the weather that stopped these ships destroying the German raiders from the air and allowed the battlefleet to mop them up.

Golden Hind showing internal arrangements.

Skuas and Swordfish ranged on deck.

Below is the original drawing of the Ark Royal with its antiquated Swordfish and 4.5" guns.

Having the Ark Royal class is important as it leads to my next set of drawings, the improved Ark Royal type which replaces the armoured carriers of the Illustrious type. These ships are able to be built due to having a better set of aircraft on the carriers as shown below.

The Gloster Griffon was the first monoplane fighter accepted for FAA service in 1937, while the Chance Vought Corsair was used by the FAA from 1943 in a fighter/bomber role.

Launching of the Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941) - History

HMS Ark Royal , a 22,000-ton aircraft carrier built at Birkenhead, England, was completed in November 1938. After working-up during the months prior to the September 1939 outbreak of hostilities, she played an important role in the first two years of the Second World War. In December 1939 she was sent to the South Atlantic to help in the search for the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee . The spring of 1940 saw her participating in the Norwegian campaign, and in July she was one of the ships that attacked the French Navy's base at Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria. The following September, Ark Royal took part in a second assault on the French Navy, this time at Dakar. While covering a Mediterranean convoy in late November, her planes attacked Italian battleships, though without making any hits. In return, she was bombed, and missed, by enemy aircraft.

During March 1941, Ark Royal pursued the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the last phase of their Atlantic sortie. On 26 May of that year, her torpedo planes hit the Bismarck , making the enemy battleship virtually unmaneuverable and allowing other British warships to close and sink her.

Ark Royal was also very active in the Mediterranean during 1941. She struck the port of Genoa in early February, during a bold British Naval raid deep into Italian-controlled waters. On several occasions, she ferried planes to the beleaguered base at Malta and covered Malta-bound convoys. While returning to Gibraltar from one such mission, Ark Royal was torpedoed by the German submarine U-81 . After a difficult struggle against progressive flooding, the carrier capsized and sank on 14 November 1941.

This page features all our views of the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal (1938-1941).

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the digital images presented here, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

HMS Ark Royal (British Aircraft Carrier, 1938-1941)

Photographed soon after completion, circa late 1938 or early 1939

Photograph from the Collections of the U.S. National Archives.

Online Image: 84KB 740 x 480 pixels

HMS Ark Royal (British Aircraft Carrier, 1938-1941)

Photographed circa 1939, with a Fairey "Swordfish" aircraft taking off as another approaches from astern.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 86KB 740 x 505 pixels

HMS Ark Royal (British Aircraft Carrier, 1938-1941)

Photographed in 1939, with a flight of No.820 Squadron Fairey "Swordfish I" aircraft passing overhead.
The plane nearest to the camera, marked "650", is # L9781.

Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1977.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 110KB 740 x 445 pixels

HMS Ark Royal (British Aircraft Carrier, 1938-1941)

Watercolor by Edward Tufnell, RN (Retired), depicting the ship under attack by German bombers, in 1941.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Melvin Conant, 1969.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 72KB 740 x 535 pixels

Watercolor by Edward Tufnell, RN (Retired), depicting British battlecruiser Renown , battleship Malaya and aircraft carrier Ark Royal operating together in 1941.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Melvin Conant, 1969.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 42KB 740 x 520 pixels

HMS Ark Royal (British Aircraft Carrier, 1938-1941)

Probably photographed immediately after launching, which took place on 13 April 1937.

HMS Ark Royal (91)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 03/26/2020 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The 1920s and 1930s were dotted with many naval military warships designed under the constraints of the Washington Naval Treaty signed in 1922. The treaty attempted to reign in a new arms race such as the one that contributed to World War 1 (1914-1918) and overall tonnage of this new generation of vessels was the primary concern. HMS Ark Royal (91), a straight deck aircraft carrier of the British Royal Navy, was one such product of the period. Her arrival marked the first truly "modern" aircraft carrier in Royal Navy service for the last carrier addition of note was a remodeled HMS Glorious in 1930 and she was originally constructed in 1915 as a battlecruiser and converted to aircraft carrier form in 1924.

HMS Ark Royal was ordered in 1934 during the military rearmament of many of the major European players and was laid down on September 16th, 1935 by Cammell Laird & Company Ltd. She was launched on April 13th, 1937 and was formally commissioned on December 16th, 1938. During her time at sea, the vessel earned the nickname of "The Lucky Ship" and fought under the motto of "Zeal Does Not Rest".

Because of the time between major carrier designs for the Royal Navy, many new and revolutionary features were implemented into Ark Royal. Her hangars and flight deck were integrated into the hull from the outset as opposed to being simply added on to the superstructure. This produced a very modern arrangement which sat the island superstructure along starboard and allowed the straight-line flight deck be relatively free of obstructions. Three hangar elevators served the flight deck in aircraft launching and recovery efforts, aircraft being pulled from one of the two available hangar decks. One of the more unique features of her design was in the implementation of armor protection across her flight deck and hangar areas for improved survivability (the hangar walls were attached directly to the main hull understructure). Her belt was protected over in up to 4.5" armor thickness and her deck covered in 3.5" of armor. Designed to carry as many as seventy-two aircraft, her typical fielding was closer to fifty with her early complement made up of Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers and Blackburn Skua dive bombers / fighters of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). These aircraft were launch-assisted by "accelerators" which were essentially catapults by another name. Overall dimensions of the vessel included a length of 800 feet, a beam of 94.9 feet, and a draught of 28 feet.

Armament, purely defensive in nature, was 16 x 114mm (4.5") Dual-Purpose (DP) high-elevation guns in eight twin-gunned mounts supported by 32 x 2-pounder "Pom Pom" 40mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) systems showcased as four eight-gunned emplacements. 8 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns provided a last line-of-defense for the ship.

Her machinery consisted of 6 x Admiralty 3-drum boiler units feeding 3 x Parsons geared steam turbines through 102,000 horsepower driving 3 x shafts under stern. She could make headway at up to 31 knots in ideal conditions and held a range out to 8,700 miles. Fast for her size, well-armored, and carrying a healthy contingent of warplanes, HMS Ark Royal was an upgrade from previous Royal Navy attempts at carrier construction.

Britain went to war with Germany in September of 1939 and Ark Royal's career was in hunting down German U-boats. The first British air kill of World War 2 - a Dornier Do 18 seaplane - came from Blackburn Skuas launched from Ark Royal in September. In a subsequent attack by German warplanes, the carrier survived though she was reported sunk by German media . The next month, HMS Ark Royal joined a British naval contingent sent to the southern Atlantic in search of the German cruiser Graf Spee which was bent on disrupting Allied commerce activity. The hunt eventually forced the Graf Spee into harbor at Montevideo, Uruguay for repairs in December. Due to the presence of the British fleet outside of neutral Uruguay, the German vessel was eventually emptied of its crew and scuttled on December 17th, removing her from the war for good. Ark Royal escorted the damaged cruiser HMS Exeter to Devonport for repairs and arrived there in February of 1941.

Ark Royal was then committed to the Norway Campaign where her aircraft could provide air cover for other warships and her facilities could also be used in engaging submarine. Its aircraft was also used in bombing shore-based enemy targets when possible. The vessel's "reach" was essentially limited by the operational ranges of these aircraft so her impact was somewhat restricted during the campaign. She supported a landing of Allied troops at Narvik though Norway was eventually lost forcing the evacuation of any remaining forces. Ark Royal continued to support the operation through her air power and later (unsuccessfully) hunted the battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst for their work in sinking HMS Glorious, HMS Acasta, and HMS Ardent. A coordinated response against Scharnhorst backfired on June 13th with 53% of the launching aircraft being downed and Scharnhorst left undamaged.

HMS Ark Royal was then relocated to the Mediterranean Sea for June 23rd where she was to continue the fight against the Italians. In November, she participated in the Battle of Cape Spartivento which resulted in rather inconclusive results for both sides (one ship damaged on either side).

For early 1941, Ark Royal was dispatched with Force H in search of the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst who were headed for Atlantic waters to combat Allied shipping. This action once again came up empty for the fleet. In April, the carrier was used to deliver aircraft to beleaguered forces at Malta and undertook some convoy protection duties as well. Her aircraft successfully fended off attacks from both Italian and German warplanes in a convoy action en route to North Africa.

Ark Royal was then pressed into the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck which had eluded Allied warplanners for some time and was now threatening commerce in the Atlantic along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. One of Ark Royal's Fairey Swordfish aircraft spotted the massive battleship and the Royal Navy sprung to the pursuit. Her torpedo warplanes eventually laid three torpedoes into the enemy warship which caused it to sail in circles before ultimately sinking on May 27th.

More Mediterranean convoy sorties and aircraft deliveries followed - particularly to Malta. This would mark the last chapter of the British vessel for, on November 10th, 1941, HMS Ark Royal caught a torpedo at midships which caused considerable damage before introducing flooding. The flooding then produced a noticeable list to starboard which only worsened the situation for the survivors. The order was given to abandon ship with thought given to retaining a skeleton crew for damage control and possibly saving the stricken vessel. However, all was deemed lost as the warship continued to list and take on water. All but one crew survived after being rescued.

The aircraft carrier rolled over, broke in two, and sank to the bottom of the sea some 30 miles from Gibraltar. The loss was scrutinized extensively and led to improved measures regarding flood control and backup power sources for future British vessels.

The remains of the vessel were located in December of 2002 by a documentary film crew.


Bismarck Episode Edit

Just two weeks after commissioning in 1941, Victorious took part in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic. Originally intended to be part of the escort for Convoy WS 8B to the Middle East, she was hardly ready to be involved in the hunt for Bismarck with only a quarter of her aircraft complement embarked. Sailing with the battleship HMS King George V, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and 4 light cruisers, Victorious was hastily deployed to assist in the pursuit. [2] [3]

On 24 May 1941, Victorious launched nine of her biplane Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber aircraft and two Fulmar fighters. The Swordfish, affectionately known by their crews as "stringbags", under the command of Eugene Esmonde flew through foul weather and attacked Bismarck in the face of tremendous fire from anti-aircraft guns, scoring a hit to the armoured belt with a torpedo. [2] No aircraft were shot down during the attack, but the Fulmars ran out of fuel on the return journey and had to ditch in the sea as the ship's homing beacon had failed. Victorious took no further part in the chase aircraft from Ark Royal disabled Bismarck ' s steering gear, thus contributing to her sinking three days later. Esmonde received a DSO for his part in the action. [3]

Convoy and other Arctic duties Edit

In early June 1941, while part of the escort for troop convoy WS 8X, a Swordfish of 825 Squadron from Victorious located the German supply ship Gonzenheim north of the Azores. Gonzenheim had been intended to support the Bismarck but was subsequently scuttled when approached by British warships. [4] On 5 June, Victorious was detached to Gibraltar, and with Ark Royal and a naval escort, "flew-off" Hawker Hurricane aircraft to reinforce the besieged British Mediterranean base of Malta (Operation Tracer). Victorious returned to the naval base at Scapa Flow with captured crewmen from Gonzenheim. [2]

In late July 1941, she escorted HMS Adventure via the Arctic to Murmansk with a load of mines. On 31 July she took part in the raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo, in which thirteen of her aircraft were lost. [2]

At the end of August, Victorious escorted the first Allied convoy to Archangel (Operation Dervish) in company with a force of cruisers and destroyers, and then covered the return passage of HMS Argus, which had delivered Hurricane fighters to Murmansk. During early September, she launched more air attacks: against Tromsø (twice), against Vestfjorden, and against shipping off Bodø. [2] On 13 September, aircraft from Victorious sank the Norwegian Hurtigruten coastal steamer Barøy. [5]

In October 1941, decrypted German Enigma signals indicated a break-out into the Atlantic by the German warships Scheer and Tirpitz. Victorious was deployed with the Home Fleet for their interception this included a patrol in the Denmark Strait with battleships HMS King George V, USS Idaho, and USS Mississippi, and cruisers USS Wichita and USS Tuscaloosa. This joint Anglo-American operation pre-dated the formal state of war between the United States and Germany. This operation continued until mid-November, when Hitler cancelled the German operation. Victorious then continued with the Home Fleet until March 1942. [2]

Victorious returned to the Arctic Convoys in March and April 1942, helping to provide cover for convoys PQ 12, QP 8, PQ 13, QP 9, PQ 14, and QP 10. During these operations, she also made an unsuccessful air strike on Tirpitz, losing two aircraft. From the end of April, until June, Anglo-American forces (including the US ships Washington, Tuscaloosa, and Wichita) covered convoys PQ 16, QP 12, PQ 17, and QP 13, after which Victorious returned to Scapa Flow. [2]

The Arctic convoys had been suspended temporarily after the heavy losses suffered by Convoy PQ 17 when twenty-three out of thirty-six ships were sunk. This was after the convoy had been scattered in the belief that an attack was imminent by the German warships Admiral Hipper, Lützow, Admiral Scheer, and Tirpitz.

Pedestal Edit

The suspension of the Arctic convoys released Victorious to take part in a "last chance" attempt to resupply Malta – Operation Pedestal. Malta-bound Convoy WS 21S departed Britain on 3 August 1942 escorted by Victorious with HMS Nelson and cruisers Nigeria, Kenya and Manchester. Exercises (Operation Berserk) were performed with aircraft carriers HMS Indomitable, Furious, Eagle and Argus to improve operational techniques. [2]

Pedestal began on 10 August 1942 and involved a great array of ships in several coordinated groups two battleships, four aircraft carriers, seven cruisers and thirty two destroyers. Some of the carriers were transporting aircraft for Malta's defence and fourteen merchant ships carried supplies. On 12 August 1942 Victorious was slightly damaged by an attack from Italian bombers. [2] Eagle was less fortunate, being torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on her return journey to Gibraltar. Ultimately Pedestal was a success for the allies: supplies, including oil and reinforcing Supermarine Spitfires allowed Malta to hold out, albeit at the cost of the loss of nine merchant ships, one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, and a destroyer.

In September 1942, Victorious was taken in hand for a refit that included the installation of an aircraft direction room. After trials, she was ready to participate in the North African landings. [2]

Operation Torch Edit

In November 1942, Victorious took part in the North African landings. Operation Torch, which involved 196 ships of the Royal Navy and 105 of the United States Navy, landed about 107,000 Allied soldiers. Ultimately successful, Operation Torch was the precursor to the later invasions of Sicily, Italy and France. Victorious provided air cover during the landings and made air attacks at Algiers and Fort Duree. Four of her Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters landed at Blida airfield to accept its surrender. [2]

She left for Scapa Flow on 18 November and, while en route, Fairey Albacores of 817 Squadron depth charged U-517 off Cape Finisterre. The submarine's structure was badly damaged and she was scuttled surviving crew were rescued by HMS Opportune. [2]

Service with the US Navy Edit

USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was badly damaged at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, leaving the United States Navy with only one fleet carrier, USS Saratoga, operational in the Pacific. In late December 1942, Victorious was loaned to the US Navy after an American plea for carrier reinforcement. [6] After a refit in the United States at the Norfolk Navy Yard in January 1943 and the addition of Avenger aircraft, Victorious passed through the Panama Canal on 14 February to operate with United States forces in the Pacific. Her crew suffered an outbreak of diphtheria and medical supplies were dropped to her by air on 21 February. [7]

Victorious arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943 and was fitted with heavier arrester wires as RN wires had proved too light for the Grumman Avenger aircraft. Additional AA guns were also fitted. She sailed for the south-west Pacific, arriving at Nouméa, New Caledonia, on 17 May to form Carrier Division 1 with USS Saratoga. [8] She sortied immediately for a week with Task Force 14, including Saratoga and battleships North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Indiana, sweeping against reported Japanese fleet activity, but without contact. Six aircraft were lost to accidents. Rear Admiral DeWitt Ramsey, commanding the division, carried out evaluation exercises and patrol sweeps in June and determined that Victorious had superior fighter control but handled Avenger aircraft poorly because of their weight. Accordingly, he transferred 832 Squadron FAA on to the Saratoga and US Carrier Air Group 3 on to the Victorious. Thereafter, Victorious ' s primary role was fighter cover and Saratoga mainly handled strikes. On 27 June, TF14 was redesignated Task Group 36.3 and sailed to provide cover for the invasion of New Georgia (part of Operation Cartwheel). Victorious spent the next 28 days continuously in combat operations at sea, a record for a British carrier, steaming 12,223 miles [ clarification needed ] at an average speed over 18 knots (33 km/h) kts and launching 614 sorties. Returning to Nouméa on 25 July, Victorious was recalled home. Though the Japanese had four carriers to Ramsey's two, it seemed clear that they were not intending to press their advantage and the first two carriers of the new Essex-class had arrived at Pearl Harbor well ahead of schedule. Victorious left for Pearl Harbor on 31 July, leaving behind her Avengers as replacements for Saratoga, sailing in company with battleship Indiana and launching 165 anti submarine sweeps en route. She also carried US pilots finishing their tours as well as two Japanese POWs. After a brief stop in San Diego, Victorious passed through the Panama Canal on 26 August and arrived at Norfolk Navy Yard 1 September, where specialized US equipment was removed. Returning home, she arrived at Greenock on the Clyde on 26 September 1943 where aircraft and stores were discharged awaiting refit. [9] [ page needed ]

Attack on Tirpitz Edit

From December 1943 until March 1944, Victorious was under refit at Liverpool, where new radar was fitted. [2] At the end of March, Victorious with Anson and Duke of York formed Force 1, covering the passage of Convoy JW 58. On 2 April 1944, Force 1 joined with Force 2, composed of the aging carrier HMS Furious and the escort carriers HMS Emperor, Fencer, Pursuer, and Searcher as well as numerous cruisers and destroyers. The combined force launched an attack (Operation Tungsten) on the German battleship Tirpitz in Altafjord, Norway. This involved Barracudas in two waves, hitting the battleship fourteen times and strafing the ship's defences. Although near-misses caused flooding and there was serious damage to the superstructure, the ship's armour was not penetrated. Nonetheless, the attack put Tirpitz out of action for some months. [a] [10] The Task Force returned to Scapa Flow three days later.

Victorious was to participate in three further attacks on Tirpitz, in April and May (Operations Planet, Brawn, and Tiger Claw), but these were cancelled due to bad weather and anti-shipping strikes were substituted. On 30 May, an acoustic torpedo attack by U-957 against Victorious failed and subsequently she made more shipping attacks off Norway (Operation Lombard). [2]

Eastern Fleet Edit

In June 1944, Victorious, in company with HMS Indomitable, left British waters to join the Eastern Fleet at Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where she arrived on 5 July. The Eastern Fleet, after a quiet period of trade protection and relative vulnerability, was now being reinforced with ships released from the Atlantic and Mediterranean, in preparation for offensive action against the Japanese. [11]

After a short preparatory period, Victorious took part in a sequence of air attacks against Japanese installations. The first was Operation Crimson on 25 July, a joint attack with HMS Illustrious on airfields near Sabang in Sumatra. In late August, she provided air cover for Eastern Fleet ships that were providing air-sea rescue facilities for US Army aircraft during air attacks on Sumatra (Operation Boomerang). On 29 August, in company with HMS Illustrious and Indomitable and escorted by HMS Howe, Victorious made air strikes on Padang, Indaroeng and Emmahaven (Operation Banquet). After a short pause, on 18 September, Victorious and Indomitable attacked railway yards at Sigli in Sumatra followed by photo-reconnaissance of the Nicobar Islands (Operation Light). During Light, there was a "friendly fire" attack on HMS Spirit, fortunately without causing any casualties. [2]

At the end of September, Victorious had a short interval at Bombay for repairs to its steering gear to remedy problems that had arisen during Operation Light. She rejoined the Eastern Fleet on 6 October. The next operation, Millet, was her last with the Eastern Fleet. On 17 October, she launched attacks on the Nicobar Islands and Nancowry harbour, with HMS Indomitable and escorted by HMS Renown. Enemy air attacks destroyed four aircraft and damaged five more. During early November, Victorious returned to Bombay for more work on her steering as more problems had arisen during Millet. [2]

British Pacific Fleet Edit

Sumatra Edit

The British Pacific Fleet (BPF) was formed at Trincomalee on 22 November 1944 from elements of the Eastern Fleet and Victorious was transferred to the new fleet. From November 1944 until January 1945 the BPF stayed in the Indian Ocean, training and gaining experience that they would need when working with the United States Navy. Victorious, however, remained under repair at Bombay until January 1945 and missed raids on oil refineries at Pangkalan Brandan (Operation Robson). [2]

In early January 1945, she was available for Operation Lentil, a repeat raid on the oil refineries at Pangkalan Brandan with HM Ships Indomitable and Implacable. Further raids on Japanese oil and port installations in Sumatra were made on 16 January. By late January, the BPF had finally quit Ceylon and was en route to its new home base in Sydney. The voyage was interrupted on 24 January for another series of raids, this time on Pladjoe and Manna in south west Sumatra (Operation Meridian) during which there was little opposition from Japanese aircraft. This was followed on 29 January by unsuccessful attacks on oil installations at Soengi-Gerong. This time, the Japanese attempted air attacks on the British fleet but these were beaten off. Total aircraft losses by all carriers were 16 aircraft in action and another 25 lost by ditching or on landing. Nine Fleet Air Arm pilots captured by the Japanese were executed in April 1945. [12]

Okinawa Edit

In early February, Victorious joined Task Force 113 (TF113) at Sydney to prepare for service with the US 5th Fleet. At the end of the month, TF113 left Sydney for their forward base at Manus Island, north of New Guinea, and then continued, joining the 5th US Fleet at Ulithi on 25 March as Task Force 57 (TF57), supporting the American assault on Okinawa. The task allocated to the British force was to neutralise airfields in the Sakishima Gunto. From late March until 25 May, the British carriers Victorious, Illustrious (later replaced by Formidable), Indefatigable and Indomitable formed the 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron commanded by Vice Admiral Philip Vian and they were in action against airfields on the Sakishima Islands (Operations Iceberg I and Iceberg II) and Formosa (Operation Iceberg Oolong). [2] [13]

The British carriers were attacked by kamikaze suicide aircraft and Victorious was hit on 4 and 9 May and near-missed on 1 April, but her armoured flight deck resisted the worst of the impacts. She remained on station and was back in operation within hours on each occasion, despite damage to an aircraft lift and steam piping in her superstructure. Three men were killed and 19 of the ship's company were injured. [2]

Japan Edit

After May 1945 the British Pacific Fleet withdrew to Sydney and Manus for refits and, in the cases of Victorious, Formidable and Indefatigable, for repairs to battle damage. The British fleet rendezvoused with the US 3rd Fleet on 16 July and became effectively absorbed into the American structure as a part of TF38 for the "softening up" of Japanese resistance within their home islands. [14]

During the second half of July, aircraft from Victorious took part in a series of attacks on Japanese shipping, transport and airbases on Honshu and around the Inland Sea. In one notable attack in July, aircraft of 849 Squadron from Victorious located the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo at Beppu Bay in Kyūshū and attacked her, inflicting serious damage that kept the ship out of the remainder of the war. [15] In the main, however, British aircraft were excluded from the actions against the major Japanese naval bases the Americans, for political reasons, preferred to reserve these targets for themselves. [16] [17]

War's end Edit

The two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August, respectively, and Japan surrendered on 15 August. By the time of the surrender, the outcome of the war was clear and Victorious left for Manus with Task Force 37 (TF37) on 12 August and then proceeded to Sydney. This apparently premature departure was in fact a delay to a withdrawal planned for 10 August, to prepare for the anticipated invasion of Japan (Operation Olympic). The British Pacific Fleet (BPF) commander had agreed to stay for one more day's operations, but the British arrangements could not stretch to a further delay and fuel shortages were insurmountable. [18] In addition, the steering faults that had hampered Victorious in the Indian Ocean in late 1944 are believed to have continued. [2]

On 31 August, Victorious ' s ship's company took part in the Victory Parade in Sydney. [2]

Postwar Edit

Victorious left Australia in September 1945, arrived back in Britain on 27 October and undertook three trips to collect servicemen and war brides of British servicemen from Australia and the Far East. [19] In the winter of 1946–47, the first deck trials with the Hawker Sea Fury (Mark 10) took place aboard Victorious, leading to its approval for carrier operations in early 1947. [20]

Victorious was reduced to the reserve at Devonport on 15 January 1947, on completion of her trooping duties. From June that year she was modified at Portsmouth Dockyard with additional accommodation and classrooms and on 1 October 1947, joined the Home Fleet Training Squadron, replacing the battleship Nelson. In July 1948, Victorious was deployed to Portland Harbour in support of the sailing events at the 1948 London Olympic Games. In 1949 she was refitted at Rosyth and took part in several training cruises and Home Fleet exercises. [21]

The ship was extensively reconstructed and modernised at Portsmouth Dockyard between 1950 and 1958. This took over eight years because of frequent design changes to allow for new technologies. And in particular, the decision in 1953 that she would have to have her original steam turbines replaced, to be viable past 1964, which meant much work had to be redone, and a new flight deck installed twice over. The cost of the reconstruction increased from 5 million pounds to 30 million pounds [22] creating what was in many respects a new ship. [23] Her hull was widened, deepened, and lengthened her machinery was replaced with Foster-Wheeler boilers her hangar height was increased new armament of 3 inch (76 mm) guns was installed a fully angled flight deck (of 8 degrees) and steam catapults were added. Her radar equipment was extensively altered to include up to date equipment, and included the first type 984 3-D radar system to be installed on a ship. [24] While it was hoped she could operate a full air group of 50 aircraft, the rapid increase in size of the jets coming into service limited her to operating no more than 28 aircraft (including helicopters).

On 25 September 1958 Commander J. D. Russell drowned in his Supermarine Scimitar after a failed attempt to land on Victorious for the first time after her refit. Although the landing hook engaged the arrestor wire, the wire itself snapped due to improper rigging and the aircraft then rolled slowly over the side. It sank very slowly, but the plane-guard helicopter crew couldn't release the pilot, and it was seen that Cdr Russell had opened his canopy and then closed it again, possibly an effect of gravity on the heavy frame. The other seven Scimitars in the stream diverted away to Yeovilton. [ citation needed ]

In 1960, after recommissioning into the Home Fleet on 14 January 1958, with work-ups and deployments in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, she portrayed both herself and HMS Ark Royal during the filming of the British film Sink the Bismarck!. This was despite post-war modifications significantly altering her appearance – the addition of an angled deck and a Type 984 "searchlight" radar. The actor Kenneth More who had served aboard Victorious as a junior officer, played a fictitious Admiralty Director of Operations. He is shown giving the order to detach Victorious from Convoy WS 8B, which was forming in the River Clyde in order to move almost 20,000 troops to the Middle East.

Victorious took part in Operation Vantage in support of Kuwait in July 1961 [25] Later in 1961 she would sail to join the Far East Fleet. In 1964, she provided support for the newly independent state of Malaysia against territorial expansion by its neighbour, Indonesia. [26] In April 1966 departed again to serve with the Far East Fleet for a year, during which she proved capable of landing and then launching a USN Phantom F-4 from USS Ranger, [27] returning to the UK for a refit period from June 1967, which was almost completed, when a minor fire provided a political excuse to delete her on 13 March 1968, in further defence cuts, as a third operational carrier was no longer required for the two further years, she was intended to serve, till 1970.

Force H

In June 1940, the Ark Royal became part of a special newly-formed British naval formation called Force H. Force H was tasked with protecting British interests in the Mediterranean – especially Gibraltar and Malta.

During this period, Ark Royal came under frequent attack from the German and Italian air-forces, as its aircraft served a critical role defending convoys transporting men and supplies to the isolated island fortress of Malta.

At the beginning of July, 1941, the Ark Royal and the rest of Force H, took part in Operation Catapult, the deliberate British disabling of the French fleet off the coast of Algeria to ensure it did not fall into German hands. Following this, it spent most of its time patrolling the waters of the western Mediterranean, although it did on occasion venture out into the Atlantic on special missions.

It also indirectly contributed to Operation Judgement: the successful British attack against the Italian navy harboured at Taranto.

Design Development history

In 1934, the British Royal Navy fleet air arm rested on a collage of rebuilt vessels not always best fitted to their task, as aviation technology and carrier doctrine progressed. Only a single one, HMS Hermes, was designed from scratch, but based on WW1 experience, on a small hull and for a small air group. HMS Argus was a former liner, HMS Eagle a former battleship, HMS Furious, Courageous and Glorious, ex-Battlecruisers, also from WWI. The Navy could still “burn” remaining tonnage and therefore chose to create a prototype large fleet carrier with all the lessons learnt rather than several small fleet carriers like the Furious, but updated. Standard tonnage indeed needed to reach 23,000 tonnes at the most. The London treaty still not entered discussions.

In 1923, already, so after Hermes was in service, the Admiralty prepared a 10-year building programme including a single aircraft carrier and 300 aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm. The economic situation after 1929 postponed it. In 1930, still, the Director of Naval Construction Sir Arthur Johns, update the 1924 plans and incorporated all the latest technologies. He proposed to the admiralty a new design carrying far more aircraft by using a shortened landing and take-off deck, using at both ends, an arrestor gear and compressed steam catapults. The deck space saved helping to store more ready aircraft on deck, and allowing to prepare them as well. The inclusion of two hangar decks helped secured space for 72 aircraft, something until then unheard of, but soon relativized by the introduction of larger and heavier aircraft during her construction. In reality, this went down to about 60 at best. Later the design was refined, her landing deck was strengthened, hangars fully enclosed into the hull contrary to previous designs which just stacked the hangar above the old deck, and some machinery belt armour. For the first time also she carried three lifts. She also comprised a large island superstructure. Since Argus and Hermes, air flow disturbance was better understood, and an island presented many advantages, notably to control deck operation, and place a fire control system among others.

The international situation started to deteriorate from 1933, between Germany’s rearmament, Japanese and Italian aggressive stance and defiance towards the league of nations. This convinced the British Government to free funds for the planned and postponed carrier, this time written down in the 1934 budget proposals. Plans were completed by November 1934. A Tendered for proposal was submitted in February 1935. Cammell Laird and Company Ltd. obtained the contract after calculating an overall hull cost of £1,496,250 (today £104,630,000) whereas the outsourced main machinery (Parsons and admiralty) was approximately costing £500,000 (now circa £30,000,000) for £3 million total, making the new vessel the most expensive ship -outside battleships- ever ordered by the Royal Navy. Construction started on Job No. 1012, and HMS Ark Royal’s keel was laid down on 16 September 1935.

The Washington and London Naval treaties tonnage restrictions were to expire at the end of 1936. There was already a potential naval arms race developing between Britain, Japan and Italy, and the Government obtained the signing of a second treaty limiting aircraft carrier displacement to 23,000 long tons (23,000 t). Since HMS Ark Royal was planned at that time, her design was revised to fit this anticipated tonnage. This triggered a serie of weight savings which shaped her final design.

Ark Royal after launch, pending completion

Armour protection

One of the crucial point of her design was to offer her a substantial protection while sticking to the treaty limits. To keep her weight down, armour plating was limited to the belt and over the sensitive engine rooms and magazines. For construction, welding was chosen instead of rivetting, but only on 65% of the hull. Nevertheless, this saved 500 long tons. An armoured flight deck was technically possible, but dropped because of the treaty limit, as well as reducing stability and endurance. Instead she had a three-layered side protection system. A void-liquid-void scheme behind the belt was chose, very similar to the King George V-class own scheme. It was designed to resist a 750-pound (340 kg) warhead torpedo. Obviously it was not enough.

HMS Ark Royal also innovated by her fully enclosed hangar design, a first. Although she was still not a true “armoured carrier”, soon to be a British speciality, engineers gave her a ‘strength deck’ plated with .75in (19mm) thick Ducol steel plating. At least it supported rough landings of heavy planes, but not bombs, albeit light. The two hangar decks enclosed within the hull girder gave unmatched rigidity, also allowing to serve aircraft by heavy weather and make a splinter protection. The first and second hangar deck were not protected however. Below deck, machinery spaces flanks were protected by 4.5-inch (11.4 cm) of belt armour. There was also a waterline armoured deck to “enclose the box”, 3.5 in thick (8.9 cm) over the boiler rooms and magazines. Compartmentation helped to mitigate the effect of a torpedo hit, but bulkheads were thin, and there was no proper bulge. This would of some consequences later in her career.

Blueprint of the Ark Royal in 1941


Ark Royal was fitted three shafts propellers connected to Parsons geared turbines, in turn fed by six Admiralty 3-drum boilers. The shafts measured 16 feet (4.9 m) in diameter, the propellers measured 16 feet (4.9 m) in diameter. The powerplant was rated for 102,000 shp (76,000 kW), enough to produce a maximum theoretical speed of 30 knots (56 km/h 35 mph). During her sea trials she showed in fact to be faster, reaching 31 knots (57 km/h 36 mph) without much hassle.


It stayed very substantial, although dual purpose, no longer incorporating naval guns. The use of an air group to attack other ships was now being refined. She was however designed with anti-aircraft warfare in mind as ships and submarines could be outrun or the escort’s concern. It comprised a layered AA defence between the long range sixteen 4.5 in (110 mm) DP, six quadruple 2-pdr (40 mm (1.57 in)) and eight quadruple .50 in (12.7 mm) AA machine guns to cover all ranges.

Main armament:
The QF 4.5-inch Mk I naval guns did not existed when the ship was designed, it went at the end of the process, in 1938. The 4-in became the standard medium-calibre naval gun of the Royal navy. It fired a fixed or separate QF, 113 x 640-645mm round (55 pounds-24.9 kg) at 2,449 ft/s (746 m/s). The gun used a horizontal sliding block which could elevate 0° to +80° and had a rate of fire of 12 RPM (Mk II), with manual loading. Its maximum firing range was 20,750 yd (18,970 m) at 2,449 ft/s against surface targets, with a ceiling of 41,000 ft (12,500 m).
They were place don HMS Ark Royal in eight twin turrets embedded in sponsons on either side of the hull. They were controlled by four Directors using the High Angle Control System. This design was judged later unsatisfactory as placed too low to cover both sides of the ship. This was later altered and they were raised just below the flight deck for a better field of fire. The next Illustrious class had them higher up to cover both sides of the ship.

AA armament:
The QF 2-pounder naval gun needs no presentation. Before the introduction of the Bofors, this was the main AA gun in the Royal Navy, quite capable and often mounted in quad and octuple mounts. The “pom-pom” fired fused shrapnel shells forming black plumes around their incoming targets. Its effective Range was 3,800 yards (3,475 m) and Ceiling 13,300 feet (3,960 m) with a muzzle Velocity ranging between 2,040 ft/s (622 m/s) and 2400 ft/s (732 m/s) for the HV round. It lacked both punch and range compared to the Bofors. They were located on the flight deck, in front of and behind the superstructure island.

The last short range layer was a bit of a survival from the interwar: The quad (tandem) Vickers liquid-cooled 0.5 in heavy machine gun were placed on small projecting platforms to the front and rear of the flight deck. This model dated back from 1932 and was already a first choice in the design. In 1940 however it was too weak and slow to face modern 500 kph aircraft. Belt-fed, it fired at 500–600 rounds per minute at a muzzle velocity of 2,540 feet per second but only reaching 9,500 feet (2,900 m) down to 4,265 yards (3,900 m) at low altitude strafing or sea skimming aircraft. The armament was not revised during the war.

Aircraft Group

Blackburn Skua landing on Ark Royal in 1940

Aircraft facilities comprised, as said above, two steam catapults forward, and heavy duty arrestor hooks aft, to free some deck space, added to three lifts: All were close to the main bridge, one forward, one aft of it, both foot of the bridge, and the third on the other side of the deck. They were of equal size, accepting only planes with folded wings, and served all two hangars. The latter kept their aviation gasoline and ammunitions below the second deck, with smaller elevators to have them lifted for deck service. The fully enclose hangars were a gift to protect the aircraft for seawater corrosion, but was a hazard due to fuel vapors, and a comprehensive ventilation system was setup.

The Blackburn Roc was onboard between April 1939 and October 1940. Its quad turret proved nearly useless in combat.

The Fairey Fulmar was a bit more competent as a fighter in replacement for the Skua but never equivalent to a sea Spitfire or sea hurricane.

In all, sixteen Fleet Air Arm squadrons were posted on the aircraft carrier, usually five squadrons at once in each deployment. In January 1939 it consisted only in Blackburn Skuas Mk.II as fighters/dive bombers and Fairey Swordfish Mk.I, used for reconnaissance and torpedo bombing. In April, two squadrons equipped with Blackburn Skua Mk. II and Roc Mk. I were integrated.
From April 1940, Skuas were replaced by Fairey Fulmars, as fighters/bombers. In June 1940 she also had onboard the 701 Naval Air (training) Squadron, flying the Supermarine Walrus amphibian.
Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers started to replace the Swordfish in October 1941, and both operated together. Swordfish were still onboard when the ship was sunk in October 1941 (only Fairey Swordfish and Albacore Mk. Is) -The rather mediocre Blackburn models were all disposed of, leaving the ship without any fighter on board.

The Fairey Albacore was the last addition on board (October 1941). A sturdy biplane, it was supposed to replace the swordfish and was indeed faster with longer range and payload.

Author’s illustration of one of her Fairey swordfish Mk.I, 820 RNAS in 1939.

Author’s profile of the Ark Royal in 1942

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HMS Ark Royal (1937-1941) - History

Ark Royal underway in 1939 with a flight of Swordfish from 820 Naval Air Squadron. Royal Navy photo.

Designed in the early 1930s, Ark Royal is probably the most well-known British carrier. Commissioned in 1938, Ark Royal saw extensive service in the early years of World War II, and participated in the sinking of U-39, the first U-boat lost in combat during World War II. One of her Skua fighters was also responsible for the first British air-to-air victory of the War. After covering the Norwegian Campaign, Ark Royal was transferred to the Mediterranean, where she continued to see heavy action. In late May, 1941, Ark Royal was deployed into the Atlantic to help hunt down the German battleship Bismarck after she sank the HMS Hood. On 26 May, Ark Royal's Swordfish torpedo bombers accidentally attacked the light cruiser HMS Sheffield without success. They then sortied again, and attacked the correct target, and one of them managed to score a lucky hit on Bismarck's rudder, delivering the German into the guns of the Royal Navy's battleships. Ark returned to the Mediterranean, and covered several Malta Convoys. Due to surviving many near misses, Ark Royal developed a reputation as a lucky ship, but her luck ran out on 13 November, when she was torpedoed by U-81, sinking the next morning.

Fun Fact: The ship's motto was "Zeal Does Not Rest."

Bonus Fact: When she went down, Ark Royal had aboard her the ship's cat from the sunken destroyer HMS Cossack. Cossack had picked up the cat from Bismarck. After the loss of Ark Royal, the cat, nicknamed Unsinkable Sam, was assigned to shore duty.

HMS Ark Royal (R07)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 03/26/2020 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

HMS Ark Royal (originally to be called HMS Indomitable) represented a fitting addition to British naval power at the end of the century, considering the name had been in use for decades in other forms including an aircraft carrier used in World War 2. This new carrier came at a time when the fleet carrier program was all but gone from Royal Navy consideration and a new initiative was put forth for a carrier to operate an air group of the Sea King type helicopters. Later in development, it became apparent that the Royal Air Force's Harrier jump jet aircraft would also be a prime candidate for consideration for use on the carrier (known in the Royal Navy inventory as the Sea Harrier) and the Ark Royal's role was officially defined.

Classified was a "light" carrier and part of the Invincible class of British carriers, the Ark Royal sports an aircraft complement of various types that include the Sea Harrier jump jet aircraft (fighter and bomber versions), Sea King and Merlin type helicopters with a standard group consisting of 5 Harriers and 10 Sea Kings. Her most notable characteristic was the sloped ramp at the extreme edge of her flight deck, which sat to the port side with a superstructure at the starboard. Self-defense was accomplished through a layout of 3 x Phalanx CIWS anti-missile systems and additional 2 x 20mm cannons for anti-aircraft defense. Additionally, the class can mount 1 x twin launchers for Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles (later removed in 1999), shoring up the defense of what use to be a weakness in the design.

After a decade of refits for herself and her sister ships, the Ark Royal took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq which put to good use her offshore jump jets and helicopters. Though hardly a perfect yet still successful design in any regard, she is set to be officially replaced by the new and more capable HMS Prince of Wales by 2016. There have been many faces under the Ark Royal name in British naval history and this particular face continues the pride and progression of earlier forms. This modernized version of the Ark Royal was first ordered in late 1978 and laid down that same year. She was launched in 1981 and officially commissioned in 1985 and has been in active service ever since.

On January 22nd, 2011, HMS Ark Royal was formally bid farewell by thousands of British personnel and civilians. HMS Ark Royal was decommissioned to coincide with recent "austerity" measures across the country amid a tough economic environment. The Queen herself made a final visit to the vessel in November of 2010, marking its 25th year anniversary for service to the Royal Navy. HMS Ark Royal was retired some three years earlier than originally planned.

In 1955 a new HMS Ark Royal entered service. Still remembered by the public for her starring role in the 1970s BBC series Sailor, she eventually went to the breaker's yard in 1980.

Today's HMS Ark Royal is a member of the 'Invincible' class of support carriers, together with the Falklands veteran HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious. Last of the class to be built, HMS Ark Royal's keel was laid at Swan Hunter's yard in 1978. She was launched in June 1981 and entered service in 1985.

Watch the video: HMS Ark Royal 1975 OpérationBuccanneer S2. F-4 Phamtom II