Naval History Homepage and Site Search



by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 1995-2005





HMS Vengeance, light fleet carrier (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

on to  Part 2 Cruisers 
or return to Contents List 


Part 1

Battleship, Battlecruisers, Monitors, Fleet Aircraft Carriers, Escort Carriers


Part 2

Heavy Cruisers, Light Cruisers, AA Cruisers, Cruiser Minelayers



 B A T T L E S H I P S



Q U E E N    E L I Z A B E T H    C L A S S           


HMS Queen Elizabeth (Maritime Quest)


G e n e r a l     I n f o r m a t i o n


Four ships of this Class to be built to a design designated R3 were ordered during the latter half of 1912. After an offer by the Federated Malay States to pay for an additonal ship, a later order was placed for a fifth. In the 1914-15 Estimates a sixth ship was included but this requirement was cancelled in August 1914.


These ships, identified as the QUEEN ELIZABETH Class were :




Laid Down





HM Dockyard, Portsmouth




Scrapped Dalmuir 1948


HM Dockyard Portsmouth




Wrecked on passage to shipbreakers.



31. 1.13



Scrapped Cairn Ryan 11.48


John Brown

24. 2.13



Sunk by U331. 25.11.41




18. 3. 15


Named after Donor. Scrapped Faslane 4.48






Order cancelled 8.14


Main propulsion was provided by direct drive steam turbines of 75.000 shaft horse power driving four shafts to give a designed speed of 24 knots.


Deep Displacement of these ships varied between 32,910 and 33,410 tons. Improved armour protection was provided compared with the IRON DUKE Class and Included 13in and 6in plates for hull structure, and upper deck. In addition protection was provided for gun mountings and fire control positions.


The basic dimensions were: Length overall : 640 feet      Beam : 90 feet      Mean Deep Draught : 32 feet.


Main armament comprised eight guns 14in guns in four twin with twelve 6in guns fitted In Barbettes as secondary armament. In addition two 3in guns were fitted for air defence. 4 submerged 21in torpedo tubes were included in the basic design.


A flying-off platform for an aircraft was fitted to one of the forward 15in turrets but this was removed in 1934.


The Complement was 953 (967 as a Flagship).


Modernisation and Reconstruction


HMS WARSPITE, HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and HMS VALIANT underwent a reconstruction when they were modernised. The other ships although extensively refitted were not subject to very major structural changes nor were they fitted with dual purpose 4.5in guns. During the modernisation of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH beginning in 1937 the bridge structure was redesigned and the secondary armament was replaced by 10 twin 4.5in mountings to give an effective defence against air attacks whilst also retaining surface capability by using dual-purpose design mountings. Modern close range AA guns were also fitted.


The direct drive turbines were replaced by geared turbines and new design boilers were installed. The whole of the machinery arrangements were modified in order to improve the damage control facilities. A catapult facility with two cranes was fitted for operating a seaplane aircraft. These were removed  when war experience showed this to be of limited value.


The recent development of radar to provide warning of the approach of aircraft and for armament fire-control, which had been undertaken prior to 1940, allowed this essential equipment to be fitted during modernisation. Additional radar sets were fitted during WW2 refits and replacements fitted for existing outfits during wartime refits for existing sets . (See War Service details).


As a result of all these alterations the deep displacement increased to 36,080 tons and the Complement increased to 1200 after modernisation. By 1945 both had again increased due to the installation of additional equipment and the need for more personnel to man, maintain and support the new facilities


War Service


Between September 1939 and August 1945 all ships of the Class saw extensive service in Home Waters and abroad. They were deployed for trade defence to protect shipping against attacks by German commerce raiders and took part in most major naval operations. Their extensive deployment resulted in damage by surface, air and submarine attacks and one of the Class, HMS VALIANT, was taken cut of service when seriously damaged when she was under maintenance in a Floating Dock at Trincomalee which collapsed In August 1944


Two of the Class, HMS VALIANT and HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, were also badly damaged after an underwater attack by Italian frogmen who attached Limpet Mines to their hulls whilst at anchor in Alexandria. Both ships had to undergo extensive repairs and were taken cut of operational service in 1941 at a critical time during WW2.


HMS WARSPITE is perhaps marginally the most famous of the Class. She was in action with German and Italian surface warships, supported many Malta convoys as well as carrying out bombardments to support of allied military operations in North Africa. Her crowning glory was to lead the surrendered Italian Fleet into Malta after the capitulation of Italy in September 1943. A few weeks later she sustained further serious damage when hit by a radio controlled glider bomb off the Salerno beachhead and after several months out of service supported the allied landings in Normandy. Despite detonating an acoustic mine off Harwich she resumed these support duties and later carried out bombardments at Walcheren. Her final end was, in many ways, just as well remembered as her wartime service, since she ran aground in Mounts Bay, Cornwall when on passage to the breakers yard under tow. Her eventual dismantling extended over 10 years.


Only one ship of the Class was sunk during WW2. HMS BARHAM was hit in the eastern Mediterranean by three torpedoes fired by U331 and sank within a few minutes with heavy loss of life.


Further details of the history these ships is available in BRITISH BATTLESHIPS by Alan Raven and John Roberts and the history of HMS WARSPITE in BATTLESHIP WARSPITE by V. E. Tarrant.




 R O Y A L    S O V E R E I G N    C L A S S   


HMS Royal Sovereign (Navy Photos)


G e n e r a l     I n f o r m a t i o n


The five ships of this Class were ordered under the 1913 Programme were designed to use a combined coal and oil fuel supplies to provide steam for their propulsion machinery. The Class comprised :




Laid Down




HM Dockyard, Portsmouth

15. 1.14




HM Dockyard, Devonport





W. Beardmore, Dalmuir


12. 9.16





29. 5-15





14. 1.15



Main propulsion was provided by direct drive steam turbines of 40,000 shaft horse power driving four shafts to give a speed of almost 22 knots.


Deep Displacement of these ships varied between 31,160 and 33,540 tons. Armour protection included 13in and 6in plates for hull structure, and upper deck, addition protection was provided for gun mountings, magazines and fire control positions. Dimensions on completion were 620ft length overall, beam 102ft ft and draught of 30ft.


Main armament comprised eight 14in guns in four twin turrets with 14-6in guns fitted as secondary armament. In addition two 3in guns were fitted for air defence and also four submerged 21in torpedo tubes.


Design Changes


Early modifications during build was the conversion to use only oil fuel and to Increase the shaft horsepower from 31,000 to 40,000 which reduced the number of stokers required by 75. The four guns aft on the main deck were replaced by 2 single mountings fitted on the Forecastle Deck. Main armament directors were fitted in all ships and, in RAMILLIES only, bulges were added to improve protection against under water explosions. She was the first modem RN capital ship to have these fitted although their design was changed in post WW1 refits.


Whilst in service the remaining ships were fitted with bulges of modified design and the damage control arrangements ware improved. Armour protection was added to main deck over the magazines to incorporate lessons from the Battle of Jutland and the hull structure forward was strengthened. A flying-off platform for an aircraft was fitted to both B and X turrets. The Kite-balloon winches fitted during WW1 in REVENGE, RAMILLIES and RESOLUTION were removed after the war. The original 15 foot range finders in B and X turrets were replaced.


The changes made between 1930 and 1946 in the ships of this Class differed widely but in spite of their poor condition. Aircraft arrangements and anti-aircraft defence were much improved and the torpedo tubes were removed in all five. During WW2, apart from the fit of radar, additional AA weapons, damage control changes and removal of the aircraft there were few other significant changes.


War Service


HMS ROYAL OAK was sunk in Scapa Flow In October 1939 but the other ships survived WW2. Although used extensively for trade defence during 1939-40 ships of this Class took part in operations in Norway and at Dakar. Their low speed and poor defence against attack by aircraft showed that they were not suitable for fleet duties and they were deployed In the Indian Ocean for defence of convoys. By 1943 they had all been relegated to training duties although HMS RAMILLIES provided gunfire support during landings in Normandy and in the South of France. HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN was lent to the Soviet Navy in 1944 and was renamed ARKHANGELSK. The four ships surviving WW2 had all been scrapped by 1949.




K I N G   G E O R G E    V    C L A S S 


HMS King George V (Maritime Quest)


G e n e r a l     I n f o r m a t i o n


HMS DUKE OF YORK was ordered under the 1937 Estimates with HMS ANSON and HMS HOWE. Two others of this Class had been covered by the 1936 Programme and construction of the two ships had begun on 1st January 1937. The need for new modern battleships had been felt essential by the Admiralty since 1927 to counter build of this type of warship by Italy and France. Several conceptual designs had been drawn-up by the Naval Construction Department but the final four produced after 1935 had to take into account the limitations imposed by the by the London Naval Treaty re-affirmed in 1930. In July 1936 the design agreed was for a main armament of ten 14in guns arranged in two quadruple turrets and one twin turret instead of three quadruple turrets. As a result of the weight saving it was possible to provide increased magazine protection and still conform to the Treaty requirements. This change was needed to counter the improved penetration of modern shells. In hindsight it is clear that this was based on experience in WW1 and inadequate for the different conditions to be faced in modern sea warfare.


As designed the standard displacement was 35,490 tons with a waterline beam of 103 feet. During build and war service due to changes in equipment. Standard Displacement of KING GEORGE V in 1945 was 39,100 tons. Ships of this Class had an overall length of 745 feet with a waterline beam of 103 feet and a draught of 28 feet at standard displacement.


The main armament was fitted in two quadruple mountings, fitted forward and aft, with a twin 14in mounting sited forward above the quadruple mounting. Eight twin 5.25in mountings with a surface and anti-aircraft capability comprised the secondary armament. In addition, Close Range AA defence was provided by four eight barrelled 2 pdr pom-pom guns on build and supplemented in service by 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofor guns as well as additional pom-pom mountings.


Radar Equipment


This Class was fitted with some outfits on build and as more equipment was developed the radar fit was very significantly improved throughout war service. Details of the function of the various equipments are as follows but reference should be made to RADAR AT SEA by D Howse for further information about the development and use of radar in the RN.


Long Range Aircraft Warning

Type 279, a production variant of the first equipment for naval use, was fitted in KGV on build. Two aerial units were required and were sited on the main and fore masts. Prior to deployment in the Pacific, Type 279B a modified set was fitted which required only one aerial which was sited on the mainmast. The remaining three ships were fitted on build with an improved equipment Type 281 which was replaced by a single mast variant, Type 281B in 1944.

Main Armament Fire-control

Type 284, the development of which was completed soon after the outbreak of war was fitted during build in all ships with the its aerial mounted on the Forward Director and provided data for control of the two forward mountings. During 1944-45 this equipment was replaced by a much improved equipment Type 274 and a second outfit was fitted to the After Director in the three ships in service.

Secondary 5.25in Fire-control

Type 285, which was a variant of Type 284 was fitted after build completion in all ships with the aerial fitted on the HA Director associated with each pair of twin gun mountings. These equipments were replaced after 1944 by Type275 which was a variant of Type 274 used for the main armament.

Close Range Armament

Type 282, another variant of Type 284 was fitted during or soon after build with aerial mounted on Director controlling Pom-Pom Mounting. Number fitted varied between ships and some were fitted during build with additional during service. Planned replacement was Type 262 developed towards the end of WW2 but was not implemented in the remaining four ships during war.

Surface Warning

Type 271 which was development during WW2 was fitted in KGV and DoY during service and a prototype modified variant which later became Type 273 was fitted in PoW before she sailed for Singapore. Production models of this new improved version were fitted during the build of the other two ships. In final wartime refits of these four ships the newly designed Type 293 and Type 277 were fitted. This latter outfit had a dual capability allowing its use for aircraft height finding. These sets and also Type 281B/279B had Plan Display units fitted in an Operations Room where all radar information could be assessed. 


Special radar Interrogation outfits which enabled Friendly ships and aircraft to be identified were fitted during service. Type 243 was used in conjunction with Aircraft Warning radars and Type 242 with the Surface Warning sets. A Transponder Type 253 which replied to the challenges by Interrogators.


As designed ships of this Class were to carry four amphibian aircraft but before completion this was reduced to two. A catapult was fitted for launching and cranes were used for their recovery. In later refits aircraft and catapult were landed as war experience and the availability of radar established their limited value.


Four three bladed propellers driven by steam turbines with a shaft horsepower of 100,000 produced a speed of 27 knots in service. The endurance as designed was never achieved and compared unfavourably with similar US and German battleships. The arrangement of the machinery was in four separate Units which could operate independently to ensure propulsion was available in the event of damage in action or collision.


Considerable armour protection against gunfire and was provided in the original design for magazines, machinery compartments, main and secondary gun mountings. Protection was also provided against torpedo attack by a system of compartments along the side of the ship which was criticised as being insufficient after the loss of HMS PRINCE OF WALES. The damage control arrangements were also improved as a result of the sinking. De-gaussing was fitted during build for protection against magnetic mines.


The most significant design weakness in this Class was the lack of freeboard particularly in the bow due to the increase in displacement after additional equipment was added during the build. As a result the ships were very wet forward, even in moderate sea conditions which affected gunnery performance.


War experience especially in Arctic conditions, demonstrated the need for better protection of equipment in severe weather conditions. As designed the Complement was 1,409 but this had increased to over 1,550 by 1945 due to the requirement for personnel to operate and support the additional equipment fitted. Despite their shortcomings these ships gave magnificent service and their very existence did much to ensure that attacks on Atlantic and Arctic convoys were prevented.










HMS Repulse (Maritime Quest)


G e n e r a l     I n f o r m a t i o n


Four battleships of the ROYAL SOVEREIGN Class ordered in May 1914, but were cancelled in August 1911 after the outbreak of WW1. In December that year, at the instigation of Admiral Fisher orders ware placed for two battlecruisers to be named REPULSE and RENOWN. These ships were intended to be faster than the existing but to retain the same armament at the expense of armour protection. Build time was intended to be 15 months and fitting of new propulsion machinery was not approved because of this factor.


HMS RENOWN was laid down by Fairfields in January 1915, launched on 4th torch 1916 and completed on 20th September that year. Main propulsion was provided by steam turbines of 120.000 shaft horse power driving four shafts to give a speed of 32 knots during trials. As designed their Deep displacement was 30,385 tons but this Increased to 36,080 tons by 1939 after modernisation. Both ships ware 794 feet long overall and had a beam of 90 feet with a deep draught of 30 feet. Their main armament comprised six 16in guns in three twin turrets with 17 four inch guns as secondary armament and two 3in High Angle Guns for A A defence. A proposal to carry 25 mines was not implemented. Both ships had two underwater torpedo tubes fitted forward. After completion flying-off platforms were fitted to two of the 15in gun turrets. Although armour protection was provided for decks and also to safeguard gunnery positions this was not as substantial as in the battleships built at the same period. The extent of Deck protection was increased in 1916 after completion following war experience.


In 1919 HMS RENOWN was selected to take HRH The Prince of Wales for a visit to Australia and underwent a refit to make changes to provide suitable accommodation for the Prince. Further refits in 1931 and 1933 allowed improvement of the High Angle gun control and in addition a catapult was fitted for a seaplane, but without any hangar for maintenance.

The ship was modernised along the same lines as that for HM Battleship WARSPITE between 1936 and 1939. Extensive changes were made to the secondary armament which was replaced by ten twin 4.5in mountings with a dual surface and AA capability-Changes to the aircraft facilities were made including provision of hangars and two cranes for recovery. As part of the modernisation the propulsion machinery was replaced to reduce weight and provide new boilers. Auxiliary machinery using electrical power instead of steam was fitted and this included electro-hydraulic steering gear and an a electric capstan. In addition the protection arrangements were slightly improved but restricted to avoid loss of speed. Originally the Complement was 953 (967 as a Flagship) but this increased to 1200 after modernisation and to 1453 by 1945 due to the need to operate and support the additional equipment fitted during WW2.


Between September 1939 and August 1945 this ship saw extensive service in Home Waters, the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean as described in the Chronology of War Service. She was deployed for defence of military and trade convoys as well as for the support of shore operations in Norway and in the East Indies. HMS RENOWN was damaged in action off Norway in 1940 with the German battleships GNEISENAU and SCHARNHORST and took part in the search for the German battleship BISMARCK in May 1941. She brought Winston Churchill back to UK after the QUADRANT conference at Quebec with Franklin Roosevelt. In 1941 radar equipment was installed and during a refit in 1943 before being deployed in the Indian Ocean her aircraft facilities were removed and additional close range weapons were fitted for defence against aircraft.


Because of the very significant addition of equipment the ship's displacement increased by over 2,300 tons which gave rise to concern. The ship returned to UK from duty in the Indian Ocean during March 1945 for further reconstruction to reduce weight starting In October. This was cancelled in September and the ship deployed at Devonport for training. However her final duty in the active Fleet was to be used by HM King George VI when he met the Mr Truman the US President at Plymouth on 2nd August 1945. HMS RENOWN reduced to Reserve status in December 1946 and was placed on the Disposal List in 1948. She arrived at Faslane to be broken up on 8th August 1948.






 H O O D    C L A S S  


HMS Hood (Maritime Quest)


G e n e r a l            I n f o r m a t i o n


HMS HOOD was ordered at 7th April 1916 with HM Battlecruisers HOWE and RODNEY. A fourth ship of this Class HMS ANSON was in July that year. The design had been under consideration for almost a year and of the final four variants proposed, the modified Design A was chosen. The details were altered after the Battle of Jutland but these were shown to be inadequate when this ship was lost in May 1941. Although four of the Class were laid down, three were cancelled and only HMS HOOD entered service. It is beyond question that this battlecruiser was considered to be the most graceful Royal Navy ship in September 1939 when war was declared and her loss came as a great shock, especially to all RN personnel. For details of the design changes between 1915 and 1920 see BRITISH BATTLESHIPS by A Raven and J Roberts.


Main propulsion was provided by single reduction steam turbines of 144,000 Shaft Horse Power driving four shafts to give a speed of 31.9 knots during trials. As designed the Deep Displacement was 46,680 tons, with a length overall of 860 feet 7 inches, a Beam of 104 feet 2 inches and deep draught of 32 feet.


The main armament comprised eight 14in guns in four twin turrets. These were of modified design which allowed a maximum elevation of 30 degrees instead of 20 degrees following experience in the Battle of Jutland. Secondary armament fitted was 12-5.5in and four High Angle single 4in guns for AA defence. The ship was also fitted with two underwater torpedo tubes and four deck mounted torpedo tubes. Armour protection was provided for upper decks, and bulkheads with side armour to protect weapon mountings and control positions for fire control equipment. Bulges were provided for underwater hull protection. An aircraft flying-off platform was fitted on X Turret aft. For details see above reference.


During further refits before WW2 the Bridge was modified and range finder arrangements changed. Extensive improvements were made to improve AA defence and the aircraft platform was removed as its use had proved unsatisfactory for this design of ship. The submerged torpedo tubes were also removed. Improvements were made to communications equipment and to positioning of searchlights.


All secondary armament was changes before 1940 having been replaced by dual purpose twin 4in weapons. During the refit in 1940 a degaussing cable was installed to give protection against magnetic mines. Radar outfits were also fitted for aircraft warning and for main armament fire control by 19409.


A proposal made in December 1938 to carry out an extensive reconstruction was never implemented because of the anticipated outbreak of war with Germany. The main machinery would have been replaced and aircraft facilities fitted including hangars. The Bridge structure was intended to be re-designed as had been already done in some of the QUEEN ELIZABETH Class battleships. Significant improvements were intended to armour protection, but whether these would have prevented the sinking by BISMARCK cannot be assumed. Her loss was the subject of a Board of Inquiry amongst the comment on its findings was the suggestion that the sinking may have been due to explosion of torpedo warheads adjacent to the point of contact of the fifth salvo. See above reference and the Naval Staff History Battle Summary.


Originally the Complement was 1,397 but due to the provision of additional anti-aircraft weapons as well as radar equipment this would have progressively increased. At the time of her sinking over 1,400 personnel were killed.


Between initial commissioning on 14th May 1920 and September 1939 the ship served mainly in Home waters and in the Mediterranean. She was held in high esteem not only by those who manned her but by all associated with the Royal Navy from 1920 on. During her service in WW2 she was extensively deployed for Home Fleet operations and for Atlantic convoy defence.






HMS Erebus (CyberHeritage)


G e n e r a l      I n f o r m a t i o n


This type of warship was designed for the support of shore military operations. These ships were armed with two 15in guns mounted in a turret which was sited forward of the bridge.


The Monitors in service in September 1939 were :



Disarmed and used as an accommodation ship at Devonport.


Attached to the Gunnery School at Chatham for training purposes, Disarmed in 1940 and used as an accommodation ship,


Attached to the Gunnery School at Portsmouth. Used as a training ship for naval cadet. and had been specially modified for this duty with additional cabins on the upper deck.


Deployed at Singapore with the Local Flotilla.


Two ships of this type, HMS ROBERTS and HMS ABERCROMBIE were completed after 1939 and deployed operationally during WW2.


HMS Roberts (Navy Photos)


G e n e r a l     P a r t i c u l a r s



7,850 Tons (Except ROBERTS 7,970 Tons)


373 feet Beam 90 feet Draught 12 feet.


Geared turbines (4,800 SHP) driving 2 shafts. Speed: 12 knots.


1 Twin 15in Mounting; 4 twin 4in; 2 Pdr pom-pom (1x8 and 2x8)


Provided for Deck, hull , gun mountings and steering gear. External bulges were fitted to hull for protection against torpedoes.





W a r      S e r v i c e 


HMS ROBERTS served in the Mediterranean from 1942 and aupported many operations in North Africa and Italy including the allied landings in Sicily and at Salerno. On return to UK in 1944 she was deployed in support of the Normandy landings and at Walcheren..


HMS TERROR was deployed in the Mediterranean during 1940 and supported the 8th Army until being sunk by air attacks on 24th February 1941


HMS EREBUS provided gunfire support during the evacuations from Europe in 1940 and later carried out  bombardment of enemy positions in France. In 1943 the ship went to support allied landings in Sicily. The next year she returned to Home waters and also supported the Normandy landings and the Walcheren assault operations.


For further details of war service in WW1 and WW2 see MONITORS by I. Button





 F L E E T   A I R C R A F T   C A R R I E R S



H. M . S .     E A G L E



G e n e r a l     I n f o r m a t i o n


The twentieth British warship to bear the name EAGLE.  This ship had been ordered from Armstrong's as a Dreadnought battleship by Chile in 1913 and was to have been named ALMIRANTE COCHRANE. However, after war broke out in August 1914 work was suspended. The ship lay unattended on her building slipway until 1917 when she was purchased by the Admiralty for 1.3M. Her design was modified by aAdmiralty Naval Constructor, Sir. E. H. Tennyson d'Eyncourt, to enable the ship to be used to carry aircraft. For that reason she cannot be regarded as the first purpose built Royal Navy aircraft carrier. The flight deck extended for the full length of the ship which had no masts, only one funnel and no island structure.


The full Load displacement was 26,400 tons with an overall length of 667 feet and beam of 105 feet 9. She had a maximum draught of 27 feet. Geared turbines with a shaft horsepower of 50,000 driving 2 shafts gave a speed of 24 knots. Armour protection was provided for hull and decks. Her main armament consisted of nine 6in guns for defence against surface ships and she had four 4in guns for anti-aircraft defence. Before the outbreak of war in 1939 eight 2Pdr pom pom guns were added for close range AA defence.


Her conversion was carried out by the builder Armstrong's at Elswick and the ship was launched on 8th June 1918. After commissioning on 13th April 1920, flying trials were carried out off Sicily to assess performance in the new role. As a result it was necessary to make modifications to the existing arrangements. Work was undertaken at HM Dockyard Portsmouth starting in November 1920 and did not complete until 1923. The changes made also took into account the experience gained in other trials carried out by the other carriers which had showed the need to have an island structure for control of flying operations and for ship handling. This feature was provided in the revised design and was sited on the starboard side. It incorporated two funnels and two masts, the forward one of which had a gunnery fire control position at its top. HMS EAGLE had therefore a distinctive appearance, quite different from any other RN aircraft carriers.               


Originally her complement was 748 but this increased to over 1150 during WW2. The ship was intended to carry 21 aircraft and the hangar design included two levels. When finally accepted into service the ship and its various alterations had cost 4.6M.


HMS EAGLE was serving on the China Station in 1939 and transferred on the outbreak of war to the Indian Ocean. She went to the Mediterranean in June 1940 and took part in several Fleet operations. Despite her slow speed and limited operational capacity she was used extensively for defence of Malta supply convoys and to take aircraft for the reinforcement of Malta. She was lost whilst covering the passage of a Malta convoy in August 1942 when torpedoed by U73 south of Majorca. The ship sank quickly but 900 of the crew of 1160 were rescued.




C O U R A G E O U S    C L A S S


HMS Courageous (Navy Photos/Mark Teadham)


G e n e r a l    I n f o r m a t i o n


The second British warship to bear the name GLORIOUS, first used for a French 74 gun ship captured at the Battle of The Saintes in 1782, but foundered five months later. This ship was designed as a light battlecruiser and ordered in 1915 with another of the same type to be named COURAGEOUS. They were part of a project initiated by the renowned Admiral Sir John Fisher for operations in shallower waters such as the Baltic Sea. A similar battlecruiser, HMS FURIOUS was ordered at the same time for the same type of deployment and had a main armament of 18in, guns the eaviest ever used in a British warship. All three ships were converted for use as aircraft carriers by 1930.


HMS COURAGEOUS was ordered from Armstrong's Elswick shipyard in Newcastle and HMS GLORIOUS from Harland and Wolf at Belfast. Both ships were completed in 1917 and had a deep displacement of about 23,000 tons. They were 786 feet in overall length with a beam of 81 feet 9 inches outside bilges and had a draught of 24ft at standard displacement. Armour protection was provided as fitted in C-Class cruisers. During the sea trials of HMS COURAGEOUS in 1917, heavy weather conditions showed signs of strain on the forward part of the hull. Doubling plates were fitted to strengthen the structure in both ships. Aircraft platforms on the A and Y-turrets were used for two aircraft in line with the current policy. The build cost for each ship was 2.1M.


After the better armed and protected RENOWN Class battlecruisers joined the Fleet the two COURAGEOUS Class became of limited vale and were considered to be white elephants. Their selection for full conversion into aircraft carriers was a sign of the recognition within the Admiralty that purpose built ships of this type were an essential need.


COURAGEOUS Class ships were originally fitted with 2 twin 15in guns and a secondary armament of 6 triple 4in mountings, which were never considered a successful design. After a short period in service they were taken in hand for conversion to their new role in Royal Dockyards between 1924 and 1927. Their armament was then replaced by 16 dual purpose 4.7in guns which could be used against surface and aircraft targets. In addition they had some smaller AA weapons. The torpedo tubes fitted originally were removed.


The propulsion machinery consisting of four propellers driven by steam turbines of 90,000 shaft horsepower provided a a speed of 31.58 knots during trials following conversion. 18 Yarrow type boilers fitted in three compartments were used. After conversion, the ships carried 48 aircraft and had an island structure on the starboard side of the flight deck which included the funnel and bridge. This feature distinguished the Class from HMS FURIOUS which had no funnel visible.


The designed Complement after conversion was 748 excluding the aircrew and support personnel who were largely from the RAF in these two ships. Various modifications were made before 1939 including installation of 21pdr pom-pom AA weapons for use in close range AA defence.


Both HMS COURAGEOUS and HMS GLORIOUS were sunk in the first ten months ofWW2. Neither ship was fitted with radar and no significant changes were made to their AA armament. In each case their sinking was due to misuse. HMS COURAGEOUS was deployed on anti-submarine patrols with insufficient protection and sank after being hit by torpedo from a U-Boat on 17th September 1939. HMS GLORIOUS was sunk in action with the German battleships SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU when returning to UK from Norway after the allied evacuation. The fact that none of her aircraft were being used to provide any warning of the presence of enemy warships was a major factor in her tragic and unnecessary loss.





I L L U S T R I O U S    C L A S S E S


HMS Illustrious (Navy Photos)


G e n e r a l     I n f o r m a t i o n


The second generation of Fleet Aircraft Carriers comprised six ships. ILLUSTRIOUS Class


              ILLUSTRIOUS built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow.

              VICTORIOUS built by Vickers Armstrong at Newcastle on Tyne.

              FORMIDABLE built by Harland and Wolff at Belfast.


During build it was decided to incorporate new features in these ships but owing to their advanced build status it was only possible to incorporate a second half-size aircraft hangar on the deck below the main hangar. This Class was slightly larger than that of HMS ARK ROYAL. These ships displaced 23,000 tons and had a length of 95 feet with draught of 24 feet. As designed they carried a main armament of 8 twin 4.5in High Angle mountings for defence against aircraft and surface ships with six 8 barrel 2 pd Pom Pom mountings for Close Range AA defence. Later these were replaced by 20mm Oerlikon mountings. The initial design allowed for 36 Aircraft but this increased to over 60 later in WW2 although varied when heavier machines were available. The main propulsion machinery consisted of geared turbines with a shaft horsepower of 110,000 giving a speed of 31 knots. Initially their Complement was about 1400 but this increased later when more guns and new equipment e.g. , radar was fitted.


Armour protection was provided for the hangars, upper deck and machinery compartments. The availability of an armoured Flight Deck undoubtedly saved these ships after being hit by Japanese KAMIKAZE aircraft in the Pacific during 1945.


Modified ILLUSTRIOUS Class


HMS Indomitable in 1946 (Maritime Quest)


                INDOMITABLE built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow.


HMS INDOMITABLE had a displacement of 22,600 tons as designed and was 751 feet in overall length with a beam of 953 feet and mean draught of 294 feet. The other particulars were as for the earlier ILLUSTRIOUS Class.




HMS Implacable in 1952 (Navy Photos)


                IMPLACABLE built by Fairfield at Govan

.               INDEFATIGABLE built by John Brown at dydebank.


The full range of changes were incorporated during the build of the last two ships which became known as the IMPLACABLE Class. Amongst the changes made were provision of four sets of turbine machinery driving four shafts which gave an increase in designed speed.


None of the six Fleet Aircraft Carriers of these Classes which were all completed during WW2, was lost during WW2.


P o s t     W a r      S e r v i c e


HMS FORMIDABLE and HMS INDEFATIGABLE were put into Reserve in 1948 and never used in the operational Fleet after that date.


HMS ILLUSTRIOUS was mainly used for trials purposes until laid up in 1954.


HMS IMPLACABLE remained operational until 1950 when she was used for training purposes.


HMS INDOMITABLE was extensively modernised and her bow and stem rebuilt between 1948 and 1950. She then became Flagship of the Home Fleet until 1954 when placed in Reserve.


HMS VICTORIOUS was extensively modernised between 1950 and 1958, again refitted in 1962-3 and then remained operational until 1967 when taken out of use.





L I G H T    F L E E T     A I R C R A F T    C A R R I E R S



C O L O S S U S    C L A S S


HMS Colossus (Navy Photos/Mark Teadham)


G e n e r a l    I n f o r m a t i o n


Ten Light Fleet Aircraft Carriers of the COLOSSUS Class) were ordered under War Emergency Build Programmes in 1942 - 43. These ships were not as big as the earlier Fleet Aircraft Carriers (ILLUSTRIOUS Class) and were not able to carry as many aircraft. Although intended primarily for use in defence of convoys as replacement for the US Type CVE, they were fitted with the equipments needed to carry out Fleet duties. None of this type were completed before hostilities ended in August 1945.


They were built to Lloyds Specification for merchant ship construction up to Main Deck level. This was to enable them to be converted for use as mercantiles after the end of the war. However all COLOSSUS Class Light Fleet Carriers were used in the Fleet role and remained in naval service with the Royal Navy and those of other foreign countries.



Naval Service


French, from 1951 after loan (ARROMANCHES)


British. Used as a Maintenance or Supply Carrier. Scrapped in 1958.


British until scrapped in 1961.


British. As for PERSEUS. Scrapped in 1954.


British until scrapped in 1952.


British until scrapped in 1962


British until scrapped in 1980.


Netherlands since 1948 (KAREL DOORMAN).


RAN loan until 1956. Brazil from 1957 (MINAS GERAIS)


Argentine from 1958 (INDEPENDENCIA).


Ships of this Class had a displacement of 13,350 tons (Standard) or at Full Load 18,500 tons. With an overall length of 695 feet and a beam of 80 feet they had a mean draught of 21 feet (23 feet at full load). The propulsion machinery consisted of steam turbines with 42,000 Shaft Horsepower giving a speed of 25 knots. Design arrangements included the use of a 'Unit' system to improve damage control. Endurance: 12,000 miles at 14 knots.


Ships other than the Maintenance carriers had multiple 2Pdr pom-pom and 40mm AA mountings for close range defence against aircraft .The original complement was 850 excluding aircrew and maintenance personnel but this increased significantly as more equipment was fitted. Radar equipment was fitted for aircraft control, surf ace warning and for navigation purposes with radio communication outfits for direction of aircraft and standard naval requirements.


Between 39 and 43 aircraft could be embarked, depending on type. Fixed wing aircraft were used until helicopter development for naval use was completed in 1960's. Rotary wing aircraft were extensively then used in aircraft carriers. s shown in the above Table all ships of this Class retained in the RN had been taken out of service as aircraft

carriers or were transferred to foreign navies by 1959-





H E R M E S    C L A S S


HMS Hermes (Navy Photos)


G e n e r a l    I n f o r m a t i o n


 These eight ships were ordered under an Emergency War Build Programme in 1944 but at the end of hostilities with Japan the orders for four ships were cancelled. Work on the other four partially built hulls was stopped until 1946 when construction was re-commenced. The name of HMS ELEPHANT was changed to HERMES  in 1945 to ensure that this famous name could be retained in the post war Fleet. This design of this ship was improved to include post war developments such as the angled deck and steam catapult. Later in 1971 she was converted for use as a Commando Carrier with extensive design changes to meet the new role. After another 17 years service she was placed on the Disposal List and sold to India.




Laid Down





Swan Hunter


06. 05..47


Sold for use as Crane Ship 7.73 and scrapped 11.73


Swan Hunter






Harland and Wollf


22, 06 48

Scrapped 1984


Harland and Wolff


22. 04.47


Scrapped 1972


Vickers Barrow




Renamed HERMES. Re-categorised Class. Sold to India 1986


Cammell Laird












Devonport Dyd






General Particulars (On Build)



22,000 tons


Length 737 ft. 9 ins, Beam 123,  ftDraught 26 ft

Propulsion Machinery

Geared Turbines providing 78,000 SHP driving 2 shafts. Speed 28 knots.





Complement .

1,350 (with Squadrons embarked).







E S C O R T     A I R C R A F T    C A R R I E R S


G e n e r a l    I n f o r m a t i o n


One of the earliest lessons learnt in the first year of the Battle of the Atlantic was the need for continuous air cover of convoys. As few Coastal Command shore based aircraft were available, submarines were able to approach convoys without the need to submerge until making an attack. Once enemy aircraft operated from French bases any convoy without fighter protection became an easy target, unless near a UK coast


In 1941 four naval auxiliaries were fitted with a catapult to enable fighter aircraft to be launched for defence of convoys. These vessels were known as Catapult Armed Merchant Ships (CAM Ships). The greatest disadvantage was that the aircraft could not be recovered and the pilot, after using his parachute had rely upon rescue by one of the ships in the convoy. To overcome this feature it was decided to fit a Flight Deck on a mercantile so that it was possible for an aircraft to take off and land. The first ship converted was the Ex German mercantile HANNOVER captured in 1940 and renamed EMPIRE AUDACITY. Commissioned as HMS AUDACITY she had very successful, but brief career which confirmed the over-riding importance of this solution to effective air cover from a ship in the convoy. HMS AUDACITY was torpedoed in December 1942 in defence of Atlantic Convoy HG76 on passage to UK from Gibraltar. She was the first Escort Aircraft in the Royal Navy designed specially for convoy defence. This type of warship is known as a CVE in the US Navy.


In addition six Grain Carriers and four Oil Tankers being built in UK shipyards together with nine other Oil Tankers in service were also converted. These ships, manned by civilian crews were known as Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MAC Ships.) They performed a duel role as they carried cargoes as well providing anti-submarine protection during passage. The number of aircraft carried was limited to four SWORDFISH and no hangar was available for maintenance or protection from the weather.


MAC and CAM ships were an interim solution to this need whilst a more suitable conversion was in hand to the British Escort Aircraft Carriers. In addition to having a Flight Deck, a hangar was available and better AA defence as well as carrying 15 aircraft which did not have to remain on the Flight Deck. More importantly the CVE was fitted with radar and communication equipment essential for aircraft direction and control of anti-submarine operations. A fifth mercantile PRETORIA CASTLE deployed as an Armed Merchant Cruiser was also converted for use as a CVE and use for deck landing training.


No other conversions were made in British shipyards as the US Navy had already begun mass-production of this type of aircraft carrier, some of which were to be supplied to the Royal Navy under the UK/US Lease Lend Agreement. As

a result British shipyards were able to concentrate on build of anti-submarine escorts and much larger and adaptable Light Fleet Aircraft Carriers which could be used for either Fleet or Convoy defence


During 1943-45 CVEs were deployed extensively with Support Groups in defence of Atlantic and Arctic convoys. Their aircraft were responsible for the sinking of many U-Boats and the air cover they provided ensured the safe passage of many hundreds of ships.


When more CVEs became available they were deployed in the Mediterranean for convoy defence and for support of

shore operations. After the end of hostilities with Germany in May 1945, 24 of these ships served in the Eastern Fleet and the British Pacific Fleet and carried out a variety of duties.


General Comparisons



CAM Ships

MAC Ships



Number Built





Displacement (Tons)



11,000 - 17,000


Length (Feet)



470 - 510







Aircraft Carried






* Audacity, Activity, Campania, Pretoria Castle, Nairana, Vindex


HMS Audacity (CyberHeritage) (no enlargement)


Nominal List of Escort Aircraft Carriers (CVE)



Intended deployment on completion


Convoy Escort


Assault Carrier




Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Assault Carrier


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Assault Carrier


Assault Carrier


Convoy Escort


Assault Carrier


Assault Carrier


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort




Convoy Escort




Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort










Assault Carrier


Assault Carrier


Convoy Escort




Convoy Escort


Assault Carrier


Assault Carrier


Convoy Escort


Assault Carrier


Convoy Escort




Convoy Escort


Convoy Escort







U . S. - B U I L T    E S C O R T    A I R C R A F T    C A R R I E R S


General Information


As a result of the close relationship between the Royal Navy and the US Navy the need for convoy escorts to include a warship able to provide air cover was quickly recognised. Two mercantiles under construction in the USA were requisitioned and orders placed for them to be converted for use as auxiliary aircraft carriers .designated CVE. One of these two ships was transferred to the RN under the UK/US Lease-Lease Agreement in response to an order for 6 ships of this type.




HMS Archer (Navy Photos)


The Lead Ship (Ex MORMACLAND) became HMS ARCHER and was completed to the design of the US Navy CVE USS LONG ISLAND. Although five others were ordered one was retained by the USN and was used for training British aircrew. Ships of this Class, unlike the British built CVE HMS AUDACITY had a hangar extending for half the length of the Flight Deck with a lift at one end. Diesel engines provided main propulsion using a single shaft. One engine in HMS ARCHER and two in remainder. A single 5in US Navy gun mounting was fitted for Low Angle defence and two 3in Anti-aircraft guns. Close range defence was provided by 40mm and 20mm weapons. British naval radar sets were fitted in this Class. During RN service these ships proved unstable and ballast was added. The petrol distribution system was modified after loss of HMS DASHER in 1943 following an explosion.




HMS Chaser (Navy Photos)


Eleven ships of this Class were obtained under Lend-Lease. Changes were made to the ARCHER design and embodied in hulls already under construction for use as mercantiles. Most significant were the use of steam turbine machinery and provision of a larger hangar extending the full length of the Flight Deck. Four sponsons were added on either side of the Flight Deck for installation of additional Close Range anti-aircraft armament .Two 5in US Navy gun mountings were fitted during build but later replaced by British guns. A feature of ATTACKER Class ships was the selection of some specifically for use during Assault landing operations. These variations were fitted with special radar and communications equipment to control aircraft used for the protection of ships during landing operations. Other ATTACKER Class were fitted for convoy defence use as Escorts. Ships of the Class were fitted with British radar outfits and could carry more aircraft.




HMS Arbiter (Navy Photos)


23 of this last type were obtained under Lend-Lease and ordered from one US shipyard (Seattle-Tacoma) for use as either Assault or Convoy Escort use. Build times were reduced by the use of mass production techniques and some of this Class were taken to US Navy or commercial shipyards for completion. In order to further improve delivery times modification work to suit RN service was also carried out on the west coast of Canada. Apart from the provision of more Close Range anti-aircraft weapons the design followed that of the earlier ATTACKER Class. US naval radar was fitted during build in all this Class and included a fire control system for close range weapons. An increased aircraft complement could be carried. Some ships fitted or used as Assault Carriers were deployed for transport of aircraft.


Comparison Table
















13,000 tons *

492 ft



1 x US 5in LA, 2 x US3in AA, 15 x 20mm





11,420 tons

492 ft



2 x US 5in, 8 x 40mm,

15 x 20mm






492 ft



2 x US 5in,

16 x 40mm,

35 x 20mm


20 ***



Notes:     * ARCHER only, **  US 5in changed in some ships, *** Varied with type



on to  Part 2 Cruisers 
or return to Contents List

revised 30/7/11