Ark Royal class Large Fleet Carrier
This page written by Bruce T. Swain
Name Builder Commisioned Details
Ark Royal Cammell Laird 16 November 1938 Sunk 13 November 1941 by torpedoes from German submarine U81 off Gibraltar
1:600 HMS Ark Royal , as completed and sunk. Note the twin, manual 4.5" guns, the quadruple 0.5" MG AA mounted quadrantly around the ships, and the pom-pom arrangement. All these would become fetures of the famous armoured carriers. Unarmoured, Ark Royal was much taller and had many more apetures in her hull than her later sisters. © Andrew Arthur

Ark Royal can easily lay claim to being the Royal Navy’s most famous carrier, for, apart from her design, she achieved more in 3-year carrier than other ships achieved in decades.
Her design benefited from the vast amount of experience gained from the 6 carriers (all but one of them converted vessels) completed between 1918 and 1930. For this reason, and because she was designed as a fleet carrier from the start, she showed a considerable improvement over the earlier carriers and set the pattern for all subsequent fleet carriers.
The flight deck, instead of being carried by the hull, was incorporated as part of its structure; the side plating continued up to the flight deck, resulting in a fully enclosed bow that was to become a distinctive feature of British carriers. This, together with the extensive use of welding, produced a light but very strong hull.
The two hangars could accommodate 72 aircraft (6 squadrons), but in practice it was found that 60 was the optimum number.
The honour of the first enemy aircraft shot down by a Fleet Air Arm aircraft went to one of Ark’s Blackburn Skuas in late September 1939, then on 10 April 1940 her aircraft achieved another first when they bombed and sank the German light cruiser Königsberg - the first instance of a major vessel being sunk by air attack.
After participating in the ill-fated Norwegian campaign, Ark moved to the Mediterranean, where she became the nucleus of Admiral Somerville’s Force "H", and in July 1940 her aircraft took part in the operations against the French warships at Mers-el-Kebir, near Oran, mining the marked channel to the port and carrying out torpedo attacks on the battlescruisers Dunkerque and Strasbourg. On 1 August Ark’s aircraft bombed the power station at Cagliari, then in September were in action against French ships again - this time at Dakar, where the British aircraft were roughly handled by French fighters.
In November 1940 there was an abortive brush with an Italian fleet off Cape Spartivento, then from February to April 1941 Force "H" carried out an unsuccessful search for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the Atlantic. Her aircraft were more successful in the hunt for and destruction of Bismarck, scoring the two torpedo hits that jammed the battleship’s rudder and slowed her sufficiently for the Home Fleet to catch and destroy her.
After carrying out aircraft ferry runs to Malta and escorting two vital convoys to the island, Ark Royal’s luck finally ran out on 13 November 1941 when she was torpedoed by U.81; she was eventually taken in tow, but when only 20 miles from Gibraltar - and 13 hours after she had been torpedoed - she capsized and sank.

Dimensions Net displacement 22,352 tons Length 800'
Gross displacement 28,143 tons Beam 94.75'
Load 6189 tons Draught 27.75'


Flight Deck Details
Flight Deck Length (usable) 720' Upper Hangar Length 568' Lifts 3
Hangar Flight Deck Width 95' Lower Hangar Length 452' Catapults 2


Performance & Propulsion
Range 7620 nm @ 20 kts Speed 31 kts
Propulsion 6 x Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 6 x Parsons steam turbines @ 102,000 shp
Armament, Aircraft & Complement ( Final )
Complement 1600 Officers & Ratings including Air Group
  • Gun
    • 4 x 2 x 4.5"AA
    • 6 x 8 x 2 pdr AA
    • 8 x 4 x 0.5" AA
Air Groups
  • 1939-40
    • 26 x Fairey Swordfish
    • 24 x Blackburn Skuas
      • 50 planes
  • 1940-41
    • 30 x Fairey Swordfish
    • 12 x Blackburn Skuas
    • 12 x Fairey Fulmars
      • 54 planes
  • 1941
    • 36 x Fairey Swordfish
    • 18 x Fairey Fulmars
      • 54 planes
Service History
  • Anti-submarine patrols off Northern Ireland Sep.1939
  • missed by 2 torpedoes from U.39 14 Sep
  • near-miss by bomb from German aircraft 26 Sep. - Germans announce Ark Royal sunk for first of many times
  • anti-raider patrols in South Atlantic Oct. 1939-Feb. 1940
  • Norwegian campaign Apr.-Jun. 1940
    • aircraft sink German light cruiser Königsberg 10 Apr
    • strike Trondheim 12 June
  • with Force "H" in Mediterranean Jun.-Oct. 1940
  • refit at Gibraltar Jul. 1940
  • strike on Cagliari harbour 2 Aug. 1940
  • Dakar operation 23-25 Sep. 1940
  • refit UK Oct.-Nov. 1940
  • action off Cape Spartivento Nov. 1940
  • search for German heavy units in Atlantic Feb.-Apr. 1941
  • ferried Hurricanes to Malta May 1941
  • aircraft torpedo Bismarck 26 May 1941
  • ferried Hurricanes to Malta Jun.-Nov. 1941
  • strike against Sardinia 24 Aug. 1941
  • strikes against Genoa, Leghorn and Spezia 9 Sep. 1941
  • hit by one torpedo from U.81 13 Nov. 1941
  • sank 13nm from Gibraltar 14 Nov. 1941, under tow
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