HMS Argus (I49)
Conventionally-Powered Aircraft Carrier / Barracks Ship
HMS Argus was an Italy-bound oceanliner converted for Royal Navy service as an aircraft carrier during World War 1.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The British Royal Navy's HMS Argus was an early-form aircraft carrier hastily-developed during World War 1 to provide a vital launching platform for torpedo bombers. The vessel was constructed from the incomplete hull of the Italian-bound oceanliner "Conte Rosso" which was, herself, laid down during 1914 by the William Bearmore shipyard. Before the war, Beardmore attempted to sell the Royal Navy on the idea of a "through-deck", flat-top aircraft carrier but the movement was rejected at the time. Instead, the service elected to continue launching and recovering its floatplane aircraft through its fleet of rather limited seaplane carriers. By 1916 however, the world situation had changed for the worse and Britain joined its Allies on the mainland in attempting to repel the Central Power invaders. The Beardmore concept was then given a second look and officially supported by the desperate Royal Navy by way of a formal conversion contract.
The Beardmore shipyard was actually constructing two Italian oceanliners at the time - Conte Rosso and "Giulio Cesare". Of the two, it was decided to modify the more complete Conte Rosso as its machinery arrangement lay in a much more advanced state of construction. The plans for the new carrier fit the dimensional reaches of the Conte Rosso well and ocean capabilities were inherent for the large ship. The existing propulsion system would prove adequate for the speeds required. The design eventually evolved to become a true "flat top" carrier lacking any protruding superstructure - she was, indeed, known as the "Flat Iron" for her flat top and pointed bow. Her origins as an oceanliner remained intact beyond her flattened surface structure. The bridge was held under the flight deck as was the single aircraft hangar while the pilot house was centered along the flight deck and made retractable - in the up position when not landing planes and in the down position when its deck was active with aircraft.
When completed, HMS Argus became the first flush-deck aircraft carrier in naval history.
The Royal Navy originally sought to have HMS Argus in operational service for 1917. Despite an expedited program to refit her for action, she was only launched on December 2nd, 1917 and, after completing her period of requisite sea trials, was not commissioned until September 16th, 1918. The Armistice was signed in November just a few weeks later officially ending the war - and the empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans. HMS Argus was not to see combat service during The Great War.
The vessel continued in active service into the following decade amidst slashed defense budgets and the worldwide military drawdown. In the latter half of the decade, she was reworked to improve her seaworthiness and handling though she became ultimately overshadowed by more refined, modern aircraft carriers emerging from British shipyards of the interwar period. Her final years were spend as a training platform as Argus was decommissioned prior to 1930.
With the military buildup leading to World War 2 (1939-1945), HMS Argus was recommissioned back into active service on July 30th, 1938. Despite her slow speed, limited onboard storage space for aircraft, and her top-heavy handling characteristics, the Royal Navy proved desperate once again and enlisted any usable warship available. Argus played a role in ferrying fighter aircraft bound for Gibraltar, Malta, and Takoradi (Ghana) actions and then serve with the dangerous Arctic convoys when delivering airplanes for the Soviet war effort. She was also a participant during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. From the middle of 1943 onwards, Argus returned to U.K. shores for repair and training until reclassified as an accommodation vessel (barracks ship) in December of 1944. With the war over in September of 1945, Argus was sold for scrapping on December 5th, 1946 - her career having spanned from 1918 to 1944 and covering portions of two World Wars.
As built, Argus displaced at 14,000 tons under standard load and 15,750 tons under full load. Dimensions included a bow-to-stern length of 565 feet, a port-to-starboard length of 68 feet, and a draught (depth) of 24 feet. Her propulsion system began with the 12 x Scotch cylindrical boilers feeding 4 x Parson steam turbines and developing 20,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts. Maximum speed was 20.5 knots and range was out to 4,100 miles. Her complete crew complement numbered 495 personnel. Her storage space allowed for 15 to 18 aircraft to be carried. Local defense was through 6 x 102mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns. She carried no armor, making her extremely vulnerable to all manner of ocean-going threats.
While HMS Argus was a converted aircraft carrier vessel, HMS Hermes followed as the first purpose-built aircraft carrier in naval history.