HMS Hermes was ordered in 1897 as a cruiser warship type for the British Royal Navy (RN). Her keel was laid down by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering on April 30th, 1897 and she was launched to sea on April 7th, 1898, her construction being labeled complete on October 5th, 1899. Hermes was pushed into service (after having been decommissioned) at the start of World War 1 (1914-1918) but her career in the conflict came to an abrupt end as she fell victim to a German torpedo during October of 1914.
HMS Hermes made up a third of the three-strong Highflyer-class group of protected cruisers serving the RN from the late 1800s on.
More specifically, HMS Hermes was finished as a "protected" cruiser which implied greater armor protection than a standard cruiser warship of the day. The term generally described the warship as carrying extra armor along her upper and frontal facings of the turrets and also given additional protection over her machinery within the hull. The similar "armored cruisers" of the period carried extra protection at the belt as well (at the expense of speed). HMS Hermes was given up to 3" of armor protection at the deck and 3" at the primary turrets while 6 inches of protection was seen at the conning tower.
As completed, the warship displaced 5,560 tons (long) and held a length of 350 feet with a beam of 54 feet and draught of 21.5 feet. Power came from 18 x Belleville boiler units feeding 2 x 4-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines driving upwards of 10,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts under stern. This arrangement allowed the vessel to achieve up to 20 knots in ideal conditions. The standard crew complement numbered 470 men.
Hermes' profile included a forward- and rear-set mast bookending triple smoke funnels arranged inline amidships. The bridge structure was formed as part of the forward mast and provided generally good views over the bow and to port and starboard. As a cruiser, she was modestly armed through 11 x 6" main guns and 8 x QF 12-poundet (12 cwt) secondary guns. 6 x QF 3-pounder guns (Hotchkiss) were also carried for close-in work and the vessel was fitted with 2 x 18" torpedo tubes - the latter a standard practice for warships of the day.
Once in service, HMS Hermes made the usual stops at various British Caribbean holdings and served the RN for a time as flagship for the North American and West Indies regions. After this it was realized that her propulsion system - namely her boiler units - were temperamental, these were switched out for Babcock & Wilcox sets upon arriving back in British mainland waters. The work completed in Belfast.
From there Hermes formed part of the Channel Fleet until 1905 to which she was then assigned reserve status, decommissioned and docked. In 1906, she was recommissioned and toured the East Indies which lasted until March of 1913 and she was put in reserve once more.
In April of that year, the Royal Navy authorized a major overhaul of the vessel's structure to convert her for trials service as a "seaplane carrier" - serving to test ship-based aircraft launching / recovery and possibly rewriting current British fleet doctrine. As such her forecastle was completely revised to accept a flat platform to serve as the flight deck - this caused the forward main gun mounting to be removed. A simple, canvas-covered hanger was erected to temporarily house ready-to-fly aircraft while a more permanent hangar was installed at the quarterdeck. A derrick lifting system was brought aboard to handle aircraft recovery, the returned seaplane having to set itself alongside the ship. The changes allowed Hermes to field a total of three biplanes.
With the changes in place, HMS Hermes was brought into service once more in May and conducted several stationary aircraft launches. Her first aircraft launching while on-the-move occurred in late July and over two dozen test flights followed into October. At the end of the program Royal Navy authorities were able to capably assess the value of shipborne aircraft and its value to the modern fleet - not only were aircraft able to be carried, launched and retrieved by way of the ship, the aircraft it launched offered a considerable advantages to the fleet once in the air particularly if equipped with proper (and powerful) communications set. Reconnaissance over-the-horizon was enhanced and gunnery accuracy could be further increased. The test phase done, Hermes was decommissioned.
World War came to Europe in the summer of 1914 and pre-war alliances ensured that there were many players participating including Britain. This pressed HMS Hermes back into service on August 31st, 1914and her first actions involved ferrying aircraft from Britain to French soil.
It was on the return trip on October 31st, 1914 that she was torpedoed by U-27, forty-four of her crew being lost in the sinking. The HMS Hermes name was resurrected once more through the 1924 commissioning of HMS Hermes (95) which became the first purpose-designed aircraft carrier. HMS Hermes (R12) then carried the name during the Cold War years for the British Crown until sold off to India (to become INS Viraat (R22)).