Conventionally-Powered Fleet Aircraft Carrier
Born in World War 1, the British carrier HMS Eagle was forced back into frontline service for World War 2 but ultimately met her end in 1942.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Prior to World War 1 (1914-1918) in 1911, the South American nation of Chile commissioned Armstrong's Elswick shipyard for the construction of a "super-dreadnought" battleship (the "Almirante Latorre") along with a standing option for a second vessel. With Total War in Europe in full bloom by August of 1914, the first warship lay in an advanced state of construction and was quickly requisitioned by the British government to which point she became HMS Canada in 1915 (the second warship for Chile was never completed). On February28th, 1918, the vessel was outright purchased from the Chilean government and selected for completion as an aircraft carrier.
Assigned pennant number "94" and named HMS Eagle, the warship was not completed in time to take part in World War 1 - the war having ended in November 1918 with the German surrender. Nevertheless, HMS Eagle continued in her development schedule with engineers taking the time from 1920 to 1923 to enact all-new island superstructure design qualities and her sea trials soon followed.
The finalized form retained the super-dreadnought hull lines but over the existing framework was added a straight-through flight deck. The long island superstructure was offset to starboard side as was the custom of the day. Atop this structure were the communications systems and masts towering over the bridge and operations center. While her battleship origins made the vessel slower than her aircraft carrier contemporaries, this provided improved sea-keeping in rough sea states. Internally a two-level hangar arrangement was devised to facilitate moving warplanes about - of which between twenty-five and thirty could be carried. Armament was 9 x 6" (152mm) guns along with 5 x 4" (102mm) Mk V Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns. Dimensions included a length of 667.5 feet with a beam of 115 feet and a draught of 26.7 feet. Displacement was 22,200 tons under standard load.
Internally there was a crew of around 790 personnel. Armor protection ranged from 4.5" at the belt and 1.5" at the deck to 4" at the bulkheads. 32 x Water-tube boilers were used to generate the needed power to the 4 x Geared steam turbines and these drove 50,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts under stern. Maximum speed in ideal conditions was 24 knots and range was out to 4,800 nautical miles.
Commissioned on February 20th, 1924, HMS Eagle spent most of her time during the interwar years in the Far East overseeing protection of various British interests there and acting as a deterrent otherwise. In 1939, she was to found in the Indian Ocean but remained there only until 1940 to which point she was relocated to the Mediterranean Sea to cover the loss of HMS Glorious (sunk June 8th, 1940). In July 1940 her aircraft were used to bomb enemy positions at Tobruk (she carried no fighter aircraft due to a shortage of such types for the Fleet Air Arm). From there, she took part in various attack actions and functioned in the convoy support role from the battlefronts of Malta, Greece and other places in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the Battle of Calabria (July 9th, 1940), the warship was damaged by enemy bombers enough to miss the famous Attack on Taranto (November 11th - 12th, 1940).
From March 1941, she was placed on patrols across the Indian Ocean and in the South Atlantic where she claimed few more enemy targets. For October, she was brought back to home waters for a much-needed refit and, in early 1942, was sent to deliver fighters at Malta. In August she made up one over forty warships fighting to lift the siege and paid the ultimate price for her actions - catching four torpedoes from the German U-boat U-73 (August 11th, 1942). Her sinking took just four minutes and claimed 131 lives and most of her embarked fighter aircraft. However, accompanying vessels managed to save 929 men that day.