Like other early aircraft carriers appearing during World War 1 (1914-1918), HMS Campania was a hasty conversion of an expiring ocean-going passenger vessel - RMS Campania. The war forced such expedited ventures particularly as control of the sea was vital to both sides of the conflict. For the British, HMS Campania was born from an aging ocean liner when claimed by the Royal Navy for wartime service - originally to be used as an armed merchantman before her role was rewritten. Her keel had been originally laid down back in 1892 with her launching on September 8th of that year. The Royal Navy took her into inventory on November 27th, 1914 as the war in Europe showed little sign of ending quickly. She was modified for the role of seaplane tender/aircraft carrier as best as possible and commissioned into military service on April 17th, 1915.
After her modification, the completed profile was 622 feet long with a beam measuring 65 feet and a draught of 28 feet, 5 inches. Her propulsion system remained 2 x Vertical Triple Expansion (VTE) 5-cylinder steam engines driving 28,000 horsepower to twin shafts. In ideal conditions this gave Campania a maximum speed of 19.5 knots. Her displacement was 20,900 tons (short). The completed crew complement numbered 600 officers and sailors. Local defense was through 6 x 4.7" (120mm) QF guns with 1 x 3" (76mm) Anti-Aircraft (AA) gun. Onboard storage was originally seven aircraft with take-off managed through a single-aircraft "fly-off" deck over the bow. Her silhouette was identifiable by way of two inline smoke funnels present in her design with one located near her bridge superstructure.
On August 6th, 1915, a Sopwith Schneider was flown from her flight deck to mark her first aircraft launching. The Schneider was a floatplane aircraft with racing roots dating back to 1913 and adopted by both the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Because of her floatplane undercarriage, the aircraft was launched via a wheeled trolley as opposed to utilization of a conventional wheeled undercarriage.
After some time at sea, modifications were ordered to the design which included a lengthening and raising of the flight deck to improve launching. The lengthened section of runway forced the forward smoke funnel to be split as two with the flight deck running between and over the bridge - a rather cumbersome addition. Onboard space was created for more aircraft - up to twelve of various sizes by the end of her career. Work was undertaken from November of 1915 into April of the following year which kept Campania out of the war for the interim.
Campania has not sailed with the Grand Fleet when it committed to the Battle of Jutland May 31st - June 1st, 1916. The encounter ended as tactically inconclusive but nonetheless an Allied strategic victory in limiting German High Seas Fleet for the duration of the war. Campania eventually headed to the battle site some time later but was turned away amidst mounting threats from German submarines reportedly operating in the zone. Her only wartime sorties then involved anti-Zeppelin and anti-submarine patrolling with her aircraft.
From that period on, and with her troublesome propulsion system and increasing age, HMS Campania was relegated training duty. During April of 1918, she was relocated from Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, Scotland to Rosyth, Firth of Forth, Scotland which would prove her undoing. The career of HMS Campania came to an abrupt end on November 5th, 1918 when a sudden squall hit her and other ships at anchor in the Firth of Forth. Her hull was thrown about and handed severe damage which forced her to take on water and sink. While no lives were lost (all were rescued), the vessel was written off and became a wreck where she lay. She was granted protection as a historic site in 2001.
One notable development stemming from the initial successes of launching aircraft by HMS Campania brought about the purpose-built carrier-borne Fairey Campania scout plane. This single-engine, two seat patrol / reconnaissance aircraft first flew in February of 1917 and 62 examples were taken on between the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Naval Air Service.
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