Aircraft / Aviation Vehicles & Artillery Infantry Arms Warships & Submarines Military Pay Scale Military Ranks

HMS Ark Royal (91)

Conventionally-Powered Fleet Aircraft Carrier (1938)

Naval Warfare

1 / 1
Image from the Public Domain.

Jump-to: Specifications

Commissioned in 1938, HMS Ark Royal was lost to a U-boat attack on November 13th, 1941.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 03/26/2020 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.
The 1920s and 1930s were dotted with many naval military warships designed under the constraints of the Washington Naval Treaty signed in 1922. The treaty attempted to reign in a new arms race such as the one that contributed to World War 1 (1914-1918) and overall tonnage of this new generation of vessels was the primary concern. HMS Ark Royal (91), a straight deck aircraft carrier of the British Royal Navy, was one such product of the period. Her arrival marked the first truly "modern" aircraft carrier in Royal Navy service for the last carrier addition of note was a remodeled HMS Glorious in 1930 and she was originally constructed in 1915 as a battlecruiser and converted to aircraft carrier form in 1924.

HMS Ark Royal was ordered in 1934 during the military rearmament of many of the major European players and was laid down on September 16th, 1935 by Cammell Laird & Company Ltd. She was launched on April 13th, 1937 and was formally commissioned on December 16th, 1938. During her time at sea, the vessel earned the nickname of "The Lucky Ship" and fought under the motto of "Zeal Does Not Rest".

Because of the time between major carrier designs for the Royal Navy, many new and revolutionary features were implemented into Ark Royal. Her hangars and flight deck were integrated into the hull from the outset as opposed to being simply added on to the superstructure. This produced a very modern arrangement which sat the island superstructure along starboard and allowed the straight-line flight deck be relatively free of obstructions. Three hangar elevators served the flight deck in aircraft launching and recovery efforts, aircraft being pulled from one of the two available hangar decks. One of the more unique features of her design was in the implementation of armor protection across her flight deck and hangar areas for improved survivability (the hangar walls were attached directly to the main hull understructure). Her belt was protected over in up to 4.5" armor thickness and her deck covered in 3.5" of armor. Designed to carry as many as seventy-two aircraft, her typical fielding was closer to fifty with her early complement made up of Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers and Blackburn Skua dive bombers / fighters of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). These aircraft were launch-assisted by "accelerators" which were essentially catapults by another name. Overall dimensions of the vessel included a length of 800 feet, a beam of 94.9 feet, and a draught of 28 feet.

Armament, purely defensive in nature, was 16 x 114mm (4.5") Dual-Purpose (DP) high-elevation guns in eight twin-gunned mounts supported by 32 x 2-pounder "Pom Pom" 40mm Anti-Aircraft (AA) systems showcased as four eight-gunned emplacements. 8 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns provided a last line-of-defense for the ship.

Her machinery consisted of 6 x Admiralty 3-drum boiler units feeding 3 x Parsons geared steam turbines through 102,000 horsepower driving 3 x shafts under stern. She could make headway at up to 31 knots in ideal conditions and held a range out to 8,700 miles. Fast for her size, well-armored, and carrying a healthy contingent of warplanes, HMS Ark Royal was an upgrade from previous Royal Navy attempts at carrier construction.

Britain went to war with Germany in September of 1939 and Ark Royal's career was in hunting down German U-boats. The first British air kill of World War 2 - a Dornier Do 18 seaplane - came from Blackburn Skuas launched from Ark Royal in September. In a subsequent attack by German warplanes, the carrier survived though she was reported sunk by German media . The next month, HMS Ark Royal joined a British naval contingent sent to the southern Atlantic in search of the German cruiser Graf Spee which was bent on disrupting Allied commerce activity. The hunt eventually forced the Graf Spee into harbor at Montevideo, Uruguay for repairs in December. Due to the presence of the British fleet outside of neutral Uruguay, the German vessel was eventually emptied of its crew and scuttled on December 17th, removing her from the war for good. Ark Royal escorted the damaged cruiser HMS Exeter to Devonport for repairs and arrived there in February of 1941.

Ark Royal was then committed to the Norway Campaign where her aircraft could provide air cover for other warships and her facilities could also be used in engaging submarine. Its aircraft was also used in bombing shore-based enemy targets when possible. The vessel's "reach" was essentially limited by the operational ranges of these aircraft so her impact was somewhat restricted during the campaign. She supported a landing of Allied troops at Narvik though Norway was eventually lost forcing the evacuation of any remaining forces. Ark Royal continued to support the operation through her air power and later (unsuccessfully) hunted the battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst for their work in sinking HMS Glorious, HMS Acasta, and HMS Ardent. A coordinated response against Scharnhorst backfired on June 13th with 53% of the launching aircraft being downed and Scharnhorst left undamaged.

HMS Ark Royal was then relocated to the Mediterranean Sea for June 23rd where she was to continue the fight against the Italians. In November, she participated in the Battle of Cape Spartivento which resulted in rather inconclusive results for both sides (one ship damaged on either side).

For early 1941, Ark Royal was dispatched with Force H in search of the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst who were headed for Atlantic waters to combat Allied shipping. This action once again came up empty for the fleet. In April, the carrier was used to deliver aircraft to beleaguered forces at Malta and undertook some convoy protection duties as well. Her aircraft successfully fended off attacks from both Italian and German warplanes in a convoy action en route to North Africa.

Ark Royal was then pressed into the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck which had eluded Allied warplanners for some time and was now threatening commerce in the Atlantic along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. One of Ark Royal's Fairey Swordfish aircraft spotted the massive battleship and the Royal Navy sprung to the pursuit. Her torpedo warplanes eventually laid three torpedoes into the enemy warship which caused it to sail in circles before ultimately sinking on May 27th.

More Mediterranean convoy sorties and aircraft deliveries followed - particularly to Malta. This would mark the last chapter of the British vessel for, on November 10th, 1941, HMS Ark Royal caught a torpedo at midships which caused considerable damage before introducing flooding. The flooding then produced a noticeable list to starboard which only worsened the situation for the survivors. The order was given to abandon ship with thought given to retaining a skeleton crew for damage control and possibly saving the stricken vessel. However, all was deemed lost as the warship continued to list and take on water. All but one crew survived after being rescued.

The aircraft carrier rolled over, broke in two, and sank to the bottom of the sea some 30 miles from Gibraltar. The loss was scrutinized extensively and led to improved measures regarding flood control and backup power sources for future British vessels.

The remains of the vessel were located in December of 2002 by a documentary film crew.


Service Year

United Kingdom national flag graphic
United Kingdom

No Longer in Service.

HMS Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal (91)

National flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Flag Ship / Capital Ship
Serving in the fleet Flag Ship role or Capital Ship in older warship designs / terminology.

800.0 ft
243.84 m
95.0 ft
28.96 m
28.0 ft
8.53 m

Installed Power: 6 x Admiralty 3-drum boilers with 3 x Parsons geared steam turbines developing 102,000 horsepower to 3 x Shafts.
Surface Speed
30.0 kts
(34.5 mph)
7,560 nm
(8,700 mi | 14,001 km)

kts = knots | mph = miles-per-hour | nm = nautical miles | mi = miles | km = kilometers

1 kts = 1.15 mph | 1 nm = 1.15 mi | 1 nm = 1.85 km
16 x 4.5" (110mm) Dual-Purpose (DP) guns (eight twin-gunned turrets).
32 x 2-pounder (40mm) Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns (four eight-gunned turrets).
8 x 0.50 caliber Anti-Aircraft (AA) heavy machine guns (four eight-gunned emplacements).

Supported Types

Graphical image of a modern warship turreted deck gun armament
Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft automatic cannon

(Not all weapon types may be represented in the showcase above)
Up to 65 total aircraft of various types (1941).

Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2

Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective naval campaigns / operations / periods.


Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Cookies

2022 Military Pay Scale Army Ranks Navy Ranks Air Force Ranks Alphabet Code DoD Dictionary American War Deaths French Military Victories Vietnam War Casualties

The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com.

Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world, WDMMA.org, the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft, and SR71blackbird.org, detailing the history of the world's most iconic spyplane.

Facebook Logo YouTube Logo

www.MilitaryFactory.com • All Rights Reserved • Content ©2003-