Fleet Aircraft Carrier

Built by Cammell Laird, and laid down on 16 September 1935, Ark Royal was launched on 13 April 1937. She was commissioned on 16 November 1938 as the second HMS Ark Royal. Sunk 13 November 1941 by a torpedo from German submarine U81, off Gibraltar.

Ark Royal was designed with the experience benefited from the previous 6 Fleet Carriers completed between 1918 and 1930. For this reason, and because she was designed as a fleet carrier from the start, she showed a considerable improvement over the earlier carriers and set the pattern for all subsequent fleet carriers. The flight deck, instead of being carried by the hull, was incorporated as part of its structure; the side plating continued up to the flight deck, resulting in a fully enclosed bow that was to become a distinctive feature of British aircraft carriers. The two hangars could accommodate 60-72 aircraft for 6 squadrons.

Germany made numerous claims about sinking the "Ark Royal" early in the war
as illustrated on the cover of this German navy "Kriegsmarine" magazine

The Ark Royal was frequently in the Newspaper headlines and received many battle honours. The honour of the first enemy aircraft shot down by a Fleet Air Arm aircraft went to one of Ark's Blackburn Skuas in late September 1939, then on 10 April 1940 her aircraft achieved another first when they bombed and sank the German light cruiser Konigsberg - the first instance of a major vessel being sunk by air attack.

Electrical artificer's workshop of HMS Ark Royal, 1939

After participating in the ill-fated Norwegian campaign, Ark Royal moved to the Mediterranean, where she became the nucleus of Admiral Somerville's Force "H", and in July 1940 her aircraft took part in the operations against the French warships at Mers-el-Kebir, near Oran, mining the marked channel to the port and carrying out torpedo attacks on the battlescruisers Dunkerque and Strasbourg. On 1 August, 1940 her aircraft bombed Cagliari, then in September were in action against French ships at Dakar. In November 1940, she saw action agianst the Italian fleet off Cape Spartivento, then from February to April 1941 Force "H" carried out an unsuccessful search for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the Atlantic.

In May 1941, Ark's aircraft were involved in the hunt for and destruction of the German Battleship Bismarck, her Swordfish scoring the two torpedo hits that jammed the battleship's rudder and slowed her sufficiently for the Home Fleet to catch and destroy her on 26 May 1941. After carrying out aircraft ferry runs to Malta and escorting two vital convoys to the island, Ark Royal's luck finally ran out on 13 November 1941 when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-81 in the Mediterranean off Gibraltar. She was eventually taken in tow, but when only 20 miles from Gibraltar - and 13 hours after she had been torpedoed - she capsized and sank.

The wreck is located 45nm ESE of Gibraltar.

Ark Royal on 13 November 1940 following the torpedo attack by the German Submarine U-81, her Swordfish still on deck

Battle Honours
Battle honours and Service History: Anti-submarine patrols off Northern Ireland Sepember 1939; missed by 2 torpedoes from U39; 14 September near-miss by bomb from German aircraft; 26 September Germans announce Ark Royal sunk for first of many times anti-raider patrols in South Atlantic; October 1939-February 1940; Norwegian campaign April-June 1940; aircraft sink German light cruiser Konigsberg 10 April; strike Trondheim 12 June;  with Force "H" in Mediterranean Jun.-Oct. 1940; refit at Gibraltar July 1940; strike on Cagliari harbour 2 Aug. 1940; Dakar operation 23-25 September 1940; refit UK October-November 1940; action off Cape Spartivento November 1940; search for German heavy units in Atlantic; February-April 1941 ferried Hurricanes to Malta; May 1941 aircraft torpedo Bismarck 26 May 1941; ferried Hurricanes to Malta Jun.-Nov. 1941; strike against Sardinia 24 August 1941; strikes against Genoa, Leghorn and Spezia 9 September 1941; hit by one torpedo from U81 13 November 1941; sank 13nm from Gibraltar 14 November 1941, under tow.

No information

HMS Ark Royal flight deck being prepared for her 810 sqdn Swordfish to attack the German Battleship Bismarck in May 1941

Squadrons and Aircraft

1939-40 26 Fairey Swordfish, 24 Blackburn Skuas. 1940-41 30 Fairey Swordfish, 12 Blackburn Skuas, 12  Fairey Fulmars. 1941 36 Fairey Swordfish, 18 Fairey Fulmars.

reviews.gif (5818 bytes)

FAA squadrons embarked Dates Aircraft type
800 Jan 1939-April 1941 Skua II
810  Jan 1939-Sept 1941 Swordfish I
820 Jan-Sept 1939  Swordfish I
821 Jan 1939-April 1940 Swordfish I
803 April-Oct 1940 Skua II/Roc I
818 Aug-Oct 1939 Swordfish I
820 Sept 1939-June 1941 Swordfish I
801 April-May 1940 Skua II
701 June 1940 Walrus I
818 June -July 1940 Swordfish I
821X Dec 1940-Jan 1941 Swordfish I
807 April 1940-Nov 1941 Fulmar II
800Y June 1941 Fulmar I
825 June 1941-Nov 1941 Swordfish I
816 July 1941-Nov 1941 Swordfish I
812 Sept 1941-Nov 1941 Swordfish I
808 Oct 1941-Nov 1941 Fulmar II
828 Oct 1941 Albacore I/Swordfish I

Associations and Reunions
No information

Carrier name HMS Ark Royal
Class Ark Royal 
Type Fleet Aircraft Carrier
Ships in Class
Launched Laid down September 1935. Launched April 1937. Commissioned November 1938. 
Tonnage Displacement: 22,352 tons standard ; 28,143 tons full load
Engines Propulsion: Steam Turbines (6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 3 shafts, Parsons geared turbines), 102,000 shp.
Speed in Knots Speed: 31 knots
Armament Guns: 8 x twin 4.5 inch AA; 48 x 2 pdr AA; 32 x 0.5 inch AA
Crew Complement 1600 Officers & Ratings including Air Group
Range  Range: 7,600 nmiles at 20 knots
Length (ft/inches) Dimensions: 685 pp, 721.5 wl, 800 oa x 94.75 x 27.75 feet
Beam (ft/inches)
Draught (ft/inches)
Flight Deck length (ft/inches)
Flight Deck width (ft/inches)
Number of aircraft carried Aircraft: 60+ (48 Swordfish, 12-24 Osprey (later Skua) Up to complement of 60 Fairey Swordfish Torpedo bombers
Fate of carrier Sunk November 1941 by a torpedo from German submarine U-81, off Gibraltar.
Notes When commissioned in 1938, was the first purpose built large British carrier. The large aircraft capacity was made possible by a full length two level hangar which gave the ship a distinctive tall look.

HMS Ark Royal Class in THE ROYAL NAVY WWII website History and specifications of HMS Ark Royal in WWIII
Through the war career of HMS Ark Royal
The Malta Convoys 1941 - 1942 - War at Sea 1939-1945 Details of each of the Malta convoys and of the operations of the aircraft carriers Argus, Ark Royal, Eagle, Furious, Indomitable and Victorious
Order of Battle Mers-el-Kebir (Operation Catapult) 3 July 1940. Contributed by Dan Muir  Role of HMS Ark Royal in the Battle
With Gallantry and Determination" The Story of the Torpedoing of the Bismarck by Mark E. Horan
British Forces. com web Information
Audacious Class Aircraft Carriers
by website
Royal Navy Ships of World War 2  Summary history of the carrier Ark Royal
An A-Z of Aircraft Profiles by FAUCONBERG AEROGRAPHICS BLACKBURN SKUA II, 800 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, H.M.S. Ark Royal, South Atlantic, November 1939
Ark Royal 1940 - 1949 
World Aircraft Carrier Lists and Photo Gallery - from 1913 to 2000. Naval History Information Center, Haze Gray & Underway American based World Aircraft Carrier Lists & Photo Gallery - one of the definitive online sources for British and world aircraft carrier & seaplane tender data, histories and images - over 1000 photos. 
Sturtivant, R & Ballance, T  (1994). 'The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm' Published by Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1994 ISBN: 0 85130 223 8

The World’s Warships 1941 by Francis E. McMurtrie (1944). Janes London 1941 1st ed. 

Jane's Fighting Ships of World War II by Francis E. McMurtrie (Editor)(1944). 320 pages. Crescent Books; ISBN: 0517679639

        Last Modified: 23-2-2001


Return to Home Page


This page is published by Fleet Air Arm Archive and is updated regularly.
© 2000-2001 All rights reserved for all information created for or on behalf of the Fleet Air Arm Archive
Contact email: