Fleet Aircraft Carrier


HMS Hermes was the first purpose built aircraft carrier in the world. The design was based on that of a cruiser and the ship was intended for a similar scouting role. She was built by Armstrong Whitworth, laid down 15 January 1918 and launched 11 September 1919. She was subsequently commissioned in July 1923. After a distinguished wartime career she was sunk 9 April 1942.

HMS Hermes was designed as a carrier from the start, although not with the benefit of operational experience. World War I slowed construction and although the ship was launched in 1919 she was not commissioned for another 5 years.

Fairey Seal K4216 824sqdn B flt, HMS Hermes, Kai Tak April 1936

At the commencement of war in September 1939, the British Home Fleet deployed aircraft carriers to seek out and destroy German submarines: HMS Ark Royal off the northwestern approaches to the British Isles, HMS Courageous and HMS Hermes off the southwestern approaches. Courageous was sunk on 17 September 1939 by a torpedo and Hermes returned to port. She maintained her brief service in Home waters for a while after the loss of both Courageous and Glorious.

Gun crew loading 5.5 inch guns, which in the Royal Navy are only found on Furious and Hermes
where they are the main armament,  and on the battle cruiser Hood

With a small aircraft complement, light protection and anti-aircraft armament, limited high-speed endurance, and stability problems caused by the large starboard island, with fuel having to be carefully distributed to balance the ship, Hermes was deemed unsuitable for operations in European waters, and was consequently employed in trade protection in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans until March 1942.  As the French had no aircraft carriers Hermes was then posted to Brest to operate with the French navy out of Dakar, French West Africa for approximately six months. When Vichy France took over, the Admiralty ordered Hermes out of Dakar to patrol the immediate area to keep a close watch on Vichy French naval movements. Her only fleet operation was on 8 July 1940, when her Swordfish aircraft attacked the Vichy French battleship Richelieu at Dakar and scored one torpedo hit.

Shortly afterwards during the middle watch she was in collision with the AMC Corfu; lead ship of a convoy which came out of Freetown, which resulted in her steaming to Simonstown in South Africa for a more permanent repair. Following which she was deployed with our aircraft as shadow ship to prevent the pocket battleship Graf Spee from escaping to the South Atlantic. She then went on patrol on the East Coast of Africa and the Red Sea and finally to the Persian Gulf. Some of her crew members and ratings from other ships, were landed in Basra to take over the running of the port and man commandeered craft to patrol the river Shat-el-Arab, between Iraq and Iran. After about eight months, troops from the Indian and Ghurka regiments invaded Iran. They then had to take over the naval base at Khoramshah and to repair the sabotaged machinery.

HMS Hermes sinking following the attack by Japanese aircraft off Ceylon, 9 April 1942

HMS Hermes while heading in convoy from Trincomali to the Maldive Islands, was attacked by the Japanese First Air Fleet's 50 Aichi D3Al aircraft (soon to be named VAL by the Allies) from the Japanese carriers Akagai (flagship), Hiryu, and Soryu, which sank her and also sank a destroyer, corvette and two tankers, southeast of Trincomalee, Ceylon on 9 April 1942. Akagi had been the flagship for the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

The Japanese Fleet went on to attack Darwin on its return to Japan. Akagi and Hiryu were later scuttled and sunk by US dive bombers and Soryu hit by three bombs and exploded on 5 June 1942 in the Battle of Midway.

The wreck of the Hermes is located in the Indian Ocean off Batticaloa, Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Hiryu burning after Battle of Midway:
Battle Honours
South Atlantic and Indian Ocean 1939-42, Dakar operation July 1940,
Carrier operations Trincomalee (Ceylon) April 1942

No information on WWII Captains.
CAMPBELL, James Douglas (1882-1954), Capt 1928-1930

Squadrons and Aircraft

In mid-1930s she was reduced to operating 15 aircraft and by 1939 this had dropped to only 12.

FAA squadrons embarked Dates Aircraft type
814 Sept 1939-Feb 1942 Swordfish II
710 dt May 1940 Walrus I

Associations and Reunions
HMS Hermes Association: Reunion at Royal Fleet Club, Plymouth from 5th to 8th April, 2001.

HMS Hermes Reunion. C/O Royal Fleet Club, Plymouth. 2001

Carrier name HMS Hermes
Class Hermes Class
Type Fleet Aircraft Carrier
Ships in Class Hermes 
Launched Built by Armstrong Whitworth. Laid down 15 January 1918. Launched 11 September 1919. Commissioned July 1923. 
Tonnage Displacement: 11,085 tons standard ; 13,208 tons full load
Engines Propulsion: Two Parsons Steam Turbines (6 Yarrow small-tube boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines), 40,000 shp. 
Speed in Knots Speed: 25 knots
Armament Guns: 6 x 5.5 inch ; 3 x 4 inch AA; 2 quad 0.5 inch AA (added 1934). 6 x 1 x 20mm AA


Crew Complement 700 Officers & Ratings including Air Group
Range  6000 miles @ 18 knots
Length (ft/inches) Dimensions: 548 pp, 600 oa x 70.25 x 21.5 feet
Beam (ft/inches)  
Draught (ft/inches)  
Flight Deck length (ft/inches) 570
Flight Deck width (ft/inches) 90
Armour 3" side (belt) 11"-2" side (ends) 1" upper deck 1" main deck 
Number of aircraft carried Aircraft: Up to 20 planes including Martlet (F4F) Fighters Swordfish T.B's
Fate of carrier Sunk 9 April 1942 by Japanese aircraft from the carriers Soryu, Hiryu and Akagi.
Notes The first purpose built aircraft carrier in the world.

British Forces . com - further Information about Hermes  
Hermes in Royal Navy Ships of World War 2 Summary history of the carrier 
John Pugh, served on HMS Hermes and later on motor minesweepers Veternas tales of HMS Hermes 1939-1940
The Raids on Ceylon, April 1942 by World War II multimedia Database
IJN Soryu: Tabular Record of Movement also see Aircraft carrier listing for other Japanese carriers Deatils of the Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu and the other carriers - involved in sinking the Hermes
Aichi D3A (Val) Details of the aircraft that sank the Hermes
The Earliest Air Battles in Australia- Darwin, Australia, 19th February, 1942  in WARBIRD'S REFERENCE MATERIAL An account of the air operations during the first  Japanese air attack on Darwin, Australia, on the 19th of February, 1942. The defending fighters were P-40 Kittyhawks of the USAAF 33rd Pursuit Squadron.
DARWIN - APRIL,1942 in WARBIRD'S REFERENCE MATERIAL This first raid was devastating to Port Darwin, with only a few of the Japanese Navy bomber aircraft being shot down by the USAAF P-40 Kittyhawks defending the city.
DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER: Online Library of Selected Images:  EVENTS -- World War II in the Pacific --

Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942 --
Overview and Special Image Selection
- Akagi (aircraft carrier);
- Hiryu (aircraft carrier);
- Soryu (aircraft carrier).

Detailed summary histories and photographs of these three aircraft carriers which were involved in sinking the Hermes, took part in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and were all sunk at the Battle of Midway.
King's College London, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives: Survey of the Papers of Senior UK Defence Personnel, 1900-1975 - CAMPBELL, James Douglas Papers of Rear Admiral JD Campbell when Captain of HMS Hermes 1928-1930
World Aircraft Carrier Lists and Photo Gallery - from 1913 to 2000. Naval History Information Center, Haze Gray & Underway
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). Jane's London 1941 1st ed. 

Jane's Fighting Ships of World War II by Francis E. McMurtrie (Editor)(1984). 320 pages. Crescent Books; ISBN: 0517679639

        Last Modified: 23-2-2001


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