HMS Ark Royal 91
HMS Ark Royal (91) was designed in 1934 to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. She was built by Cammell Laird and Company at Birkenhead, England, laid down on September 16, 1935, launched on April 13, 1937 and completed in November 1938. Ark Royal was the first ship where the hangars and flight deck were an integral part of the hull instead of an add-on or part of the superstructure. She was designed to carry a large number of aircraft and had two hangar decks which originally allowed Ark Royal to carry 72 aircraft. Her flight deck was 800 feet making it longer than the keel. Because hangar decks were within the hull the flight deck rose to 66 ft above the waterline. In service tests she was able to make 31 knots with a displacement of 27,525 tons. Ark Royal was armed with sixteen quick-firing 4.5 in dual purpose guns in eight double turrets, six 8-barrelled 2-pounder (40 mm) pom-pom guns and eight 4-barrelled .50 cal. machineguns. She usually carried 5 Fleet Air Arm squadrons aboard. Generally a mix of Blackburn Skuas, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Fulmars, Blackburn Rocs and Fairey Albacores. At the outbreak of WWII Ark Royal was deployed with the Home Fleet in the North Western Approaches as part of a hunter-killer group. On September 14, 1938 she was launching aircraft when she was spotted by U-39, which launched two torpedoes. The torpedoes were spotted and Ark royal turned towards them. The torpedoes missed and exploded harmlessly astern. On September 25, 1938 she was again attacked, this time by Junkers JU-88 bombers. In the face of heavy antiaircraft fire, the managed to drop a 2,200 lb. bomb near the carrier. Since the German pilots could not see if the carrier was hit or not and since reconnaissance flights could not find her again, Goebbels announced that she was sunk. This turned out to be a big propaganda embarrassment for the Nazis. In October 1939 Ark Royal was redeployed to Freetown, South Africa in an unsuccessful hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. When the Graf Spee put into Montevideo Ark royal was ordered to head there at top speed. As part of a deception plan, fuel was ordered for Ark Royal at Buenos Aires. This fooled the Germans into thinking that a carrier was close by and contributed to the Graff Spee's captains decision to scuttle his ship. On March 31, 1940 Ark Royal was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and got as far as the Eastern Mediterranean before being sent back to Britain because of the German invasion of Norway. At the end of April, 1940 she sailed to Norway and began anti-submarine patrols, launched fighter patrols and carried out strikes against shipping and shore targets. She was attacked several times by Junkers JU-88 and Heinkel HE-111 bombers but was not hit. Ark Royal was once again assigned to the Mediterranean fleet in June 1940 and participated in the attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir. In July, 1940 she was attacked by Italian bombers and brought aircraft to Malta. She also provided fleet cover and raided the Italian air base at Cagliari. In October 1940 she raided the Italian air bases at Elmas and Cagliari and performed convoy escort duties. In early October 1940 she attacked the Vichy French colony of Dakar. After this she went back to England for refit. In November 1940 she again returned to Gibraltar for convoy escort duties. From November 140 through January 1941 she also raided various Italian targets including the Tirso Dam in Sardinia, an oil refinery at La Spezia and the city of Genoa. After another refit Ark Royal spent her time alternating between convoy escort duties, delivering aircraft to Malta and hunts in the Atlantic for commerce raiders. In May 1941 she escorted a large reinforcement convoy across the Mediterranean to Alexandria. It was detected by Italian aircraft and came under heavy Italian and German air attack. On one day the 12 Fairey Fulmars on the Ark Royal drove off over enemy 50 aircraft. When the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen broke out into the Atlantic Ark Royal was ordered to the Atlantic to help in the search for them. On May 26, 1941 a Swordfish from Ark Royal located the Bismarck and began to shadow her while the Home Fleet was mobilized. Fifteen Swordfish bombers were armed with torpedoes and sent to delay the ship. The cruiser Sheffield was between Ark Royal and Bismarck. The Swordfish mistook the Sheffield for the Bismarck and attacked. Fortunately most of the British torpedoes had defective fuses and the Sheffield evaded the rest. When the Swordfish returned they were armed with torpedoes with a different type of fuse and sent out to attack again. They found Bismarck just before sunset and attacked. Three torpedoes hit the battleship, one of which jammed the rudder in a 15° port turn. Bismarck was attacked by elements of the Home Fleet and sank at 10:39 May 27, 1941. She then returned to escorting convoys in the Mediterranean. On November 10, 1941 Ark Royal ferried more aircraft to Malta and then set sail back to Gibraltar. On November13, 1941 at 15:40 the sonar operator aboard the destroyer Legion detected an unidentified sound. One minute later Ark Royal was struck amidships by a torpedo fired by U-81 that hit between the fuel bunkers and bomb store, directly below the bridge island creating a 130 ft × 30 ft hole. The hole in the hull was enlarged by the ship's motion and by the time Ark Royal stopped she had taken on water and begun to list to starboard, reaching 18° within 20 minutes. Most of the crew was taken off and damage control was able to halt the list at 20°. A tug arrived and began to tow Ark Royal back to Gibraltar. This increased flooding and the rest of the crew was taken off. The list reached 45° before Ark Royal capsized and sank at 06:19 on November 14, 1941. Witnesses reported the carrier rolling to 90° where she remained for three minutes before inverting. Ark Royal then broke in two, the aft sinking within a couple of minutes, followed by the bow. All but one of the 1,487 officers and crew aboard were saved. The wreck of Ark Royal was discovered by a BBC film crew mid-December 2002 35 miles from Gibraltar. This model shows HMS Ark Royal in late 1940 when she carried Fairey Swordfish, Blackburn Skuas and Fairey Fulmars.