HMS Ark Royal

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Five ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Ark Royal.

The first HMS Ark Royal was built at Deptford on the River Thames in 1587, to the order of Sir Walter Raleigh. Originally named Ark Ralegh, she was bought by Queen Elizabeth’s navy for £5000 ("money well given," according to her new commander, Lord Howard of Effingham) and, as Ark Royal, was the flagship of the English fleet during the Spanish Armada campaign of 1588. In 1608, under the new monarch James I, she was rebuilt and renamed Anne Royal. She was broken up in 1636.

The second HMS Ark Royal, after a gap of almost 300 years, was a merchant ship converted on the building stocks to be a seaplane carrier. Launched in 1914, she served in the Dardanelles campaign and throughout World War I. She was renamed HMS Pegasus in 1934, to free the name Ark Royal for a new ship, and was broken up in 1950.

The third Ark Royal was a 22,000-ton aircraft carrier built at Birkenhead, England. Construction was completed in November 1938. In December 1939 she was sent to the South Atlantic to help in the search for the German cruiser Graf Spee. In the spring of 1940 she participated in the Norwegian campaign, and in July she joined the attack on the French Navy's base at Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria. The following September, Ark Royal took part in a second assault on the French Navy, this time at Dakar. While covering a Mediterranean convoy in late November, her planes attacked Italian battleships, though without making any hits. In return, she was bombed, and missed, by enemy aircraft.

During March 1941, Ark Royal pursued the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the last phase of their Atlantic sortie. On May 26 of that year, her torpedo planes hit Bismarck, making the enemy battleship virtually unmaneuverable and allowing other British warships to close and sink her.

Ark Royal was also very active in the Mediterranean during 1941. She struck the port of Genoa in early February, during a British Naval raid deep into Italian-controlled waters. On several occasions, she ferried planes to the beleaguered base at [Malta]] and covered Malta-bound convoys. While returning to Gibraltar from one such mission, Ark Royal was torpedoed by the German submarine U-81. After a difficult struggle against progressive flooding, the carrier capsized and sank on November 14, 1941.

In 1955, the fourth HMS Ark Royal entered service. After starring in the 1970s BBC series "Sailor," she eventually went to the breaker's yard in 1980.

The fifth HMS Ark Royal is an Invincible-class support carrier, together with the Falklands veteran HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious. Last of the class to be built, HMS Ark Royal’s keel was laid at Swan Hunter's yard in 1978. She was launched in June 1981 and entered service in 1985.

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 20,600 tons
  • Length: 206m
  • Crew: 685 plus 366 Fleet Air Arm
  • Armament:
    • Sea Dart missile system
    • Phalanx or Goalkeeper gun systems
    • Sea Harrier fighter/attack aircraft
    • Sea King helicopters