Allied Warships

HMS Hermes (D 95)

Aircraft Carrier of the Hermes class

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeAircraft Carrier
PennantD 95 
Built byArmstrong (Newcastle-on-Tyne, U.K.) : Parsons 
OrderedJul 1917 
Laid down15 Jan 1918 
Launched11 Sep 1919 
Commissioned7 Jul 1923 
Lost9 Apr 1942 
Loss position7° 35'N, 82° 05'E

HMS Hermes was the first purpose-designed aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy and fitted with an off-centre island containing the funnel and operations spaces. Although very narrow, the island was quite long and massive for a ship this size. The island located forward of amidships made the ship trim by the bow, the weight of the off-set island also caused a list to starboard. This imbalance had to be corrected by carrying more water ballast and fuel oil in the port side and aft tanks than in the starboard side and forward tanks. It was a time of trial and error. The basic hull had been built along the lines of a light cruiser.

From 1920 until 1938 Hermes served mainly on the China Station. During 1928 and again in 1934 she received refits at Chatham.

In September 1939 Hermes was employed against U-boats off the in the south-west Approaches to the North Atlantic, and supplied air cover for the British Expeditionary Force to France. In October she was a unit of Force N based in the West Indies, she joined a British and French hunting group operating from Dakar, in search of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee which was harassing shipping in the south Atlantic. In November she was deployed in patrolling the area off Dakar, and covered the passage of convoys passing through that area.

In July 1940 Hermes and the Australian cruiser HMAS Australia left Freetown to rendezvous with the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire whose task it was to observe the movements of the French naval forces off Dakar. On July 10th in a sudden violent tropical rainstorm Hermes collided with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Corfu, she suffered severe damage to the bows and to the fore ends of the flight deck, but she managed to reach Freetown under her own steam. In August the carrier left for Simonstown, South Africa for more permanent repairs, where extensive work was carried out to her bows, from keel to flight deck, and opportunity was made for a long overdue refit. Echo sounding gear was fitted, and only after twelve weeks, she was back at sea. In December the German pocket batleship Admiral Scheer which had been harassing merchant shipping in the South Atlantic captured a British merchant vessel which was able to transmit a distress signal. Some British squadrons were then deployed to the last reported area, these consisted of Hermes, with the cruiser HMS Dragon, and the armed merchant HMS Pretoria Castle from the St. Helena area, search operations unfortunately, produced no results.

In February 1941 Hermes gave support to the British offensive against Italian Somaliland. The C-in-C East Indies Vice Admiral Leatham formed Force T. This force consisted of Hermes the heavy cruiser HMS Shropshire and the two old light cruisers HMS Capetown and HMS Ceres, they supported the advance on land with their combined fire power. During March – May 1941 Hermes was assigned to the Persian Gulf where her aircraft were to assist the British and Indian forces in frustrating any German intervention in Iraq. From June to November the carrier was employed in the protection of commerce convoy escorts, and the interception of enemy shipping in the Indian Ocean. On December 6th she was docked in the Selborne dry dock at Simonstown.

On 23 January 1942 Hermes was undocked and successfully completed her sea trials. In March, Hermes was transferred to the Eastern Fleet based at Ceylon as a unit of Force B, she then sailed for Trincomalee. On April 8th a Catalina flying boat reported the sighting of a Japanese Carrier Fleet approaching Trincomalee. The British ships then received orders to withdraw, however the following day, 91 high level bombers and dive bombers with 38 fighters from the carriers Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu (all offsite links) attacked the British ships, 80 dive bombers with fighter escort diverged on Hermes (Capt. Richard Francis John Onslow, MVO, DSC, RN) and she and her escorting Australian destroyer HMAS Vampire were sunk south-east of Trincomalee, Ceylon in position 07º35'N, 82º05'E. Fortunately the attack had been witnessed by the hospital ship Vita which immediately set about rescuing and treating the survivors.

The aircraft carrier`s badge can still be seen proudly displayed on the side of the Selborne dry dock wall.


Commands listed for HMS Hermes (D 95)

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1Capt. Fitzroy Evelyn Patrick Hutton, RN25 Aug 19397 May 1940
2Capt. Richard Francis John Onslow, DSC, RN7 May 19409 Apr 1942 (+)

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