Ships Illustrated #1 - British Aircraft Crs of WW2

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Ships Illustrated: British Aircraft Carriers of WW2

Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: Kelsey Media Ltd; 1st edition (2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1909786276
ISBN-13: 978-1909786271

It has not been possible to compile this history of British Aircraft Carriers of World War 2 without including the pioneering days of WW1. Whilst the Royal Navy recognised how useful it was to have aircraft ranging high above the Fleet, the concept of actually taking them to sea in numbers remained firmly the domain of the seaplane carrier for the majority of WW1. It was not until the progressive conversion of HMS Furious, which was originally laid down as a battlecruiser, and the historic landing upon her by Cdr Dunning in a Sopwith Pup in 1917, that ‘traditional’ carrier design in Britain began to gain pace. Dunning’s achievement in landing an aircraft on a short flying-off deck was a highly dangerous manoeuvre just in avoiding the original superstructure alone, and it would ultimately cost him his life. The idea of a completely uninterrupted flight deck was first presented on HMS Argus in 1918 although the idea had originally been muted back in 1912. However, the end of WW1 saw massive cuts in all military orders and, like the Army and the RAF, the Royal Navy had to ‘make do’. On paper, it was in a state of limbo throughout the 1920s although plans to convert further battlecruiser hulls seem to have continued within strict international guidelines. As a result, when war broke out across Europe again in September 1939, the Royal Navy only had one modern carrier, in the shape of the senior service’s third HMS Ark Royal, the first of which served as a flagship during the 16th Century and the second of which had begun the long association with aviation, having served as a seaplane carrier during WW1. Of the remaining six carriers that went to war, all of them were of WW1 vintage and it was these early ships that would take the brunt of the Royal Navy’s losses with Courageous (the second Royal Navy ship of the war to be sunk on September 17, 1939), Glorious, Hermes, Eagle and even the ‘lucky’ Ark Royal all being sunk by mid-1942. Of the original carriers, only HMS Furious and Argus were destined to survive WW2. This was more a reflection of the poor tactics employed by naval commanders during the early part of the war, rather than an issue with the ships themselves.

Despite inter-war building restrictions which dated back to the early 1920s, a concentrated carrier expansion programme meant that, at its peak, the Royal Navy had up to 13 Fleet carriers at sea (from the loss of Eagle in August 1942), backed up by almost 60 escort carriers and 17 MAC (Merchant Aircraft Carriers) ships. By the end of WW2, the Royal Navy’s carrier force was only second in strength to that of the USA. In this Ships Monthly Special I have endeavoured to mention every Royal Navy seaplane and aircraft carrier from the converted cross-Channel packets through to the Colossus-Class Light Fleet Carriers, not omitting the complex subject of escort carriers and useful MAC ships, concluding the story when WW2 came to an end in the Far East in September 1945. It has not been possible to detail the complete service records of each ship which, in many cases are replicated because many aircraft carriers took part in the same operations. However, pictorially alone, these wonderful leviathans of the past displayed within these pages present a taster of just how powerful our great Navy once was.
Martyn Chorlton, Editor

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