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Ark Royal I 1934



Fleet Aircraft Carrier


23,600t (std) - 28,480t (dpl)


800'00" (oa) x 94'09" (bm) x 28'00" (md)


Aircraft: 72. Flight Deck Length: 720'. Hangar Area: 61,200-'. Petrol: 100,000gal.


16x45" DP [8x2], 32x2pdr AA [4x8], 32x05" AA [8x4]


Machinery: 450" sides, 350" deck, 250" ends. Magazines: 250" sides, 350" deck, 250" ends. Steering: 350" deck. Anti-Torpedo Bulkhead: 150".


3-shaft Geared Steam Turbines [6 Boilers] - 4,620t Oil


102,000shp = 3200kts (std) - 3100kts (dpl) [11,800nm at 15kts]




Construction Details

Ship Builder

Cammell Laird (Birkenhead)

Laid Down






Service & Fate

The Ark Royal saw active service from Nov-1938 Nov-1941. She was torpedoed 13 Nov 1941 by the German submarine U81 in the Western Mediterranean, 25nm ESE of Gibraltar and foundered the following day.

HMS Ark Royal I History

The Ark Royal was designed in 1934 to meet Washington Treaty limits. She was the first large British aircraft carrier designed from scratch. Ark Royal was built by Cammell Laird, and laid down on 16 Sep 35, launched on 13 Apr 37 and finally commmissioned on 16 Nov 38.

The Ark Royal had a dsplacement of 22,000 tons. Shet was 721 ft. long at the waterline, 800 ft. long overall and had a 95 ft. beam. She had a 780 foot flight deck which was 96 feet wide. The carrier's draft was 22 feet, 9 in.

The Ark Royal was powered by Parson geared turbines with 6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers and was capable of 31 knots. Her range was 7600 nm at 20 kts.

She carried aproximately 60 aircraft and in 1937 had 48 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 24 Skua fighter bombers as her complement.

She was armed with 16x4.5 in guns, 48x2 pounders and 32x0.5in. She was crewed by 1600 men.

One of Ark Royal's Skuas had the first aerial kill of the war, when they took out a German flying boat. Her aircrew attacked the Bismarck and jammed its rudders imobilising it; seeing iteventually sunk by gunfire.

Ark Royal operated with the carrier Glorious off Norway in the spring of 1940 and was part of Force H in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. She was torpedoed by U81 on 13 November 1941 off Gibraltar. The severe list caused cumulative flooding on the starboard, choked the boilers and stopped the ship in the water. Shet eventually capsized and sank.

Damage Report - Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed by U-81 on November 14th, 1941. A single g7e torpedo struck the ship on the starboard side, abreast of the Island. This position was the worst possible in that, being dead midships, it was where the list caused would be greatest and its position relative to the transverse bulkheads was such that four main compartments plus over 106 feet of the ship's starboard bilge was immediately subject to flooding.

The enemy torpedo was running very deep and, at the time, there was some speculation that it may have used a non-contact (magnetic) exploder. This was later discounted on grounds that the damage inflicted by the hit was not as extensive as, nor was it of the type typical of, under-the-keel hits.

The explosion opened a hole 130 feet long by 30 feet deep, the size being increased by the time taken to bring the ship to a halt, resulting in additional hull plating being peeled off. This resulted in the starboard boiler room, air spaces and oil tanks flooding as did the main switchboard and the lower steering position. The starboard power train was also knocked out by the hit but the port and centerline trains kept functioning.

Some of the torpedo blast vented upwards through a bomb trunk forward of the Island. The ship whipped violently with the explosion which caused the fully-loaded torpedo-bombers on the flight deck to be hurled into the air. The ship however, showed very little shock damage internally and her masts remained standing. The Ark Royal (immediately after the explosion) took on a 10 degree list that increased to 18 degrees within 20 minutes.

Due to the flooding of the switchboard, communications within the ship were lost, explaining the delay in bringing the ship to a halt. At this point the Captain decided to evacuate the ship. All personnel were withdrawn from the machinery spaces and assembled topside in order to determine who should leave the ship and who should remain on board. As a result of this action, damage control measures were only initiated 49 minutes after the hit, the flooding having been uncontrolled for this period. During this critical period, the centerline boiler room started to flood from below. During the evacuation of the machinery spaces several covers and armored hatcheswere left open, allowing the flooding to spread further than otherwise would be expected.

As the ship listed further, water came in through the uptakes of the starboard boiler room, flooding over into the centerline, and later into the port, boiler rooms. This flooding further reduced the area through which the funnel gases could escape, causing severe local overheating and fires.

One hour and 19 minutes after the torpedo hit, all power within the ship failed. Meanwhile, most of the crew had been ordered to evacuate the ship. Those that left the ship included the entire staff of shipwrights and key members of the electrical staff, depriving the damage control crews of much-needed expertise. There were still further delays before the repair crews returned to the machinery spaces and attempts at counter-flooding started.

Only half of the available compartments on the portside were flooded, (which reduced the list to 14 degrees) because there was a lack of specialist expertise in the damage control parties. To make matters worse, the flooding valves were not then closed, so the water in the counterflooded units was gradually expelled as more water entered the starboard side of the ship.

Flooding and the loss of feedwater had already shut the ship's power-plant down. Since all the generators were steam-powered, this deprived the ship of electrical as well as motive power. The ship's engineers fought to get the plant back on line despite the rising floodwaters.They won that battle five hours and 34 minutes after the torpedo hit when the portside boiler room was lit off.

However, by that time, the list had increased to 18 degrees and the flooding was starting to spread across the ship's boiler room flat. This was an uninterrupted compartment running across the whole width of the ship, making the entire area of the machinery spaces vulnerable. The efforts made by the engine room crews to restore power were futile. The boiler room flat flooding forced the plant to be shut down again.

Progressive flooding now caused the list to increase rapidly. The list reached 20 degrees 11 hours and 4 minutes after the hit and touched 27 degrees an hour and a quarter later. At this point, the abandon ship order was again given. All crew were off the ship at 0430hrs, 12 hours 19 minutes after the hit, at which time the list had reached 35 degrees.

HMS Ark Royal capsized and sank at 0619hrs after the list reached 45 degrees. Although the ship had been designed with a great reserve of buoyancy, this had been allowed to dwindle away and an invaluable warship had been lost.

After the Second World War, the loss of Ark Royal was investigated. The conclusion drawn was that, on a target of 22,000 tons, the provision of an effective anti-torpedo scheme was difficult.

However, when a comparison with the Yorktown was held it was demonstrated that it was possible, and that the Yorktown had only sunk when all her reserve buoyancy had been exhausted.

The primary cause of the loss of Ark Royal was held to be the inexperience and poor judgement of those responsible for damage control and their lack of initiative. Proper damage control measures were not undertaken in good time nor was action to tow the ship to Gibraltar, less than 25 miles away undertaken promptly.

The torpedo hit on Ark Royal was serious but put the ship in no immediate danger of sinking The prompt application of counterflooding and standard damage control procedures would have saved the ship.

The Investigation also concluded that there were a variety of design factors contributing to the loss:

  • The uninterrupted boiler room flat was a significant error that was immediately rectified in the Illustrious and Indefatigable class.
  • The adoption of a double hangar had forced the use of cross-deck uptakes low in the ship adding to vulnerability.
  • The reliance on steam generators was also an error and diesel generators were back-fitted to the armored carriers.
  • The power train design itself was strongly criticized.