Laid down:16 September 1935
Launched:13 April 1937
Commissioned:16 December 1938
Fate:torpedoed by U-81 on 13 November 1941. Sunk 14 November 1941
General Characteristics
Displacement:22,000 tons
Length:800 feet
Beam:94.8 feet
Draft:28 feet
Speed:31 knots
Range:7600 miles at 20 knots
Complement:1,600 officers and men
Armament:16 4.5-inch/45-caliber guns in eight twin mounts, 48 two-pounder 8-barrel Pompoms, 32 .50-caliber machineguns

HMS Ark Royal (91), the lead ship of her class of aircraft carrier, was the third ship of the Royal Navy to be named in honor of the flagship of the English fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada. She was designed in 1934 to meet the limits of the Washington Naval Treaty, and was built by Cammell Laird 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 Kébir, 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 26 May 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 Sea 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 on 13 November 1941 by the German submarine U-81. After a difficult struggle against progressive flooding, the carrier capsized and sank on 14 November 1941.¹ Her exact location remained unknown until mid-December 2002 when the BBC announced that a film crew had located the wreck in 3,500 feet of water some 30 miles off Gibraltar.

Ark Royal in sinking condition


¹ Fleet Air Arm Archive entry on HMS Ark Royal II

See HMS Ark Royal for other ships of the same name.