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-1942less