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HMS Hermes - What is this funny looking boat?

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Hello All,

With the RN destroyer line I did a bit of historic background on the who/what/why of the ships, see:

With the Royal Navy tech-tree carriers (or at least four of them and a premium) now announced on the Development blog here:

I thought it might be nice to do the same for them, though carriers usually have more history than destroyers. Things are very much WIP on the carriers, it's not even certain to me if the mooted tiers are final or if WG are doing a bare-bones test. Anyway. here's the first one.

Tier 4(?), HMS Hermes


IWM Image Q 75602 - HMS Hermes undated interwar image. I believe the aircraft shown are a Fairey Flycatcher fighter (forward) and Blackburn Dart torpedo bomber, dating it to the 1920's.
Note that whatever the year this is likely similar to her as-sunk configuration, with some slight AA changes

Design History: Hermes was a unique carrier design and one-off 'experimental carrier'. Designed in 1917 and lain down in early 1918 the Hermes has as her key claim to fame her title as 'the first purpose designed aircraft carrier lain down and launched in the world' though as her build underwent several evolutions and only completed in 1924 the Japanese Hosho built her as the first purpose-built carrier completed and commissioned.

In the tail end of WWI the Royal Navy had become increasingly air-minded. It was a Royal Naval Air Service Short 184 which launched the first successful airborne torpedo attack in history. The RN had been accompanied by a seaplane carrier at Jutland in 1916, and launched the first carrier strike mission in 1918. By the end of the war flying-off platforms were fitted to most Grand Fleet Battleships, allowing them to launch light aircraft from their turret tops. The first dedicated aircraft-carrying ships used were a hodge-podge of weird and wonderful conversions, but interest was there and a new ship was ordered in 1917 to expand capacity.

Hermes was a relatively small ship, at about 11,000t standard load she was barely bigger than most interwar heavy cruisers. Her hull design had some origins in the Hawkins class cruisers, sharing an approximate length and armor protection scheme, though she operated with only 2 rather than 4 screws for a slower 25kt. Despite being initially designed at a very early stage in carrier development Hermes was able to leverage design experience gained on the converted carriers Furious, Argus and Eagle, during her long (6 year) building process and her appearance is remarkably modern. A large island superstructure on the starboard side with AA guns fore and aft of it wouldn't look out of place on ships 30 years newer. Old-fashioned features still include a pointed bow, rather than flared sheer and  battery of medium-caliber single-purpose 5.5in guns, supported by an over-large spotting top.

IWM Image Q 70886  - Hermes, likely at the 1924 fleet review, note the lowered aft 'T'-shaped elevator and trained-out 5.5in guns.

As an aircraft carrier, Hermes had some serious limitations. She was small, cramped and narrow. A beam of 21m imposed immediate limits on hangar size. Her initial airgroup was fewer than 20 aircraft, and by WWII she would operate about a dozen Fairey Swordfish at best. That said, any carrier is more useful than no carrier, and compared to many early ships such as the Argus, Eagle, USS Langley, French Bearn and Japanese Hosho  the Hermes was not disastrous, she was nonetheless utterly obsolete by 1939, let alone 1942 and with a small, old hull was a fairly poor candidate for any major upgrade or refit.


Service History: Commissioned in 1924 the Hermes enjoyed a relatively bucolic early career, serving with the Atlantic Fleet, Mediterranean Fleet and on the China Station. She would participate in a Fleet Review in Spithead, and while on the China Station launch an in-anger air attack against... pirates. Increasingly as the interwar period rolled on she spent more and more of her time in the Far East until just before war broke out she was back in the UK, in reserve.

Although old, Hermes was valuable for trade protection in the early part of WWII. Her airgroup could scout a significantly larger area per day than any ship limited to binoculars reaching out to the horizon. Hermes was paired with the French Battleship Strasbourg as one of the hunting groups looking for the Graf Spee, without success.

Search, patrol and convoy duty were the norm until mid-1940, where with the fall of France the political situation changed. Concerned that the potent French Navy might fall into German hands the British moved against French ships, most famously in the attack on Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria with heavy loss of life as battleship Bretagne exploded. Hermes was assigned to strike at the battleship Richelieu in Dakar, Senegal. Ironically Hermes' first significant engagement was against a former ally, and her six Swordfish managed a torpedo hit on the stern of the moored ship, though it caused no personnel casualties. Richelieu would be left with two inoperable propeller shafts until her eventual US refit completed in October 1943.

Over the next two years Hermes was largely retained in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. While even her older sisters would see service in the Mediterranean, Hermes would travel thousands of miles on patrol for raiders with her only contact being ramming the British Armed Merchant Cruiser Corfu and necessitating 8 months in dock for repair. While available to support Force Z, the ill-fated combination of Prince of Wales and Repulse sent to the aid of Singapore, Hermes was rejected as too slow but her reprieve from destruction at the hands of Japanese airmen was short lived.

In April 1942 the Japanese launched a long range carrier and surface ship attack into the Indian Ocean. The heavy strike included five fleet carriers, which greatly outmatched available Allied ships. A series of miscommunications and misconceptions saw Hermes sent back towards Trincomalee, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) for a boiler clean in preparation for invading Vichy French held Madagascar. On April 9, 1942 Hermes was attacked by overwhelming force while trying to retreat again from Ceylon. First detected by a seaplane launched by battleship Haruna, the Hermes and her light escort of the destroyer HMAS Vampire were attacked by 50 Aichi D3A 'Val' dive bombers, escorted by 6 Zero fighters. Hermes had not sailed with any operational aircraft, and long-range cover from Fulmar fighters was grossly insufficient. The weak antiaircraft guns of the old carrier could offer up little resistance and Hermes was struck by a large number of bombs and sank with 306 sailors killed, including her captain.

Ship Summary:







Laid down








Hermes I95, D95 Elswick (completed in Devonport) 15/1/1918 11/9/1919 19/2/1924 Sunk, 9/4/1942


Aircraft: In her 18 year career Hermes operated a range of the interwar types used by the RN (or more accurately by the RAF's Fleet Air Arm) before largely settling on the Swordfish through WWII. As a rear-echelon carrier Hermes was tasked with patrol, anti-submarine warfare and very limited strike operations and fighters were not required for those tasks.

In game it looks like Hermes may be equipped with Osprey dive bombers and Nimrod fighters as the RN's T4 starter carrier, an unfortunate choice in my view as the ship (and the RN) are more synonymous with torpedo over dive bombing.

The Hawker Osprey is another early '30's fixed undercarriage biplane, developed as a navalized version of the Hawker Hart. Its uses included spotting for the fleet, reconnaissance and as a dive bomber. The Osprey was operated by 803 Squadron onboard Hermes from about 1935-1937, potentially in more of a fighter role though it had a 500lb bomb payload. 

IWM Image H(AM) 238 - Hawker Osprey in flight, note the racks for underwing munitions

The Hawker Nimrod was used as a Fleet Air Arm fighter from the early 1930's, though not specifically by the Hermes that I can see. The aircraft was a fairly typical single seater biplane fighter with fixed undercarriage, armed with 2x .303in machine guns firing forward.

IWM Image Q 92891, Hawker Nimrod taking off - though from Furious rather than Hermes

Hope you enjoyed.

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Alpha Tester, In AlfaTesters
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6 hours ago, KnightFandragon said:

Heres a wild thought, with us getting RN CVs how long til we get Habbakuk, that ice carrier.....lol

The Habbakuk is the T10 RN CV...







/sarcasm, because no one can tell when it's on...

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