Military Wiki
Centaur-class aircraft carrier
INS Viraat (R22) Malabar 07.jpg
INS Viraat (Ex-HMS Hermes)
Class overview
Builders: Harland & Wolff
Swan Hunter
Vickers Armstrong
Operators:  Indian Navy
 Royal Navy
Succeeded by: Invincible class
Subclasses: HMS Hermes (completed to a modified design)
In commission: 1 September 1953
Planned: 8
Completed: 4 (Albion, Bulwark, Centaur, Hermes (ex Elephant))
Cancelled: 4 (Monmouth, Polyphemus, Arrogant, Hermes)
Active: 1, INS Viraat (ex-Hermes)
General characteristics
Class & type: Aircraft Carrier
Displacement: 22,000 tons 28,700 tons full load
Length: 737 ft (224.6 m)
Beam: 130 ft (39.6 m)
Draught: 28.5 ft (8.7 m)
Installed power: 78,000 hp
Propulsion: 2 shaft geared steam turbines, 4 Admiralty 3 drum boilers
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h)
Sensors and
processing systems:
Radar Type 982, Type 983, Type 275, Type 974
Armament: 32 40mm Bofors guns (2x6), (8x2), (4x1)
Armour: 1 inch flight deck, Hangar deck
Aircraft carried: 26

The Centaur class of aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy was the last of the light fleet carrier designs started during the closing years of World War II.

Ships in class

  • HMS Centaur (R06), commissioned September 1953, decommissioned 1965, scrapped 1973
  • HMS Albion (R07), commissioned May 1954, decommissioned 1972, scrapped 1973
  • HMS Bulwark (R08), commissioned November 1954, decommissioned April 1981, scrapped April 1984
  • HMS Hermes (R12), commissioned November 1959, decommissioned April 1984, struck 1985, sold to Indian Navy in April 1986, recommissioned as INS Viraat in May 1987; currently in active service (ex-HMS Elephant)
  • HMS Monmouth (cancelled)
  • HMS Polyphemus (cancelled)
  • HMS Arrogant (cancelled)
  • HMS Hermes (cancelled)


Originally conceived as a class of eight vessels, with the end of hostilities, work on all the ships was suspended and four units Monmouth, Polyphemus, Arrogant and Hermes were cancelled outright. The four remaining vessels remained uncompleted for the best part of a decade. The earlier light fleet carriers of the Colossus and Majestic classes were completed before work resumed on the larger ships. With the extended completion periods of the units, and the rapid advances in aircraft carrier design at the time of their building, it was almost inevitable that large differences should be seen between the various members of the class.

HMS Centaur, the first to be completed, was commissioned in 1954. The ship had an axial flight deck and was thus unsuitable for operating the jets then rapidly supplanting piston engine aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm. Centaur was commissioned in Belfast and after completing her sea trials, she then steamed into Portsmouth Dockyard and for the next six months in 1954 the ship underwent a substantial reconstruction to provide for an angled flight deck, However, service in this new configuration did not last long and the ship was decommissioned in 1965. Conversion to a "commando carrier" configuration was cancelled in 1966.

HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, the next two members of the class completed spent their lives inextricably linked. They both took part in Operation Musketeer, during the Suez Crisis, and they were both later converted into commando carriers. In this role, instead of carrying fast jets, they carried helicopters and marines. They were worked hard in the 1960s, with each taking turns deploying 'east of Suez' to the Far East Fleet. The link was broken when Albion was decommissioned in 1973. Bulwark lingered on a few years longer until 1976. However, in 1979, Bulwark was recommissioned in the anti-submarine role. It was only a short change though as an engine room fire in 1980 finally saw the old ship withdrawn from service.

The final ship of the class started as Elephant, but renamed as HMS Hermes, she had a longer service life than any of the others in British hands. Not completed until 1959, some 15 years after being started, Hermes incorporated a full angled flight deck and other changes compared to Centaur, Albion and Bulwark. After fulfilling the role of a light attack carrier for a number of years, Hermes was converted to a commando carrier to replace Albion in the early 1970s. However, a return to operating fixed-wing aircraft beckoned at the end of the decade. Hermes was fitted with a ski-jump to enable the ship to operate the new Sea Harrier aircraft then coming into service. In this role, the ship saw considerable action in the Falklands War, acting as the flagship of the aircraft carrier task force. Hermes finally left Royal Navy service in 1984, and was sold to India. As INS Viraat, the ship continues in active service as of 2012.


The Centaur class were intermediate in size between the Colossus and Majestic class light carriers and the Audacious class fleet carriers. At first this did not prove to be a hindrance. However, as the 1960s progressed, and jets continued to get larger and heavier, the point was eventually reached where the Centaurs could not sustain a balanced air wing of conventional aircraft. Hermes survived the longest as a conventional carrier, even operating the Blackburn Buccaneer. However, Hermes was not large enough to operate the Phantom FG.1.

In roles they were not originally designed for, the class also proved successful. The loss of Albion and Bulwark's helicopter capability was keenly felt in the Royal Navy for many years, until an effective replacement, in the form of HMS Ocean was commissioned in 1998. Hermes also performed sterling service as a platform for the Sea Harrier and made a vital contribution to the winning of the Falklands War, the largest naval conflict since 1945.


Models have been made of Centaur class carriers to many scales, but some of the most widely distributed were the mass-produced metal 1:1200 (one inch to 100 feet) scale version introduced by Triang Minic ships in 1959. This was produced in the UK between 1959 and 1965, carrying the names of Albion, Bulwark and Centaur, and again in a more detailed Hornby Minic Ships version of Bulwark made in Hong Kong between 1975 and 1980. The model is very durable, and remains popular with toy ship collectors to this day.

See also




  • Conway's All the world's Fighting Ships 1947-1995
  • Ireland, Bernard. The Illustrated Guide to Aircraft Carriers of the World. Hermes House, London, 2005. ISBN 1-84477-747-2

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