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HMS Hermes (R12)
File:HMS Hermes (R12) (Royal Navy aircraft carrier.jpg
HMS Hermes returning to Portsmouth after action in the South Atlantic
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Hermes
Builder: Vickers-Armstrong
Laid down: 21 June 1944
Launched: 16 February 1953
Commissioned: 25 November 1959
Decommissioned: 1984
Struck: 1985
Homeport: HMNB Portsmouth
Identification: Pennant number: R12
Fate: Sold to India in 1986 and renamed INS Viraat
Career (India)
Name: INS Viraat
Acquired: May 1987
Decommissioned: 2020 (expected)[1]
Identification: Pennant number: R22
General characteristics
Displacement: 23,000 tonnes standard 2; 28,000 tonnes full load
Length: 236.14 m (774 ft 9 in)
Beam: 45.10 m (148 ft 0 in)
Draught: 27.8 ft (8.5 m)
Propulsion: 2 Parson turbines, 76,000 shp (57 MW)
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h)
Range: 7,000 nautical miles at 18 knots (13,000 km at 33 km/h)
Complement: 2,100
Armament: 10 × 40 mm Bofors
After 1970: 2 × Sea Cat launchers
Aircraft carried: Up to 1970:12 Sea Vixens, 7 Buccaneers, 5 Gannets and 6 Wessex
After 1980: up to 28 Sea Harriers

Hermes in 1962

HMS Hermes was a conventional British aircraft carrier and the last of the Centaur-class. Hermes was in service with the Royal Navy from 1959 until 1984, and she served as the flagship of the British forces during the 1982 Falklands War.

After being sold to India in 1986, the vessel was recommissioned and remains in service with the Indian Navy as the INS Viraat.

Construction and modifications

She was laid down by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness during WW II as HMS Elephant. Construction was suspended in 1945 but work was resumed in 1952 to clear the slipway and the hull was launched on 16 February 1953. The vessel remained unfinished until 1957, when she entered service on 18 November 1959 as HMS Hermes after extensive modifications which included installation of a massive Type 984 'searchlight' 3D radar, a fully angled deck with a deck-edge elevator, and steam catapults. With these changes she more resembled the reconstructed HMS Victorious than the other three ships in the class. Hermes initially operated Supermarine Scimitar, de Havilland Sea Vixen, and Fairey Gannet fixed-wing aircraft, together with Westland Whirlwind helicopters.


Hermes cost £18 million,[2] with another £1 million for electronic equipment [2] and £10 million for aircraft in 1959.[2]


Proposed operation of F-4 Phantom

Civil Lord of the Admiralty John Hay said in Parliament on 2 March 1964 that "Phantoms will be operated from "Hermes", "Eagle" and the new carrier when it is built. ... Our present information and advice is that the aircraft should be able to operate from "Hermes" after she has undergone her refit."[3] This seemed optimistic, as most sources believed Victorious was the smallest carrier that the modified RN F-4K versions of the Phantom could have operated from. While the Phantoms built for the RN were modified in ways similar to F-8 Crusaders for the French Navy - improving deceleration on landing, the modifications were not entirely successful. Hermes flight deck was too short and the standard USN F-4J Phantoms were more tractable, economical and higher performing.[citation needed] Phantoms trials were held on Hermes in 1969-70. In the views of Minister of Defence, Denis Healey, the carrier could operate the most modern aircraft, but in too small numbers to be effective. The MOD considered the A-4M Skyhawk around 1969, but the Skyhawk was already considered near-obsolete. Nevertheless the light A-4M Skyhawks would have allowed the Hermes to carry a viable late 1970s airgroup of 20 Skyhawks, 6 Sea King and 4 Gannet AEW.

Proposed transfer to Australia

A 1966 review indicated that Hermes was surplus to operational requirements and she was offered to the Royal Australian Navy as a replacement for HMAS Melbourne. In 1968, Hermes took part in a combined exercise with the RAN, during which the carrier was visited by senior RAN officers and Australian government officials, while RAN A-4G Skyhawks and Grumman S-2 Trackers practised landings on the larger carrier.[4] The offer was turned down due to operating and manpower costs.

Proposed international fleet

Hermes served as one of four Royal Navy strike carriers mainly in the Indian Ocean area until 1970. She could have seen action against the Egyptians when Egypt closed off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in May 1967. when the UK and US contemplated forming an international fleet to open the straits with force if necessary,[5] but the idea never materialised.

The final CATOBAR air wing in 1968-1970 consisted of:[6]

Commando/ASW/Harrier Carrier

When the decision was made in the mid-1960s to phase out fixed wing carrier operations Hermes was slated to become a "Commando Carrier" for Royal Marine operations (similar in concept to a US Navy LHA), and in 1972 underwent a refit in which her arresting cables, steam catapults, and 3-D radar were removed. Landing craft and berthing for 800 troops were added and her airwing became approximately 20 Sea King helicopters. By 1976, with the Soviet submarine threat becoming apparent and through NATO pressure, a further mild conversion was performed for Hermes to become an Anti-submarine warfare carrier to patrol the North Atlantic. Hermes underwent one more conversion and new capabilities were added when she was refitted at Portsmouth from 1980 to June 1981, during which a 12-degree ski-jump and facilities for operating Sea Harriers were incorporated. After this refit the air wing comprised:

Falklands War

HMS Hermes in 1982

Hermes was due to be decommissioned in 1982 after a defence review by the British government, but when the Falklands War broke out, she was made the flagship of the British forces, setting sail for the South Atlantic just three days after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. She sailed for the Falklands with an airgroup of 12 Sea Harrier FRS1 of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, and 18 Sea Kings. A few weeks after sailing, more aircraft were flown or transported via other ships to replace some losses and augment the task force. Hermes airgroup grew to 16 Sea Harriers, 10 Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3 s of the Royal Air Force, and 10 Sea Kings (after some of the helicopters were dispersed to other ships) as well as a troop of Special Air Service (SAS) and Royal Marines. As she was the RN's largest carrier, she was considered too valuable to risk close into the Falklands, due to the possibility of Argentinian airforce attacks. Her Harriers therefore operated at the limit of their endurance radius, but were very successful in keeping the enemy aircraft at bay.

Air group at the height of the Falklands Conflict:

After the Falklands War

After her return home from the Falklands conflict Hermes entered into a much needed 4-month refit until November 1982. She then took part in NATO exercises in the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean Sea as a commando carrier. In the autumn of 1983 she took part in her last exercise, Ocean Safari, where she reverted to a strike carrier role, embarking 12 Sea Harriers, 10 RAF Harrier GR.3s and 10 Sea Kings. After this exercise she returned to the UK for a minor refit and into maintained reserve in February 1984.

In 1983, when the proposed sale of HMS Invincible to the Royal Australian Navy was cancelled following the Falklands War, an offer was made to sell Hermes and a squadron of Sea Harriers to Australia. However the new Hawke Government decided against purchasing a replacement for HMAS Melbourne.[7]

Hermes served with the Royal Navy until 12 April 1984. She was paid off in 1985.


In April 1986 Hermes was refitted and sold to India and recommissioned as the INS Viraat in 1989.


Her typical aircraft complement in the late 1960s consisted of 12 Sea Vixen FAW2s, 7 Buccaneer S2s, 4 Gannet AEW3s, 1 Gannet COD4, 5 Wessex HAS3s and 1 Wessex HAS1. She was recommissioned as a commando carrier in 1973, as an ASW carrier in 1976 (carrying around 20 or so Sea King and Wessex helicopters), and then as a V/STOL carrier in 1981. Hermes initial complement of aircraft as a V/STOL carrier was 5 Harriers and 12 Sea King helicopters, though she had the capacity for up to a total of 37 aircraft.

See also



  • Friedman, Norman (1988). British Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of the Ships and Their Aircraft. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-054-8. 
  • McCart, Neil (2001). HMS Hermes 1923 & 1959. Cheltenham, England: Fan Publications. ISBN 1-901225-05-4. 
  • Sturtivant, Ray (1984). The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. Tonbridge, Kent: Air-Britain (Historians). ISBN 0-85130-120-7. 

External links

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