Herald on the high seas


Born out of the lessons of World War One, HMS Hermes was a key step in the rise of the aircraft carrier as the premier warfighting vessel. John Ash profiles the world’s first purpose-built carrier, 100 years after its commissioning

HMS Hermes at the Spithead fleet review, July 26, 1924

On February 19, 1942, the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes sortied to embark aircraft. After that, she was to join the destroyer HMAS Vampire to conduct anti-submarine patrols, put her aircraft ashore when she entered Ceylon’s Trincomalee harbour on February 25 and prepare for future operations. It was the sort of second-line role that this early carrier excelled at.

As March gave way to April, Japan’s Kidō Butai carrier force conducted a major raid in the Indian Ocean. In the last throes of that raid, Hermes and Vampire were ordered to support the upcoming Allied invasion of Madagascar. However, they were spotted.

British fighters were vectored to their positions, but it was too late – 85 Japanese dive bombers sortied to attack Hermes and its escort, 32 of them finding and sinking both ships before the dozen Fulmars could make a difference. The little carrier bore the brunt of the attack, soaking up 40 bombs before she slipped beneath the waves.

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