HMS Hermes – Ship 9 – was the first purpose built aircraft carrier in the world. The design was based on that of a cruiser and the ship was intended for a similar scouting role. She was built by Armstrong Whitworth, laid down 15 January 1918 and launched 11 September 1919. She was then towed to Devonport for completion. She was subsequently commissioned in July 1923. After a distinguished wartime career she was lost 9 April 1942. HMS Hermes had a small aircraft complement, light protection and anti-aircraft armament. She had a limited high-speed endurance and stability problems caused by the large starboard island, with fuel having to be carefully distributed to balance the ship.
HMS Hermes was deemed unsuitable for operations in European waters, and was consequently employed in trade protection in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans until March 1942.
As the French had no aircraft carriers, Hermes was posted to Brest to operate with the French navy out of Dakar, French West Africa for approximately six months. When Vichy France took over, the Admiralty ordered Hermes out of Dakar to patrol the immediate area to keep a close watch on Vichy French naval movements. Her only fleet operation was on 8 July 1940, when her Swordfish aircraft attacked the Vichy French battleship Richelieu at Dakar and scored one torpedo hit.
Shortly afterwards she was in collision with the AMC Corfu; lead ship of a convoy which came out of Freetown, which resulted in her steaming to Simonstown in South Africa for a more permanent repair. Following which, she was deployed with our aircraft as shadow ship to prevent the pocket battleship Graf Spee from escaping to the South Atlantic.
She then went on patrol on the East Coast of Africa and the Red Sea and finally to the Persian Gulf. Some of her crew members and ratings from other ships were landed in Basra to take over the running of the port and man commandeered craft to patrol the river Shat-el-Arab between Iraq and Iran. After about eight months, troops from the Indian and Ghurka regiments invaded Iran. They then had to take over the naval base at Khoramshah and had to repair sabotaged machinery. HMS Hermes was attacked by Japanese aircraft on 9 April 1942 off Trincomalee, Ceylon and was lost with many of the ship’s company.