HMS HERMES (R12)
Photo: HMS HERMES passes HMS VICTORY as she enters Portsmouth harbour on returning from the Falklands on 21 July 1982. Photo from the Imperial War Museum, London, England.
HMS HERMES (R12) was a Centaur-class conventional aircraft carrier that served in the Royal Navy.
HMS HERMES (R12) 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, HMS HERMES (R12) was recommissioned and remains in service with the Indian Navy as INS VIRAAT.
HMS HERMES (R12) was laid down by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness during World War 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.
HMS HERMES (R12) 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 aircraft carrier HMS VICTORIOUS than the other three ships in the class.
HMS HERMES (R12) initially operated Supermarine Scimitar, de Havilland Sea Vixen, and Fairey Gannet fixed-wing aircraft, together with Westland Whirlwind helicopters.
HMS HERMES (R12) was due to be decommissioned in 1982 after a defence review (that would have made the Royal Navy considerably smaller) by the British government, but when the Falklands War broke out, HMS HERMES (R12) 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.
HMS HERMES (R12) sailed for the Falklands with an airgroup of 12 Sea Harrier FRS1 attack aircraft of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and 18 Sea King helicopter. A few weeks after sailing, more aircraft were flown or transported via other ships to replace some losses and augment the task force.
HMS HERMES’s airgroup grew to 16 Sea Harriers, 10 Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3s 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 and Royal Marines.
As HMS HERMES (R12) was the Royal Navy’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:
800 NAS – 16 Sea Harrier FRS.1
826 NAS – 5 Sea King HAS.5
846 NAS – 5 Sea King HC.4
No. 1 Squadron RAF – 10 Harrier GR.3
After her return home from the Falklands conflict HMS HERMES (R12) entered into a much needed 4-month refit to her propulsion and electrical systems, as well as a thorough cleaning and repainting. When this was completed in November 1982, HMS HERMES (R12) embarked stores and performed work-ups exercises.
HMS HERMES (R12) 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 HMS HERMES (R12) reverted to a strike carrier role, embarking 12 Sea Harriers, 10 RAF Harrier GR.3s and 10 Sea Kings. After this exercise HMS HERMES (R12) 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 HMS HERMES (R12) and a squadron of Sea Harriers to Australia. However the Hawke Government decided against purchasing a replacement for HMAS MELBOURNE.
HMS HERMES (R12) served with the Royal Navy until 12 April 1984. She was paid off in 1985.
In April 1986 HMS HERMES (R12) was towed from Portsmouth Dockyard to Devonport Dockyard to be refitted, re activated and sold to India, recommissioning and sailing as INS VIRAAT in 1987.
Complied by Thomas Joseph Simpson
Tuesday April 5, 2016