This week in 1950: The Ark Royal

It was with some excitement that The Engineer reported on the launch of the Ark Royal from the Cammel Laird shipyard in Merseyside.

The fourth ship to carry that name, the vessel began life when its predecessor was torpedoed in 1941. The first, recalled The Engineer, ‘was built in 1557 for Sir Walter Raleigh and was wrecked in 1636.’

The article reported that the new vessel’s design was heavily influenced by the lessons learned during World War II. ‘When hostilities ceased, the admiralty was able to concentrate on absorbing war lessons, to study the cause and effect of the various types of war damage sustained by aircraft carriers and to endeavour to produce an effective solution.’

The vessel, which was the last carrier to support fixed-wing aircraft, also featured two steam catapults for launching aircraft from the ship’s 800ft-long, partially angled flight deck — or, as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore fans may recall, pianos.

The post-war introduction of the jet engine had a particular bearing on the design. ‘The ship will be armed with 16 4.5in guns in turret mountings, and 57 other anti-aircraft weapons,’ said the article. ‘high-speed lifts are fitted in the hangars which are suitable for the stowage of jet, turbine propeller and piston-engine aircraft which can be flown off and landed on the flight deck. The hull is of combined welded and riveted construction and the ship is propelled by a four-shaft arrangement of turbines,’ it went on.

Despite operating throughout much of the cold war, the vessel never saw action, but arguably came closest to conflict when it collided with a Soviet destroyer in 1970.

Broken up in 1980, the vessel’s successor is the current flagship of the naval fleet. It is expected to be decommissioned in 2015, when it will be replaced by the much larger Future Aircraft Carrier currently being built by BAE and Thales.

Jon Excell, features editor