Glorious class aircraft carrier

Glorious class aircraft carrier

The "Glorious" class aircraft carrier was one of the earliest classes of aircraft carrier to serve with the Royal Navy. Originally laid down as 'large light cruisers', a cross between 'a light cruiser with 15-inch guns' and 'a battlecruiser with almost no armour', they were later converted into aircraft carriers after the First World War.

Original designs

The class originally consisted of three ships, HMS|Glorious|77|6 HMS|Furious|47|6, and HMS|Courageous|50|6. They were also known in the Royal Navy as 'Lord Fisher's hush-hush cruisers'. They were armed with convert|15|in|mm|0|sing=on guns and were one of the most extreme expressions of the battlecruiser philosophy. The only example more extreme was their half-sister ship HMS|Furious|47|6 which as designed sported two convert|18|in|mm|0|sing=on in two turrets. The three acquired the derogatory nicknames "Uproarious", "Outrageous", and "Curious" and "Spurious".

They originated with the idea of Admiral Lord Fisher's Baltic Project, a plan to force the Baltic Narrows and invade Germany from the north. In order to do this it was thought that ships with heavy guns but with a shallow draft for close inshore operations were needed. The final legend design for "Glorious" and "Courageous" was submitted to the Admiralty for approval on 28 January 1915 and was approved with a few changes on 14 March. Both ships took about 18 months to build; "Courageous" at Armstrong-Whitworth and "Glorious" at Harland & Wolff. Meanwhile, "Furious" design was changed and she was reworked between 1917 and 1918 to carry only one convert|18|in|mm|0|adj=on gun and a flying-off deck for seaplanes at the bow. After completion the remaining 18-inch gun was removed and a landing-on deck added for half the length of the ship. This was found to cause problems for landing aircraft, and it was later extended to the full length of the ship.

During trials, "Courageous" sustained buckled side plating in the forecastle while running full speed in a rough sea. As a result, additional stiffening was added; this stiffening was not given to "Glorious" until 1918. "Furious" was recommissioned before the end of the war on 15 March 1918, and her embarked aircraft served in a number of important battles in World War I, notably the Tondern raid of July 1918 when her Sopwith Camels attacked the Zeppelin sheds at Tondern.

Interwar conversions

As a result of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, "Glorious" and "Courageous" were surplus tonnage as capital ships. As such, they were converted to aircraft carriers; "Courageous" at HMNB Devonport starting on 29 June 1924, and "Glorious" at Rosyth on 14 February 1924. The latter was moved to Devonport when the Rosyth shipyard closed to complete the work. All superstructure, guns, and fittings down to the main deck were removed. A two-storied hangar, convert|550|ft|m|0 long, was built on top of the remaining hull; the upper hangar level opened on to a short 'flying off deck', below and forward of the main flight deck. In essence, they could launch and land aircraft at the same time. Two 46 ft × 48 ft (14 m × 15 m) lifts (elevators) were installed to transfer aircraft between the flight deck and hangars. An island with the bridge, flying control station, and smokestack was added on the starboard side. The original proposed armament was 10 × convert|5.5|in|mm|0|abbr=on and 6 × convert|4|in|mm|0|abbr=on anti-aircraft guns; this was changed during construction to 16 × convert|4.7|in|mm|0|abbr=on AA guns.

After recommissioning, the ships served several years in this configuration. In the early 1930s, arresting gear was installed. A few years later, the ships received two hydraulic catapults on the flight deck, and the 'flying off deck' was converted to a gun deck with the addition of light anti-aircraft guns. In terms of visual recognitional differences: "Courageous" had a tripod mast while "Glorious" had a pole mast; "Glorious" had a lengthened flight deck at the stern with a more pronounced round-down; "Glorious" had her quarterdeck 1 deck higher; "Courageous" had an additional chart house on the island. In their final configuration, they could carry up to 48 aircraft.

Although not purpose built ships of that type, they compared well with their contemporaries in the Royal Navy in that respect. By the time of World War II, they had been aircraft carriers for nearly 20 years and were approaching the end of their service lives. However, that conflict interrupted plans to replace them.

The Second World War

"Courageous" was one of the first British victims of the conflict. In the early days of the war, hunter-killer groups were formed around the fleet aircraft carriers to find and destroy U-boats. However, U-29 turned the tables and sank "Courageous" on 17 September 1939. Following a near miss with HMS|Ark Royal|91|6, the fleet carriers were withdrawn from this duty.

"Glorious" survived a little longer. The first major campaign of the war involving the Royal Navy took place around Norway. "Glorious", in concert with "Ark Royal", provided cover to British forces in the centre of Norway, until they were driven out by the "Luftwaffe". "Glorious" then flew fighters off to the area around Narvik. However, even that place became untenable, and British forces were withdrawn. "Glorious" took Hurricanes on board to attempt to bring them back to the UK, since they would shortly be desperately needed in the Battle of Britain. The Hurricanes were not designed to land on an aircraft carrier. Nevertheless, the squadron managed it. On the way back across the North Sea on 18 June 1940, disaster struck. "Glorious" had an unstable Captain, who not been warned by Navy Intelligence that there could be German ships near, and was not flying any air patrols. "Glorious" and its two escorting destroyers, HMS|Acasta|H09|2 and HMS|Ardent|H41|2, were found by the two German battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" of the Kriegsmarine. The German heavy ships sent all three British vessels to the bottom in 70 minutes with most of their crews.

"Furious" meanwhile had been attached to the Home Fleet, mostly hunting U-boats in the Atlantic, and carrying bullion to Canada. She took part in Operation Pedestal and Operation Torch. In 1943, she took part in strikes against German shipping, and attacked the German Battleship "Tirpitz" in Altafjord Norway. However, as the war progressed, the ship's age and limitations became increasingly apparent, and she was replaced by more modern vessels. "Furious" was placed in reserve in September 1944, and sold in 1948. She was scrapped starting on 15 March 1948, and the hull was scrapped at Troon in July.


*John Roberts, "Battlecruiser", (Chatham Publishing, London, 1997), ISBN 1-86176-006-X, ISBN 1-55750-068-1
*Roger Chesneau, "Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present"; An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1984)
*Siegfried Breyer, "Battleships and Battlecruisers 1905-1970" (Doubleday and Company; Garden City, New York, 1973) (originally published in German as "Schlachtschiffe und Schlachtkreuzer 1905-1970", J.F. Lehmanns, Verlag, Munchen, 1970). Contains various line drawings of the ships as built and as converted to aircraft carriers.

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