That Sinking Feeling

Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal (Pennant No 91) sank on this day in 1941.  Probably the most famous ship to bear this illustrious name, because of her role in sinking the Bismark.  The Ark Royal was the first British Aircraft Carrier with integrated flight decks (as opposed to them being a superstructure) and signaled the transition from battleship superiority to air-craft carrier led fleets.

The Battle of Taranto (Nov 11-12 1940) was the first clear display of the impact of naval sea power.  Obsolete biplane Swordfish torpedo bombers launched from HMS Illustrious wreaked havoc on the Italian Fleet at harbour, in an action that was closely observed by the Japanese.

Six months later the Bismark sank the HMS Hood and forced the HMS Prince of Wales to retreat in the most notable battleship to battleship action of WW2.  As the Bismark steamed for safety in St Nazaire in occupied France, she was spotted by the Flotilla out of Gibraltar led by Ark Royal.  It was a Torpedo from one of the obsolescent Swordfish aircraft that clipped Bismark’s rudder and put the great battleship into a circular course, allowing the fleet to catch the flagship of the 3rd Reich.  Bismark was scuttled after a sustained bombardment by the British fleet.

Ark Royal herself was lost to a Torpedo from U-81 on the return from the Gibraltar to Malta supply run delivering aircraft.  Struck on the 13th, she listed, inverted, broke in half and sank in the early hours of the 14th.

The naval war in the pacific, Pearl Harbour, Midway, Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf etc went on to seal the fate of the dreadnoughts as capital ships of navies.  The day of the battleship was over.

Channel Firing; by Thomas Hardy

That night your great guns, unawares,
shook all our coffins as we lay,
and broke the chancel window-squares,
we thought it was the Judgment-day

and sat upright. While drearisome
arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
the worms drew back into the mounds,

the glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
it’s gunnery practice out at sea
just as before you went below;
the world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
they do no more for Christés sake
than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
for some of them’s a blessed thing,
for if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
and rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
will the world ever saner be,”
said one, “than when He sent us under
in our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
my neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
roaring their readiness to avenge,
as far inland as Stourton Tower,
and Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.