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 Post subject: The ill- fated HMS Hermes
 Post Posted: Thu Jun 15, 2006 1:46 am 
The ill- fated HMS Hermes

Off the sea shores of Batticaloa, under the sea, there exists a second world war era sunken British Navel battleship by the name of HMS Hermes .

By Deepal V. Perera
@ DM / 15 June 2006

HMS Hermes in her final count down on the morning of 9th of April

Unlike any other battleship HMS Hermes in not an ordinary one. It was the first ever British ship to be built to carry air craft or now a days better known as an air craft carrier. Built by Armstrong Whitworth in UK the HMS Hermes was commissioned in 1923 to serve as a Fleet Aircraft Carrier for the Royal Navy. This 13,208 ton ship is built to carry about 20 fighter air craft including Martlet (F4F) Fighters Swordfish T.B's which were considered as greatest flying machines at that time. It had a crew of 700 courageous men and women serving and had a capacity of cruising to a range of 6000 miles to a top speed of 25 knots. In its defensive capability the ship had fire power of 17 main cannon guns in various sizes to protect it from possible air and ground attacks.

In short HMS Hermes was considered as the most modern ship to face the increasing threat from advancing Japanese air raids.

Despite the fact that she earned her reputation for being the first fleet air craft carrier the ship was suffering from serious designing problems from its commissioned days. Due to the world's inexperience with air craft carriers at that time and the practical problems that raised when building the ship HMS Herms had its own designing defects such as a small hangar and instability at high seas caused by the large starboard island.

During the second World War Hermes was originally assigned to the Home Fleet along with HMS Courageous, operating off the South Western approaches of UK to search for and attack German U-boats. She was transferred to the Southern Atlantic later in 1939, where she was assigned to work with the French fleet at Dakar (French West Africa) until the Vichy government declared siding with Germany. There Hermes then launched strikes against French ships, including launching Swordfish torpedo bombers against the French BB Richelieu. She recorded her first torpedo hit on 8th July 1940 by French ship and another mishap was also recorded in the same month where she collided with the merchant vessel Corfu, and was sent to Simonstown, South Africa for repairs.

Thereafter she was assigned to serve in East Africa and Middle East briefly before being reassigned to the British Eastern Fleet located in Trincomalee in Ceylon. Ceylon became her final destination where on 9th of April 1942, Japanese navy launched an air raid on the British Navy base at Trincomalee.

On the day of the Japanese air raid an Ultra decryption of Japanese codes gave Hermes advance warning, allowing her to flee the port for the base at the Maldive Islands. But she was too late to leave where luck went against her as she was spotted by the invading Japanese fighter air craft, off shore of Batticaloa. She was attacked by 70 Japanese aircrafts, and was hit 40 times.

That was her final journey. She sank, losing 307 men in the process, alongside of her escorts DD Vampire and Corvette Hollyhock. Two oil tankers were also sunk in the attack. Later a nearby hospital ship by the name of 'Vita' later picked up 590 survivors from this battle. The wreck of the Hermes is now located in the off seas of Batticaloa resting peacefully.

Sources: Fleet Air Arm, Nihon Kaigun, The Pacific War, the Second World War,

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