Remembering the Ark

As the Type 45 (Daring-class) air-defense destroyer HMS Dragon (D35)— recently made a Bond film veteran– passed through the Mediterranean this week, she marked a somber 80th anniversary, that of the loss of the legendary WWII carrier HMS Ark Royal (91), with a service over her wreck.

“The destroyer paused her patrol to remember all who served in the mighty Ark – a constant thorn in Hitler’s side until a U-boat finally sank her 30 miles east of Gibraltar in late 1941. A wreath was cast into the waters in memory of the sole man lost in the sinking, AB Edward Mitchell,” noted the Royal Navy.

Sunk by a lucky torpedo from U-81 (Oblt.z.S. Friedrich Guggenberger), 14 November 1941, the 27,000-ton flattop was less than three years old but was a steady veteran of the Norway campaign (where the British lost the carrier HMS Glorious with heavy loss of life just after sistership HMS Courageous had been sent to the bottom by a U-boat in 1939) as well as heavy engagements in the Med against the Italians (Spartivento) and in the Malta Convoy run.

Ark’s loss would put the Royal Navy down to just two pre-war carriers– HMS Furious (47) and HMS Eagle, the latter of which would be sunk by U-73 nine months later. Luckily, the Brits had four brand-new 23,000-ton Illustrious-class carriers (HM Ships Illustrious, Formidable, Victorious, and Indomitable) which had just joined the fleet, bringing the numbers up.

As for U-81, the Type VIIC U-boat survived a punishing depth charge attack from Ark’s escorting destroyers with 130 depth charges counted by the crew and would be sent to the bottom of Pola harbor in 1944 by 15th Air Force B-17s on the eve of the sub’s 18 war patrol.

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