Tag Archives: HMS Hermes

45,000 tons of Courageous

The Indian Navy, which officially dates back to the 1947 split with the British Empire and carries a curious mix of traditions from the Royal Navy and doctrine from the Soviets/Russians, saw an important milestone last week when INS Vikrant (R11), whose name roughly translates to “Courageous” took to the sea for builder’s trials, celebrating 60 continuous years of carrier operations.

The country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and the largest warship to be built in the country, Vikrant is roughly the size of an American LHA but importantly uses a STOBAR aircraft launching system with a ski-jump and angled flight deck and can operate a mix of 40 MiG-29Ks and ASW helicopters.

Nice to see the old Sea King still around

She also has a serious self-defense armament (another ode to Russian carrier ops) including 64 Barak 8 missiles, four OTO 76mm guns, and four Russian AK-630 CIWS mounts. Powered by a quartet of GE LM2500 turbines, which are standard on just about every American destroyer and cruiser, she has an eclectic mix of Italian and Israeli electronics.

60 Years of Indian Carriers

India has been in the carrier game since 1961, when the original INS Vikrant, formerly the British light carrier HMS Hercules, was commissioned. Vikrant was later augmented in 1987 by the Centaur-class carrier INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes), which served for 30 years.

Vikrant in 1984 after many years of hard service. You can note the Sea Harriers, Sea King helicopters, Sea Hawks, and Alize aircraft on deck

Doing the math, India was a single-carrier operator for 26 years, then operated two flattops side-by-side for a decade before downsizing between 1997 and 2012. With the commissioning of the completely rebuilt INS Vikramaditya (ex- Russian carrier Baku/Admiral Gorshkov), the country then again operated a two-carrier fleet for five years. 

INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya in 2013. At the time, India had arguably the second-highest amount of operational naval tonnage in the world behind the U.S.

Since 2017, when Hermes/Viraat was finally retired, they have been back down to a single carrier but that will change once Vikrant officially joins the fleet next year.

Also, the “big deck” Vikramaditya enabled the Indians to retire their ancient early model Sea Harriers and go with MiG-29 carrier variants, of which they have some 45 in operation. Sure, they are not as capable of a carrier-based fighter as the F-18E or F-35B, but they are still a step up from Harriers.

Plus, keep in mind that the very professional Indians have probably the best track record in using MiGs in combat in the world. Just ask Pakistan. 

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and is looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally. There is also talk of fielding variants of the F/A18E or the French Rafale instead.

Sailing on Hermes for the Falklands

Timely now due to the fact that, as this is written, the famous old WWII-era HMS Hermes (95) is being slowly cut to pieces in the shallows of Alang, is the below video that was just posted online.

This great 24-minute color film story, from the AP Archives, was filed 21 May 1982 as the British Operation Corporate Task Force was heading to liberate the Falklands.

It starts out with some interesting shots of the force as a whole as it pulled out of Portsmouth, then soon switches to life on the Hermes. The film crew goes from her flight deck where Harriers are buzzing around working up with some live-fire exercises while underway, to the hangar deck and down to engineering, talking to assorted ratings including a 16-year-old snipe who is bummed that his planned 10-day libo was canceled to go fight the Argies.

One interesting part, at the 17:17 mark, shows Hermes training a 100 man group, drawn from the crew, as an internal security force, equipped with SLRs and other small arms. The thought at the time, from the officer over the training, was that the volunteers could be utilized as a landing force ashore if needed, ready to guard ammo dumps, prisoner control, etc. Even with the prospect of possible ground combat on the horizon, three times the amount of tars needed for the force volunteered. To put that into perspective, keep in mind that the light carrier only had a 500– 2,100-man crew.

Well, that’s a wrap for Hermes

Laid down at Vickers late during WWII, the Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) languished on the builder’s ways and was only completed post-Suez, joining the Royal Navy in 1959. Converted to a “commando carrier” then made a default Harrier carrier, she spearheaded the British operation to liberate the Falklands in 1982– an operation that probably could not be pulled off without the aging flattop.

Moving to India, she continued to serve as the INS Viraat (R22) for another 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service, making her arguably the longest-serving carrier in naval history. For reference, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) “only” served 56 years and the smaller USS Lexington (CV-16), the famed Blue Ghost, served 48. Similarly, HMS/HMAS Vengeance/NAeL Minas Gerais tied Enterprise at 56– although it was under three different flags– before she was towed off to the shipbreaking yards at Alang.

Speaking of Alang, the final effort to save Hermes/Viraat is disbanding, as it has been confirmed the dismantling of the old girl there is too far advanced to try to make a go of it.

She deserved better.

It Only Took the Royal Navy 37 Years to Come Full Circle

Once upon a time: HMS Ark Royal (R09) loaded with F-4 Phantoms and Buccaneers. 

The country that in 1918 designed the first ocean-going aircraft carrier retired their last “big deck” flattop, the 53,000-ton HMS Ark Royal (R09) in 1979, taking the ability to support (F-4) Phantom FG.1s and Buccaneer S.2 bombers with her.

27 November 1978: 892 NAS Phantom XT870/012- last fixed-wing catapult launch from HMS Ark Royal took place at 15.11 that day, flown by an RAF crew of Flt Lt Murdo MacLeod and Deputy Air Engineer (RIO) Lt D McCallum in the back seat (pictured).

The replacement for Ark Royal was to be the 22,000-ton “through deck destroyer” HMS Invincible, capable of fielding a small force of about a dozen helicopters or so and V/STOL Sea Harriers. A mid-sized (28,000-ton) 1950s-era Centaur-class carrier, HMS Hermes (R12), was to be kept around for a minute for use as a “commando carrier,” akin to an LPH in the U.S. Navy.

Then came the Falklands War, and with Ark Royal long gone and Invincible only able to carry a handful of aircraft, the aging Hermes was stacked with an impressive 26 Harriers (to include 10 RAF GR.3 ground-based variants) and 10 Sea Kings. Retired in 1983, she was sold to India two years later– a country that loved Hermes intently as INS Viraat until she was sent to the breakers this very month.

Since 1984, the UK had to make do with the postage-stamp-sized “Harrier Carriers” of the expanded Invincible-class, which were maxed out at 8 Sea Harriers and 12 helicopters although they typically carried far less. By 2014, even those vessels were gone.

However, last week the new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea with the largest single air wing any British ship has carried since Hermes was put to pasture in 1983: 14 F-35B Lightning (reportedly “the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world”) and eight Merlin HM2 (“Grey Merlin”) ASW helicopters– two of which are “baggers” carrying experimental Crowsnest AEW radar sets.

The F-35s come from the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), while the Merlins come from 824 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm– truly a joint wing with Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and USMC elements.

Of note, a QE-class carrier has deck and hangar space for as many as 45 F-35s. So one day they may reach 1979 levels of seapower again…

All over for the longest-serving aircraft carrier

As we have talked about previously, the WWII vintage Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) spent 28 years in the Royal Navy– including as flagship of the Falklands task force– then went on to give the Indian Navy another 31 years of hard service as INS Viraat (R22) before she was retired in 2017. For reference, she was laid down 21 June 1944, just two weeks after D-Day.

As far as I can tell, Hermes/Viraat was the longest-serving aircraft carrier under any flag, surpassing USS Lexington (CV-16/AVT-16) which clocked in for 48 years in a row– although the last couple of decades of that were as a training ship out of Pensacola– and USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which was a hard charger for 51 years. USS Nimitz (CVN-68) has been with the fleet since 1975 by comparison, “just” 45 years.

While the Indians had tossed around the idea of making Viraat a museum in Mumbai, no cash could be spared and she went to the auction block in 2019 with no bidders. Likewise, a prospect for the old warrior to return back home to the UK where veterans groups aimed to preserve her there also fell through.

She is set to arrive at Alang Ship Breaking yard for demolition in the first week of September.

Boris to save HMS Hermes?

As we have covered in the past few weeks, the former WWII vintage Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12), late of the Indian Navy, recently went up for auction and received zero bids. The former Falklands War conflict flagship, which had her hull laid in 1944, is the last of her kind and gave 59 hard years to the Admiralties of London and New Delhi, and it would be a shame to send her to the breakers.

Now, according to the UK’s Sunday Express, PM Boris Johnson may have reached out to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an attempt to bring the ship home.

Downing Street has declined to comment on whether Mr Johnson raised the issue in the conversation which is mostly kept private.

But Mr Campbell Bannerman, who has helped lead the campaign along with Falklands veteran Andy Trish, said: “We believe Boris intervened but haven’t been able to have it confirmed.

“It is good news though that for whatever reason HMS Hermes can still be saved.

“We can raise more money from private backers than the Indian government would receive for turning it into scrap. It is very important that we keep some of our naval heritage and history for future generations to see.”

We will keep you posted.

Hermes gets no bidders

View looking aft down HMS HERMES’ flight deck as she sails from Portsmouth for the South Atlantic. Five Sea Harriers of No 800 Squadron Fleet Air Arm are visible on the crowded flight deck in front of a mass of Sea Kings. At the time of sailing, the crew had not had time to organize the stowing of aircraft or supplies. IWM (FKD 674)

As we have talked about previously, the WWII vintage Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) spent 28 years in the Royal Navy– including as flagship of the Falklands task force– then went on to give the Indian Navy another 31 years of hard service as INS Viraat (R22) before she was retired in 2017.

As far as I can tell, she was the longest-serving aircraft carrier under any flag, surpassing USS Lexington (CV-16/AVT-16) which clocked in for 48 years in a row– although the last couple of decades of that were as a training ship out of Pensacola– and USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which was a hard charger for 51 years.

While the Indians had tossed around the idea of making Viraat a museum in Mumbai, no cash could be spared and she went to the auction block this week– with no bidders.

She is expected to be relisted, and maybe the Indian government will allow groups outside of the country to place a bid, a prospect that could see her return back home to the UK where veterans groups aim to preserve her there.

We’ll keep you updated.

Hermes everlasting no more

Laid down at Vickers late during WWII, the Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) languished on the builder’s ways and was only completed post-Suez, joining the Royal Navy in 1959.

Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water in 1977.

However, she more than earned her stripes as the elderly flagship of the British task force sent to reclaim the Falklands in 1982 before going on to serve in the Indian Navy as INS Viraat (R22) for another impressive 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service. Sadly, it seems like she is bound for the breakers.

As noted by the HMS Hermes/INS Viraat Museum Ship Appeal, the group planning to bring the historic carrier back home to England:

The Indian Government has put INS Viraat/HMS Hermes up for sale for scrap in an e-auction on the 17th Dec 2019.

We have been attempting to delay the auction in order to put forward a satisfactory bid from the UK however there are clauses in the sale that would need the Indian Government to make some serious changes to the schedule which now appear very unlikely.

Viraat is not for sale outside of India and the vessel is not to be towed out of Indian waters for any reason. The successful (Indian) bidder has to undertake to remove the vessel from her current berthing in Mumbai within 30 days of a successful purchase.

I am really sorry for this news. We are currently campaigning against the schedule but are unlikely to win.

Hermes, Clamagore, and Newcastle to be no more

Lots of changes among the world’s floating museum ships and those otherwise long in the tooth this week.

Hermes/Viraat

Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water, 1977.

Laid down at Vickers-Armstrong on 21 June 1944, two weeks after the Allies stormed ashore at D-Day, as HMS Elephant, the RN carrier HMS Hermes only joined the fleet on 18 November 1959 (after 15 years at the builders) with a much-altered plan that included an angled flight deck to allow the operation of jet-powered aircraft at sea. After legendary Cold War service and a pivotal part in the Falklands War in 1982, she was sold to India in 1987 and took the name INS Viraat (R22) and, homeported in Mumbai, served the Indian Navy for three more decades, undergoing a further five refits while in Indian service.

The last British-built ship serving the Indian Navy, Viraat was the star attraction at the International Fleet Review held in Visakhapatnam in February 2016. Her last Sea Harrier, (White Tigers in Indian service), flew from her deck on May 6, of that year and was given a formal farewell at INS Hansa, in Goa two days later. She was to be preserved as a floating museum, commemorating an amazing career.

Fast forward three years and this is not to be. Deli announced this week that she will soon be scrapped.

Clamagore

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

Subron-21’s GUPPY IIIs in formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

The submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII, commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war. However, her Naval service was rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.

Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown.

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

Now, she is suffering from extensive decay and, although a group of subvets is trying to save her (and taking the state to court) Palmetto State lawmakers have voted to spend $2.7 million in public dollars to sink the Cold War-era submarine off South Carolina’s shores.

Newcastle

To replace their aging Adams (Perth)-class DDGs, the Royal Australian Navy in the 1980s ordered a six-pack of Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. Known locally as the Adelaide (FFG01)-class in RAN service, the first four vessels were built in the U.S. at Todd in Seattle, while last two were constructed by AMECON of Williamstown, Victoria.

Besides the names of large Australian cities, the vessels carried the names of past RAN vessels including two HMS/HMAS Sydney’s that fought in WWI and WWII, and Oz’s two aircraft carriers.

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Canberra and Adelaide were paid off in 2005 and 2008 respectively, then sunk as dive wrecks. Sydney struck in 2015 and began scrapping soon after, while Darwin was broken up in 2017. Melbourne and Newcastle were to stick it out until the new Hobart-class destroyers arrive to replace them by 2019.

With that, HMAS Newcastle (FFG06), was put to pasture this week after she traveled more than 900,000 nautical miles, visited over 30 countries, conducted six maritime security operations and earned battle honors in East Timor, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney, RAN, salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

The final Australian FFG, Melbourne (FFG05), is set to be decommissioned 26 Oct 2019 and, like Newcastle, will be sold to Chile to begin a second career on the other end of the Pacific. Should that somehow fall through, the Hellenic Navy has also expressed interest in acquiring these classic but hard-used Perries.

And the beat goes on…

Victory lap for longest serving flattop

HMS Hermes was laid down at Vickers-Armstrong on 21 June 1944, two weeks after the Allies stormed ashore at D-Day. She was the last of the quartet of Centaur-class carriers whose construction was started. Originally to be named HMS Elephant, she picked up the messenger of the gods moniker of the old carrier (Pennant #95) sunk by the Japanese in 1942.

Only finished on 18 November 1959 (after 15 years at the builders) with a much-altered plan that included an angled flight deck to allow the operation of jet-powered aircraft at sea, and carried the RN Ensign for a very solid three decades. She carried the 63 foot long, 30-ton Blackburn Buccaneer–which was the same size as the later F-14 Tomcat and could carry up to 6-tons of ordnance including the British Red Beard or WE.177 tactical nuclear bombs to a range of some 2,300 nautical miles, only she did so off a tiny deck compared with U.S. super carriers.

During the Falklands, Hermes did the bulk of the heavy lifting as the flagship of Rear Adm. Sandy Woodward’s Task Force 317.8 for the war and it was her Harriers, along with HMS Invincible‘s that prosecuted the airwar.

Refitted, she was sold to India in 1987 and took the name INS Viraat (R22) and, home ported in Mumbai, she has served the Indian Navy for 29 continuous years, undergoing a further five refits while in Indian service. While in Indian service, INS Viraat – the Grand Old Lady, as she was fondly referred to – spent 2,250 days at sea covering 1.09 million kms — or encircling the globe 27 times.

The last British-built ship serving the Indian Navy, INS Viraat was the star attraction at the International Fleet Review held in Visakhapatnam in February this year. Her last Sea Harrier, (White Tigers in Indian service), flew from her deck on May 6, and was given a formal farewell at INS Hansa, in Goa two days later.

She sailed under her own power for Kochi on Saturday, her last voyage as a warship.

INS Viraat hms hermes

There, her sensitive and usable equipment will be removed over the next two months. Afterwards, she will be towed back to her base in Mumbai, for formal decommissioning, the date of which has not been finalized.

The Indians are trying to keep her as a museum ship, and two cities, Goa and Visakhapatnam are vying for her, which is a good thing.

With a total of 57 years of active service in two fleets, she beats out the longest serving U.S. carriers: USS Lexington (CV/AVT-16) which put in 48 years; and USS Enterprise (CVN-65) which put in 50. Even USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41), commissioned in 1945 and struck in 1997 though decommissioned five years before that, only served 52 years if you count her time on red lead row.

The next closest competition came from HMS Vengence/NAeL Minas Gerais which was completed 15 January 1945 in time to serve with the British Pacific Fleet in the last days of WWII, continue operations with the Australians and then, from 1960 to 16 October 2001, serve with the Brazilian Navy, for a combined total of 55 years, 9 months under three flags. Ironically, that vessel was scrapped in India in 2004.

Plus Hermes/Viraat‘s hull actually has another 15 years on it before she was even commissioned, so there is that.

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