Sinking of HMS Ark Royal in the Med



British aircraft carrier  Ark Royal sinking in the Mediterranean 13 November 1941

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

She was torpedoed on 13 November 1941 by U-81 and sank the following day after major efforts, albeit highly disorganized, were made to save her. Because of damage caused by the torpedo strike, her aft boilers had to be shut down and shortly thereafter her forward engine room had to be shut down.

This became a critical problem because the ship had no auxiliary diesel generators. When the boilers were shut down, there was no electricity. Since all pumps were powered by electricity, this meant the pumps would no longer work, nor did the communication system.

HMS Ark Royal took many hours to sink. Engineers managed to get one of the boilers online by the evening of the 13th and the ship was placed under tow by a fleet tug sent from Malta. You can see the degree of list, however, in the above picture which made the ship highly unstable. Eventually, during the early morning of the 14th she turned turtle and sank.

In the photo above, the ship to the left is L Class destroyer HMS Legion, which can be identified by her pennant number painted on her stern-G74.  She has come alongside to take off most of the crew. Only one man out of the crew of 1600 died and that was in the initial explosion.


HMS_Ark_Royal_sinking (1)

Another view of HMS Legion, left, taking off crew from HMS Ark Royal. Once again you can identify Legion by her pennant number painted on the side of the ship–G74.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

The crew were not well trained in damage control and many of the critical damage control officers and crew left the ship when the order to abandon ship was given. That order was limited however to non-essential personnel which the men did not hear because of the breakdown in the communication system. They were later put back on the ship by HMS Legion. 

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: