HMS Ark Royal sunk

When the torpedo struck most of the ship’s company were below decks, working in the hangars, or on watch in the machinery spaces and other compartments. Men off duty were in their messes having tea. Everything was as it had been hundreds of times before. Without any warning the ship was shaken by a violent convulsion. Decks seemed to whip like springboards.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal had survived many attacks including being bombed by Italian aircraft following the Battle of Cape Spartivento.
After being torpedoed on the 13th November 1941 HMS Ark Royal rapidly developed a severe list.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal had been reported sunk many times by German propaganda and had survived many near misses, including a bombing attack following the [permalink id=9268 text=”Battle of Cape Spartivento”]. She had played a crucial role in the [permalink id=11461 text=”sinking of the Bismarck”]. There were huge risks involved in operating in the Mediterranean, with the almost constant threat of aircraft and U-boats. These risks had been accepted for the latest operation – when Ark Royal had been engaged in flying off more aircraft to re-inforce Malta.

It was on the return journey when she was within sight of Gibraltar that she was finally torpedoed by U-81 at 1534:

When the torpedo struck most of the ship’s company were below decks, working in the hangars, or on watch in the machinery spaces and other compartments. Men off duty were in their messes having tea. Everything was as it had been hundreds of times before. Without any warning the ship was shaken by a violent convulsion. Decks seemed to whip like springboards.

Some of the lights went out and in places near the seat of the explosion smoke gushed from the ventilating trunks. After a very short pause the ship began to heel to starboard, so quickly that at first she seemed to be turning right over.

The torpedo had exploded abreast of the bridge on the starboard side. Here, many decks down and below the waterline, four men were on watch in the lower steering position, main switchboard room and main telephone exchange. The concussion was extremely violent.

The lights went out, oil gushed in, and fumes half choked them as they groped in pitch darkness, up to their waists in a mixture of fuel and water, for the hatch leading to the compartment above. Three men escaped, but Able Seaman E. Mitchell was never seen again.


Captain Maund was on the flight-deck when he felt his ship shudder violently and saw smoke pouring from the bomb-lift doors. As he made for the bridge he thought at first there might have been an internal explosion, as none of the seven screening destroyers had reported a contact. In the very short time it took him to reach the bridge the ship had already listed some ten degrees to starboard, or rather more than the heel of a particularly heavy roll.

His first thought was to take the way off the ship (she was steaming at twenty-two knots), so as to avoid spreading the damage unnecessarily, and to send his crew to action stations; but all communications between the bridge and the rest ofthe ship were severed-no telephone would work, the broadcaster was silent and the engine-toom telegraphs jammed.

Action stations were soon ordered by bugle and word of mouth, but some minutes elapsed before a verbal order passed to the machinery control-room reversed the engines and brought the ship to rest.

See War at Sea 1939-45: S.W Roskill

The destroyer HMS Legion came alongside and took off almost 1500 men whilst a group stayed on board attempting to prevent her sinking.

A valiant battle to control the flooding was fought below decks in order to bring Ark Royal to a state where she might be towed back to Gibraltar. It was a losing battle and all the men who stayed on board were evacuated the following day just before Ark Royal sank.

42 thoughts on “HMS Ark Royal sunk”

  1. My Uncle John Twitchett
    was serving on the Ark Royal when it was torpedoed on 13th November 1941. Legend has it he was in the water for 18 hours before he was picked up by an American boat and taken to we think Canada. He rarely spoke about that time or the war in general – maybe he was too traumatised – who knows. It would be lovely if anyone else has any info or knowledge of that fateful day.

  2. My father was on the HMS Ark Royal when it went down in Gibraltar, he his still alive at the age of 99 born 01/04/1920 he was in the Fleet Air Arm.

  3. My father Duncan Stuart Lindsay was on the the ark royal when it was hit he said only one person when down with it and that was an engineer, my father died in 1997

  4. My Grandfather Raymond Clark was a Petty Officer on board HMS Ark Royal when she was torpedoed. He told us stories of being one of the last on board and being evacuated using a bosun’s chair.

  5. My Grandfather John Cole was a Chief Stoker on HMS Ark Royal when she went down and did not survive as he must have been trapped below decals so sadly I never met him and my dad and his brother lost their father.

  6. My greatgrandad, Thomas William Scott, was the second class Stoker who remained behind to try and save the ark Royal.

  7. My father was a Royal Marine aboard HMS Ark Royal from 30 Dec 1938 until her sinking. He was 18 years old at the time he joined her. I can recall him saying that after being told they had to abandon ship he rushed down to the mess to get some things from his locker to find all the lockers had fallen over, none of them had been bolted down. His service record actually shows him on Ark Royal on the 14 November and from 15 November to 24 November as Ark Royal (on passage).

  8. Our Dad ERIC NORTON was a GUNNER on the Ark Royal , he was a survivor and he
    went to marry are Mum and they had nine children !

  9. My Great Uncle David McKay was on the Ark Royal, but was unfortunately lost at Sea when the HMS STANLEY was torpedo as it was carrying the Ark Royal Crew.

  10. I think my Grandad Robert Webster was on the Ark Royal,not sure what years he served

  11. My father James Scott daymond served on the Ark Royal and was on shore leave when she was sunk


  12. I’ve heard my brother in law was a chief petty officer on the Ark Royal His name was Alun Parry from Anglesey north wales family think he was on Ark Royal wen was torpedoed but we not sure. Where can I find names of Sailors that were on Ark Royal the Day she was torpedoed? thank you

  13. My Grand- father

    Patrick Glen was on the Ark royal when it was torpedoed. This information i just found out!

    to think how fast times have changed!

  14. My Dad was a Gun Layer on the Ark Royal when it was hit, Marine Alfred William Ross, Joined up in 1936.

  15. I’m searching for a CPO William or Walter Chambers from Irchester, Northamptonshire, who was supposed to have died when the Ark sank. Any information would be greatly received.

  16. My grandad Fred Parry was on an escort destroyer with the Ark and took pictures of the Ark Royal as she rolled over and the aircraft slid of her deck.
    Brave men!

  17. My grandfather, Charles Kemery served on the HMS Ark Royal. He was from Bristol, married to Janet Stark Douglas McNabb, and father to Olive, Colin, Clifford, Carrol & Janet. He survived the attack and returned to Bristol. He never cared to talk about that day. I can only imaging how the crew felt during and after. God Save The Queen..!

  18. My Grand Father was Levi Palmer from Pembroke Dock, then Portsmouth, up to Birkenhead where he was the Admiralty Shipwright Overseer of this vessel as well as HMS Prince of Wales….both sunk during WW2. He died in 1956 in Cheltenham.

  19. My grandad, William John Bird was on the Ark Royal when it sank. He never talked about it, although I have a memory of going to see the new Ark Royal with him, when it docked in Liverpool, when I was very little.

  20. My dad was on the Ark Royal when she was torpedoed, his name was Fred Mason and he was perty officer in the engine room. He survived the attack

  21. My father, Petty Officer Desmond Clarkson was on board the Ark Royal when it was torpedoed, fortunately he survived and lived to the age of 76. He died in 1995 RIP.

  22. My uncle, Bernard Cakebread remained on the Ark as a volunteer and was one of the last to leave. Said he only volunteered because he was standing next to the captain when he asked for volunteers. Went on to be commissioned and commanded a mine sweeper in the North Sea stationed in Scotland.

  23. Hi, I am hoping that someone might see this and could help with additional information. I see that an Edmond Mitchell died in the November 1941 torpedoing of the Ark Royal. He was about 40 years of age and left behind a widow. If anyone can help with additional information, please contact me at Thank you,

    Joni Rabena

  24. Just watched the film of the discovery of the wreck; aided by a group of survivors; the Swordfish pilot who torpedoed Bismarck and landed on Ark’s flight deck one last time, the Fulmar pilot who was the last to leave her as she sank (see daughter’s post above), and the stoker who stayed on board in the flooded engine room and managed to get a boiler going, power on and a screw turning. What amazing guys.

  25. My Dad (Eric Jones) was on Ark Royal when the torpedo struck. He was also on HMS Eagle and HMS Victorious when they sank. He was demobbed in 1945 and died ten years later from colon cancer – the medical people suggested it may have been caused by his swallowing fuel oil when abandoning ship.

  26. My father PO Norman B Isherwood was also on the Ark Royal we believe a photo in the engine room the book Ark Royal is that of our dad even though it is side view it is very much his stance.

  27. My father Henry (Pat) Riley was a petty officer on the Ark Royal.
    He died in 1992

  28. In these days of Defence Reviews and continuing press on expenditures it’s interesting to reflect that similar economies played a role in HMS ARK ROYAL’s loss. To save money the ship was designed without an alternative source of electrical power, I.e. diesel generators. Thus a single torpedo was sufficient to sink her because it disabled the boilers and thus all power for the pumps, auxiliaries, lighting, etc. Progressive flooding, otherwise easily contained, overwhelmed damage control limited by the cheapness of the design, and down she went. Bureaucrats far removed from danger can (and do) establish the preconditions for defeat with a few strokes of the calculator.

  29. My uncle, Daniel Devereux, band seargeant in the Royal Marines was a survivor of the Ark Royal sinking, he went on to serve on other ships for the remainder of the war. Sadly he died in 1960

  30. My Granda John Thuresson was on board to when she sank x he survived and as far as I am aware he was the Radar/Telephonist operator. X If anyone has any information about him please get in touch

  31. My father Sidney James Silvester was on Ark Royal when she sank but only mentioned it once as though it was of no consequence. God they were a tougher breed of men then.

  32. My father, Val Bailey (Fleet Air Arm) was the last man off the Ark Royal before she sunk. We have a letter from a senior crew member replying to one my father had written to him in 1985, confirming this and saying ‘you have aroused my conscience again! When the Ark sank, the 1st Lieut and I scoured the ship or thought we had, saw the Captain over the side and into a tug, and then slid down a rope ourselves into the same tug. Shortly afterwards, the ship capsized and the party on the forecastle, whom we had completely forgotten, found themselves in the drink.’

  33. My grand-father Cheif-Petty Officer stocker George McKenzie was aboard the Ark Royal when she was torpedoed

  34. My father Will Morgan (Taff) was a survivor of the sinking. He talked and wrote about his experiences. He also went to the launch of the next Ark Royal and I have a newspaper cutting/photo of him and other survivors who attended.
    I’m glad he didn’t live to see the sad fate of the most recent Ark.

  35. My father, Steven Bowen, was also on the Ark Royal when she went down. Does anybody know where I can get information on names of survivors? I dont have his service number.

  36. did William james price serve on the ark royal when it was torpedoed

  37. My father David Walsh was on board the Ark Royal also when she was torpedoed. He also survived, I can’t remember him talking about it much but now, how I wish i had asked him more about it.

    He went to the dedication of the next Ark Royal and my daughter has a replica ships bell that I think he was presented with.

  38. my father cyril dutton calder was on the Ark Royal when she was torpedoed, Thank goodness he was a survivor.

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