British aircraft carrier HMS Argus (I49) off the coast of North Africa in late 1942.

HMS Argus (I49/R01) was a British aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy from 1918 to 1944. She was converted from the Italian ocean liner Conte Rosso that was under construction when the First World War began, and became the first example of what is now the standard pattern of aircraft carrier, with a full-length flight deck that allowed wheeled aircraft to take off and land. After commissioning, the ship was heavily involved for several years in the development of the optimum design for other aircraft carriers. Argus also evaluated various types of arresting gear, general procedures needed to operate a number of aircraft in concert, and fleet tactics. The ship was too top-heavy as originally built and had to be modified to improve her stability in the mid-1920s. She spent one brief deployment on the China Station in the late 1920s before being placed in reserve for budgetary reasons.

History[edit | edit source]

Argus was laid down in 1914 by William Beardmore and Company in Dalmuir, as the Conte Rosso. She was renamed after her purchase in September 1916 and was launched on December 2nd, 1917, her building having been slowed by labour shortages.

On September 6th 1918, HMS Argus was commissioned into the Royal Navy as the world's first flush deck aircraft carrier. She would have a busy eighteen months undergoing tests with carrier-based aircraft of various designs to prove the concept of an aircraft carrier. The finale of her trials and highlight of her career would be the sinking of the recently completed SMS Württemberg in Summer 1920. Due to her small speed and slow size, she was severely limited as a combat vessel and so spent most of her career as a training and testing ship.

On October 1st 1918, the first successful takeoff on the ship was accomplished with by a Sopwith Ship Strutter. The same month, the ship was used in trials to evaluate the effects which an island superstructure would have on flying operations, with a canvas-and-wood dummy island being installed with a smoke box to simulate funnel gases.

By December 19th, 36 successful landings had been made by Ship Strutters and Sopwith Pups.

HMS Argus underwent a refit from December 23rd to March 21st 1919 with modified arresting gear. The wires of the arresting gear had been lifted off the deck so they could engage the hooks on the undercarriages of the aircraft, but this prevented the use of the flight deck for any other purpose. The aft lift was therefore lowered 9 inches, which allowed aircraft to use the area when the lift was raised flush with the rest of the flight deck. Trials began in April and the lift was widened in October.

Argus joined the Atlantic Fleet in January 1920 for its Spring Cruise carrying eight Ship Strutters, four Sopwith Camel fighters, two Airco DH.9As and two Fairey floatplanes. Operational experience confirmed that the aircraft should attempt to land directly onto the arresting gear lest they be blown over the side of the carrier, as happened three times during the cruise.

On July 21st 1920, Argus was tasked with attacking the former SMS Württemberg with her air wing to test the effectiveness of current aerial bombs and torpedoes in damaging or sinking an enemy capital ship. The test took place 2 miles off Eilean Mhuire in the Shiant Islands of the Outer Hebrides.

The first wave of aircraft to take off from HMS Argus were Sopwith T.1 Cuckoos. They cannot land back on the carrier, so they were ordered to land ashore and reload there once their runs were completed. They were to take off from the HMS Argus to give their pilots experience with this, and they had been modified to carry 2 x 250lb bombs each.

After they took off, HMS Argus launched her own Sopwith 1½ Strutters, each carry their maximum load of 60kg of bombs which were to be deployed against the SMS Württemberg, before landing back on the HMS Argus to reload. After the two flights finished bombing, the Württemberg was boarded and inspected for damage. The Sopwith Strutters then took off to bomb her again, while the Sopwith Cuckoos were reloaded with their designed payload of a single 18" Mk.VIII torpedo each. They then proceeded to torpedo the bow and stern of the Württemberg, after which she was once again re-boarded and the internal effect of the torpedo damage inspected.

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