Designed in 1934 to fit the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty, Ark Royal was built by Cammell Laird and Company, Ltd. at Birkenhead, England, and completed in July 1937. Her design differed from previous aircraft carriers. Ark Royal was the first ship on which the hangars and flight deck were an integral part of the hull, instead of an add-on or part of the superstructure. Designed to carry a large number of aircraft, she had two hangar deck levels. She served during a period that first saw the extensive use of naval air power; a number of carrier tactics were developed and refined aboard Ark Royal.
- Type: Aircraft Carrier
- Service Period: 1937-1947
- Length: 825 feet (251.46 meters)
- Beam: 95 feet 9 inches (29.19 meters)
- Draft: 28 feet 10 inches (8.79 meters)
- Displacement: 24,800 tons (Standard); 28,504 tons (Full Load)
- Crew: 1,804 officers and enlisted
- Propulsion: 8 x Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 4 x Parsons geared steam turbines, 4 x shafts, 148,000 shp (111,000 kW)
- Range: 8,200 nautical miles (15,186 kilometers) at 20 knots (37.04 km/h)
- Speed: 33.5 knots (62.04 km/h)
- 16 x QF 4.5"/45-caliber Mk.I dual purpose naval gun (8x2)
- 48 x 2 pdr pom-pom anti-aircraft guns (6x8)
- 32 x .50-caliber machine guns (8x4)
- Belt: 2 in (5.08 cm)
- Flight Deck: 1.5 in (3.81 cm)
- Hangar Deck: 4.5 in ((11.43 cm)
- Aircraft Carried: 84 aircraft
The deteriorating international situation by 1933, typified by Germany's rearmament, Italy and Japan's expansion, and the Second American Civil War, convinced the British to announce funds for the carrier's construction in the 1933 budget proposals. The plans were finished by November 1933 and were tendered in February 1934 to Cammell Laird and Company Ltd., which calculated the cost of the hull at £1,496,250 (£90.6 million in 2015) and the main machinery at approximately £500,000 (£30.3 million in 2015). The overall cost was estimated to be over £3.8 million, making Ark Royal the most expensive ship ordered by the Royal Navy. Construction began on Job No. 1012 when Ark Royal's keel was laid down on June 1st, 1934.
Ark Royal spent nearly two years in the builder's yard before being launched on January 12th 1936 by Lady Maud Hoare, wife of Sir Samuel Hoare, then First Lord of the Admiralty. The bottle of champagne thrown against Ark Royal's bows did not smash until the fourth attempt. The carrier spent a year fitting out, was handed over to her first commander, Captain Arthur Power, on July 2nd 1937. Although intended for the Far East, events in Europe during the carrier's construction, including the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and the Spanish Civil War in 1936, caused the Admiralty to mark her for deployment with the Home and Mediterranean Fleets. After her crew joined at the end of August 1937, Ark Royal underwent sea trials to prepare for service, during which the carrier proved capable of sailing above her theoretical speed, reaching over 31 knots (35.67 mph; 57.41 km/h) and in trials during May 1938 Ark Royal achieved 31.2 knots (35.9 mph; 57.78 km/h) with 148,000 shp (110,364 kW) at a deep displacement of 28,504 tons.