HMS Hermes (R12) was a Centaur-class British aircraft carrier, the last of the postwar conventional aircraft carriers commissioned into the Royal Navy.
She was laid down by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness during WW II as HMS Elephant. Construction was suspended in 1945 but work was resumed in 1952 to clear the slipway and the hull was launched on 16 February 1953. The vessel remained unfinished until 1957, when she entered service on 18 November 1959 as HMS Hermes after extensive modifications which included installation of a massive Type 984 'searchlight' 3D radar.
A 1966 review indicating that Hermes was surplus to operational requirements and was offered to the Royal Australian Navy as a replacement for HMAS Melbourne. In 1968, Hermes took part in a combined exercise with the RAN, during which the carrier was visited by senior RAN officers and Australian government officials, while RAN Skyhawks and Trackers practiced landings on the larger carrier. The offer was turned down due to operating and manpower costs.
Hermes served as one of four Royal Navy strike carriers mainly in the Indian Ocean area until 1970. She could have seen action against the Egyptians when Egypt closed off the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping in May 1967. The UK and US contemplated forming an international fleet to open the strait with force if necessary, but the idea never materialised.
Hermes was due to be decommissioned in 1982 after a defence review by the British government, but when the Falklands War broke out, she was made the flagship of the British forces, setting sail for the South Atlantic just three days after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. Hermes carried as many as 26 BAe Sea Harrier FRS.Mk.1 jets of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, Harrier GR.Mk.3 4 jets of the Royal Air Force, and 10 Sea King MK4s and MK5s as well as a troop of Special Air Service (SAS) and Royal Marines. As she was the RN's largest carrier, she was considered too valuable to risk close into the Falklands, due to the possibility of Argentinian AF attacks. Her Harriers therefore operated at the limit of their endurance radius, but were very successful in keeping the enemy aircraft at bay. After her return home from the Falklands conflict Hermes entered into a much needed 4 month refit until November 1982. She then took part in NATO exercises in the North Atlantic, and the Med Sea as a Commando Carrier. In the autumn of 1983 she took part in her last exercise, Ocean Safari, where she reverted back to a strike carrier role, embarking 12 Sea Harriers, 10 RAF Harrier GR3s and 10 Sea King MK5s. After this exercise she returned to the UK for a minor refit and into maintain reserve in February 1984.
In 1983, when the proposed sale of HMS Invincible to the Royal Australian Navy was cancelled following the Falklands War, an offer was made to sell Hermes and a squadron of Sea Harriers to Australia. However the new Hawke government decided against purchasing a replacement for HMAS Melbourne.
She served with the Royal Navy until 12 April 1984. She was paid off in 1985 and in April 1986 she was refitted and sold to India and recommissioned as the INS Viraat in 1989.
Her typical aircraft complement in the late 1960s consisted of 12 Sea Vixen FAW2s, 7 Buccaneer S2s, 4 Gannet AEW3s, 1 Gannet COD4, 5 Wessex HAS3s and 1 Wessex HAS1. She was recommissioned as a commando carrier in 1973, as an ASW carrier in 1976 (carrying around 20 or so Sea King and Wessex helicopters), and then as a V/STOL carrier in 1981. Hermes initial complement of aircraft as a V/STOL carrier was 5 Harriers and 12 Sea King helicopters, though she had the capacity for up to a total of 37 aircraft.