Centaur-class aircraft carrier

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HMS Centaur 1965.jpg
HMS Centaur in 1965
Class overview
NameCentaur class
Preceded by1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier
Succeeded by Invincible class
SubclassesHermes (completed to a modified design)
In commission1953-1984 (Royal Navy) 1987-2017 (Indian Navy)
Active0 (All retired)
General characteristics
TypeLight aircraft carrier
Displacement22,000 tons 28,700 tons full load
Length737 ft (224.6 m)
Beam130 ft (39.6 m)
Draught28.5 ft (8.7 m)
Installed power78,000 hp (58,000 kW)
Propulsion2 shaft geared steam turbines, 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers
Speed28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Sensors and
processing systems
Radar Type 982, Type 983, Type 275, Type 974
Armament32 40 mm Bofors guns (2 × 6), (8 × 2), (4 × 1)
Armour1 in (25 mm) flight deck, hangar deck
Aircraft carried26

The Centaur class of aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy was the last of the light fleet carrier designs started during the closing years of World War II. The first ship of the original four in the class was commissioned in 1953 and the final decommissioned in 1984. The first three ships lacked an angled flight deck and were therefore unsuitable for fast jet aircraft, and production of a second batch of four carriers was cancelled.


Originally conceived as a class of eight vessels, with the end of hostilities, work on all the ships was suspended and four units Monmouth, Polyphemus, Arrogant and Hermes were cancelled outright. The four remaining vessels remained uncompleted for the best part of a decade. The earlier light fleet carriers of the Colossus and Majestic classes were completed before work resumed on the larger ships. With the extended completion periods of the units, and the rapid advances in aircraft carrier design at the time of their building, it was almost inevitable that large differences should be seen between the various members of the class.

Centaur, the first to be completed, was commissioned in 1954. The ship had an axial flight deck and was thus unsuitable for operating the jets then rapidly supplanting piston engine aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm. Centaur was commissioned in Belfast and after completing her sea trials, she then steamed into Portsmouth Dockyard and for the next six months in 1954 the ship underwent a substantial reconstruction to provide for an interim (angled at 4 degrees, and not sponsoned out) angled flight deck and low powered steam catapults. However, service in this new configuration did not last long and the ship was decommissioned in 1965, but used as a harbour accommodation ship for a further six years. Conversion to a "commando carrier" configuration was cancelled in 1966.

Albion and Bulwark, the next two members of the class completed, spent their lives inextricably linked. They both took part in Operation Musketeer, during the Suez Crisis, and they were both later converted into helicopter carriers. In this role, instead of carrying fast jets, they carried helicopters and marines. They were worked hard in the 1960s, (and not well maintained), with each taking turns deploying 'east of Suez' to the Far East Fleet. The link was broken when Albion (needing an expensive refit) was decommissioned in 1973. Bulwark lingered on a few years longer until 1976. However, in early 1979, Bulwark was recommissioned in the anti-submarine role. It was only a short commission though as a mess deck fire in 1979, and an engine room fire in 1980 finally saw the old ship withdrawn from service. She was rapidly surveyed during the Falklands War for recommissioning, but determined to be in too poor a material condition. She was sold for scrap in late 1983.

The final ship of the class started as Elephant, but renamed as Hermes, she had a longer service life than any of the others in British hands. Not completed until 1959, some 15 years after being started, Hermes incorporated a full angled flight deck and other changes compared to Centaur, Albion and Bulwark.

After fulfilling the role of a light attack carrier for a number of years, Hermes was converted to a commando carrier to replace Albion in the early 1970s. However, a return to operating fixed-wing aircraft beckoned at the end of the decade. Hermes was fitted with a ski-jump to enable the ship to operate the new Sea Harrier aircraft then coming into service. In this role, the ship saw considerable action in the Falklands War, acting as the flagship of the aircraft carrier task force. Hermes finally left Royal Navy service in 1984, and was sold to India. As INS Viraat, she was recommissioned into the Indian Navy in 1987 and served through 2016; in February 2016, she was de-operationalised and laid up in preparation for her decommissioning, scheduled for June 2016.[1][2]


HMS Eagle, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion during the Suez Crisis.

The Centaur class were intermediate in size between the Colossus/ Majestic-class light carriers and the Audacious-class fleet carriers. They were much more sturdy than the light carriers with significantly more sub-division in the hull compartments, as well as possessing more powerful engines and a higher speed. Their smaller size than the fleet carriers did not prove to be a hindrance at first but as jets grew larger and heavier, the point was reached where the Centaurs could not sustain a balanced air wing of conventional aircraft. Hermes survived the longest as a conventional carrier, even operating the Blackburn Buccaneer, but she was not large enough to operate the Phantom FG.1.

The class proved successful in the helicopter carrier role. The loss of Albion and Bulwark's helicopter capability, when they were decommissioned, was keenly felt in the Royal Navy for many years until HMS Ocean was commissioned in 1998. Hermes performed well as a platform for the Sea Harrier and made a vital contribution to the winning of the Falklands War, the largest naval conflict since 1945.

Ships in class[edit]

Centaur class[edit]

Ship Aircraft Displacement Propulsion Service
Laid down Commissioned Fate
HMS Centaur 42 26,200 long tons (26,620 t) 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines 30 May 1944 1 September 1953 Scrapped 1972
HMS Albion 42 27,800 long tons (28,246 t) 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines 23 March 1944 May 1954 Scrapped November 1973
HMS Bulwark 42 26,200 long tons (26,620 t) 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines 10 May 1945 29 October 1954 Scrapped April 1984
HMS Hermes
42 27,800 long tons (28,246 t) 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines 21 June 1944 November 1959 Sold to India April 1986, renamed INS Viraat. Scrapped 2021
HMS Hermes 42 27,800 long tons (28,246 t) 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines 21 June 1944 Cancelled October 1945, scrapped on slip at Cammell Laird
HMS Arrogant 42 27,800 long tons (28,246 t) 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines 1944 Cancelled October 1945, scrapped on slip at Swan Hunter
HMS Monmouth Cancelled at Fairfield
HMS Polyphemus Cancelled at HM Devonport


Models have been made of Centaur-class carriers to many scales, but some of the most widely distributed were the mass-produced metal 1:1200 (one inch to 100 feet) scale version introduced by Triang Minic ships in 1959. This was produced in the UK between 1959 and 1965, carrying the names of Albion, Bulwark and Centaur, and again in a more detailed Hornby Minic Ships version of Bulwark made in Hong Kong between 1975 and 1980. The model is very durable, and remains popular with toy ship collectors to this day. Orange Hobby, a resin model company from China, has made a 1/700 scale of INS Viraat. This product is made of a resin that requires removing large pour plugs, but has very great detail. A large photo-etch metal sheet of thin metal, with additional ship-related items to Viraat. This kit is for advanced modelers due to the preparation work and use of "super-glue" to attach resin-to-resin items and attaching photo-etch, but makes an excellent kit with superior detail.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ C.H.R.S. Sarma (8 February 2016). "'INS Viraat' to be handed over to Andhra Pradesh after decommissioning". The Hindu. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Indian carrier Viraat 'de-operationalised' | IHS Jane's 360". www.janes.com. Retrieved 20 February 2016.


  • Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947–1995
  • Ireland, Bernard. The Illustrated Guide to Aircraft Carriers of the World. Hermes House, London, 2005. ISBN 1-84477-747-2

External links[edit]

Media related to Centaur class aircraft carriers at Wikimedia Commons