HMS Empress

HMS Empress was one of three cross-channel steamers taken over from the South East and Chatham Railway Company on 11 August 1914 to be converted to act as a seaplane carrier. Her first conversion was carried out with great speed at Chatham Dockyard, and she was commissioned on 25 August 1914. During the two weeks she was at Chatham the after deck was cleared of all fittings and she was equipped with a canvas aircraft hanger for three aircraft, cranes and a workshop. During 1915 she was modified to carry a fourth aircraft, while by the end of the war she was equipped with a large hanger that could carry six aircraft.

HMS Empress was not equipped with a flight deck or launching platform. Like all of the earliest seaplane carriers, she launched aircraft by lowering them to the sea. They would then take off as normal. In theory they would then land close to the ship and be retrieved by the same cranes.  

On 25 December 1914 the Empress, along with the Engadine and the Riviera took part in the attack on the German Zeppelin sheds at Cuxhaven. The raid was not a great success – fog made it difficult for the aircraft to find their targets and not all of the nine aircraft involved dropped their bombs. The main casualty of the raid was the battlecruiser Von der Tann, damaged in a collision in the Schillig roads. Only two of the nine aircraft involved found their way back to the carriers although the crews were rescued.  

In October 1915 the Empress was posted to Queenstown, in southern Ireland. In 1916 she moved to the Mediterranean. On 1 September she took part in the operations to seize the Greek fleet at Salamis, but for most of the time she operated from Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal. In 1919 she was returned to her original owners.



Top Speed







Two 4in guns
One 6pdr gun


6 seaplanes

Crew complement




Completed as carrier

25 August 1914


Flight-Commander F. W. Bowhill
Lt. Commander Drury, R.N.R.

Returned to owner


Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 November 2007), HMS Empress ,

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