HMS Furious

The Battlecruiser
The First Carrier Conversion
After Landing Deck
The Flush Deck Carrier

HMS Furious was laid down as a light battlecruiser during the First World War but achieved most fame as an aircraft carrier during the Second World War, spending much of her time operating in the Mediterranean and off the coast of Norway as well as in the Atlantic and on the Arctic convoys.

The Battlecruiser

The Furious was originally laid down as the third light battlecruiser ordered by Admiral Fisher in 1915, alongside Courageous and Glorious. Fisher had hoped that all three ships would be armed with two 18in guns, but this new weapon was not ready in time for Courageous or Glorious, both of which were completed with four 15in guns. The 18in gun was ready in time to be installed in Furious, and was to have been the main difference between her and her half-sisters.

The Furious was launched as a battle cruiser on 15 August 1916. She was to be armed with two 18in guns, one fore and one aft. Eleven 5.5in guns were to be carried in single mountings - one on the centre line and the rest in pairs carried to the port and starboard at various points along the ship. She was seven feet wider than her half-sisters, with a bigger anti-torpedo bulge and a simpler form of main bracing. By March 1917 the aft gun had been installed, the forward turret was being built and its gun was ready onshore.

The First Carrier Conversion

Sopwith Pup preparing to take off, HMS Furious
Sopwith Pup preparing to take off, HMS Furious

On 18 March 1917 it was decided to convert the partially completed Furious to serve as an aircraft carrier. This initial conversion was rather half-hearted. The rear of the ship was left untouched, including the 18in gun. The front turret was replaced by a hanger and a sloped flying-off deck that reached the forecastle, with two derricks to hoist aircraft onboard. 

Although this deck was designed as a flying-off deck, on 2 August 1917 Sqn Cdr Dunning twice successfully landed a Sopwith Pup on it. Tragically he was killed on 7 August while making a third attempt to land, and it quickly became clear that flying operations were impossible with this arrangement. Trials continued into November, but on 17 October 1917 it was decided to modify the Furious for a second time.

After Landing Deck

The Furious went back into the dockyard for the second time in December 1917. This time the rear gun, magazine, mainmast and centreline 5.5in gun and torpedo tubes were all removed, leaving the funnel and central superstructure intact. A 284ft long and 70ft wide flight deck was built at the back of the ship, on the same level as the forward flying-off deck. A box hanger was also added. In order to prevent aircraft from crashing into the funnel a large gantry was added with vertical cables dropping down to the deck.

The Furious was recommissioned on 15 March 1918 and became the flagship of Rear Admiral Phillimore, Admiral Commanding Aircraft, and part of Flying Squadron of the Grand Fleet. The new design was still not a success. In April 1918 landing trials began using Sopwith Pups with skid undercarriages. Only three of thirteen attempts to land ended in success. The main culprit was discovered to be funnel gasses which caused draughts and eddies over the flight deck.

After the failure of these trials landing-on was forbidden. The Furious was restricted to launching landplanes, which either had to ditch in the sea or fly off to the nearest land base if in range. Despite this a force of Sopwith 1 ½ Strutters and 2F1 Camels embarked on her, and she made a limited contribution to the war effort. In June 1918 she was attacked by two seaplanes during a reconnaissance mission. They were driven off by gunfire and then two Camels were launched, before being recovered by destroyers. On 19 July she flew off seven Camels to take part in the attack on the Zeppelin sheds at Tondem in Schleswig-Holstein.

Sopwith Pup landing on HMS Furious
Sopwith Pup landing on HMS Furious

In 1919 the Furious was sent into the Baltic, before going into the reserve at Rosyth in November 1919 to wait for her conversion to a flush deck carrier to begin.

The Flush Deck Carrier

The long-awaited conversion began in June 1922 and ended on 31 August 1925. Even in this fourth configuration the Furious was by no means a standard carrier - by 1925 the single flight deck and island superstructure had been recognised as best layout for a carrier.

HMS Furious
HMS Furious

In contrast the Furious was built with two flight decks and two hangers. A lower flight deck was built over the bows, on the same level as the upper hanger, which opened onto it. This lower deck went out of use by 1939. The main deck was built above the upper hanger, and originally had a useable length of 530ft, extended to 596ft in 1943. There was no island superstructure. Instead she had a small retractable conning tower on the foredeck and smaller towers for navigation and aircraft control on her sides. A similar layout was used when the Courageous and Glorious were turned into carriers, with the conversions starting just as the Furious was completed.

The lower hanger was 550ft long, 50ft wing and 15ft high, while the upper hanger was the same width and height by only 520ft long. The carrier had two cruciform lifts of 46ft by 47ft, serving both hangers. The forward lift could carry 12,500lb, the after lift 14,000lb. Petrol storage was low, at 20,800 gallons. The original bulges were increased in height to improve the ship's stability. They were deepened again in 1942, increasing her deep load displacement to 28,495t.

HMS Furious from the left
HMS Furious from the left

The Furious saw her armament change twice before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1931-32 she was given a third 4in HA guns and her four single pompom guns were replaced with two 8-barrel mountings. In 1939 she was completely rearmed, getting twelve 4in/45 QF Mk XVI HA guns in twin mountings as her main armament and three 8-barrelled pompom mountings for anti-aircraft protection. 1939 also saw the addition of a small island superstructure.


In mid 1939 the Furious was at Donibristle, where she was used for deck landing training by Nos.767 and 769 Squadrons.

The Furious began operations in October 1939, and during the remaining months of 1939 her 18 Swordfish searched 180,750 square miles of ocean in the area off Halifax during anti-submarine missions flown in support of North Atlantic convoys.


In early April the Furious joined the Home Fleet to take part in the Norwegian campaign. On 11 April Swordfish from No.818 Squadron flew to Trondheim Fjord, where they attacked two German destroyers. On 12 April they moved on to Narvik, sighting five destroyers and claiming to have inflicted serious damage on two, although two Swordfish were lost. Aircraft from the Furious also took part in the Second Battle of Narvik on 13 April, when HMS Warspite and nine destroyers destroyed a force of German destroyers in the fjord. On 15 April nine Swordfish from the Furious attacked nine Junkers Ju 87 transport aircraft on a frozen lake north of Narvik, claiming two destroyed.

HMS Furious
HMS Furious :
off the Norwegian
coast at Tronso

On the afternoon of 18 April German aircraft attacked the Furious at Tromso, scoring a near miss that damaged her turbines, reducing her top speed to 22 knots. On the same day one of her aircraft crashed, adding to two lost on the previous day. On 20 April she sailed from Tromso to Harstad, carrying out reconnaissance of the Vaags Fjord area on the way. During this operation the German trawler Rhein was captured, but one aircraft was lost, leaving the Furious with nine serviceable aircraft. On 22 April reconnaissance aircraft from the Furious reported that the Germans were parachuting troops into the Narvik area. On the same day one of her aircraft was shot down. On 25 April, after two weeks off Norway, the Furious sailed for home waters.

The Furious returned to Norwegian waters in May. On 20 May Furious and Glorious flew off Gladiator fighters heading to Bardu Foss airfield before withdrawing. One aircraft was lost on 21 May

In the summer of 1940 the Furious crossed the Atlantic to Canada carrying £18,000,000 of gold bullion, returning with aircraft and ammunition and escorting a troop convoy, returning to Liverpool on 7 July.

Furious returned to Norwegian waters in September. Her aircraft took part in an anti-shipping sweep on 7 September, attacking two ships. An attack on Trondheim on 22 September was costly, with five Swordfish and one Skua failing to return to the carrier. Tromso was attacked on the morning of 16 October by a force of Skuas and Swordfish. Oil tanks and a seaplane base were attacked, and one Skua was forced to land in Lapland, where its crew was interned.

In December 1940 she was operating in the North Atlantic. On 24 December HMS Clematis and then HMS Berwick sighted an enemy raider, which turned out to be the Germa cruiser Hipper and the Furious flew off aircraft in an attempt to find her. Bad weather forced these operations to be cancelled. This was something of a lucky escape, as the Furious and Argus were both with convoy WS5A and full of crated aircraft at the time!


By 8 January the Furious was off Ghana, disembarking nine Fulmars and twelve Hurricanes at Takoradi, from where they were to fly across Africa to the Middle East.

In February 1941 the Furious provided air cover for convoys. In April No.800 Squadron transferred to her at Gibraltar and accompanied her back to the UK.

HMS Furious from above
HMS Furious from above

In the first week of May Furious was at Belfast, where she suffered damage to her hanger during a German air raid. This damage wasn't enough to prevent her reaching Gibraltar on 12 May with 800X Flight. Over the next month and a half she ferried Hurricanes to Malta, before returning to Home Waters.

On 30 July the Furious took part in an attack on the ports of Petsamo and Kirkenes, alongside Victorious. Aircraft from Furious attacked Petsamo, torpedoing jetties and attacking an oil cistern and a warehouse. Two fighters and a torpedo bomber were lost, while one Bf 109 was claimed, and No.880 Squadron shot down a Dornier Do.18.

In mid-September the Furious was in the Mediterranean, taking part in an operation to fly fighter aircraft onto Malta. On 13 September forty five aircraft were flown off by Furious and Ark Royal. One Hurricane crashed while taking off from the Furious¸ and the pilot was killed.

The Furious then sailed across the Atlantic escorting a Jamaica-bound convoy, before reaching Philadelphia on 7 October 1941, where she underwent a refit.


The refit was completed by the start of April 1942. No.835 Squadron embarked on 3 April in Virginia, and accompanied Furious across the channel, disembarking at Lee-on-Solent on 15 April. The next three months were spent working up after the refit.

The Furious played an important role in Operation Pedestal, an attempt to get vital supplies to Malta, carrying 36 Spitfires that were to be flow off to the island. The Pedestal fleet left Gibraltar on 11 August, and the Spitfires were flown off on 11 August. After this the Furious turned back for Gibraltar. During the return journey the Italian submarine Dagabar attempted to attack her, but was instead rammed and sunk by the destroyer Wolverine

Furious repeated this exercise with less powerful escorts twice during 1942, delivering 29 Spitfires to Malta on 17 August and another 29 on 29 October.

In November 1942 Furious took part in Operation Torch. Her first role was as part of Force H, alongside Formidable and Victorious. Their task was to guard against any interference from the still powerful Italian fleet, but by the evening of 7 November it was clear that the Italians were not coming, and so Furious was transferred to the Centre Task Force off Oran, joining the escort carriers Biter and Dasher.

On 8 November Furious provided Seafires for fighter cover and Albacores for dive-bombing, beginning with attacks on the airfields at La Senia and Tafaroui. These airfields then fell into Allied hands, and so the Seafires were used for reconnaissance and to support the army. After the fall of Oran on 10 November Furious rejoined Formidable in Force H, before returning to the UK in January 1943.


The Furious reached Scapa Flow in January, and took on No.817 for a month. For the next few months she provided cover for Arctic convoys, getting No.825 Squadron in March 1943 for this duty.

Seafires and Wildcats on HMS Formidable
HMS Furious
swept by giant wave

In the second week of July 1943 she was involved in a sortie that was designed to distract the Germans from the invasion of Sicily. Furious, along with elements of the Home Fleet, made a sortie towards Norway, hoping to attract attention. In the end a single BV 138 reconnaissance plane was shot down, perhaps not the result that had been hoped for.

Soon after this Furious was relieved by Illustrious, and went to Liverpool for a refit, during which her bulges were made deeper. This refit and the period of working up that followed kept the Furious busy for most of the rest of 1943.

In October 1943 Nos.827 and 830 Squadrons embarked on the Furious with their Barracudas, forming the 8th Naval TBR Wing. This wing survived until 3 October 1944 when No.830 Squadron disbanded into No.827.


In February 1944 the Furious carried out a sweep of the Norwegian Leads, covered by a detachment of the Home Fleet that included the battleships Anson and Richelieu (a sign of where the true power lay in the fleet!). No convoys were found, and the only worthwhile target was a beached merchant ship that was be prepared to be towed back to harbour. Barracudas from the Furious attacked it on 11 February, while protected by the carrier's Seafires. The Germans responded by sending up a force of Bf 109s and Fw 190s, and in the resulting fighter a Seafire and a Bf 109 were destroyed.

No.881 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, Hatson, Orkney, 1943
No.881 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, Hatson, Orkney, 1943

On 3 April Barracudas from the Furious took part in Operation Tungsten, the Fleet Air Arm's most successful attack on the Tirpitz. Fighter aircraft from the escort carriers Emperor, Searcher, Pursuer and Fencer cleared the way for 41 Barracudas that scored at least fourteen hits and near misses, inflicting enough damage on the German battleship to prevent her from returning to Germany for much needed repairs. Nos.827 and 830 Squadrons from the Furious claimed ten hits during this attack.

A second attack planned for May had to be cancelled because of bad weather.

On 26 April the Furious was part of a force including the Victorious, Emperor, Searcher, Pursuer and Striker that attacked a south-bound convoy off Bödö, damaging all four merchant ships and one of the escorts. Five aircraft were lost.

On 6th, 8th, 14th, 15th May and 1 June 1944 aircraft from Victorious, Furious, Searcher, Striker and Emperor took part in a series of naval strikes off the Norwegian coast, sinking or seriously damaging six merchant ships, one escort vessel and two armed trawlers (all five carriers were not involved in all five attacks). Furious was involved in the attack on 6 May, alongside Searcher, targeting two southbound convoys off Molde, and the attack on 1 June, this time alongside the Victorious. This time a convoy of three escorted ships was attacked, and two were reported to have been sunk.

In the last week of June Furious and the 1st Cruiser Squadron took part in an operation designed to maintain the threat of an Allied invasion of Norway, part of the overall deception plans surrounding D-Day. This was one of the less successful of these operations, attracting no apparent reaction.

Furious was involved in several of the attacks on the Tirpitz in the summer of 1944. In July she received three Swordfish from No.842 Squadron and took part in Operation Mascot on 17 July. On this occasion Formidable, Indefatigable and Furious all took part, but smoke hid the Tirpitz and no hits were scored.

The Furious also took part in Operations Goodwood II, III and IV on 22, 24 and 29 August respectively. The Tirpitz was hit twice on 24 August, but without any serious damage being done. Nine aircraft were lost during these three attacks - one Barracuda, two Hellcats, four Corsairs, one Seafire and one Firefly.

Between these raids Indefatigable and Furious attempted to attack enemy shipping in the Norwegian Leads on 3 August but fog prevented this. Instead their fighters attacked two German radar stations.

On 12 September Furious and Trumpeter returned to the Norwegian coast once again. Trumpeter laid mines with cover from Furious's Seafires. A German minesweeper and a cargo ship were also attacked. This was the Furious's last mission. On 15 September 1944, after twenty seven years in service, and with her general condition deteriorating, the Furious was paid off.


No.800 NAS

No.800 Squadron transferred from the Ark Royal at Gibraltar, replacing its older aircraft with Fairey Fulmars. The squadron was then split in two and transferred to Argus and Victorious to take part in the hunt for the Bismarck. In May 1941 No.801 Squadron became 800X Flight, and was transferred to Malta on the Furious. The squadron reformed at St. Merryn in June 1941 and joined the Furious for the failed raid on Petsamo, before moving to Indomitable.

No.801 NAS

No.801 Squadron first operated on the Furious in the spring of 1941, flying Rocs and Skuas. The squadron then disbanded into 800X Flight (see above). The squadron reformed in September 1942, this time with Seafires. It rejoined the Furious in October 1942, taking part in the landings in North Africa. The squadron accompanied Furious when she rejoined the Home Fleet, taking part in attacks on the Tirpitz in April-May 1944. Late in 1944 the squadron transferred to Implacable.

No.807 NAS

No.807 Squadron joined the Furious in February 1941 with the Fairey Fulmar. It provided air cover for convoys, before moving on in April. The squadron returned to take part in Operation Torch in November 1942, before moving on again by May 1943.

No.810 NAS

No.810 NAS was onboard for one Jamaica-bound convy in September 1941.

No.812 NAS

No.812 Squadron joined the Furious for the raid on Petsamo in July 1941, and then to cover Malta convoys. The squadron then transferred to Ark Royal.

No.816 NAS

No. 816 Squadron formed on the Furious on 3 October 1939 as a Swordfish squadron; making the first aerial torpedo attack of the war during the Norwegian campaign in April 1940. The squadron briefly disembarked to convert to floats, but this was abandoned after the fall of France and it returned to Furious in June 1940. The squadron transferred to Coastal Command in March 1941, but returned to Furious for one final time in June 1941 to provide anti-submarine cover to a convoy ferrying aircraft to Malta. After that the squadron transferred to the Ark Royal.

No.817 NAS

No.817 Squadron served on the Furious from July to August 1941 and from 12 January-mid February 1943, transferred to Victorious and Indomitable respectively. During the 1941 embarkation the squadron took part in the attack on Petsamo.

No.818 NAS

Three aircraft from No.818 Squadron were detached to Furious in October 1939. The entire squadron was onboard with Swordfish in April 1940 for the Norwegian campaign, disembarking by the end of May. The squadron briefly returning in July 1941 after the hunt for the Bismarck, travelling to Arbroath to convert to the Albacore.

No.822 NAS

No.822 Squadron embarked on Furious with its Albacores on 17 July 1942 and remained onboard until the summer of 1943.

No.823 NAS

No.823 Squadron was briefly onboard in August-September 1942 for convoy escort duty.

No.825 NAS

No.825 Squadron embarked with its Swordfish in July 1940 and took part in raids on Norwegian ports in September 1940. The squadron spend the winter of 1940-41 onshore, although with one flight detached to Furious. The entire squadron returned in March 1943, and remained onboard for most of the rest of the year.

No.827 NAS

No.827 Squadron joined the Furious with its Barracudas in October 1943 as part of the 8th Naval TBR Wing. The Furious was its main base, although the squadron was detached twice to HMS Victorious and one to HMS Formidable. On 3 October 1944 No.830 disbanded into No.827.

No.830 NAS
No.830 Squadron joined the Furious with its Barracudas in October 1943 as part of the 8th Naval TBR Wing. It disbanded into No.827 Squadron on 3 October 1944.

No.831 NAS

No. 831's Barracuda IIs embarked on the Furious for the attack on the Tirpitz of March 1944

No.835 NAS

No.835 Squadron embarked with its Swordfish to travel from Virginia to the UK in April 1942.

No.842 NAS

Six Swordfish from No.842 Squadron joined the Furious in July 1944 for the attack on the Tirpitz, rejoining the rest of their squadron serving with Coastal Command in September.

No.880 NAS

A detachment of Sea Hurricanes was allocated to the Furious for the Petsamo raid. The squadron returned again in February 1944 and the summer of the same year.

No.881 NAS

No.811 Squadron embarked on the Furious for attacks off Norway in July 1943.

No.1840 NAS

No.1840 Squadron and its Hellcat Is were onboard for the attack on the Tirpitz on 9 July 1944.


As Battlecruiser


19,413t load
22,890t deep load

Top Speed

31.5 knots

Armour - belt


 - deck


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turret faces


 - CT



786ft 6in oa


Two 18in/40cal Mk I in two single turrets
Eleven 5.5in/50 BL Mk I guns
Two 3in/20cwt AA Mk I guns
Four 3pdr guns
Two 21in submerged torpedo tubes (beam)

Crew complement



15 August 1916


July 1917


Converted to Carrier

Changes during 1917 refit


8 aircraft
Ten 5.5in/55 cal BL Mk I guns
Six 3in AA guns

After Main Conversion


22,450ft standard
27,165ft deepload

Top Speed


Armour - belt


 - main flight deck



735ft pp, 786ft 5in oa


36 aircraft
Ten 5.5in/50 Mk I
Two 4in/45 QF Mk V HA
Four 2pdr pompom
Four 3pdr saluting
All guns in single mountings

Guns 1939

Twelve 4in/45 QF Mk XVI HA in twin mountings
Three 8-barralled 2pd pompoms (24 guns total)

Guns 1945

Twelve 4in/45 QF Mk XVI HA in twin mountings
Four 8-barralled 2pd pompoms (32 guns total)
Fifteen 20mm Oerlikon cannon

Crew complement



June 1922-31 August 1925

Broken Up


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 August 2010), HMS Furious ,

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