On this day 9 December 1914
The Royal Navy had conducted trials in 1913 with a modified cruiser, Hermes, to evaluate the ability of seaplanes to work with the fleet. They were successful enough that the Admiralty allocated £81,000 in the 1914–1915 Naval Programme to purchase a merchant ship for a more thorough modification than had been possible with Hermes to better accommodate seaplanes. A tramp steamer was purchased in 1914 that had just begun construction at the Blyth Shipbuilding Company so it could be easily modified to suit its new role.
The result, seaplane carrier HMS ARK ROYAL was commissioned 09.12.14. She was the first aircraft carrier capable of handling a large number of aircraft and providing them with really comprehensive maintenance facilities. Her bridge, funnel and upper-works were placed well aft giving a clear fore-deck for the operating of planes. These were housed in the hold and lifted in and out by cranes. Ark Royal had a top speed of 11kts and was used only as an aircraft depot ship. Her original complement of aircraft consisted of a Short Folder, two Wight Pushers, three Sopwith Type 807 seaplanes and two to four Sopwith Tabloid wheeled aircraft.
Ark Royal went in and out of commission and in 1930 served as a training ship for seaplane pilots and was used to evaluate aircraft catapult operations and techniques. She was renamed HMS Pegasus in 1934 and was modified as a prototype fighter catapult ship in 1940, a concept subsequently extended to merchant ships which were also equipped with rocket assisted launch systems and known as Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen (CAM ships). Ark Royal was sold in June 1949 and broken up in October 1950.