To say the HMS Hermes had a difficult start to life would be understating the fact – construction on the aircraft carrier, initially dubbed HMS Elephant, began in 1944 during World War Two, but conflict ended before she had been completed.
Her hull then sat in the dockyard in Barrow-in-Furness until 1953, when it was launched simply to get it out of the way so that other ships could be constructed.
Construction of the Hermes was not completed until 1957, and she didn’t enter active service until 1959, a full 15 years after work first began.
In 1966 a review concluded that the Hermes was surplus to Royal Navy requirements, and a plan was concocted to sell her off to Australia. But after watching her during sea trials, the country concluded she would be too expensive, and passed.
Between the 1960s and 70s she was refitted twice, first to make her a Marine transport craft and second to make her an anti-submarine vessel, before a defence review in 1981 concluded she was – once again – surplus to requirements.
The plan was to scrap the Hermes, but then Argentina suddenly invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, and plans were rapidly changed.
Instead of heading for the scrapheap, the Grand Old Lady – as she became affectionately known – was ordered to sail to the south Atlantic as the flagship of British forces and retake the islands.
Setting off three days after the Argentine invasion began with 12 Harriers and 18 Sea King helicopters on board, she was resupplied en route, and by the time she arrived had 16 Harriers, ten Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3s, and a reduced complement of ten Sea Kings.
Considered too large and too valuable to risk in close-in operations with Argentinian forces, the Hermes played a support and supply role, using her Harriers at the furthest extent of their range to defend British ships against attacking aircraft.
The Hermes was also used to carry vital supplies supporting those fighting further forward, and to receive wounded heading backwards from the frontlines.
During the conflict she became a household name, featuring on a famous Newsweek magazine cover alongside the caption ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
Returning to Portsmouth after the war ended, Hermes was given a hero’s welcome – surrounded by a flotilla of smaller vessels and watched from the dock by hundreds of spectators.
Shortly afterwards another plan was hatched to sell her to Australia, but it was again dropped. Instead, the Hermes remained with the Royal Navy until 1984 when she was taken out of service and left floating at Portsmouth.
Two years later, the Indian navy inquired about buying her – so she was towed to Devonport Dockyard to be retrofitted before being sold off the following year.
She then spent another three decades in service in the Indian navy – though never saw active combat again – before being decommissioned in 2017, at which time she was the oldest serving warship in the world.
Held at port in Mumbai since then, she has now been sold off for scrap and will be taken to Alang where she will likely be turned into motorcycles.