HMS Illustrious (87)
HMS Illustrious c. 1942
|Career (United Kingdom)|
|Ordered:||13 January 1937
1936 Naval Programme
|Laid down:||27 April 1937|
|Launched:||5 April 1939|
|Commissioned:||25 May 1940|
|Decommissioned:||End of 1954|
|Struck:||3 November 1956|
|Identification:||Pennant number: 87|
|Motto:||Vox Non Incerta
("No Uncertain Voice")
|Fate:||Scrapped at Faslane|
|General characteristics (as built)|
|Class & type:||Illustrious-class aircraft carrier|
|Displacement:||23,000 long tons (23,369 t) (standard)|
|Length:||740 ft (225.6 m) (o/a)
710 ft (216.4 m) (waterline)
|Beam:||95 ft 9 in (29.2 m)|
|Draught:||28 ft 10 in (8.8 m) (deep load)|
|Installed power:||111,000 shp (83,000 kW)
8 Admiralty 3-drum boilers
3 geared steam turbines
|Speed:||30.5 knots (56.5 km/h; 35.1 mph)|
|Range:||10,700 nmi (19,800 km; 12,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
|1 × Type 79 early-warning radar|
|Armament:||8 × twin QF 4.5-inch dual-purpose guns
6 × octuple QF 2-pdr anti-aircraft guns
|Aviation facilities:||1 catapult|
HMS Illustrious, the fourth Illustrious of the Royal Navy, was an aircraft carrier which saw service in World War II, the lead ship of the Illustrious class which also included Victorious, Formidable, and Indomitable.
Illustrious was built by Vickers-Armstrongs at Barrow-in-Furness, launched in 1939, and commissioned on 16 April 1940. She displaced 28,000 tons and carried up to 57 aircraft, including about 33 to 36 in her armoured hangar (depending on type). Illustrious carried fewer aircraft than the preceding Ark Royal and the subsequent Indomitable and Implacable-class carriers. The heavily armoured hangar was smaller than on Ark Royal, but after her flight deck round-downs were removed during refits and she began using a permanent deck park, her aircraft capacity was greatly increased. She was nicknamed "Lusty" by the men who served in her. On 24 May 1940, Illustrious ran her full power trials and recorded 113,700 shp at 234.2 rpm. Her exact speeds were not recorded as she had her paravanes streamed, but it was estimated that she could have made about 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph) under full power.
The cost of construction of Illustrious was £3,800,000. The electronic equipment fitted to her cost £13,500, and the naval aircraft embarked on her in 1939 cost £600,000.
On 31 August, she launched a strike against airfields at Maritza. On 11 November 1940, she became the first carrier in history to launch a major strike against an enemy fleet in a daring attack against the Italian fleet at Taranto. Twenty-one aircraft from Numbers 813, 815, 819, and 824 Squadrons based on Illustrious attacked the Italian fleet at night. The Italians were caught off-guard, and one battleship was sunk and two were heavily damaged.
On 10 January 1941, while escorting Operation Excess convoys east of Sicily, Illustrious was attacked by Axis Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 and Junkers Ju 87 bombers. She was hit by six bombs and suffered extensive damage: her sick bay and ward room were destroyed, and among those killed was the English rugby player W. G. E. Luddington. While under repair in Malta she was bombed again on 16 January and 19 January, which with the previous damage led to some flooding of her outer hull compartments and minor listing, but all her machinery spaces remained intact. On 23 January she sailed to Alexandria, Egypt for temporary repairs, arriving at noon on 25 January.
Illustrious was under repair at Alexandria until 19 March 1941, when she sailed for Durban, South Africa. At Durban she was drydocked for assessment of underwater damage. She then sailed to Virginia for permanent repairs and substantial refitting at the Norfolk Navy Yard, arriving on 12 May.
At Norfolk, the battle damage was repaired, and also some important modifications were made. These included installation of an improved aircraft lift, an additional 50 feet (15 m) of flight deck space, ten more 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, and modification of the catapult for use by US built aircraft. The work was completed in October. Illustrious then underwent trials, which were completed in December. She then sailed for Britain in company with sister carrier Formidable. On 16 December, due to extreme weather conditions, Illustrious collided with Formidable, causing serious damage to both ships.
In May 1942, Illustrious and her sister Indomitable provided air cover for Operation Ironclad, the landings at Diego Suarez in Vichy French controlled Madagascar. She was then assigned to the Far Eastern Fleet. From June to August 1942, Illustrious operated with the Far Eastern Fleet against Japanese forces, including Operation Stab in August.
In September 1942, Illustrious returned to Madagascar for Operation Stream, which completed the Allied occupation. She then proceeded to Durban for a brief refit, and rejoined the Far Eastern Fleet in December.
However, she was almost immediately withdrawn, departing for Britain on 5 January 1943. From March to May 1943, Illustrious was refitted at Birkenhead. The flight deck was extended further, new radars were installed, her 20 mm anti-aircraft single mounts were replaced with twin mounts, and two new arrester wires were fitted.
After trials, Illustrious joined the Force A of the Home Fleet in July 1943 for Operation Governor, intended to lure the German battleship Tirpitz and other German heavy cruisers out to battle, by simulating a weak raid on the Southern Norway Coast, with the Battle Fleet just over the horizon. In September, she was transferred to Force H in the Mediterranean, and provided air cover for the landings at Salerno (Operation Avalanche).
Illustrious then returned to Britain for a quick refit, including additional twin 20 mm anti-aircraft mounts and upgrades to the catapult. Illustrious had been designated to rejoin the Far Eastern Fleet; she departed Britain on 30 December 1943, and arrived in Trincomalee, Ceylon, on 31 January.
From February through August 1944 she operated with the Far Eastern Fleet, and participated in numerous raids, including those against the Indonesian islands of Sabang on 19 April 1944 and again on 22 July 1944, and Soerabaya on 17 May 1944. She also raided Port Blair in the Andaman Islands on 22 June 1944 and carried 57 aircraft during this operation. At one point she had 51 of her 57 aircraft in the air, including the 15 Barracudas and 23 Corsairs that participated in the Port Blair strike.
In September and October 1944, Illustrious was refitted at Simon's Town, South Africa. She rejoined the Far Eastern Fleet in November for additional raids. On 16 December Illustrious was assigned to the newly formed British Pacific Fleet, and sailed for Australia. En route, she attacked Palembang on 24 January and 29 January 1945. She arrived in Sydney on 9 February. At Sydney, her centre propeller shaft was removed due to a deteriorating shaft gland, and her maximum speed fell to 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph).
On 4 March, she sailed with the rest of the Pacific Fleet to Manus Island, and from there on 19 March to Ulithi. There Illustrious and her sisters Indomitable and Victorious, as well as Indefatigable joined the US Pacific Fleet, under the designation Task Force 57 (TF 57).
From 26 March to 9 April, TF 57 provided air support for the invasion of Okinawa (Operation Iceberg), winning her last battle honour. On 6 April, Illustrious suffered serious underwater damage from a near miss by a kamikaze. On 9 April, Illustrious was detached for a raid against Formosa, but on 14 April she was replaced by her sister, Formidable, and sent to the Philippines for inspection.
After the war, she was given the role of a training and trials ship, and she continued to be plagued by vibration problems which were partially cured by new propeller designs. In 1946, she had a new five-bladed propeller fitted to the centre shaft. She was refitted and modernised from January to August 1948, and made 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph) on trials with 110,600 shp at 227.5 rpm. In 1950, on full power trials, she made 29.2 knots (54.1 km/h; 33.6 mph) with 111,480 shp at 225.1 rpm. In 1953 she took part in the Fleet Review to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. She was decommissioned at the end of 1954, sold on 3 November 1956, and finally, after a successful career, scrapped at Faslane.
- Taranto 1940
- Mediterranean 1940-41
- Malta Convoys 1941
- Diego Suarez 1942
- Salerno 1943
- Sabang 1944
- Palembang 1945
- Okinawa 1945
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