Fleet Aircraft Carrier

HMS Illustrious was built by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow, laid down on 27 April 1937 and launched 5 April 1939. She was commissioned on 25 May 1940. She formed part of the British Pacific Fleet 1945, and subsequently was a trials carrier 1946-1954. Paid off 1954, stricken 3 November 1956 and broken up.

The "Illustrious" Class ships were the radical next generation of aircraft carrier which the Admiralty took steps to develop in 1935. They were to have a hangar protected against 500lb bombs and 6" shells with armouring to the flight deck. The flight deck between the lifts was 3" thick and the hangar walls, like the side belt, were 41" thick. As 5000 tons of armour had to be worked into a treaty limit of 23,000 tons, Illustrious was consequently considerably shorter than Ark Royal, and because the flight deck armour weighed 1500 tons, the second hangar deck was omitted to reduce the freeboard by 22 feet and preserve stability.

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HMS Illustrious had along and renowned service history inparticularly during her Mediterranean posting between September 1940 and January 1941. Illustrious is best remembered for her strike on the Italian Fleet at Taranto on the night of 11-12 November 1940. Torpedoes from her Fairey Swordfish aircraft sank one battleship and forced two others to be beached. She also led strike on Benghazi on 16-17 September, was part of Malta convoys between September-October, and again on Malta convoys from November 1940 to January 1941.

HMS Illustrious was heavily damaged by a concerted enemy air attack by German dive-bombers on 10 January 1941, when the armoured flight deck armour was penetrated by an 1100lb (500kg) bomb. That and six other bomb hits kept her out of action until the following December. She had temporary repaired at Malta 10-23 January 1941, and further repairs at Alexandria between February -March 1941. Major repairs were undertaken at Norfolk, Va.(USA) between  May-December 1941.

The Italian battleship Conte di Cavour after being sunk in shallow water by
aircraft from the HMS Illustrious (12 November, 1942)

By May 1942, HMS Illustrious was on operations against Vichy French forces in Diego Suarez Madagascar, and remained in the Indian Ocean from May 1942 until January 1943, where she undertook further operations against Madagascar in September 1942. She undertook a refit in the UK between February -June 1943 then returned to the Mediterranean between August-November 1943 where she took part in the Salerno landings in September 1943.

After another refit in the UK from December 1943 to January 1944 she joined the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. By April 1944, the Eastern Fleet had built up its carrier strength to include not just HMS Illustrious but also a number of escort carriers. For an attack on Sabang, on Japanese-held Sumatra, the Eastern Fleet was loaned USS Saratoga where Illustrrious led strikes against Sabang in Sumatra in April 1944, Soerabaja on Java in May 1944, and Sabang in July 1944.

24-29 January 1945 - Fleet Air Arm strikes on oil installations at Pladjoe around Palembang, Sumatra - the largest operation ever undertaken by  the Fleet Air Arm - successful strikes are made by aircraft from Task Force 63 - HM carriers "Indomitable", "Illustrious", "Indefatigable" and "Victorious".

Following a refit at Durban between July to December 1944, she joined the Eastern Fleet from December 1944 to January 1945, when she took part in air strikes against oilfields on Sumatra in December 1944, and Palembang in January 1945.  From January 1945, Illustrious was assigned to the British Pacific Fleet, but first undertook repairs at Sydney, for removal of the central shaft between February -March 1945. Operations commenced again in March and again in April 1945, with air strikes against Sakishima Gunto and Formosa. On 9 April 1945, she received underwater damage from a Kamikaze attack, and was forced to undertake temporary repairs at Leyte, and further repairs in Sydney in May 1945, and repairs and alterations in the UK from June 1945-June 1946.

After the war she was involved in Home Fleet trails and duties as a training carrier 1946-54 during which time she took part in the initial deck-landing trials with jet aircraft. She was finally laid up in reserve at Gareloch in December 1954 and sold for scrap at Faslane 3 November 1956.

Battle Honours

Taranto 1940, Mediterranean 1940 - 1, Malta Convoys 1941, Diego Suarez 1942, Salerno 1943, Sebang 1944, Palembang 1945, Okinawa 1945.

Profiles of all the Captains of Illustrious. Information about the Ship's Chaplain from his son.

Squadrons and Aircraft
1940: 33 aircraft: Fulmars and Swordfish
September 1942: 21 Martlet, 6 Fulmars, and 18 Swordfish
July 1943: 28 Martlets and 18 Avengers
January 1944: 24 Corsais and 21 Barracudas
May 1944: 24 Corsairs and 18 Avengers
June 1944: 42 Corsairs and 15 Barracudas
November 1944: 36 Corsairs, 15 Avengers

FAA squadrons embarked Dates Aircraft type
819 June-Dec 1940 Swordfish I
815 June 1940-Jan 1941 Swordfish I
806 July 1940-Jan 1941 Fulmar I 
813 dt Sept 1940 Swordfish I/Sea Gladiator 
824 dt Nov 1940 Swordfish I
813 dt Nov 1940 Swordfish I/Sea Gladiator
805 dt Jan 1941 Fulmar I
810 Dec 1941 Swordfish I
829 Dec 1941 Swordfish I
829 March-Sept 1942  Swordfish II ASV
881 March 1942-Feb 1943 Martlet II
810 March 1942-April 1943 Swordfish I
795 dt Aug-Sept 1942 Fulmar II 
806 Oct 1942 Martlet I/II
803 Dec 1942 Fulmar II
810 April-Nov 1944  Barracuda II
878 June-Oct 1943 Martlet IV
890 June-Oct 1943 Martlet IV
894 July-Oct 1943 Seafire IIc
847 Nov 1943-June 1944 Barracuda II
1830 Dec 1943-July 1945 Corsair II
1833 Dec 1943-July 1945 Corsair II
832 May 1944 Avenger II
845 May 1944 Avenger I/Wildcat V
1837 June-July 1944 Corsair II
854 Dec 1944-May 1945 Avenger II

Associations and Reunions
Burma Star Association

Carrier name HMS Illustrious
Class Illustrious Class
Type Fleet Aircraft Carrier
Ships in Class Illustrious, Victorious, Formidable, Indomitable
Launched Built by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow. Laid down 27 April 1937. Launched 5 April 1939. Commissioned 25 May 1940.
Tonnage Displacement: 23,100 tons standard ; 28,661 tons full load
Engines Propulsion: Steam Turbines (6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 3 shafts, Parsons geared turbines), 111,000 shp.
Speed in Knots Speed: 30.5 knots
Armament 5 x 8 x 2pdr "pom-pom" AA 3 x 1 x 40mm Bofors AA 19 x 2 x 20mm Oerlikon AA 14 x1 x 20mm Oerlikon AA 
Crew Complement Compliment: 900 Officers & Ratings, 350 Air Group
Range Range: 11,000 nmiles at 14 knots
Length (ft/inches) Dimensions: 673 pp, 743.75 oa x 95.75 x 28 feet
Beam (ft/inches)  
Draught (ft/inches)  
Flight Deck length (ft/inches) 670
Flight Deck width (ft/inches) 95'
Armour 3" flight deck 2" hangar deck 4" side belt 4" hangar sides 
Number of aircraft carried Aircraft: 36
Fate of carrier Paid off 1954, stricken 3 November 1956 and broken up.
Notes The small number of aircraft carried was due to extensive armouring, including the flight deck. This was considered more important than aircraft capacity when operating close to shore based enemy aircraft. Indomitable's capacity was increased to 48 by completing her with a two-level hangar for half the length of the ship. All went through various war-time reconstructions including a slight increase in deck space, provisions for deck parking of aircraft which increased capacity to 54 and a large increase in AA guns.

The increase in size of aircraft, particularly jets, made post-war use of the Illustrious class impractical due to a lack of hangar height. 

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS pages in Burma Star Association website
HMS Illustrious Class in THE ROYAL NAVY WWII website History and specifications of the Illustrious class aircraft carriers in WWII 
Summary history of the Illustrious class in Royal Navy Ships of World War 2  
Further Information by British  
Armored Carrier HMS Illustrious class IN JAPANESE
Information also about the modified Illustrious in 1939-1945
World Aircraft Carrier Lists and Photo Gallery - from 1913 to 2000. Naval History Information Center, Haze Gray & Underway
Sturtivant, R & Ballance, T  (1994). 'The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm' Published by Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1994 ISBN: 0 85130 223 8

The Worlds Warships 1941 by Francis E. McMurtrie (1944). Jane's London 1941 1st ed. 

Jane's Fighting Ships of World War II by Francis E. McMurtrie (Editor)(1984). 320 pages. Crescent Books; ISBN: 0517679639

       Last Modified: 23-2-2001


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