- Payne, Alan
- Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1978 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Admiral Sir Philip Vian commanded the carriers of the British Pacific Fleet. His comments sum up the merits of the armoured carrier. ‘The armoured flight deck, which was a feature of British fleet carriers, paid a dividend on this occasion. In spite of the direct hit, Indefatigable was able to operate aircraft again within a few hours. American carriers similarly struck were invariably forced to return to a fully-equipped Navy Yard for repairs. This led to discussion as to the relative virtues of British and American designs. The British carriers, with their armoured decks, higher safety precautions, and closed hangars, could stow fewer aircraft than their American counterparts. On the other hand events were to show that had our carriers not had armoured decks. Task Force 57 would have been reduced to negligible proportions.’
Admiral Henderson’s conception of the armoured carrier had indeed paid dividends. Admiral Henderson, the forgotten naval genius, had been responsible for saving the biggest fleet Britain ever sent overseas, six years after his own death from overwork.
Illustrious was the target for a surprise attack by Kamikazes on the 6th April, but the close range armament managed to deflect the aircraft in its dive. The explosion of the bomb in the water caused the carrier to whip severely and caused some damage. Two days later Formidable was ordered to relieve Illustrious, but before being relieved the carrier took part in a two day strike against north Formosa. On the 14th she left the Fleet to proceed to Leyte escorted by two destroyers.
At Leyte the hull was examined by divers and it was found that the near-miss on the 6th April had caused considerably more damage than had been realised – the outer plating had been split and some frames cracked. Illustrious, now non-operational, left for Sydney and was restricted to 19 knots because of the damage. After a short stay in Sydney she left on the 24th May for the United Kingdom unescorted.
The end of the war delayed the completion of the refit, which was not completed until June 1946. It was an extensively modified Illustrious which recommissioned in the post-war Fleet. After various alterations her deep displacement had increased with the years to 31,790 tons from the original 28,620 tons.
Illustrious remained in service from 1948 to the end of 1954 as the trials and training carrier and in September 1952 she was operational once more for Exercise ‘Mainbrace’ in the North Atlantic. In December 1954 she was laid up in reserve in the Gareloch and in November 1956 sold to the British Iron and Steel Corporation for scrapping.
HMS Illustrious will always be remembered as the first of the armoured carriers and for her work in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. Above all it was aircraft from Illustrious which put three Italian battleships out of action for a long time at Taranto in November 1940.