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- September 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
THE FIRST VICTORIOUS, built by Perry at Blackwall, was a third rate two-decker, boasting 74 guns. She was launched on 27th April 1785, and measured 170½ feet in length, with a 47-foot beam. Victorious I was present at the capture of Cape Good Hope in 1795, and participated in actions in the Mallaca Straits in 1796. In 1803, she paid off for scrapping and was broken up in Lisbon in August of that year.
The second Victorious, like her predecessor, was a third rate, 74 gun ship. Built by Adams at Bucklers Hard, she was launched on 20th October 1808. After participating in the disastrous Walcheron Expedition of 1809, fortunes changed when three years later she took part in an extremely successful single ship engagement off Trieste.
With the brig Weazel, Victorious II blockaded the new French vessel Rivoli and three other brigs in Venice. On 21st February, the French vessels made for the open sea, but were brought to battle by the British ships. In the ensuing five-hour battle, the Rivoli lost over 400 men and was forced to surrender. She was finally reduced to a crippled hulk. Victorious II, although the victor, lost 27 men killed, and 99 wounded. In August 1825, Victorious II became a receiving ship. She was finally sold in 1862 and subsequently scrapped.
Victorious III was a Majestic class, predreadnought Battleship of 14,900 tons. She was laid down at Chatham on 28th May 1894, launched on 19th October 1895, and finally completed in November 1896, at a cost of about £ 950,000. Victorious III’s main armament consisted of 4 x 12 inch 35 cal. and 12 x 6 inch 40 cal. guns. Smaller armament included 16 x 12 pdr., 12 x 3 pdr., 2 Maxims and 2×12 pdr. boat guns. In addition five 18″ torpedo tubes were fitted, four being submerged and one being placed above water level at the stern. Victorious III measured 390 feet in length, with a 75-foot beam and 26½-27½ foot draught. Top speed was 14 knots and her radius at 10 knots was 4,700 miles.
Victorious III began service in home waters, with later postings to the China Station and Mediterranean Sea. From 1904 to 1906, she acted as Second-in-Command of the Channel Fleet. In August 1914, with her sister ships Hannibal, Magnificent and Mars, Victorious formed part of the 9th Battle Squadron. Up to January 1915, Victorious and her sisters served in the Mediterranean.
With the introduction of the larger battleships of the Iron Duke, Queen Elizabeth and Royal Sovereign classes, the older pre-dreadnoughts were gradually taken out of the first line service. Reduced to guard-ships by early 1915, Victorious and her three sisters lost their 12-inch turrets for installations in the Lord Clive class monitors. After being demoted to the Third Division Reserve Fleet, Victorious began duties as a troop transport. In March 1916, she was fitted out as a dockyard repair ship and based at Longhope in the Orkney Islands.
Victorious remained at Scapa Flow, the Grand Fleet’s base, until 1919. The following year, she was renamed Indus II. Sold on 19th December 1922, to A.J. Purnes, she was again sold in April 1923, to Stanlee of Dover for scrapping.
The fourth, and most recent Victorious, was an Illustrious class aircraft carrier, built by Messrs. Vickers Armstrong Ltd., at Newcastle upon Tyne. Authorised in 1936, Victorious IV was laid down on 4th May 1937, launched on 14th September 1939 and commissioned on 29th March 1941.
Eight weeks after commissioning, Victorious received orders to join the search for the German battleship Bismarck, which was running to Brest after having sunk the Royal Navy’s largest warship, the battlecruiser Hood. Although only nine Swordfish and six Fulmars were being carried onboard, Victorious’s aircraft located the Bismarck and inflicted one torpedo hit and one probable hit. This reduced the German’s speed and greatly helped in the final destruction by other Royal Navy units soon after.
After convoy work in the Arctic, Victorious ferried RAF Hurricane aircraft to relieve the position in Malta. Strikes were carried out against enemy positions on the Norwegian coast in the last months of 1941. In August 1942, Victorious became Flagship of Rear Admiral A.L. St. G. Lyster. With her sister Indomitable, and the old carrier Eagle she escorted an important convoy to Malta in late 1942.
Sailing to the Pacific theatre of war in the new year, Victorious joined in operations with the United States Navy. With a squadron of USN fighter aircraft embarked, she carried out several sweeps in the Coral Sea and south-west and mid Pacific Oceans. During this period her own torpedo bombers were operating from a USN flat-top.
Returning to the Atlantic in 1944, Victorious during April aided in the destruction of Bismarck’s sister ship Tirpitz. In June, she sailed from Clyde to join the Eastern Fleet at Colombo. The next month, Victorious began attacks with the Indomitable against Sabang and later engaged the enemy on Sumatra and other Japanese occupied islands. In January 1945, she sailed to Sydney to join the battleship King George V and the rest of the British Pacific Fleet. After operations at Myako Island, Victorious received flight-deck damage from Japanese kamikaze suicide planes.
With the war’s end, Victorious began repatriation of ex-Japanese Allied POWs to Australia. Leaving Sydney on 25th September 1945, she sailed to Plymouth via Fremantle and Colombo arriving on 31st October. From December 1945 to January 1947, Victorious was employed on trooping work to and from Australia and the Far East, in all making three trips. Placed in category B reserve at Devonport on 16th January 1947, she remained in this state until 14th July, when recommissioned to relieve the battleship Nelson, then serving as a training ship in the Portland Training Squadron. With alterations to accommodation, and specially built classrooms in the hanger deck, Victorious began training duties in October 1947.
In February 1948, her sister ship Formidable was chosen to be modernised, but due to the latter’s unavailability at the time, Victorious instead was sent to Portsmouth in March 1950, for the rebuilding process. Victorious was relieved in her training role by the battleship Vanguard. Taken in hand by Portsmouth Dockyard on 10th October, it was planned that completion of rebuilding would be in mid 1954. Included in the rebuilding was an 8½ degrees angled deck, new radar, new boilers, improved aircraft and servicing arrangements, space for guided weapons in the hanger, mirror landing aids and steam catapults.
Emerging in 1958, after eight years in dockyard hands, Victorious little resembled her former self. Reconstruction had made her 30 feet longer, as well as increasing her displacement. She now was armed with six twin 3-inch anti-aircraft guns and a single sixbarrelled 40mm Bofors gun.
Officially recommissioned on 14th January 1958, Victorious sailed for the Mediterranean on 28th September, for her first tour of duty. First port of call was Gibraltar, followed by Malta on 13th October. After visits to Toulon and Messina, she arrived back in Portsmouth on 14th January 1959. Sailing again on 20th February, Victorious visited Oslo, Denmark and then followed on with a visit to Norfolk, Virginia, after participating in exercise Riptide with the US 2nd Fleet.
On 22nd February 1960, Victorious commenced a six-month refit at Portsmouth, ending her first commission since the completion of reconstruction.
After service in the Far East, including a one month deployment in the Persian Gulf, Victorious underwent a long refit from 2nd April 1962, to 12th June 1963. Posted again to the Far East in 1963, Victorious provided air search and support to the commando carriers Albion and Bulwark in Malaysian and Indonesian waters. In May the following year, she visited Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. Victorious, with squadrons embarked, left for Australia in April 1966, after completion of a five-month refit. Following calls at Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Perth, she made for the Suez Canal. Passing through the Egyptian waterway just prior to the 1967 Middle East War breaking out, she received orders to remain in Malta until the fighting had halted.