4th HMS ILLUSTRIOUS
A Brief History of the 4th HMS Illustrious
4th HMS ILLUSTRIOUS (1803 – 1868)
Ordered: 13 April 1937
Laid down: 27 April 1937
Launched: 5 April 1939
Commissioned: 25 May 1940
Decommissioned: February 1955
Fate: Sold for scrap, November 1956
Identification: Pennant number: 87
Displacement: 23,000 long tons (23,369 t) (standard)
Beam: 95 ft 9 in (29.2 m)
Draught28 ft 10 in (8.8 m) (deep load)
3 geared steam turbines
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph)
Range: 10,700 nmi (19,800 km; 12,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Aircraft carried: 36
Aviation facilities: 1 catapult
Captain G S Tuck RN 15 May 39
Captain D W Boyd DSC RN 29 Jan 40
Rear Admiral A L St.G. Lyster CVO 19 Aug 40
Captain The Lord Louis Mountbatten GCVO DSO RN 12 Aug 41
Captain A G Talbot DSO RN Oct 41
Captain R L B Cunliffe RN 22 Aug 42
Captain C E Lambe CB CVO RN 31 May 44
Captain W D Stephens RN 31 Jul 45
Captain R A B Edwards CBE RN 7 Jan 47
Captain J Hughes-Hallett CB DSO RN 4 Jun 48
Captain E G A Clifford RN 10 Jun 49
Captain S H Carhill DSO RN 24 Jun 50
Captain C T Jellicoe DSO DSC* RN 27 Aug 51
Captain R D Watson CBE ADC RN 27 Sep 52
Captain K A Short DSO RN 29 Dec 53
Malta Convoys 1940
Diego Suarez 1942
HMS Illustrious was the lead ship of her class of aircraft carriers built for the Royal Navy before World War II. Her first assignment after completion and working up was with the Mediterranean Fleet, in which her aircraft's most notable achievement was sinking one Italian battleship and badly damaging two others during the Battle of Taranto in late 1940.
Two months later the carrier was crippled by German dive bombers and was repaired in the United States. After sustaining damage on the voyage home in late 1941 by a collision with her sister ship Formidable, Illustrious was sent to the Indian Ocean in early 1942 to support the invasion of Vichy French Madagascar (Operation Ironclad).
After returning home in early 1943, the ship was given a lengthy refit and briefly assigned to the Home Fleet. She was transferred to Force H for the Battle of Salerno in mid-1943 and then re-joined the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean at the beginning of 1944. Her aircraft attacked several targets in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies over the following year before Illustrious was transferred to the newly formed British Pacific Fleet (BPF).
The carrier participated in the early stages of the Battle of Okinawa until mechanical defects arising from accumulated battle damage became so severe she was ordered home early for repairs in May 1945.
The war ended while she was in the dockyard and the Admiralty decided to modify her for use as the Home Fleet's trials and training carrier. In this role she conducted the deck-landing trials for most of the British post-war naval aircraft in the early 1950s. She was occasionally used to ferry troops and aircraft to and from foreign deployments as well as participating in exercises. In 1951, she helped to transport troops to quell rioting in Cyprus after the collapse of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936. She was paid off in early 1955 and sold for scrap in late 1956
The Royal Navy's 1936 Naval Programme authorised the construction of two aircraft carriers. Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy, was determined not to simply modify the previous unarmoured Ark Royal design. He believed that carriers could not be successfully defended by their own aircraft without some form of early-warning system. Lacking that, there was nothing to prevent land-based aircraft from attacking them, especially in confined waters like the North Sea and Mediterranean. This meant that the ship had to be capable of remaining in action after sustaining damage and that her fragile aircraft had to be protected entirely from damage.
The only way to do this was to completely armour the hangar in which the aircraft would shelter, but putting so much weight high in the ship allowed only a single-storey hangar due to stability concerns. This halved the aircraft capacity compared with the older unarmoured carriers, exchanging offensive potential for defensive survivability.
Illustrious was 740 feet (225.6 m) in length overall and 710 feet (216.4 m) at the waterline. Her beam was 95 feet 9 inches (29.2 m) at the waterline and she had a draught of 28 feet 10 inches (8.8 m) at deep load. She displaced 23,000 long tons (23,369 t) at standard load as completed. Her complement was approximately 1,299 officers and enlisted men upon completion in 1940.
By 1944, she was severely overcrowded with a total crew of 1,997. After post-war modifications to convert her into a trials carrier, her complement was reduced to 1,090 officers and men.
The ship had three Parsons geared steam turbines, each driving one shaft, using steam supplied by six Admiralty 3-drum boilers. The turbines were designed to produce a total of 111,000 shp (83,000 kW), enough to give a maximum speed of 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) at deep load. On 24 May 1940 Illustrious ran her sea trials and her engines reached 113,700 shp (84,800 kW).
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. She carried a maximum of 4,850 long tons (4,930 t) of fuel oil which gave her a range of 10,700 nautical miles (19,800 km; 12,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) or 10,400 nmi (19,300 km; 12,000 mi) at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) or 6,300 nm (11,700 km; 7,200 mi) at 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph).
The 753-foot (229.5 m) armoured flight deck had a usable length of 620 feet (189.0 m), due to prominent "round-downs"[Note 1] at each end designed to reduce the effects of air turbulence caused by the carrier's structure on aircraft taking-off and landing, and a maximum width of 95 feet (29.0 m).
A single hydraulic aircraft catapult was fitted on the forward part of the flight deck. The ship was equipped with two unarmoured lifts on the centreline, each of which measured 45 by 22 feet (13.7 by 6.7 m). The hangar was 456 feet (139.0 m) long and had a maximum width of 62 feet (18.9 m). It had a height of 16 feet (4.9 m) which allowed storage of Lend-Lease Vought F4U Corsair fighters once their wingtips were clipped. The hangar was designed to accommodate 36 aircraft, for which 50,650 imperial gallons (230,300 l; 60,830 US gal) of aviation spirit was provided.
Armament Defence & Radar
The main armament of the Illustrious class consisted of sixteen quick-firing (QF) 4.5-inch (110 mm) dual-purpose guns in eight twin-gun turrets, four in sponsons on each side of the hull. The roofs of the gun turrets protruded above the level of the flight deck to allow them to fire across the deck at high elevations.
The completion of Illustrious was delayed two months to fit her with a Type 79Z early-warning radar; she was the first aircraft carrier in the world to be fitted with radar before completion. This version of the radar had separate transmitting and receiving antennas which required a new mainmast to be added to the aft end of the island to mount the transmitter.
The Illustrious-class ships had a flight deck protected by 3 inches (76 mm) of armour and the internal sides and ends of the hangars were 4.5 inches (114 mm) thick. The hangar deck itself was 2.5 inches (64 mm) thick and extended the full width of the ship to meet the top of the 4.5-inch waterline armour belt. The underwater defence system was a layered system of liquid- and air-filled compartments backed by a 1.5-inch (38 mm) splinter bulkhead.
Summery of Service Between 1940 - 1956
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS was laid down at the Vickers Armstrong shipyard at Barrow-in- Furness on 27 April 1937 and was launched on 5 April 1939 by Lady Henderson, the wife of the Controller of the Navy. Fitting out took another year and ILLUSTRIOUS left Barrow on 20 April 1940 for Liverpool.
The first ship of a new class of Fleet carriers, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS was the first carrier in the world to be built with an armoured hangar, with a three-inch roof and deck and four-inch walls and ends, proof against 6-inch shellfire or 500lb bombs. The flight deck formed the roof of the hangar, but the heavy armour was only over the hangar, the area fore and aft of the lifts being of one-inch thickness only. The result of the extra weight was that ILLUSTRIOUS was built with only one hangar deck, instead of two as in the previous Fleet carrier design, and designed aircraft complement was 36 fighters and torpedo-bomber-reconnaissance aircraft.
Acceptance sea trials and flying trials were conducted during the last week in May 1940, the previous weeks having been occupied in the fitting of radar and homing-beacon equipment, and after final modification ILLUSTRIOUS left to work up off Bermuda. She returned on 23 July, stored ship and embarked her three squadrons 815 and 819 with Fairey Swordfish and 806 with the new Fairey Fulmar eight-gun fighter - and sailed from Scapa Flow for the Mediterranean on 22 August 1940, wearing the flag of Rear Admiral Aircraft Carriers (Mediterranean).
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, in company with the battleship HMS VALIANT and two AA cruisers, was escorted as far as the Sicilian Narrows by Force ‘H’ and was met by the Mediterranean Fleet to the south of Malta on 2 September 1940. 806 Squadron was in action for the first time on this day, destroying three Italian aircraft without loss. Two days later, the first strike mission was flown, against an airfield on Rhodes. ILLUSTRIOUS arrived at Alexandria on 5 September.
In the early hours of 17 September, 15 Swordfish delivered one of the most successful naval air attacks of the war, nine aircraft of 815 Squadron sinking a destroyer and two merchant ships in Benghazi harbour by dive-bombing and six aircraft of 819 Squadron laying a minefield which claimed four victims - a destroyer and two small merchant ships sunk and another merchant ship damaged.
Two Malta convoys were given cover, in late September and mid-October, the second operation being the occasion for an attack on an airfield on Leros. On return from this latter operation ILLUSTRIOUS suffered a hanger fire, which prevented her from undertaking a strike on the Italian main fleet base at Taranto originally planned for 21 October. Fortunately, all her aircraft were ashore at the RN Air Station, Dekheila at the time, the Swordfish being used for strikes on Tobruk.
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS’ damage was repaired by the end of October and she sailed for the postponed attack with 24 Swordfish embarked, instead of the normal 18, the extra aircraft and crews being provided by the other Mediterranean Fleet carrier, HMS EAGLE, which was unable to sail due to defects. A convoy was escorted to Malta, where three Fulmars were flown as replacements for 806 Squadron, and the Mediterranean Fleet proceeded to the flying-off position for the strike. Two waves of Swordfish - 20 aircraft in all - attacked Taranto on the night of 11/12 November 1940 and for the expenditure of eleven torpedoes and the loss of two Swordfish they sank the battleship CONTE Dl CAVOUR and put two others out of action for several months. The efficiency of the fighters in destroying Italian shadowers prevented the enemy from knowing the position and movements of the Fleet after 10 November and was responsible in large measure for the surprise attained by the strike.
Leros was attached again on 26 November, while ILLUSTRIOUS was covering a convoy, but little was achieved by the Swordfish, one of which was shot down. On 12 December, enemy transport laagers near Bardia were dive-bombed, this strike being a contribution to the British offensive in Libya.
ILLUSTRIOUS returned to Alexandria to replenish and then sailed once again on 15 December on an eleven-day cruise, which was again in support of a convoy but highly-varied in its nature. On 17th the Swordfish bombed airfields on Rhodes and Stampalia, on 21st nine aircraft torpedoed and sank two merchant ships in convoy off Kerkenah Island, and on 22nd 15 Swordfish started spectacular fires among warehouses and dumps at Tripoli. The fighters were never called upon and no Swordfish were lost. The subsequent sortie by the ship was somewhat of an anti-climax, consisting of fighter and anti-submarine protection for a force bombarding Bardia on 3 January 1941, but her tenth and last Mediterranean Fleet operation was eventful.
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS sailed on 7 January 1941 to meet a small fast convoy off Malta. On 10 January, when 75 miles west of Malta, the carrier was singled out for attack by a large number of Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive-bombers which had been deployed to Sicily by the Luftwaffe with the express mission of reducing the obvious superiority of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. The Fulmars were unable to prevent a series of attacks which scored seven direct hits and five near-misses: only one bomb hit and defeated the main flight deck armour, four of the remainder hit the lightly-armoured area abaft the after lift and inflicted severe damage; 217 casualties were sustained. The carrier reached Malta under her own steam on the evening of 10 January, emergency repairs were effected while under further air attack, which inflicted just one more direct hit, and she left again on 23 January, arriving at Alexandria two days later, undetected by the enemy. Further repairs at Alexandria lasted until 10 March, when she left for Durban via the Suez Canal. ILLUSTRIOUS was docked at Durban in order to assess the full extent of the underwater damage - information which was passed on to the US Navy, who were to undertake full repairs at Norfolk, Virginia, USA.
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS remained at the Norfolk Navy Yard from 12 May until 28 November 1941. The after end of the carrier was virtually rebuilt, advantage being taken of the extensive re-constructions to lengthen the effective landing area by 50 feet. At the same time the catapult was modified to launch aircraft at a greater speed, the radar updated and minor armament additions incorporated. She left US waters on 12 December 1941 in company with her sister-ship, FORMIDABLE, which had also been repaired after bomb damage, sustained in the Mediterranean.
In the early hours of 16 December, the two carriers collided in heavy seas and ILLUSTRIOUS suffered extensive superficial damage to her port spaces. The damage was repaired at Birkenhead after the carrier had been used for the initial hooked Spitfire deck-landing trials.
The carrier began to work up at the beginning of March 1942, her squadrons being 810 and 829 with 21 Swordfish and 881 and 882 with 15 Grumman Martlet fighters and two Fulmars. The work-up was cut short in order to allow ILLUSTRIOUS to be readied for the passage to Madagascar, the ship sailing from the Clyde on 23 March and arriving at Durban on 22 April. En route she suffered a hangar fire which destroyed eleven aircraft; the damage was repaired at Freetown.
On 5 May 1942 ILLUSTRIOUS launched 18 Swordfish and eight Martlets to attack Vichy French warships in Diego Suarez harbour, Madagascar as a preliminary to an amphibious assault. A submarine and an Armed Merchant Cruiser were sunk by this strike and on the following day a second submarine was sunk at sea. There were also a few fighter combats and by the end of the third day, when Diego Suarez was in British hands, the Martlets had destroyed seven French aircraft for the loss of one Martlet.
This operation was the first successful amphibious invasion to be covered by Royal Navy aircraft and ILLUSTRIOUS provided 173 sorties during the three days. ILLUSTRIOUS and the other carrier directly involved - HMS INDOMITABLE - entered Diego Suarez on 9 May before proceeding to the main Eastern Fleet base at Mombasa.
During the summer of 1942, ILLUSTRIOUS took part in two "sweeps" by the Eastern Fleet, visiting Ceylon on both occasions. After 24 August she was the only carrier with the Fleet and remained in the western half of the Indian Ocean as it was considered that the Fleet was too weak to risk an encounter with a Japanese carrier force. In September 1942, however, ILLUSTRIOUS, now armed with 18 Swordfish, 21 Martlets and six Fulmars, supported the occupation of the southern portion of Madagascar. This operation was uneventful, consisting mainly of flypasts to demonstrate the strength of the invading forces, and only 57 sorties were flown in three days.
The carrier then proceeded to Durban for a short refit, returning to Mombasa a month later, in mid-October. Thereafter, her movements were limited by a lack of escorts and no further operations were undertaken before she left Mombasa for the United Kingdom on 13 January 1943.
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS returned to Birkenhead on 26 February 1943 and was in refit until 7 June, when she emerged with a further extended flight deck, increased light AA armament and improved warning and fire control radar. After conducting flying trials with new types, and Marks of naval aircraft, ILLUSTRIOUS worked up with the Home Fleet. The first operation of the THIRD commission was a diversionary sweep off Norway between 26 and 29 July, during which two German shadowers were shot down by Martlets.
On 5 August, ILLUSTRIOUS left for the Mediterranean, to join Force ‘H’ in place of the damaged INDOMITABLE and while en route for Gibraltar she escorted the liner QUEEN MARY, carrying Winston Churchill to Canada, until she was beyond the range of German reconnaissance aircraft.
In company with HMS FORMIDABLE, ILLUSTRIOUS returned to Malta on 21 August 1943. She now had no fewer than 50 aircraft on board - 28 Martlets of 878 and 890 Squadrons, 10 Seafires of 894 Squadron and 12 Fairey Barracudas of 810 Squadron.
The two Fleet carriers provided heavy cover for the escort carriers supporting the Salerno invasion between 9 and 11 September, but there was little activity in Force ‘H’’s area and the latter retired to Malta at the end of the third day. ILLUSTRIOUS returned to the United Kingdom arriving at Birkenhead on 29 October to undergo further modification, in which the usable flight deck was again extended to give 740 feet, compared with the 620 feet, which had been available, when she was completed.
The work was finished quickly, for on 28 November 1943 she arrived in the Clyde to begin working up with another new air group - 21 Barracudas of No.21 Torpedo-Bomber-Reconnaissance Wing (810 and 847 Squadrons) and 28 Vought Corsairs of No. 15 Naval Fighter Wing (1830 and 1833 Squadrons).
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS left Greenock in early January 1944 and arrived at Trincomalee on 3lst after passing through the Mediterranean. The work-up continued and she did not proceed for her first operation until 8 March when the Eastern Fleet searched for Japanese cruisers, which had made a brief raiding foray.
Towards the end of the month ILLUSTRIOUS sailed to meet the American carrier USS SARATOGA, which was to serve alongside the Royal Navy on two operations, in April and May 1944. The two carriers sailed from Trincomalee on 16th April as part of a 27-ship task force in which six Allied navies were represented and three days later ILLUSTRIOUS launched 30 out of the 91 aircraft which attacked the minor naval base at Sabang, Sumatra.
The Fleet returned to Trincomalee on 21 April and ILLUSTRIOUS exchanged her Barracudas for two squadrons of Grumman Avengers - 832 and 851 with 18 aircraft - for the next strike, which was to be delivered against the oil refinery at Soerabaya, Java. ILLUSTRIOUS and SARATOGA sailed from Trincomalee to Exmouth Gulf, Australia, where the screening destroyers were replenished, and then struck at Soerabaya on 17 May.
The attack on the oil refinery by 16 Avengers and 16 Corsairs inflicted little damage and the 31 US Navy aircraft which attacked the nearby naval dockyard were also unsuccessful, but no aircraft was lost to enemy action and the Allied task force escaped detection. On calling at Exmouth Gulf again, to refuel for the return passage, SARATOGA left the force to return to the United States.
A minor operation in early June was used to evaluate the use of an escort carrier as a “spare deck" for the Fleet carrier, but the inability of HMS ATHELING to exceed 17 knots outweighed any advantages. On 21 June 1944, therefore, ILLUSTRIOUS undertook a single-handed attack on Port Blair, Andaman Islands, where 38 Barracudas and Corsairs found no worthwhile targets; an extra fighter squadron - 1837 - had been embarked at the expense of a few Barracudas, and at one stage in the day ILLUSTRIOUS had no fewer than 51 of her 57 aircraft in the air.
HMS VICTORIOUS and INDOMITABLE joined the Eastern Fleet at the end of June 1944 and the three carriers worked up together until 25 July, when Sabang was again attacked. On this occasion, Allied battleships bombarded the harbour while No 15 Fighter Wing reported the fall of shot. Japanese fighters appeared for the first time and ILLUSTRIOUS' Corsairs destroyed four at no cost to themselves.
On return from Sabang, ILLUSTRIOUS disembarked her Corsairs and retained only the 15 Barracudas of 810 Squadron to provide anti-submarine protection for the passage to Durban, where she was refitted between 14 August and 10 October. The Barracudas were replaced by 21 Avengers of 854 Squadron in November and 1837 Squadron had been absorbed by 1830 and 1833 Squadrons while the carrier was away, the strength of No. 15 Wing now being 36 Corsairs.
The first operation in which ILLUSTRIOUS participated with her revised air group was an attempted strike on an oil refinery at Pangkalan Bandan, Sumatra on 20 December. Bad weather prevented the Avengers from reaching the refinery and the port of Belawan Deli was attacked instead, without notable success.
All four Fleet carriers in the Far East took part in the attacks on two refineries at Palenbang in January 1945, leaving Trincomalee on 16th and delivering strikes on 24th and 29th. The bombing was extremely accurate and effective but ILLUSTRIOUS lost eight aircraft from 76 offensive sorties on the two days, her fighters claiming to have destroyed five Japanese aircraft.
Japanese aircraft attacked the Fleet on 29 January and although no ships were hit by enemy action ILLUSTRIOUS was hit by “friendly” AA fire which inflicted damage to the island and a pom-pom and caused 33 casualties.
The Fleet proceeded to Sydney where it was to be based for operations in the Pacific and ILLUSTRIOUS was docked on arrival to investigate defects in her centre propeller shaft. The defects proved to be serious - a legacy of her damage in January 1941 - but rather than reduce the carrier strength of the British Pacific Fleet, it was decided to remove the centre propeller, reducing her maximum speed to 24 knots.
The main body of the Fleet had already sailed when ILLUSTRIOUS undocked and she rejoined it at Manus, the forward base in the Admiralty Islands, shortly before it sailed to take part in the Okinawa campaign. The task of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) was to interdict the airfields on the Sakishima Gunto Islands to prevent Japanese air attacks from Formosa and Sakishima bases.
Commencing on 26 March 1945, strikes were launched against the airfields in preparation for the all-American assault on Okinawa and these continued in a two-days-on, two-days-off cycle. Suicide aircraft made their first attack on the BPF on 1 April, and on 6th ILLUSTRIOUS was the target of a surprise attack. Although accurate AA fire severely damaged the “Kamikaze”, causing it to crash alongside, the underwater explosion caused extensive underwater damage to the outer plating and internal frames.
Unaware of the extent of the damage, ILLUSTRIOUS remained in action until the evening of 13 April, when her air- craft returned from raids on Formosa. HMS FORMIDABLE then relieved her in the Carrier Squadron and ILLUSTRIOUS proceeded to Leyte for examination by divers. She had flown 643 sorties in nine days off Okinawa, losing only five aircraft to enemy action and seven others in accidents.
HMS ILLUSTRIOUS left Leyte on 1 May 1945, her speed restricted to 19 knots after emergency repairs. She called at Sydney to land her remaining aircraft and some aircrew and also to receive further attention to her hull. Leaving Sydney on 24 May, she arrived at Rosyth on 27 June. The end of the war resulted in the programmed four-month refit being extended to June 1946 advantage being taken of the reduced urgency to modernise the armament, radio and radar and flight deck machinery.
The remainder of ILLUSTRIOUS' career was spent as a Trials and Training carrier. She was in full commission for a brief period at the end of 1946, but shortage of naval manpower led to her withdrawal from service until mid-1947, when she was again employed on urgent trials.
At the end of the year she began a four-month refit, followed by a five-month period out of commission awaiting a ship's company. From September 1948, however, she was able to operate continuously, with only routine refits interrupting her activities. In addition to her flying trials tasks, which included Service trials of all the first generation of front-line jet aircraft, ILLUSTRIOUS was the deck-landing training carrier, providing most of the pilots joining the Fleet between 1949 and 1954 with their first embarked flying practice.
One cruise was made out of Home Waters during this period, when she carried troops to Cyprus in November 1951, during a Canal Zone crisis. ILLUSTRIOUS also took part in NATO exercises from time to time, and for “Mainbrace”, in September 1952, she embarked 18 Royal Netherlands Navy aircraft as well as 10 Fairey Fireflies of 824 Squadron.
The Autumn Cruise in 1954 was ILLUSTRIOUS’ last. In three months her fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters flew over 2,600 trials and training sorties.
In December she proceeded to Gareloch, where she was laid up in reserve, pending disposal. On 3 November 1956 she was sold to the British Iron and Steel Corporation, by whom she was scrapped in 1957.
WWII “Box Score”
Days on operations 120 Enemy aircraft claimed: 51 by fighters, 2 by AA
“Strike days” 33 Enemy merchant ships sunk: 6 of 20,399 grt
Offensive sorties 725 Enemy warships sunk: 6 of 37,110 tons
Defensive sorties c1270 Enemy warships damaged: 5 of 81,567 tons
Aircraft lost to enemy action 22