Allied Warships

HMS Illustrious (87)

Aircraft Carrier of the Illustrious class

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeAircraft Carrier
Built byVickers Armstrong (Barrow-in-Furness, U.K.) 
Ordered13 Jan 1937 
Laid down27 Apr 1937 
Launched5 Apr 1939 
Commissioned25 May 1940 
End serviceDec 1954 

HMS Illustrious took part in the strike on the Italian Fleet at Taranto during 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 a strike on Benghazi on 16-17 September. HMS Illustrious was part of Malta convoys between September-October, and again on Malta convoys from November 1940 to January 1941. On 10 January 1941, HMS Illustrious was heavily damaged by air attack by German dive-bombers, 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.

By May 1942, HMS Illustrious was on operations against Vichy French forces in Diego Suarez Madagascar, and remained in the Indian Ocean with the Eastern Fleet from May 1942 until January 1943. 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 rejoined the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. Illustrrious led strikes against Sabang in Sumatra in April 1944, Soerabaja on Java in May 1944, and Sabang in July 1944.

Following a refit at Durban (South Africa) between July to December 1944, she returned too 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 in December 1954 and sold for scrap at Faslane 3 November 1956.


Commands listed for HMS Illustrious (87)

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1Capt. Denis William Boyd, DSC, RN29 Jan 1940early 1941
2Cdr. Gerald Seymour Tuck, RNearly 194112 Aug 1941
3Capt. Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, DSO, RN12 Aug 194118 Oct 1941
4Capt. Arthur George Talbot, DSO, RN24 Oct 194123 Aug 1942
5Rear-Admiral Arthur William La Touche Bisset, RN23 Aug 194222 Sep 1942
6Capt. Robert Lionel Brooke Cunliffe, RN22 Sep 194231 May 1944
7Capt. Charles Edward Lambe, RN31 May 194431 Jul 1945
8Capt. William Derek Stephens, RN31 Jul 19457 Jan 1947

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Notable events involving Illustrious include:

17 Sep 1940
British raid on Benghazi;
Aircraft from the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN) attacked Italian ships in Benghazi harbour. Also mines were laid off the harbour. The destroyer Borea was sunk by torpedo, The destroyer Aquilone was mined and sunk. The merchants Gloria Stella (5490 GRT) and Maria Eugenia (4702 GRT) were also sunk during the attack.

Illustrious was escorted by the British battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) the British heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. D. Young-Jamieson, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN), HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN) and the Australian destroyer HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN).

After the attack HMS Kent, escorted by HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk, was detached to bombard Italian positions at Bardia early on the 18th. However before this could materialise HMS Kent was torpedoed and heavily damaged by Italian torpedo bombers just before midnight. Kent was hit in the stern and badly damaged. Kent was towed to Alexandria by HMS Nubian, escorted by light cruiser HMS Orion, AA cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN) and destroyers HMS Mohawk, HMS Jervis, HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) and the Australian destroyer HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN).

8 Oct 1940
Operation MB-6;

A British convoy with the merchants
Memnon (7506 GRT),
Lanarkshire (11275 GRT),
Clan Macauley (10492 GRT) and
Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT)
left Alexandria for Malta on 8 October 1940. This convoy was escorted by the British Anti-Aircraft cruisers
HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN),
HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN)
and the Australian destroyers
HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN),
HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN),
HMS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN)
and the British destroyer
HMS Wryneck (Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN).

Cover was provided by the Mediterranean Fleet (Admiral Cunningham) with the British battleships
HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN),
HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN),
HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN),
HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN),
the British aircraft carriers
HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN),
HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN),
the British heavy cruiser
HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN),
the British light cruisers
HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN),
HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN),
HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN),
HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN),
the Australian light cruiser
HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN)
escorted by the British destroyers
HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN),
HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN),
HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN),
HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN),
HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN),
HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN),
HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN),
HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN),
HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN),
HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN),
HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN),
HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN),
HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN),
HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN)
and the Australian destroyers
HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and
HMAS Vendetta (Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN).

The convoy was not spotted and arrived safe at Malta on 11 October. The only damage sustained was to the destroyer HMS Imperial that was mined off Malta and was out of action for over 6 months.

While on the return trip the Mediterranean Fleet was sighted by an Italian aircraft. The Italian Navy tried to intercept them in the Ionian Sea. In the night of 11/12 October the first Italian torpedo boat flotilla with Airone, Alcione and Ariel attacked HMS Ajax. The attack failed and Ajax sank Airone and Ariel, Alcione escaped. A little while later the Italian 11th destroyer flotilla, with Artigliere, Aviere, Camicia Nera and Geniere arrived at the scene. They were surprised by the radar-directed gunfire from HMS Ajax. Artigliere was heavily damaged and Aviere was slightly damaged. Camicia Nere tried to tow Artigliere away but she was sighted by a British Sunderland aircraft that homed in 3 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious. However, the torpedoed they fired didn't hit the Italian ships. Later the British heavy cruiser HMS York arrived at the scene. Camicia Nera quickly slipped the towing line and sped off. After her crew had left the ship Artiglire was sunk by York.

While the Mediterranean Fleet was still on the return trip aircraft from HMS Illustrious and HMS Eagle attacked Leros and in the evening of the 14th the British light cruiser HMS Liverpool while south-east of Crete was hit in the bow by a torpedo from an Italian aircraft. The cruiser was heavily damaged and was repaired at the Mare Island Navy Yard in the USA. HMS Liverpool was not operational again until January 1942.

Media links

British Aircraft Carriers 1939-45 (New Vanguard)

Angus Konstam

Carrier Operations in World War II

Brown, J.D.

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