Warship Wednesday December 11, 2013 The Indian Step Ahead

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday December 11, 2013 The Indian Step Ahead


Here we see the neatly arranged Indian Navy carrier INS Vikrant (R11) at sea in the 1960s.  She was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the British Royal Navy. This class, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were pretty nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot long carriers that the US Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or ‘light carrier’. They were slower than the fast carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies, or remain on station in the South Atlantic (Falklands anyone?) or Indian Ocean for weeks.


Capable of carrying up to 52 aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count. The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War Two and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. With the 1945-Post WWII Royal Navy not having a need for 16 flash new oceangoing landing strips, they started laying them up and selling them off. Three went to Canada, three to Australia, one to france, one to Holland and others were mothballed. Two ships, HMS Hercules and HMS Leviathan sat on the builders ways, never completed.


Laid down in 1943, the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Then in 1957 the Indian government, newly independent and needing to police a huge coastline, bought the HMS Hercules for a song. She was towed from the original yard at Vickers-Armstrong to Holland-Wolfe in Ireland (the same yard that built the Titantic) and finished as the Indian Naval Ship Vikrant with pennant number R11. Vikrant was taken from Sanskrit “vikranta” meaning “stepping beyond”, and its a good choice as it was the first aircraft carrier operational that was not from one of the more established naval powers (i.e Britain, France, US, Japan).


Her sistership, the HMS Leviathan sat at Swan, Hunter & Wigham until 1968. She would have been finished like Vikrant and commissioned as R13 but the money to do so never materialised and she was scrapped.

Vikrant joined the Indian Navy officially on 4 March 1961, giving her a construction period that lasted 18 years. She was to serve for the next four decades and was seen as the Indian Navy’s USS Langley, serving as the test bed and training hive for the first generations of India’s naval aviators.  It should be taken as a direct inspiration that after the Indian Navy commissioned Vikrant, the navies of Argentina and Brazil embarked on flat top programs (also with surplus British 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers).


Flying obsolete British Hawker Sea Hawks, the Vikrant sailed into history during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Her Hawks scored nearly a dozen “kills”, mainly of Pakistan Navy gunboats and Merchant navy ships and cargo ships in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) without losing an aircraft in the war. Aided by French-made Breguet Alize aircraft, the Sea Hawks of Vikrant emerged unscathed, achieving the highest kill ratio for any aircraft in the entire war.

According  to a Indian historical website, “After the sinking of the Ghazi, the Vikrant then cordoned off and every port in the erstwhile East Pakistan — Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong, and Khulna — was pounded by the Sea Hawks based on the Vikrant. Such was the impact of the air attack from Sea Hawks, that the Pakistani Naval commander in the then East Pakistan remarked, “Indian naval aircraft were hitting us day and night. We could not run.” On one occasion, with aircraft airborne and no wind conditions, the ship had to take a chance with her cracked boilers to land the returning flights. This was easily the carrier’s best of the finest hour. Such was the performance of the ship in the liberation of Bangladesh that it earned two Maha Vir Chakras and 12 Vir Chakras.”

Vikrant in 1984 after many years of hard service. You can note the Sea Harriers, Sea King helicopters, Sea Hawks and Alize aircraft on deck

Vikrant in 1984 after many years of hard service. You can note the Sea Harriers, Sea King helicopters, Sea Hawks and Alize aircraft on deck


She later flew the first Indian Sea Harriers and after 1989 gained a ski-jump for these VSTOL aircraft. Showing her age, she was decommed 31 January 1997. She has since served as a museum ship of sorts in Mumbai harbor. It was announced this week that
the old girl is to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, most likely for scrap. Since a lot of ship-breaking is done in Bangladesh, her last voyage could be to the country she helped to free.

Vikrant, ave atque vale.



Displacement:     15,700 tons standard, 19,500 tons full load
Length:     192 m (630 ft) waterline, 213.3 metres (700 ft) extreme
Beam:     24.4 m (80 ft) waterline, 39 metres (128 ft) extreme
Draught:     7.3 m (24 ft)
Propulsion:     2 Parsons geared steam turbines 40,000 hp (30 MW), 4 Admiralty three-drum boilers
Speed:     23 knots (43 km/h)
Range:     12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h)
Complement:     1,075 usual,
1,340 wartime
Armament:     16 × 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns (later reduced to 8)
Armor:     none
Aircraft carried:
Hawker Sea Hawk
Westland Sea King
HAL Chetak
Sea Harrier
Breguet Alizé Br.1050

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO)
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.htm The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of
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