45 Years Ago Today: Harrier Carrier (Cruiser?), Ahoy!
Carrying the name of the Great War battlecruiser whose design flaws saw her blow up and sink at Jutland after taking a hit from the German battlecruiser SMS Lützow, the “anti-submarine cruiser” HMS Invincible (R05) slid down the ways of Vickers Shipbuilding Limited, Barrow-in-Furness, on 3 May 1977, sponsored by Queen Elizabeth herself.
Importantly, Invincible was the closest thing to an aircraft carrier laid down by the Royal Navy since HMS Bulwark in 1945, although she had been pitched to Whitehall as more of a replacement for the Blake and Tiger, aging converted light cruisers who had been given extensive aviation facilities over their stern quarter.
Some 22,000 tons when fully loaded, she had a suite of four Rolls-Royce gas turbines that gave 97,000 shp on tap, enabling a speed of 28 knots. Armed with a pair of GWS30 Sea Dart missile twin launchers, the same as fitted to the state-of-the-art Type 42 anti-air destroyers of the era, with the ability to carry as many as 26 ready missiles capable of hitting a target out to 40 nm, she was designed to be self-escorting to a degree, with her mixed airwing of Sea King helicopters and Sea Harrier strike aircraft providing further ASW and AShW/Air Defense capabilities.
By the time Invincible was launched, the Brits already had almost 20 years of R&D in the Harrier and were 14 years past the aircraft’s first landing on an RN flattop.
As noted by the above Jane’s listing, the original concept would have seen her take to sea with 8 anti-ship missiles as well, likely Exocet MM38s, worked into the top of her islands, although these were never fitted.
“Vince” would go on to commission in July 1980 and, shortly after her shakedown and post-delivery overhaul were complete, sail off to war unexpectedly against the Argentines in the Falklands– cutting short a planned sale to the Royal Australian Navy to replace their aging carrier HMAS Melbourne.
The first of an ultimately successful three-ship class, Invincible went on to serve a solid 25 years with the Royal Navy. In 2005, she was decommissioned and was eventually sold for scrap in February 2011.