Tag Archives: HMS Illustrious

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020: Spaghetti & Stringbags

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020: Spaghetti & Stringbags

U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1977.031.085.071

Here we see a great bow-on shot of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (87) underway in the Indian Ocean during the Spring of 1944, while the British flattop was operating with USS Saratoga (CV-3) during WWII. “Lusty” was one of the luckier of HM’s early fleet carriers during the conflict, and a handful of hopelessly obsolete aircraft flying from her decks, borrowing a bit of that luck, would pull off an amazing feat some 80 years ago today.

While today the U.S. Navy is the benchmark for carrier operations, the British would be incredibly innovative in the use of such vessels in warfare. This included being the first country to lose a carrier in combat when HMS Courageous (50) was lost to a German U-boat in the third week of the war and sistership HMS Glorious was embarrassingly lost to the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the withdrawal from Norway in June 1940. With that being said, it was a good thing that Illustrious was on the way to make up losses.

Laid down at Vickers Barrow-in-Furness on 27 April 1937, 13 months after German troops marched into the Rhineland as part of the British rearmament due to such muscular action, Illustrious was the lead ship of a new class of a planned six aircraft carriers designed from the first steel cut to be modern flattops. Displacing 25,000-tons full load, they had a 740-foot overall length and the ability to touch 30-knots on a trio of steam turbines.

U.S. ONI sheet on the Illustrious class

Carrying up to 4.5-inches of armor– to include an armored flight deck designed to withstand 1,000-pound bombs– and protected by 16 excellent QF 4.5-inch Mark I guns, both of which would have rated her as a decent light cruiser even without aircraft, the class could carry 36 aircraft in their hangars, which was smaller than American and Japanese carriers of the same size, but keep in mind the Brits guarded their birds inside an armored box. Further, they were fitted with radar, with Illustrious having her Type 79 installed just before she joined the fleet.

HMS Illustrious (87) underway 1940. Note the 4.5″ (11.4 cm) Mark I guns in twin Mark III UD mountings. IWM FL2425

Commissioned 25 May 1940, during the fall of France, Illustrious was to do her workup cruise to Dakar but plans changed once the French surrendered, sending the carrier instead to do her shakedown in the relative safety of the West Indies. Meanwhile, Italy had clocked in on Germany’s side, declaring war on 10 June.

HMS Illustrious landing Swordfish in June 1940. Picture: Fleet Air Arm Museum CARS 1/171

By 30 August, she set out for the Mediterranean on her first operational deployment, sailing for Alexandria in convoy with Force F. Within a week, her airwing, which included Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers of Nos. 815 and 819 Squadrons, would be flying combat missions against Axis-held airfields on Rhodes.

While Illustrious carried a mix of quaint Fairey Fulmar and Sea Gladiator fighters, it was her embarked Swordfish, biplanes capable of just 124 knots and nicknamed “flying stringbags,” that made up the bulk of her strike capability.

Swordfish could carry a torpedo or up to 1,500 pounds of bombs or mines, although their combat radius while doing so was only about 200nm. Self-defense amounted to two .303-caliber Vickers guns.

On the 17th, Swords from Illustrious drew blood during shipping attacks on Benghazi harbor, sending the Italian Turbine-class destroyer Borea to the bottom while air-dropped mines would take out several merchantmen. The proven carrier then spent the next several weeks riding shotgun on convoys between Malta and Egypt.

Then, on 10 November, Illustrious was detached on Operation Judgement, a planned midnight home invasion of the Italian fleet’s main base at Taranto under the cover of darkness, where her airwing would target Rome’s mighty battleships at anchor. As an ace in the hole, they had up-to-date reconnaissance photographs of the harbor, taken by Martin Maryland light bombers flying from Malta.

The carrier strike force? Even including aircraft cross-decked from HMS Eagle, Illustrious could count a mixed bag of just 21 Swordfish of Nos. 813, 815, 819, and 824 Squadrons. To give them a boost in range, each would be fitted with a spare av gas tank that they only had to leave their rear gunner behind to accommodate– what could go wrong?

The first wave, of 12 aircraft, would launch at 20:40 on 11 November and consist of six Swords each with a single 18-inch torpedo, backed up by four Swords each with a half-dozen light 250-pound bombs, and two aircraft with a mix of 16 parachute flares and four bombs each.

The second wave (!), of nine aircraft, would launch an hour later and included five torpedo carriers, two with bombs and two flare-droppers. In all, the Brits planned to bring a total of 11 Mark XII torpedoes and 52 almost lilliputian bombs.

250-pound bombs that would later be dropped on the Italian fleet at Taranto on HMS Illustrious’s flight deck

The tiny force of biplanes faced some serious opposition.

Besides the masses of guns on the Italian ships themselves– which were under standing orders to keep their AAA batteries at least half-manned even when the vessels were anchored– around the Regia Marina’s primary roadstead were land-based anti-aircraft batteries that held no less than 21 4-inch, 84 20mm and 109 13.2mm guns at the ready in addition to smaller numbers of 125mm, 90mm, and 40mm guns. While there was no air-search radar at Taranto, the Italians did have at least 13 “war tuba” sound-detection devices capable of hearing aircraft engines as far out as 30 miles away. Two dozen powerful searchlights scanned the heavens.

Even if the British bombers could get inside the harbor, the Italians had over 23,000 feet of counter-torpedo netting ready to catch any trespassing Royal Navy fish. Further, there was a flotilla of 90 barrage balloons tethered by steel cables, deployed across the harbor in three rows.

While the Brits caught some breaks– two-thirds of the barrage balloons were not on station due to storms and a lack of hydrogen; and 2.9km of the torpedo nets were coiled up, in need of repair– it was still a dangerous mission as witnessed by the more than 12,000 shells of 20mm or greater from shore-based batteries alone during the strike.

Cobb, Charles David; Taranto Harbour, Swordfish from ‘Illustrious’ Cripple the Italian Fleet, 11 November 1940; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/taranto-harbour-swordfish-from-illustrious-cripple-the-italian-fleet-11-november-1940-116445

In the end, just two Swords were lost while three of six Italian battleships present were seriously damaged, and the last of 18 recovered aircraft were aboard Illustrious by 0230 on 12 November.

The brand-new 35,000-ton fast battleship Littorio suffered three torpedo hits, while the older battlewagons Caio Duilio and Conte di Cavour picked up one each, with the latter so wrecked she would not be repaired for the duration of the war. Bombs lightly damaged the 13,000-ton heavy cruiser Trento, the destroyers Libeccio and Pessagno, and two fleet auxiliaries in addition to falling on the dockyard and oil depot. The fleet suffered nearly 700 casualties, although less than 10 percent of that figure was mortal.

The raid upset the balance of power between the strong Italian fleet and the weaker British force in the Med at a crucial period.

As a booby prize, the Italians captured two downed British Fleet Air Arm members and were left with several dud bombs and torpedoes to examine. Two RN aircrewmen were killed. The morning after the Taranto raid, the undamaged battleship Vittorio Veneto, assuming ADM Inigo Campioni’s flag from the crippled Littorio, led the Italian fleet to Naples. Campioni would be relieved of command three weeks later, replaced by ADM Angelo Iachino.

Interestingly enough, this attack took place while both America and Japan were at peace and each country’s navy took notes from the engagement, although they were applied very differently by the respective note takers a year later.

As encapsulated by the Royal Navy today, “The Fleet Air Arm’s attack on Taranto ranks as one of the most daring episodes in the Second World War. It transformed the naval situation in the Mediterranean and was carefully studied by the Japanese before their carrier-borne strike on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941.”

Much more on Operation Judgement can be read at Armoured Carriers.com and the 26-page paper, The Attack at Taranto, by Angelo N. Caravaggio in the Naval War College Review.

Post-Taranto

How do you top a 20-aircraft raid from a five-month-old carrier that sidelined half of the Italian battlefleet? For the rest of the war, Illustrious was a one-ship fire brigade supporting operations in the Med to include earning honors for keeping Malta alive during Operation Excess.

Her luck ran out on the Excess run on 10 January 1941– hit by five bombs from a swarm of 18 He 111s and 43 Stukas 60 miles west of Malta. “Illustrious was the main target and was enveloped in waterspouts and mist of exploding bombs. Some bombers diving from an altitude of 12,000 feet delayed bomb release until they pulled-out lower than the height of Illustrious’ funnel.”

THE BOMBING OF HMS ILLUSTRIOUS AT MALTA. 10 JANUARY 1941, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER. (A 9793) The view of the flight deck from the ship’s bridge.(Same as MH 4623). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143579

Even so, she reached Malta that day and would suffer 126 dead and 91 wounded by the time she departed the besieged island stronghold– the subject of continuing German and Italian air attacks the entire time she was there.

She was sent to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the ostensibly neutral United States for repair, eventually arriving there via the Suez Canal on May 27.

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS At the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, following battle damage repairs, November 1941. NH 96323

Post repairs, Illustrious was soon back in the war, covering the landings at Diego Suarez in Vichy-held Madagascar during Operation Ironclad in 1942, where her Swords were back at work.

The Royal Navy battleship HMS Valiant fires its 38.1 cm guns during exercises as seen from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (87). 22 December 1942, Indian Ocean. The planes in the foreground are Fairey Fulmars of B Flight, 806 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, with Grumman Martlets of 881 NAS parked aft. Lt. D.C. Oulds, Royal Navy official photographer IWM A 15152

She then shipping back to the Med for the Salerno landings in 1943.

BIG SHIPS AT MALTA. OCTOBER 1943, ON BOARD HMS FORMIDABLE AT GRAND HARBOUR, VALLETTA, MALTA. (A 19815) The aircraft carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS steams into Grand Harbour, as men line the flight deck of HMS FORMIDABLE to watch her progress. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152374

From there she set out for the Indian Ocean in 1944 where she worked alongside USS Saratoga and raided the Japanese-held island of Sabang (Operation Cockpit).

HMS Illustrious and USS Saratoga Trincomalee, Ceylon part of Operation Cockpit

HMS Illustrious (87) steaming past the U.S. carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in the Indian Ocean, 18 May 1944. Note the crews of both ships assembled on deck to pay farewell. NNAM.1977.031.085.012

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, part of the Eastern Fleet, stationary, coastal waters (photographed from the cruiser HMS MAURITIUS). IWM A 13559

HMS Renown and Illustrious in Trincomalee Harbor, Ceylon in early 1944.

Royal Navy aircraft repair carrier HMS Unicorn (I72, left) and HMS Illustrious (87), probably pictured at Trincomalee, Ceylon, in 1944. NNAM No. 1996.488.037.044

Corsairs in the armored box hangar of HMS Illustrious. Tight spaces!

A long way from Sea Gladiators! HMS Illustrious in the Indian Ocean. The flight deck being cleared of Corsairs at sunset ready for the Avenger dusk patrol to land on. May 1944

By January 1945, she was off Sumatra in the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies, launching raids on the vital Soengi Gerong oil refineries near Palembang while dodging kamikazes.

She was the first ship in Green Island’s Captain Cook dock, 11 February 1945

Speaking of which, she continued to reap the divine wind off Okinawa in April, with a Japanese D4Y3 Judy making contact with her deck, leaving the carrier with a vibration in her hull and the remains of a Japanese rubber dinghy as a trophy.

The Bridge and Island crew of HMS illustrious had a remarkably close call on 6 April 1945 when a kamikaze attack plane scored the thinnest of glancing blows with its wingtip ripping the ray dome just forward of the Bridge with the plane spinning into the sea causing no casualties to the crew

Sailing at a reduced speed of 19 knots for Sidney and emergency repairs, she ended the war in the dockyard.

Post-war

The Illustrious class entry in the 1946 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships

Post-VJ-Day, Illustrious was used for deck-landing trials until being place in reserve in late 1947.

Armoured carrier HMS Illustrious carrying out flying trials in 1947. Seafire is on an out-rigger just forward of the island, and the aircraft aft is a Sea Fury

Hawker Sea Fury about to land on HMS Illustrious 1947. Just a great view of her stern QF 4.5″ gun batteries as well, with the turrets trained seaward

Recommissioned the next year, she was used for further trials and training duties, clocking in as a troop carrier to Cyrus in 1951.

HMS Illustrious, off Norway, 1954, at the tail-end of her career. Note the long-serving TBM Avengers on her deck and twin 4.5-inch guns forward. Via the Municipal Archives of Trondheim

She attended Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Review at Spithead in June 1953 and continued to provide some service, she never again deployed as an operational carrier. 

Battleship HMS Vanguard at Spithead on June 1953, with the bruiser old aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

Illustrious was sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Faslane, arriving there on 3 November 1956.

As for her three sisters that were completed, HMS Formidable (67) and HMS Indomitable (92) had been broken up shortly before Illustrious leaving only HMS Victorious (R38) to soldier on, paid off in 1968 and scrapped the next year.

What could have been: Blackburn Buccaneer flies past Illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Victorious note Sea Vixen, Gannetts and Westlands on deck

Epilogue

While the name HMS Illustrious would go on to be used by an Invincible-class Harrier carrier, which was retired in 2016, several artifacts of the WWII-era vessel endure.

Of course, as a great ship, she was the subject of great maritime art:

HMS Illustrious entering the Basin at John Brown’s Shipyard, Clydebank (Art.IWM ART LD 1371) image: the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious is guided into the basin of John Brown’s shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland by three tug boats. Another Royal Navy warship is moored to the side of the dock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/3031

Hamilton, John Alan; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Attack: Excess Convoy, January 1941; IWM (Imperial War Museums); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-attack-excess-convoy-january-1941-7670

Cobb, Charles David; Operation ‘Excess’, ‘Illustrious’ under Air Attack, 19 January 1941; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/operation-excess-illustrious-under-air-attack-19-january-1941-116447

Macdonald, Roderick; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Air Attack, 10 January 1941. The scene of the attack is viewed from the cockpit of one of ‘Illustrious’ own Fairey Swordfish aircraft. By Roderick Macdonald circa 1980 via the Fleet Air Museum E00728/0001http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-air-attack-10-january-1941-40645

Macdonald, Roderick; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Attack in the Grand Harbour, Malta; Fleet Air Arm Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-attack-in-the-grand-harbour-malta-40646

“Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentland Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

No place to land by Michael Turner, showing FAA Royal Navy F4U Corsairs return to their carrier HMS Illustrious after the April 1945 Kamikaze attack

And of a variety of scale models from Heller, Aoshima, Revelle, and others.

The plans for Illustrious are in the Royal Museums Greenwich.

The rubber survival dinghy recovered from the kamikaze that struck her deck off Okinawa is in the IWM.

Japanese Kamikaze pilot’s aircraft dinghy (MAR 595) Dinghy from a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft, recovered from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30004058

While both her original ship’s bell– which was damaged in 1941 by the Germans off Malta– and her U.S.-cast replacement, presented while she was at Norfolk, are preserved.

This week, the Royal Navy is planning a spate of remembrance activities concerning the 80th anniversary of Taranto, keeping the memory of Lusty and her 21 stringbags alive.

Specs:
Displacement: 28,661 tons, full load
Length: 710 ft
Beam: 95 ft
Draft: 28 feet
Propulsion: 6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 3 Parsons geared turbines producing 110,000 shp, three shafts
Speed: 30.5 knots, range= 10,700nm @ 10 knots
Complement: ~1,200 designed. Up to 1,600 during 1944-45
Armor: 3 to 4.5-inches
Aircraft: 36, later increased to 60
16 × QF 4.5-inch naval gun (8 × 2)
40 x QF 2 pounder naval gun (5 × 8)
Later fitted with:
3 x Bofors 40 mm gun (3 x 1)
38 x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (19 x 2), (14 x 1)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

It Only Took the Royal Navy 37 Years to Come Full Circle

Once upon a time: HMS Ark Royal (R09) loaded with F-4 Phantoms and Buccaneers. 

The country that in 1918 designed the first ocean-going aircraft carrier retired their last “big deck” flattop, the 53,000-ton HMS Ark Royal (R09) in 1979, taking the ability to support (F-4) Phantom FG.1s and Buccaneer S.2 bombers with her.

27 November 1978: 892 NAS Phantom XT870/012- last fixed-wing catapult launch from HMS Ark Royal took place at 15.11 that day, flown by an RAF crew of Flt Lt Murdo MacLeod and Deputy Air Engineer (RIO) Lt D McCallum in the back seat (pictured).

The replacement for Ark Royal was to be the 22,000-ton “through deck destroyer” HMS Invincible, capable of fielding a small force of about a dozen helicopters or so and V/STOL Sea Harriers. A mid-sized (28,000-ton) 1950s-era Centaur-class carrier, HMS Hermes (R12), was to be kept around for a minute for use as a “commando carrier,” akin to an LPH in the U.S. Navy.

Then came the Falklands War, and with Ark Royal long gone and Invincible only able to carry a handful of aircraft, the aging Hermes was stacked with an impressive 26 Harriers (to include 10 RAF GR.3 ground-based variants) and 10 Sea Kings. Retired in 1983, she was sold to India two years later– a country that loved Hermes intently as INS Viraat until she was sent to the breakers this very month.

Since 1984, the UK had to make do with the postage-stamp-sized “Harrier Carriers” of the expanded Invincible-class, which were maxed out at 8 Sea Harriers and 12 helicopters although they typically carried far less. By 2014, even those vessels were gone.

However, last week the new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea with the largest single air wing any British ship has carried since Hermes was put to pasture in 1983: 14 F-35B Lightning (reportedly “the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world”) and eight Merlin HM2 (“Grey Merlin”) ASW helicopters– two of which are “baggers” carrying experimental Crowsnest AEW radar sets.

The F-35s come from the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), while the Merlins come from 824 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm– truly a joint wing with Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and USMC elements.

Of note, a QE-class carrier has deck and hangar space for as many as 45 F-35s. So one day they may reach 1979 levels of seapower again…

The final ride of the Illustrious

Britain’s last “Harrier Carrier” ex-HMS Illustrious (R06), the fifth warship and second flattop to bear the name in the Royal Navy since 1789, had been courted by three different cities in the UK for use as a floating museum ship in the past couple years. Alas, that was not to be.

She was the oldest ship in the Royal Navy’s active fleet when she was paid off 28 August 2014 after 32 years’ service and will not be replaced until HMS Queen Elizabeth is formally commissioned in May 2017.

The only operational aircraft carrier in the British fleet, she lost her fixed wing air arm when the MoD retired the Harrier fleet in 2006 and served as an LPH after that, only operating helicopters. The last of the 1980- era Invincible-class of 20,000-ton harrier-carriers, she was to be kept as a museum ship but that fell through and the Crown sold her to the Turks for £2 million.

“Rusty Lusty” left Portsmouth for the breakers this week following a career spanning 900,000 miles.

hms-illustrious-heads-to-scrappers-dec-2016

Nice fjord you have there

SOGNEFJORDEN, Norway (Oct. 2, 2016) Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) ships ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbón (flagship), NRP Alvares Cabral, and FGS Ludwigshafen am Rhein sail through the Sognefjord in Norway.

NATO photo by Petty Officer Luis Sanchez Oller, ESP-N/Released

NATO photo by Petty Officer Luis Sanchez Oller, ESP-N/Released

The Spanish Navy’s Almirante Juan de Borbón (F102) is the second ship of the new F-100 class of air defense frigates and is well-equipped with a SPY-1D phased array “mini-Aegis” radar suite, 48 VLS launch cells and a 5-inch gun in a compact 5,800-ton package (how come we couldn’t have ordered 48 of these for the LCS design!?).

The Portugese Navy’s 3,200-ton NRP Alvares Cabral (F331) is a Vasco da Gama-class fast frigate of the popular German MEKO 200 type and is more modestly equipped for ASW and ASuW action with a suite of guns, torpedoes and Harpoons.

As for the German Navy’s FGS Ludwigshafen am Rhein (F 264) she is a handy K130 Braunschweig-class ocean going corvette of some 1,800-tons. Armed with a 76mm gun and RBS-15 antiship missiles, she is a modern day fast attack craft and would surely prove her worth in combat among a craggy coastal littoral such as the Norwegian coast.

As noted by NATO: SNMG1 is one of four multinational, high readiness groups composed of vessels from various allied countries. These vessels are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participation in exercises to operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability and help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits and enhance interoperability among Allied naval forces. They also serve as a consistently ready maritime force of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).

Of course, it reminds me of this painting of a very different time, but the same coast.

"Taks Force of Two Navies" Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentlant Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two "Seafires" and a "Martlet") are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

“Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentlant Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. USS Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead.

‘Rusty Lusty’ sold for scrap instead of being used as museum

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class Britsh Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class Britsh Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

Britain’s last “Harrier Carrier” ex-HMS Illustrious (R06), the fifth warship and second flattop to bear the name in the Royal Navy since 1789, had been courted by three different cities in the UK for use as a floating museum ship in the past couple years. Alas, that is not to be.

She was the oldest ship in the Royal Navy’s active fleet when she was paid off 28 August 2014 after 32 years’ service and will not be replaced until HMS Queen Elizabeth is formally commissioned in May 2017.

The only operational aircraft carrier in the British fleet, she lost her fixed wing air arm when the MoD retired the Harrier fleet in 2006 and served as an LPH after that, only operating helicopters. The last of the 1980s era Invincible class of 20,000-ton harrier-carriers, she was to be kept as a museum ship but that fell through and the Crown has sold her to the Turks for £2 million.

She will leave Portsmouth for the breakers this fall.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Geoffrey Muirhead Bone, of the Somme and the Sea

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Geoffrey Muirhead Bone

Sir Muirhead Bone N.E.A.C., H.R.W.S., H.R.S.A was born 23 March 1876 in Glasgow, the son of a journalist. Bone trained to be an architect, whilst attending evening drawing classes at Glasgow School of Art where, in 1894, he decided to become an artist.

He worked for a period as a freelance illustrator for the Scots Pictorial as he honed his skill in pencil, watercolor, charcoal and gouache; as well as an etcher and sculptor.

Summer, Isle of Whithorn 1930

Summer, Isle of Whithorn

His drawings of Scotland served as inspiration for later etchings, and this precise and charming watercolor has all the definition of an etching. Bone was an outstanding draughtsman with an acute sense of observation. Bone moved to London in 1901 but was to travel extensively throughout his life.

In May 1916, at the suggestion of William Rothenstein, 40-year-old Bone was appointed the first Official War Artist of the British War Propaganda Bureau, serving with Allied forces on the Western Front and for a time with the Navy.

The war artist Lieutenant Muirhead Bone crossing a muddy road, Maricourt, September 1916. IWM

The war artist Lieutenant Muirhead Bone crossing a muddy road, Maricourt, September 1916. IWM

His first assignment: The Somme, where the flower of British and Commonwealth youth was snuffed out in the blink of an eye 100 years ago this month.

As noted by the Imperial War Museum:

Bone arrived in France on 16 August 1916 at the height of the Somme offensive. He was made an honorary second lieutenant and provided with a car, giving him easier access to the battlefields.

He toured the Somme battlefields in the south – Maricourt, Fricourt, Montauban, Mametz Wood, Contalmaison, Trônes Wood, High Wood, Delville Wood and Pozières. He worked quickly in pencil, pen, charcoal and chalk and by 6 October had sent home approximately 150 finished drawings.

He mostly recorded life behind the lines, illustrating the context and impact of the battle rather than scenes of fighting. He depicted the work of the medical services, encampments, soldiers off duty, soldiers marching, landscapes and ruined towns.

He later said: ‘I did not like to imagine war scenes & so only drew what I saw & then only when I had a chance to draw it. I am afraid [this] resulted in rather prosaic work’.

The detail and accuracy of Bone’s drawings provided an authentic, eyewitness record of the immense logistic efforts of the Somme, one that proved extremely popular and resulted in more war artists being commissioned.

The Querrieu - Albert Road An Anti-observation screen

The Querrieu – Albert Road An Anti-observation screen

Welsh Soldiers

Welsh Soldiers

tanks!

tanks!

Erecting Aeroplanes

Erecting Aeroplanes

The Château, Foucaucourt

The Château, Foucaucourt

A Dead Tank

A Dead Tank

Guards Mustering for a Royal Review behind the Somme 1916

Guards Mustering for a Royal Review behind the Somme 1916

Watching our Artillery Fire on Trônes Wood from Montauban 1916

Watching our Artillery Fire on Trônes Wood from Montauban 1916

The Untilled Fields

The Untilled Fields

Tommy, pencil 1916

Tommy, pencil 1916

Many of these were published during the war as The Western Front, a two-volume set of drawings with captions by Muirhead Bone, published in 1917, which is a classic of military art for the past 99 years.

The cover of The Western Front: Drawings by Muirhead Bone. Click here to download the full volume of drawings. https://keyassets.timeincuk.net/inspirewp/live/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2014/08/Country-Life_The-Western-Front_Muirhead-Bone_Part-I.pdf

The cover of The Western Front: Drawings by Muirhead Bone. Click here to download the full volume of drawings.

There was evidence this volume was used as propaganda during the war with the government’s own bio of Bone stating:

12,000 copies of the publications were to be sold, 12,000 were to be used for propaganda and 6,000 were sent to America. The publication was also translated into French (Agence et Messageries du Figaro, 1916) and 300 of these editions were sent to France along with 500 in the original English. Plates and postcards were also reproduced for distribution. There is also evidence to prove, however, that what was represented in Bone’s sketches, etchings and lithographs was represented as truthfully as possible.

Besides his work on the Western Front, he spent a good bit of 1917 observing the wartime RN, which enabled him to publish With the Grand Fleet

Between Decks (H.M.S. “Lion”)

Between Decks (H.M.S. “Lion”)

HMS Lion A Gun Turret

HMS Lion: A Gun Turret

Mounting a Great Gun

Mounting a Great Gun

Final Assembly of a Naval Great Gun

Final Assembly of a Naval Great Gun

Nightwork on the Great Gun 1917

Nightwork on the Great Gun 1917

Between the wars, he returned to what he loved and knew best: landscapes.

Then came WWII and Bone was off again, becoming a full-time salaried artist to the Ministry of Information specializing in Admiralty subjects.

Sir Muirhead Bone at work on the bridge. 1940

Sir Muirhead Bone, age 64, at work on the bridge. 1940

HMS Illustrious entering the Basin at John Brown's Shipyard, Clydebank 1940

HMS Illustrious entering the Basin at John Brown’s Shipyard, Clydebank 1940

Building HM Submarine Tradewind, a Royal Navy submarine under construction in a dockyard. The hull is in place in the water, with numerous workers on deck, where they are busy assembling the conning tower and whole upper deck. Two large cranes are visible in the background and there is a large rowing boat in the water in the left foreground. IWM ART LD 3315. Built as P329 at Chatham, and launched on 11 December 1942, HMS Tradewind was infamous for sinking the Japanese army cargo ship Junyō Maru on 18 September 1944. Unbeknown to the Commanding Officer of Tradewind, Lt.Cdr. Lynch Maydon, the Junyō Maru was carrying 4,200 Javanese slave labourers and 2,300 Allied prisoners of war of which she took down 5,620 with her into the darkness.

Building HM Submarine Tradewind, a Royal Navy submarine under construction in a dockyard. The hull is in place in the water, with numerous workers on deck, where they are busy assembling the conning tower and whole upper deck. Two large cranes are visible in the background and there is a large rowing boat in the water in the left foreground. IWM ART LD 3315. Built as P329 at Chatham, and launched on 11 December 1942, HMS Tradewind was infamous for sinking the Japanese army cargo ship Junyō Maru on 18 September 1944. Unbeknown to the Commanding Officer of Tradewind, Lt.Cdr. Lynch Maydon, the Junyō Maru was carrying 4,200 Javanese slave laborers and 2,300 Allied prisoners of war of which she took down 5,620 with her into the darkness.

A portrait of George Anderson and Lawrence Smith Halcrow, shown manning a Lewis gun in an emplacement on the deck of SS Highlander. IWM 3020

A portrait of George Anderson and Lawrence Smith Halcrow, shown manning a Lewis gun in an emplacement on the deck of SS Highlander. IWM 3020

Lowering a mine into the mining deck, Dec. 1940

Lowering a mine into the mining deck, Dec. 1940

Mine laying off Iceland

Minelaying off Iceland

Minelaying: The last of the lay

Minelaying: The last of the lay

Sir Muirhead Bone died on 21 October 1953 in Oxford, aged 77

Much of his Bone’s art is preserved and on public display throughout the UK, cataloged over at Art UK and in the collection of the Imperial War Museum and the Tate.

Thank you for your work, sir.

The Harrier Carrier. It’s still a thing

harrier 68mm sneb rocket volley

When the Harrier jump jet became a real thing in the late 1960s, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1/GR.3 and the AV-8A were seen as being able to fight from primitive forward operating bases on the battlefield and help blunt the Soviet tank force should they come across the Fulda Gap or over the top into Norway (or for the Brits, against the Guatemalans in Belize or Argies in the Falklands).

harrierhide3

However, the benefit of using these V/STOL strike craft on abbreviated aircraft carriers without the need for catapults or arresting gear was soon evident.

In fact, it was tested out before the aircraft was even put into production.

The Hawker P-1127 (Harrier prototype) after landing successfully on HMS Ark Royal, 3 February 1962.

The Hawker P-1127 (Harrier prototype) after landing successfully on HMS Ark Royal, 3 February 1962.

In 1974, the Marines began the first shipboard trials on the helicopter assault ship USS Guam and two years later 14 AV-8A Harriers from Marine Attack Squadron 231 (VMA-231) “Ace of Spades” embarked aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) from 1976 to 1977 to prove the concept of integrating the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) Harrier into catapult and barrier configured carrier’s normal Air Wing operations.

harriers uss fdr franklin

Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt backed the concept of a cheaply built 13,000-ton Sea Control Ship that could be filled with a couple dozen Harriers and Sea King ASW helicopters at about the same time. Basically a 1970s update to the Jeep Carriers of WWII.

sea-control-ship

Heck, Zumwalt even wanted Harrier optimized Spruance-class destroyers in several different flavors, none of which ever got past the drawing board.

5847322839_80b4a4a790_z

through deck spruance vtol harrier destroyer aviationAs well as a modern battlecruiser based on a nuclear powered Virginia-class hull stretched to form an aviation capable “Strike Cruiser” that could accommodate 6 Harriers and 4 Sea Sprites/Hawks along with a full weapons suite.

strike cruiser harrier

Harriers on everything!

Even though Zum was replaced and a lot of his ideas (including building 100+ Pegasus-class hydrofoil missile boats!) went with him, the Harrier Carrier concept was growing.

In 1977, the Spanish Armada placed an order for a 15,000-ton ship based on Zumwalt’s concept which was commissioned in 1982 as Príncipe de Asturias capable of carrying 29 fixed-wing Harriers (“Matadors” in Spanish service) and rotary-wing aircraft. A larger 26,000-ton ship optimized for amphibious warfare, Juan Carlos I, was ordered in 2003.

Spanish Matadors on carrier Princip de Australias

Spanish Matadors on carrier Princip de Australias

The Royal Navy converted their last legacy carrier, HMS Hermes, with a 12-degree ski jump to help with rolling take-offs of the new Sea Harrier FRS.1 in 1980 while they ordered three specifically designed “carrier cruisers” as they were described at the time, the first of which, HMS Invincible, was commissioned 11 July 1980.

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class Britsh Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class British Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

The British Harrier carriers proved able to do the job in a pinch (see= Falkand Islands).

For further example, in September 1995, just eight FA.2 Sea Harriers from 800 NAS aboard HMS Invincible commenced operations over Serb-held positions in Sarajevo. Over the next ten days, they flew 24 bombing sorties, 42 combat air patrols, and 28 reconnaissance missions, for a sortie rate of 11.75 flights per day, every day for a week and a half, with just eight airframes.

Invincible-class harrier carrier HMS Illustrious late in her career with about the maximum loadout of these hulls: 12 Harriers and 7 Westland Sea King AEW/ASW helicopters. 

Then came others

India began operating its INS Vikrant with Sea Harriers in 1983 later joined by the retired Hermes (as INS Viraat).

The 13,000-ton Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) came off the ways in 1985, picked up her first Harriers in 1991, and was joined by the nearly twice as large Cavour in 2009.

Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) with Italian AV-8Bs

Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) with Italian AV-8Bs

Harrier carriers ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi, left, and ESPS Príncipe Asturias, right, flanking the conventional CATOBAR French carrier Foch, center. 

Thailand’s 11,000-ton HTMS Chakri Naruebet, based on the final U.S. Navy blueprints for a dedicated sea control ship but with the addition of a ski-jump ramp, was commissioned in 1997– flying a handful of Spanish surplus AV-8S Matadors.

Plus of course, all five Tarawa-class and eight Wasp-class LHA/LHDs of the U.S. Navy were designed so they could operate as dedicated Sea Control Ships when needed. This was validated when some 20 AV-8Bs of VMA-331 operated from USS Nassau (LHA-4) in support of Operation Desert Storm, flying 240 combat sorties and dropping 900 bombs.

In all, between May 1976 when USS Tarawa (LHA-1) was commissioned and 2005 when Invincible was taken out of service, no less than 22 Harrier Carriers or their equivalents were built, converted, or building for six navies around the world.

That was the peak.

Since then those numbers have been trimmed as all of the Invincibles and Tarawas, Vikrant and Hermes/Viraat, as well as Príncipe de Asturias, have been decommissioned. Currently, there are but 13 hulls afloat designed to operate these aircraft, which themselves are dwindling and are getting smaller in number every week.

The Harrier was withdrawn from both RN and Thai service in 2006.

The Indians hung up their last jump jet this May.

The Italians still have 16 operational AV-8B/TAV-8Bs they operate from their two carriers and they are very active. For instance, 8 Italian Harriers flying from Garibaldi dropped 160 guided bombs during 1221 flight hours over Libya in 2011.

The Spanish have 13 EAV-8B+/TAV-8Bs capable of operations from Juan Carlos I, though maintenance on these older aircraft is reportedly a problem.

The 2016 Marine Aviation Plan carries 84 AV-8Bs airframes to produce 66 RBA Harriers in 6 operational and one replacement squadron. This is to reduce to 80 aircraft/5 operational squadrons in FY17, 64/4 by FY21, 48/3 in FY22,  32/2 in FY23, 16/1 in FY24 and drop altogether by FY27.

USMC Harriers will be replaced by the F-35C, in theory, by then for which the new LHA-6 class ships will be optimized for.

But speaking of Marine AV-8Bs from their dedicated sea control/amphib ships, they are still getting the job done.

Withness this video last week from USS Boxer (LHD-4) with Harriers of VMA-214 (Blacksheep) assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), launching missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, joining strike aircraft operating from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Mediterranean Sea.

“These missions from the flight decks of USS Boxer, like those from the USS Harry S. Truman, demonstrate the inherent flexibility of naval forces,” said Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

“Today, U.S. naval forces are striking ISIL simultaneously from both the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. Of course, the engine of this effort is our nation’s Sailors and Marines serving with the USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit; they, together with our joint and coalition partners, are dismantling and rolling back terrorist networks in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere,” said Donegan.

Here are some beautiful shots of AV-8Bs aboard Boxer.

Just keeping it real.

VMA-214 Blacksheep AV-8B Harrier on USS Boxer, photo by Staff Sgt. Naquan Peterson

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166 sits on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Arabian Sea Oct. 20, 2013. The Boxer was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Michael Schwartz, U.S. Navy/Released)

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166 sits on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Arabian Sea Oct. 20, 2013. The Boxer was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Michael Schwartz, U.S. Navy/Released)

Brit carriers compared

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Here we see the new and incomplete carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (left), compared to old and retiring flat top HMS Illustrious (right) on July 4, 2014 at the naming ceremony for the vessel. If the QE looks three times the size of the 22,000-ton “Lusty”, that because she is.

The 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth is planned to commission in early 2017 and will be the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth-class of aircraft carrier, the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy and capable of carrying up to forty (40) aircraft, although the RN only plans to buy as few as 14 F-35 fighters for the ship. When completed she will be the largest and most capable non-U.S carrier afloat with the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov and Chinese half-sister Liaoning being longer overall but marginally lighter in displacement.

Rule Britannia.

An Illustrious return

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

HMS Illustrious returns to Portsmouth Harbor on January 10, 2014 in Portsmouth, England. The ship returns with her 650 crew after a five month deployment to South East Asia delivering Aid relief to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

She is the oldest ship in the Royal Navy’s active fleet and it is envisaged that she will be withdrawn from service in 2014 (after
32 years’ service) and will not be replaced until HMS Queen Elizabeth is commissioned in 2016. The only operational aircraft carrier in the British fleet, she lost her fixed wing air arm when the MoD retired the Harrier fleet in 2006  and now can only operate helicopters. The last of the 1980s era Invincible class of 20,000-ton ‘harrier-carriers’ , it is envisioned that she will be kept as a museum ship when retired later this year.

Her two sister-ships, Invincible and Ark Royal have been sold for scrap.

Looking for a harrier carrier? England is selling their last one

With the impending retirement of the HMS Illustrious, Britannia’s last ‘harrier carrier’ next year, the vultures are already circling the majestic ship.

According to The Guardian

“The Ministry of Defence’s Disposal Services Authority (DSA) has today launched a competition which will seek innovative re-use bids to retain the ship in the UK, with part or all of it developed for heritage purposes.”

An industry day will be held in January for organisations “able to put forward mature and viable proposals, in keeping with the role and history of the Invincible class of ships”. That would be followed by a “full and open competitive process”, he said.

But Dunne added: “In the event that no suitable re-use bids with a heritage element are submitted, the DSA will open up the competition by seeking proposals for other uses or recycling.”

illustrious

The 689-foot Lusty had served faithfully in the Cold War, Afghanistan, and evacuated civilians when both Sierra Leone and Lebanon went to pot.

Her two sisters, Invincible and Ark Royal, were both sold for scrap after museum prospects fell through. Since the RN sold the last Sea Harriers to the US Marine Corps, she has been helicopter only.