Tag Archives: HMS Invincible

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…

Every good thing comes to an end

Described as a “light cruiser” by Janes and others at the time, the Type 82 RN destroyer, HMS Bristol (D23), when ordered in 1963, was pretty impressive for a tin can, weighing in at 7,100-tons. For reference, this was almost twice the size of the Daring-class destroyers that preceded her or the Charles F. Adams-class DDGs under construction at the time for the U.S., West Germany, and Australia.

HMS Bristol, the only Type 82 destroyer built.

Further, the previous HMS Bristol afloat had been a Town-class light cruiser during the Great War, so the label of cruiser seemed to fit, although the admirals no doubt thought the “destroyer” descriptor would help provide a modicum of camouflage from the bean counters.

However, the Admiralty in the end never saw money for more of the Type 82s– or the large carriers they were to protect– and Bristol was to be the sole ship of her class.

The follow-on Type 42 destroyers were much smaller vessels with aluminum superstructures, akin to the Adams and Darings– only even more slight. Tragically, two early Type 42s, Sheffield and Coventry, were sent to the bottom in 1982 after suffering from Argentine airstrikes. Debating whether larger and more capable Type 82s in the same position would have survived is academic, but it does make you wonder.

Bristol was in the Falklands too and served as Task Force flagship after the carriers left for Portsmouth once Port Stanley fell.

Type 82 destroyer HMS Bristol depicted during the 1982 Falklands War, HMS Invincible clearly visible steaming to her starboard.

Soon after, her days with the fleet were numbered and she was paid off in 1991 after 18 years of frontline service.

Since 1993, she has been docked at Whale Island, Portsmouth, and used as a floating training and accommodation ship both for RN personnel and youth groups like the Sea Cadets.

“Hosting up to 17,000 visitors, including Sea Cadets, annually for 50 weeks a year, she provides the closest thing to a sea-going experience without leaving port,” notes the RN. 

Now, after filling that role for 27 years, the Sea Cadets noted last week that: “HMS Bristol will no longer be with us after the end of 2020.”

Last refit in 2010 for a ten-year lifespan extension, her hull is deemed by the RN to not be worth the pounds these days.

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.

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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.

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 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)

100 years ago today: The hell of Jutland (Skagerrakschlacht)

On this day in 1916, the German High Seas Fleet under Admiral Reinhard Scheer attempted an ambush on the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea by defeating Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Force first without Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet getting involved, but things didn’t quite work out like that.

jutland

Jutland was a harsh running nightmare of fire and steel that involved 250 ships and nearly 100,000 men. While Scheer was able to initially plaster Beatty’s battlecruisers, once Jellicoe showed up and the battle shifted dramatically, it was all over.

Jutland - SMS Kaiser fires a salvo against HMS Warspite

Jutland – SMS Kaiser fires a salvo against HMS Warspite

The night battle

The night battle

The HMS Bellerophon at Jutland, 1916 by Paul Wright

HMS Bellerophon at Jutland, 1916 by Paul Wright

HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland” by Mal Wright

HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland” by Mal Wright

Losses were horrific on both sides but not unsustainable in the grand scheme of things to effect a strategic shift.

The Germans damaged Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, and sank HMS Indefatigable, Invincible, and Queen Mary, all of which blew up when German shells hit their magazines. The British lost 14 ships and over 6,000 men.

HMS Marlborough limping home from the Battle Of Jutland. Painting by Miller. Royal Marines Museum; (c) Royal Marines Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

HMS Marlborough limping home from the Battle Of Jutland. Painting by Miller. Royal Marines Museum; (c) Royal Marines Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Looking through a shell-hole in HMS Tiger after Jutland

Looking through a shell-hole in HMS Tiger after Jutland

The bow and stern of HMS Invincible stick out of the water during the Battle of Jutland. HMS Invincible's ammunition magazine exploded after the battlecruiser was hit by German shells. HMS Badger can be seen in the distance as it moves in to rescue survivors, but only six men survived. IWM SP 2470.

The bow and stern of HMS Invincible stick out of the water during the Battle of Jutland. HMS Invincible’s ammunition magazine exploded after the battlecruiser was hit by German shells. HMS Badger can be seen in the distance as it moves in to rescue survivors, but only six men survived. IWM SP 2470.

HMS INVINCIBLE explodes during the battle of Jutland after she was hit five times by shells from the German battlecruisers DERRFLINGER and LUTZOW, the last hit blowing the roof off "Q" turret and setting fire to the cordite propellant, the flash soon spread to the magazine and INVINCIBLE was ripped in two by the explosion. There were only three survivors with those killed including Rear-Admiral The Hon Horace Hood IWM SP 2468

HMS INVINCIBLE explodes during the battle of Jutland after she was hit five times by shells from the German battlecruisers DERRFLINGER and LUTZOW, the last hit blowing the roof off “Q” turret and setting fire to the cordite propellant, the flash soon spread to the magazine and INVINCIBLE was ripped in two by the explosion. There were only three survivors with those killed including Rear-Admiral The Hon Horace Hood IWM SP 2468

The Germans, who had lost 11 ships including battlecruiser Lützow, pre-dreadnought Pommern and light cruisers Frauenlob, Elbing, Rostock, Wiesbadenand, as well as over 2,500 men. The battlecruiser Seydlitz suffered almost unimaginable damage.

German battle cruiser Seydlitz burns in the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916

German battle cruiser Seydlitz burns in the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916

German battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz,low in the water after jtland

German battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz,low in the water after Jutland

german and brtish losses at jutland
Beatty withdrew until Jellicoe arrived, sending the Germans running for their bases, not to emerge again until surrender in 1918.

More on the official commemorations here and here.

The BBC has live coverage of today’s events here.

German naval artist Claus Bergen did some of the best and most nightmarish depictions of Skagerrak, and they are in a past Combat Gallery Sunday post, here.