Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

HMS Illustrious

There have been five ships in the Royal Navy to bear the proud name Illustrious, and as her name suggests, she and her predeccessors have had an illustrious history. The ship's motto is "Vox Non Incerta" which translates as "No Uncertain Sound".

HMS Illustrious (1789-?)

The first Illustrious was a 74-gun Third-rate, and launched at Buckler's Hard in 1789. She had two engagements against the French Navy. The first was off the southern French city of Toulon in 1793 during the British action to capture the city. The second was at Genoa where she suffered severe damage and won a Battle Honour. While returning home in tow for much needed repairs from that battle, she ran aground, due to an incredibly violent storm. Shortly afterwards, she was set ablaze and duly abandoned.

HMS Illustrious (1803-1868)

The second HMS Illustrious was launched at Rotherhithe in 1803 and was like her predecessor a 74-gun Third-rate . Though she did not serve in the historic Battle of Trafalgar her career was a very successful one. She was involved in battles off Basque Roads, in which she won a Battle Honour, and off Java in Indonesia. In 1854, she became a training ship and continued as one until she was broken up in 1868 in Portsmouth.

HMS Illustrious (1896-1920)


The third HMS Illustrious was a Majestic-class pre-dreadnought, launched in
1896. She had a displacement of 14,900 tonnes and an armament of four 12-inch guns and twelve 6-inch guns. She served in the Channel Fleet from her commission into the Royal Navy to September 1908. She went into reserve and was transferred to the 3rd Fleet in 1912. At the outbreak of war in 1914 she was recommissioned as a guard-ship for Loch Aye, Lough Swilly, Tyne and the Humber. Due to obsolescence, she was used as an ammunition store ship for the remainder of the war, finally being scrapped in 1920.

HMS Illustrious (1939-1956)


The fourth HMS Illustrious arguably had the most distinguished and vital careers of this proud lineage. She was the namesake of a new class of carriers which included such other venerable names as Victorious, Formidable and Indomitable. All survived the war. Illustrious was built by
Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow , launched in 1939 and commissioned in 1940. She had a displacement of 23,000 tonnes and a capability to carry up to 36 aircraft on-board, though this was in comparison to much smaller counterparts quite minuscule. Her armoured deck greatly reduced the number of aircraft that she could carry..

On the 11th November 1940, she became the first carrier in history to launch a major strike against an enemy fleet. In a daring attack against the Italian Fleet at Taranto, the Italian Fleet was caught off-guard and decimated. On January 10th 1941, just a few months after the Battle of Taranto, Illustrious herself was subjected to an aerial attack from German Stuka dive-bombers, suffering extensive damage while escorting a convoy east of Sicily. While in Malta, receiving repairs for her battle damage, she was again hit by bombs. Shortly afterwards, she made her way to Virginia for more secure repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

She returned to service in 1942 and was immediately dispatched to the Indian Ocean. In May that year, she and her sister-ship Indomitable covered the landings at Diego Suarez in Vichy French controlled Madagascar. In 1943, she returned to the Mediterranean, for operations with Force H, based at the British territory of Gibraltar. She helped cover the Allied landings in Sicily. In 1944, she joined the Eastern Fleet, becoming involved in raids on the Indonesian islands of Palembang and Sabang. In 1945, as part of the British Pacific Fleet, along with two of her sister-ships, Formidable and Victorious, she covered the landings at Okinawa where she won her last Battle Honour. While in the Pacific she was hit by two Kamikaze aircraft, but, unlike her American counterparts, suffered minimal damage due to her armoured flight deck.

After WWII she was given the role of training and trials ship. She was refitted in 1948, decommissioned in 1954 and finally scrapped, after an incredibly successful career, at Faslane in 1956. Her sister-ships Formidable and Indomitable were also scrapped in the 50s, though Victorious, the last of the class, survived till 1969, when she too was broken up.

HMS Illustrious (1978-present day)


The fifth Illustrious (RO6) is an Invincible Class aircraft carrier, and is affectionately known as 'Lusty' to her crew. She was built at Swan Hunter on the
Tyne, launched in 1978 and commissioned in 1982, the year of the Falklands War. She was completed ahead of schedule, due to the war. She was sent south to the Falklands while conflict was still raging there. By the time she arrived the Argentineans had already surrendered and Illustrious relieved her sister-ship HMS Invincible. Illustrious had actually been commissioned on the journey south to the Falklands, and so a second and far more formal commissioning took place on March 30th 1983.

After the Cold War, Illustrious underwent an 'Extended Defect and Maintenance Period' in which numerous modifications were made to the ship including the removal of her Sea Dart defences at a cost of 12 million pounds. This allowed for extra deck space that enables her to carry unto 22 aircraft, including the Harrier GR.7 and Sea Harrier FA.2. In 2000 she took part in the British operation to restore peace and stability to Sierra Leone in which she led a naval task force comprising HM ships - Ocean, Argyll, Iron Duke, Chatham and numerous RFA ships. In 2001 she once again led a Royal Navy task force, this time in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Illustrious is currently in refit, which should enable her to carry on until 2012, when it is expected that the first of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will come into service.

Invincible Class Statistics

Battle Honours

Genoa 1795, Basque Roads 1809, Taranto 1940, Mediterranean 1940-41, Malta Convoys 1941, Diago Suarez 1942, Salerno 1943, Sabang 1944, Palembang 1945, Okinawa 1945