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HMS Victorious (R38)

HMS Victorious post-WWII
Laid down:4th May 1937
Launched:14th September 1939
Commissioned:14th May 1941
Fate:Decomissioned 13th March 1968, scrapped 1969
General Characteristics
Displacement:29,500 tons post-WWII refit 35,200 tons
Length:673ft/205m post-WWII refit 753ft/229m
Beam:95ft/29m post-WWII refit 103ft/32m
Draught:28ft/8m post-WWII refit 31ft/9m
Propulsion:Steam turbines, six boilers, 3 shafts
Range:11,000 nautical miles at 14 knots
Speed:30+ knots
Complement:2,200 (including air group)
Aircraft:36 During WWII these included - Albacore, Avenger, Barracuda, Corsair, Fulmar, Seafire, Sea Hurricane, Swordfish, Wildcat Post-WWII included - Gannet, Scimitar, Sea Fury, Sea Hawk, Sea Vixen

HMS Victorious (R38) (1939-1969) was an Illustrious-class fleet aircraft carrier. She was laid down in 1937, and launched just two weeks into WWII in 1939. Yet she was not commissioned into the Royal Navy, due to an urgent and more pressing need for escort vessels for service in the deadly Battle of the Atlantic. In 1941, her first active mission, began when she took part in the infamous hunt for the leviathan battleship Bismarck, which had already sunk the WW1-era designed battlecruiser Hood, and severely damaged the HMS Prince of Wales, which newly-commissioned, had been unprepared for a duel with Bismarck, indeed some of Prince of Wales main armament were inoperable before the battle had commenced. Victorious herself was hardly ready to be involved in a hunt for such a potent battleship as the Bismarck, with just one-quarter of her aircraft embarked aboard her, hastily deployed to assist in the pursuit of the German ship. On the 24th May, Victorious launched nine of her bi-plane Fairey Swordfish aircraft, attacking the German battleship, but hitting her just once, with her aircraft recieving tremedous fire from Bismarcks AA guns. Contact with the battleship was soon lost though, and Victorious would have no further part in the historic sinking of this true monster of the seas. Bismarck herself was sunk just three days after Victorious's first and only attack on the warship.

After ferrying aircraft to the besieged British territory of Malta, Victorious returned to the naval base at Scapa Flow. She took part in various attacks against ports in Norway and Finland, both under German occupation, as well as taking part in the arduous Arctic convoys, a vital supply line for the Soviet Union. On the 9th March 1941, Victorious launched an attack on Bismarcks equally fearsome sister-ship Tirpitz. She scored no hits on the battleship, but it was enough to play a part in Hitlers decision to order all Kriegsmarine capital ships to not risk themselves against enemy aircraft.

The Arctic convoys were suspended temporarily after the horrendous losses that Convoy PQ17 suffered, in which twenty three ships out of thirty six were sunk, after the convoy had been scattered due to the fear that an imminent attack was to take place from the German warships Hipper, Lützow, Scheer and Tirpitz. The suspension of this convoy route, allowed Victorious to take part in one last courageous effort to relieve the besieged Malta named Operation 'Pedestal', which began on the 10th August 1942. It involved an astonishing array of ships, that comprised fourteen merchant ships, along with the warships - Cairo, Charybdis, Eagle, Indomitable, Kenya, Manchester, Nelson, Nigeria, Phoebe, Rodney, Sirius and thirty two destroyers, with the objective of Furious launching her Spitfires, with them landing at Malta , thus reinforcing Malta's air defence, which the carrier succeeded in doing on the 11th, heading back to Gibraltar, her mission complete.

On the same day, HMS Eagle is torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat and Victorious herself is slightly damaged by bombs from enemy aircraft. The next day, Indomitable is badly damaged by enemy aircraft forcing her out of Operation 'Pedestal'. Later that day, catastrophy ensues, with the cruisers, Cairo, Kenya, Nigeria being torpedoed and crucially the tanker Ohio being damaged by torpedoes as well as the sinking of two transports.

On the 13th, the cruiser Manchester is torpedoed and subsequently scuttled along with the sinking of four merchant ships. More attacks occur, with one merchant ship being sunk, and Ohio being attacked, this time by Stuka dive-bombers, resulting in just five of the original fourteen merchant ships being left. Later that that day, three of the merchant ships, Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers, Rochester Castle, enter Malta to the jubilation of the besieged peoples and forces of the territory. The fourth merchant ship entered Malta the next day. The now crippled tanker, Ohio, the most vital of them all arrives at Grand Harbour, lashed to two destroyers, on the 15th of August. The oil from Ohio, as well as the supplies from the heavily damaged survivors of the original fourteen merchant ships, not to mention the Spitfires that were flown from the deck of Furious were vital for the survival of Malta. A large price was paid though, with the loss of nine merchant ships, one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and a destroyer. One carrier and two cruisers were badly damaged during the operation.

In November 1942, she took part in the North African landings, that involved an incredible array of ships. An amazing total of 196 Royal Navy ships from carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, troopships, supply ships, tankers, landing ships and so on. The United States Navy contributed an equally amazing total of 105 ships. The total number of Allied soldiers that landed was about 107,000, a truly mammoth precursor to the D-Day landings in 1944. It was a total success, and Victorious acted professionally, while covering the landings, as did all ships.

In April 1943, Victorious sailed for Pearl Harbour to join Saratoga's Battle Group, at that time the only operational American carrier in the Pacific. Her initial operation was an attack on the Solomon Islands along with Saratoga. Between June-May, Victorious and Saratoga covered the invasion of Bougainville, Munda and New Georgia. In late 1943, Victorious returned to the UK, to the naval base at Scapa Flow.

The German battleship Tirpitz

In April 1944, Victorious joined two forces that comprised of HM ships - Anson, Duke of York, Emperor, Fencer, Furious, HMS Pursuer, Pursuer and Searcher, along with numerous cruisers and destroyers. On the 2nd of April, both forces joined up, launching a devastating attack on Tirpitz, involving twenty Barracudas in two waves, hitting the gargantuan battleship fourteen times. The attack put her out of action for three months, during the operation, Victorious became the first Royal Navy aircraft carrier to operationally use the F4U Corsair. The Task Force returned to Scapa Flow after this relative success three days later.

In June 1944, Victorious was attached to the British Eastern Fleet at Trincomalee. In July 1944, Victorious along with HMS Illustrious, launched a strike against Palembang, and on the 25th, another strike in conjunction with Indomitable occured against the Andaman Islands. Over the next eight months, as part of the British Pacific Fleet, which now included the carriers, Formidable, Illustrious, Implacable, Indomitable and Indefatigable along with the battleships Howe and King George V escorted by six cruisers and twelve destroyers, launched numerous air strikes against Japanese forces and installations in Indonesia.

In April 1945, Victorious along with Illustrious, Indefatigable and Indomitable, launched strikes against Okinawa, along with the US 5th Fleet. While there, Victorious after launching further strikes against Sumatra and Palembang with other British carriers, Victorious was hit by a Kamikaze, though suffered only minor damage due to her armoured flight deck, which was far superior against such attacks compared to the wooden decked American carriers, which suffered badly when attacked by Kamikazes.

In July, aircraft from No. 849 Squadron, embarked aboard Victorious located and attacked the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo, seriously damaging her while at Beppu Bay, Kyushu. She was stricken from the Japanese naval register a few months later after. Afterwards, Victorious assisted in the repatriation of prisoners of war. After the war, Victorious had a pivotal role in decks trials for the new carrier aircraft, known as the Hawker Sea Fury. She became a training ship from 1947-50.

In 1950, extensive reconstruction commenced, that would radically alter her appearance and capability, a reconstruction that would last over eight years. Her hull was widened, deepened and lengthened, her machinery was replaced, along with her hangar and the addition of an angled flight deck. She looked completely different to the carrier that won ten of the eleven battle honours of the Victorious lineage. In 1958, she joined the Home Fleet, then the Far East Fleet, serving there for nine years, but sadly her career came to a premature end, when during refit in 1968, she was damaged by a fire, and the decision was made to not repair her. She was decomissioned in that year, and scrapped, beginning in 1969 at Faslane.