HMS Victorious (R38) Conventionally-Powered Aircraft Carrier
HMS Victorious proved critical to Atlantic, Pacific and Far East operations for the British and American fleets during World War 2.
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HMS Victorious was the result of the growing British naval arms movement amidst rising tensions in Europe being spearheaded by German leader Adolph Hitler. She was ordered on January 13th, 1937 and had her keel laid down on May 4th, 1937 by Vickers-Armstrong. She was officially launched on September 14th, 1939 (Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939 to officially begin World War 2) and was formally commissioned on May 14th, 1941. She fought under Pennant Number R38 and the motto "Per Coelum et Aequorem Victrix" meaning "Through Air and Sea Victorious". HMS Victorious was the last of the four-strong "Formidable-class" of British aircraft carriers that included HMS Formidable, HMS illustrious and HMS Indomitable.
The Victorious was completed as a conventional "straight line" aircraft carrier design with a starboard side island superstructure (containing communications, radar and navigation) and portside flight deck. The smoke stack used to exhaust the powerplant was settled just aft of the superstructure. This cleared the majority of the flight deck for incoming and outgoing aircraft. Incoming aircraft approached from the stern whilst outgoing types headed from the bow. Anti-aircraft defenses were set all about the perimeter of the flight deck while hangar elevators allowed access to the flight deck from below. Various aircraft types could be outfitted with fuel and stores while also undergoing at-sea repairs as required. The Victorious was essentially designed as a floating island.
As built, Victorious displaced at 29,500 tons and featured a running length of 673 feet with a beam of 95 feet and draught of 28 feet. Power was served through 3 x Parsons geared turbines coupled to 6 x Admiralty three-drum boiler systems collectively outputting at 111,000 shaft horsepower driving 3 x propeller shafts. This configuration allowed the vessel a top speed of 30 knots in ideal conditions with a range out to 11,000 nautical miles. Her various onboard systems and facilities required a massive crew contingent of 2,200 personnel including the requisite air section. Armor protection consisted of 3" over the flight deck" 2" at the hangar deck and 4" at the hull belt. While standard armament was defensive minded, it served a vital last-level of protection for the ship and was led by 16 x 4.5" cannons in eight two-gun turrets. This was backed by 48 x 2-pounder cannons in six eight-gun turrets. The next level proved to be the 21 x 40mm cannons which were set in two turrets of four guns, two turrets of two guns and nine turrets with single guns. The last layer became the 45 x 20mm cannon systems assigned across forty-five single-barreled turrets. Of course the best defense for aircraft carriers was their support fleet of ships, vessels that could provide a broader range of anti-aircraft, anti-ship and anti-submarine counters while the carrier concentrated on launching and retrieving her all-important aircraft.
The bread and butter for any carrier became her onboard air section. The Victorious eventually carried a slew of different types over the course of her long career and this included types designed in the United Kingdom and those under Lend-Lease and outright purchase from the United States. All types did, however, fall into basic categories of fighter, torpedo bomber and dive bomber during World War 2. Eventually the Victorious managed a flight group of over 50 aircraft during the peak of its wartime service. Jets such as the Blackburn Buccaneer followed in the post-World War 2 period.
One of HMS Victorious' first actions were in pursuit of the fabled German battleship KMS Bismarck which threatened Allied control of the North Sea and the Atlantic. Her air wing failed to make their mark when the battleship was engaged but the German vessel was eventually dealt her death blow from the aircraft of the equally-storied HMS Ark Royal (91) on a later date. HMS Victorious then served with Arctic Convoys en route to the Soviet Union and under threat from German warships and U-boats. She joined the British Home Fleet by October 1941 before once again returning to support the Arctic Convoys. She was called to provide air cover during the successful operation to resupply forces in Malta, though suffering light damage from Italian bombers in the process. She then provided air cover and strike capabilities during the famous Operation Torch landings in North Africa.
With the loss of the USS Hornet (key cog in the famous Doolittle Raid on mainland Japan) and heavy damage to the USS Enterprise, this left the Americans with just a single fleet-level carrier in service in the Pacific. This prompted the Royal Navy to send their HMS Victorious as a loaner to the Americans in December of 1942. The vessel was refit at Norfolk, Virginia, USA in January of 1943 and assigned the name of USS Robin to begin her tour with the US Navy. She arrived at Pearl Harbor in March of 1943. Undergoing a more US Navy-centric refit, the USS Robin was then readied for her Pacific actions tour in May of 1943. From there, she provided critical air cover for the landings at New Georgia of the Solomon Islands during Operation Cartwheel. Her USN tenure ended in September of 1943 when the USS Robin was returned to the Atlantic under British guard to continue her service as HMS Victorious.
Now outfitted with new radar, HMS Victorious was once again assigned to convoy support. Along with other Royal Navy vessels, HMS Victorious took part in the attacks against the German battleship KMS Tirpitz and provided enough damage to put the vessel out of action for the foreseeable future. Victorious was then reassigned to the Eastern Fleet near Ceylon (now present-day Sri Lanka) in the Far East during June of 1944. In July, Operation Crimson was launched with Victorious providing strike aircraft against key Japanese installations. Her final work with the Eastern Fleet was in October before repairs in Bombay was taken beginning in November. Victorious then fell under the charge of the British Pacific Fleet.
More raids with her aircraft followed against Japanese targets into January of 1945. She was called in support of the American landings at Okinawa during April of 1945. By this time, the desperate Japanese had charged its pilots with kamikaze suicide attacks on Allied surface ships and HMS Victorious became the target of such attacks (twice) during May though her armor held firm, fires were valiantly controlled and injuries promptly attended to. The attacks did claim the lives of three sailors however.
Next on the schedule for the Victorious were additional raids against Japanese targets and shipping to provide the final stranglehold on the mainland islands during May of 1945. She successfully engaged the IJN Kaiyo, an escort carrier, and knocked her out of commissioned for the duration of the war. World War 2 finally ended in August of 1945 under the unconditional surrender of Japan (Germany capitulated in May). HMS Victorious then toured south to participate in the Victory Parade at Sydney, Australia to mark the end of the war. She then set sail in September of 1945 for home waters and arrived in Britain in October.
In October of 1947, HMS Victorious was placed in reserve status before becoming a training platform during 1948. During the period spanning 1950 to 1957, she entered an extensive and ever-evolving refit program intended to modernize the vessel to support modern jet-powered aircraft and rotary-wing systems. Key to the changes included installation of an angled flight deck to allow greater clearance of the tower superstructure and the launching of a third aircraft simultaneously along with the original two bow positions. This work increased her displacement to 35,500 tons, her length to 753 feet, her beam to 103 feet and her draught 31 feet while her air group changed with the times as she accepted more modern fighter and strike aircraft (this also limited her air wing from the original 50 to under 30 units). Her original boilers were replaced with newer, more efficient 6 x Foster-Wheeler branded types. Her anti-aircraft defenses were improved through 12 x 3" anti-aircraft cannons and 6 x 40mm Bofors cannons. She was given more advanced radar systems to broaden her theater capabilities. Now completed, she was recommissioned for service in January of 1958.
From there, Victorious stayed active, first through a stint in the Middle East and then relocated to the Far East, eventually settling into a role with the Far East Fleet. She managed an existence with the Royal Navy up until 1968 to which British military budget constraints and political meandering sought to end her expensive tenure. As such, HMS Victorious was officially removed from service in 1969 and was unceremoniously scrapped soon after. Thus ended the tenure of one of the more storied Royal Navy aircraft carriers of World War 2.