HMS Illustrious served the British Royal Navy for several decades before seeing decommissioning. The conventionally-powered carrier provided the spear-tip of a modern ocean-going force that included support of Harrier jump jets and several helicopter types throughout her career. The vessel partook in some of the more notable engagements of the 1980s and 1990s while leading her class of three-strong that included HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal (originally HMS Indomitable).
After World War 2 (1939-1945) the British Royal Navy managed one of the largest carrier fleets on the globe behind the United States. However, as the decades rolled on and attention turned to larger jet-powered types fighter types, these wartime vessels (some also constructed during the prewar period) were reaching the end of their capability spectrum. The CVA-01 initiative was intended to bring about a modernized fleet of carriers for Royal Navy service but this expensive venture ultimately fell to naught after a defense review in 1966. The following year work began on designing an light aircraft carrier in the 12,500-ton displacement range capable of launching and retrieving up to six helicopters simultaneously - no fixed-wing aircraft would be supported.
In time, this vessel was redrawn to accept up to nine helicopters and, coinciding with development of the Harrier Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) strike fighter, support for this fixed-wing aircraft was added. A "through-deck" flight deck approach was used in which the launching and landing of aircraft was from a portside runway - the island superstructure set over the starboard side. Elevators provided the needed access to the flight deck from the hangar decks below. A ski jump was added to the bow to assist in the launching of the Harrier jets in more conventional fashion. The completed ship now displaced in the 19,500-ton range under full load. Primary would be the Sea Dart surface-to-air missile on a twin-launcher unit at the bow. Close-in defense would be provided by 2 x 20mm automatic cannons in single-barreled installations as well as 2 x 20mm Phalanx CIWS units. Beyond her obvious armament fit and air arm, the carrier also showcased a bevy of onboard systems and subsystems - radar, guidance, directors, echo sounders, bow sonar, and data processing units to make for a complete warship.
Her machinery included 8 x Paxman "Valenta" diesel generators coupled with 4 x Rolls-Royce "Olympus" TM3B series gas turbines developing 112,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts. In ideal conditions the vessel could make headway at nearly 30 knots and reach ranges out to 7,000 nautical miles.
The standard air arm constituted eight Sea Harrier VTOL aircraft and nine Sea King naval helicopters. This total was later increased for improved operational capability. The helicopters were equipped for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) work or Anti-Ship (AS) work depending on mission need.
HMS Invincible was ordered on April 17th, 1973 and saw her keel laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding Ltd in Barrow-in-Furness, England during July 1973. She was launched on May 3rd, 1977 and officially commissioned on July 11th, 1980. Her assigned homeport became HMNB Portsmouth and she carried the pennant identifier of "R05". Over her decades of service, she came to be known as "Vince".
While commissioned in 1980, the vessel was already under consideration for sale to the government of Australia in 1982. The ship would be handed the name of HMAS Australia. However, all this changed when the Argentina government sent military forces to the Falkland Islands which precipitated the Falklands War of 1982. HMS Invincible was sent into action while her sister, HMS Illustrious was hurriedly constructed and shipped off. HMS Indomitable, renamed HMS Ark Royal, followed and allowed at least two carriers in active service while the third underwent refit.
HMS Invincible sailed with an air arm of eight Sea Harriers and nine Sea Kings but losses soon dictated a group of eleven Sea Harriers and ten helicopters (Sea Kings and Lynx). Invincible managed to survive the war against Argentina unscathed - despite Argentine reports to the contrary.
Her next assignment took her to the Balkans during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s and then later made up the coalition contingent monitoring No Fly Zones over southern Iraq. She returned to the Balkans under the NATO flag to battle Yugoslavian elements and conduct humanitarian missions. When HMS Ark Royal was modernized to a new standard, HMS Invincible followed. However, this work was short-lived for the aging vessel was decommissioned on August 3rd, 2005. Her name was struck from the Naval Register in September of 2010. Her stripped hulk was sold to be scrapped in Turkey, bringing about an end to her ocean-going career.
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