HMS Victorious (R38)

HMS Victorious (R38)

HMS "Victorious" (R38) was the second "Illustrious"-class aircraft carrier ordered under the 1936 Naval Programme. She was laid down at the Vickers-Armstrong shipyard at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1937, and launched just two years later in time for World War II beginning in 1939. Yet she was not commissioned into the Royal Navy until 1941 due to an urgent and more pressing need for escort vessels for service in the Battle of the Atlantic.


"Bismarck" Episode

In 1941, just 2 weeks after commissioning, her first active mission began when she took part in the hunt for the German battleship "Bismarck" in the North Atlantic. Originally intended to be part of the escort for convoy WS-8B to the Middle East, "Victorious" was hardly ready to be involved in a hunt for the "Bismarck" with just one-quarter of her aircraft embarked aboard her. Sailing with the battleship HMS "King George V", the battlecruiser "Repulse", and 4 light cruisers, "Victorious" was hastily deployed to assist in the pursuit of the German ship. On 24 May 1941, "Victorious" launched nine of her biplane Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber aircraft and two Fulmar fighters. The Swordfish, under the command of Eugene Esmonde who would make his name with the "Stringbag", as the Swordfish was known, flew through foul weather and attacked in the face of tremendous fire from "Bismarck's" anti-aircraft guns. The result was only a single hit to the armoured belt. No aircraft were shot down during the attack, but the Fulmars ran out of fuel on the return journey and had to ditch in the ocean. "Victorious" would have no further part in the historic chase and sinking; aircraft from another carrier the "Ark Royal" would play a role that led to the sinking of the "Bismarck" three days later. Esmonde received a DSO for his part in the action.

Convoy duty

After ferrying aircraft to the besieged British Mediterranean base of Malta, "Victorious" returned to the naval base at Scapa Flow. She took part in various attacks against ports in Norway, which was under German occupation, as well as taking part in the arduous Arctic convoys, a vital supply line for the Soviet Union. On 9 March 1942, "Victorious" launched an attack on "Bismarck"'s equally fearsome sister-ship "Tirpitz". She scored no hits on the battleship, but it was enough to play a part in Hitler's 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. Twenty-three ships out of thirty-six were sunk after the convoy had been scattered in fear that an attack was imminent by the German warships "Admiral Hipper", "Lützow", "Admiral Scheer", and "Tirpitz".


The suspension of the Northern convoy route released "Victorious" to take part in one last courageous effort to get supplies into Malta - Operation Pedestal. Pedestal, which began on 10 August 1942, involved a great array of ships in several groups working together; the battleships HMS "Rodney" and "Nelson", the aircraft carriers HMS "Eagle", "Indomitable", and "Furious", the cruisers HMS "Cairo", "Charybdis", "Kenya", "Manchester", "Nigeria", "Phoebe", and "Sirius", thirty-two destroyers. Some of the carriers were transporting aircraft for Malta's use and the supplies were on fourteen merchant ships.

On the 11 August 1942 "Victorious" was slightly damaged by attacks from Italian bombers. The "Eagle" was less fortunate; torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. Ultimately Pedestal was a success. Supplies, including oil, and reinforcing Spitfires allowed Malta to hold out but at a cost of the loss of nine merchant ships, one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, and a destroyer.

Operation Torch

In November 1942, she took part in the North African landings. Operation Torch involved 196 ships of the Royal Navy and 105 of the United States Navy. The total number of Allied soldiers that landed was about 107,000. Ultimately successful, Operation Torch was the precursor to the later invasions of Sicily and France.

First Pacific Service

After a refit in the United States at the Norfolk Navy Yard during the winter of 1942-43, "Victorious" sailed through the Panama Canal to operate with the United States forces in the Pacific. During this time, the code name for the carrier was USS Robin, from the character "Robin Hood," as the US Navy was temporarily "poor" in carriers. In April 1943, "Victorious" sailed for Pearl Harbor to join "Saratoga"'s Battle Group, at that time the only operational American carrier in the Pacific. Her operations in the South Pacific area were conducted in the Solomon Islands. During this time "Victorious" was home to US Navy fighter squadron VF-6, flying F4F Wildcats, as well as its own Wildcats of No. 832 Squadron (832 Squadron's Avengers were at this time detached to "Saratoga"). Between May and July, 1943, "Victorious" and "Saratoga" provided air support for Allied forces, including the invasion of New Georgia. In late 1943, "Victorious" returned to the UK, to the naval base at Scapa Flow. The refit had included the addition of such typically American appliances such as soda machines and ice cream freezers which were ridiculed by the sailors of the Royal Navy upon its return to them.

Attack on "Tirpitz"

On 2 April 1944, "Victorious" joined "Anson", "Duke of York", "Emperor", "Fencer", "Furious", "Pursuer", and "Searcher", along with numerous cruisers and destroyers, in launching a devastating attack (Operation Tungsten) on the "Tirpitz", involving twenty Barracudas in two waves, hitting the battleship fourteen times. The attack put "Tirpitz" out of action for three months. During the operation, "Victorious" became the first Royal Navy aircraft carrier to operationally use the F4U Corsair fighter. The Task Force returned to Scapa Flow after this relative success three days later.

econd Pacific Service


The BPF finally departed Ceylon on 13 January 1945, en route to Sydney, Australia. Aircraft from the fleet attacked installations on Sumatra and Java on the 24th and 29 January (Operation Meridian).

In April 1945, "Victorious" along with "Illustrious", "Indefatigable", and "Indomitable", launched strikes against Okinawa, along with the US 5th Fleet. While there, "Victorious" was hit by two kamikazes, though she suffered only minor damage due to her armoured flight deck, which was more resilient to such attacks than the wooden decks of American carriers.

In July, aircraft from 849 Squadron NAS, embarked aboard "Victorious", located and attacked the Japanese escort carrier "Kaiyo", seriously damaging her while at Beppu Bay, Kyūshū. She was stricken from the Japanese naval register a few months later.


EA-1F making a touch-and-go landing on HMS "Victorious" in 1963
Immediately after the war, "Victorious" assisted in the repatriation of prisoners of war. Following this, in 1946, "Victorious" was pressed into service to carry war brides of British servicemen from Australia to the UK; her lifts were converted into temporary accommodation. Later, "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 October 1947 to March 1950, with 3 lecture rooms and 12 classrooms in the hangar.

In October 1950, extensive reconstruction at the Portsmouth Dockyard commenced, that would radically alter her appearance and capability. This reconstruction would last over eight years because of frequent design changes to keep up with new technologies. Her hull was widened, deepened, and lengthened; her machinery was replaced with Foster-Wheeler boilers; her hangar height was increased; new armament of 3 inch (76 mm) guns was installed; and an angled flight deck was added. She looked completely different from the carrier that won ten of the eleven battle honours of the "Victorious" lineage. In 1958, she joined the Home Fleet, then transferred to the Far East Fleet, serving there for nine years. But sadly her career came to a premature end, when during refit in 1968 about a week before her scheduled re-commissioning, she was damaged by a relatively minor fire in the Chief Petty Officers' mess. The fire was out in 2 hours, and the ship was operating normally the next day. Because of the reduction of funding in the defence budget and the 1966 decision to phase out British fixed-wing naval aviation, no effort was made to recommission her. Her captain was notified of the decision not to recommission the ship the day before the scheduled recommissioning ceremony; the ceremony was held by the ship's crew anyway as a 'wake' for the ship. She was paid off in that year and scrapped, beginning in 1969 at Faslane Naval Base.


*Roger Chesneau, "Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present; An Illustrated Encyclopedia" (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1984)
*Robert Gardiner, ed., "Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922 - 1946" (Conway Maritime Press, London, 1980)
*V.B. Blackman, ed., "Jane's Fighting Ships 1950-51" (Sampson Low, Marston, & Company, London, 1951)

External links

* [ Maritimequest HMS Victorious photo gallery]

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