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Pennant number: 87
Notes: The 1936 Programme provided for two aircraft carriers (ILLUSTRIOUS and VICTORIOUS) to built for the Royal Navy. A limit of 23,000 tons, set by the Second London Treaty, was in force. While at first it was thought to use modified ARK ROYAL plans (with the extra 1,000 tons to be used to add improvements), it was thought that war on the European continent was imminent -- and that these ships would be under a near-constant threat of air attack. Instead, it was decided to give them an unprecedented measure of passive defense, in the form of heavy armoring, in addition to a much heavier anti-aircraft battery. The problem was how to accomplish this and remain within Treaty limits; the solution chosen was to eliminate the second hangar deck. This reduced the new carrier's overall height and improved stability, but at the cost of a smaller air group (33 planes vs. the 60 of the ARK ROYAL). Thus, they were the first aircraft carriers to built with full armored hangars, by any navy. 16 - 4.5" DP guns were provided in eight twin turrets, with their crowns at deck level which (in theory) allowed for some cross-deck arcs of fire. A single steam-powered catapult was mounted on the flight deck, forward and on the port side. Tactical diameter was 1,050 yards.
Two more carriers were added in the 1937 Programme, but one (INDOMITABLE) was built to a modified design, with slightly less armor and a second "half-hangar" deck, which allowed her to carry 48 aircraft.
ILLUSTRIOUS joined the Fleet in August, 1940, and was immediately pressed into service in the Mediterranean. She took part in the air attack on Taranto on the night of 10-11 November 1940, where British aircraft sunk the Italian battleship CONTE DI CAVOUR and damaged the battleships LITTORIO and CAIO DUILIO, as well as two heavy cruisers, two auxiliaries, and did severe damage to the oil facilities there. On 10 January 1941 while escorting a convoy to Malta, ILLUSTRIOUS was attacked by German land-based aircraft and suffered seven hits and a near miss; one of the bombs (the only 2,200-lb. bomb to hit) penetrated the armored flight deck and burst 10' above the hangar deck -- the only time any member of the class had her armored deck penetrated. While at Malta, ILLUSTRIOUS was bombed again; there was another hit and several near misses. Shock damage disabled her port machinery and left her unsuitable for service. Following temporary repairs at Alexandria, ILLUSTRIOUS sailed to the United States (Norfolk Navy Yard) for full repairs; she did not return to service until May, 1942. Through the rest of 1942 and 1943, ILLUSTRIOUS served with Home Fleet and in the Mediterranean. In January, 1944, she was transferred to the Far East. She was hit twice by kamikazes (in April and May, 1945), but her armor allowed ILLUSTRIOUS to "shrug off" the hits, and she remained in service.
During World War II, ILLUSTRIOUS had her anti-aircraft battery augmented several times. By the end of the war, ILLUSTRIOUS carried 40 - 2-pdr. "pom-poms" (5x8), 3 - 40mm Bofors (3x1) and 52 - 20mm Oerlikon AA guns.
Upon her return to Britain, ILLUSTRIOUS served as a training carrier. She remained in service until the end of 1954, when she was placed in reserve. Deemed to be too "worn-out" for further modernization, ILLUSTRIOUS was stricken from the list and sold for breaking up at Faslane in November, 1956.