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Pennant number: 38
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.
Within a few days of her commissioning, VICTORIOUS was involved in the "hunt for the BISMARCK", and one of her Swordfish scored a torpedo hit on the German battleship, slowing her somewhat. Following that, VICTORIOUS was involved in various escort and ferrying operations. In March, 1942, VICTORIOUS took part in an airstrike against the German battleship TIRPITZ; however; no hits were scored. During the war, VICTORIOUS had her anti-aircraft battery augmented; by the end of the war, she was carrying 40 - 2-pdrs. (5x8), 21 - 40mm Bofors AA guns (2x4, 2x2 and 9x1) and 45 - 20mm Oerlikons. During the winter of 1942-43, VICTORIOUS was refitted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, and subsequently operated "on-loan" to the United States Navy in the South Pacific, before being relieved by the ESSEX and returned to Home waters. During her service with the U. S. Navy, she operated under the name U. S. S. "ROBIN", taken from the fictional character Robin Hood, who "took from the rich and gave to the poor" -- at the time, the USN was "poor" in aircraft carriers -- the only serviceable fleet carrier at the time was the SARATOGA. On 2 April 1944, VICTORIOUS was once again involved in a carrier strike against the TIRPITZ; the attacking aircraft scored 14 hits on the TIRPITZ, putting her out of action for three months. Following a brief refit, VICTORIOUS returned to the Far East where she served with the British Pacific Fleet. On 9 May, 1945, VICTORIOUS was struck by two kamikaze aircraft; her armored flight deck served well, limiting the damage as compared to that suffered by American carriers struck by kamikazes. Nonetheless, she sailed to Australia for repairs which took nearly a month. At the end of the war, VICTORIOUS returned to Britain for a short refit, arriving in October, 1945. But within two months, she was sent back to the Far East, serving in the repatriation of British troops. In January, 1947, VICTORIOUS was paid off into reserve, but re-activated again in October, 1947, where she served as the training carrier for Home Fleet, based at Portland.
In 1949, plans were drawn up to modernize FORMIDABLE and VICTORIOUS. However, only VICTORIOUS was found to be in condition worthy of that modernization, and the go-ahead was given in March, 1950. She was taken in at Portsmouth Dockyard in October, 1950. Several changes in plans were made during a very lengthy reconstruction; by the time she was re-commissioned in January, 1958, VICTORIOUS had been completely gutted and rebuilt from the hangar deck up. The height of the hangar deck had been increased to handle larger jet aircraft, the flight deck had been lengthened to 775' and an angled landing area had been added. She now had two steam-powered catapults, had been reboilered (capable of 31 knots) and rearmed (now carrying 12 - 3"/50 (purchased from the U. S. Navy) and 6-40mm guns) and her displacement had risen to 30,500 tons. Her air group consisted of 35 aircraft. She served with both Home Fleet and in the Far East. VICTORIOUS was taken in for another refit in 1962-63, during which four of the 3" guns and the 40mm guns were removed and the flight deck strengthened. A further refit was being carried out in 1967; during that refit, a fire broke out on her mess deck and VICTORIOUS suffered what was considered to be minor damage. However, as the Royal Navy was moving away from operating fixed-wing aircraft at sea, it was decided not to repair the damage and complete the refit. VICTORIOUS was decommissioned on 13 March 1968 and sold in July, 1969 to be broken up for scrap at Faslane.