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  #1  
Old 29-05-2012, 11:52
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default HMS Illustrious: Operation Excess Jan.1941

HMS Illustrious was the first aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy to have an armoured flight deck. All previous designs had wooden decking.She was used to ferry Spitfires to Malta. During such a convoy called Operation Excess she was badly damaged & had to make for Malta on the 10th January 1941 at 10pm to undergo emergency repairs. An account of this convoy can be seen by clicking the link in the left column. This was not the safest place to be as the German bomber pilots were instructed to 'sink Illustrious' & consider it a prime target. Being laid up in harbour made her a sitting duck for the bombers & every effort was concentrated on her by the Axis bombers.
On arrival in Grand Harbour she was berthed at Parlatorio Wharf in French Creek. The dead & injured were taken ashore with the wounded being taken to Mtarfa hospital. Work progressed on repairs round the clock. The Engineer Commander said 'Her engines are not too bad, we'll get her away alright'. Maltese workmen were instructed not to repair the flight deck but to concentrate repairs on bare essentials to make the ship seaworthy.
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Attacked some 85 miles west of Malta by 40 Stukas from the newly arrived Fliegerkorps X. In a well planned attack lasting an hour. In this attack 1.000 pound pound bombs were used. The design of Illustrious was said to be capable of withstanding only 500 lb bombs. Before the bombing the squadron of Fulmars managed to get off.
After this attack Illustrious went round in circles. The flags sent out the message 'I am not under control'.
The 2 lifts each weighing some 300 tons were wrecked & welded into different shapes by the white hot fires which raged below deck. Fires were now a main priority to extinguish before the ship which carried high octane fuel & ammunition caught light. The power at one stage failed & the pumps were put out of action.

The Luftwaffe returned after refueling & rearming in Sicily to give the final blow. The fleet went to Illustrious' aid & put up a heavy barrage. Fulmars from Illustrious fought to save the ship & retired to Malta to refuel & rearm to again return to the fight & shoot down at least 5 Stukas. She was still 40 miles from Malta.
The boilers were still untouched but the stokers were working in temperatures of 130°F. A shell splinter had jammed the sprinkler system full on which was flooding the ship.
Another attack by the Luftwaffe saw another 1,000 pound bomb hit the ship. This bomb penetrated a damaged lift shaft & reignited the fires.
It took the ship 5 hours from this last attack to make Grand Harbour.
Arrived Malta at 10 o'clock in the evening
iIn this attack H.M.S Illustrious was severely damaged as a result of 6-direct bomb hits and several near misses, which caused fires and disabled her steering gear. Her casualties were 83 killed, 60 seriously and 40 slightly wounded, including several officers. H.M.S. Warspiie also sustained slight damage from a near miss. During this attack one Fulmar and one Swordfish were shot down, their crews being saved, and two enemy aircraft were shot down by gunfire.n the evening.


Air Mechanic Rayburn was on board HMS Illustrious and somehow lived to tell his story:

"My action station as with all maintenance crews, was in the hanger with the aircraft, which by the way were all heavily armed, and loaded with torpedoes ready for an attack on the Italian Fleet.

Illustrious was armed with 16 4.5 dual purpose guns, and 8 6 barrelled 2lb quick firing AA weapons. The ship kept jumping and shaking. Several large bombs hit the shop aft, and the after hanger was on fire. The noise was indescribable. In my baptism of fire, all that sticks in my mind are impressions. 
I was standing more or less in came down from the flight deck;a chap came out the hangar, his rubber suit was full of holes with blood leaking from all of them. I helped carry him down to the casualty station in the washroom flats.

The surgeons were busy. Blood washed from side to side with the sway of the ship. 
I returned to my action station in the hangar. The ship continued to rock and sway.Our American Lt Cdr was calmly wieilding a fire hose amongst the chaos.

I looked up with fear and apprehension. Then there was an almighty flash as a 1,000 lb bomb pierced the 4 inch armoured deck and exploded. I was only aware of a great wind, and bits of aircraft, debris, all blowing out to the forward lift shaft of 300 tons, which was also blown out. 
There were dead and wounded all around. My overalls were blown off and I had small wounds to the back of my head and shoulder.
I was probably 10-15 feet away from the bomb when it exploded. Luck I survived? I prefer the thought of someone looking out for me. 
The hanger by then was burning all over. The ships commander came and said, ‘come on lads close the armoured doors.’ The overhead sprays then flooded the hanger" end of witness staement


The arrival of such an important ship into Valetta brought a lot of civilian onlookers who crowded the harbour area. At a quarter past noon on the 16th January an announcement was made over loudspeakers to the civilians to make for air raid shelters on hearing the air raid sirens as a new defence strategy was to be used to protect the harbour & flying shrapnel from exploding shellls falling from the sky would make the area very dangerous. Many civilians at this time would stay above ground to watch the bombing.
At 13.55 the radar picked up a large contact - 'It was the largest that had ever been recorded in Malta till then'. The harbour guns lifted to their fixed positions - light AA, heavy AA, 4·5" guns, pom poms, machine guns & even heavy guns on the fort not used as they could not reach high levels were brought to bear against the lower flying dive bombers.
The bombers from Fligerkorps X were escorted by Messerschitt, Fiat & Macchi fighters. The RAF managed to send up 4 Hurricanes, 3 Fulmars & 2 Gladiators. These were instructed to stay out of the harbour area & pick off stragglers. The attack comprised of 2 seperate attacks - the first by Ju 88's (shallow dive bombers) & the second by Ju 87 (Stuka's). This force amounted to 70 bombers all concentrating on sinking Illustrious.
The harbour guns opened up to a deafening noise described as 'hell let loose'. The ships in harbour including Illustrious fired their guns also.
Despite the bravery of the German airmen only one bomb hit Illustrious this being on the quarterdeck & caused little damage.
Despite the RAF pilots being told not to enter the harbour area a Fulmar chased a Stuka right through the barrage. After the bomber released his bombs he swept off down the harbour so low to the water he had to climb to get over the 15' breakwater. The Fulmar eventually shot it down. This returned to Hal Far where the pilot remarked - 'Don't think much of Malta's bloody barrage'. The plane however was so badly damaged it didn't fly again apparently.
During this attack the merchantman Essex which was lying at the other end of the creek was hit by a heavy bomb in the engine room with the loss of 38 men. Luckily the bulkheads contained the explosion. She was loaded with 4,000 tons of ammunition & torpedoes.
On the 19th January came the last bombing raid which raised up clouds of dust to 1,000 feet. This probably screened the ship was accurate bombing.

Illustrious left Malta at sunset on the 23rd qickly accelerating to 20 knots on leaving harbour for a 2 day trip to Alexandria.
Later she would travel to the USA for repairs & later return to Malta for Operation Husky the invasion of Sicily in 1943
.

jainso31

.

Last edited by jainso31 : 29-05-2012 at 13:53.
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Old 29-05-2012, 13:21
Mitch Hinde Mitch Hinde is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Hi All

Illustrious is behind the wall of water somewhere.

Photo is from the National War Museum Archive, Malta.
Published in the book FORTRESS MALTA by James Holland.
ISBN 0 75285 2884 HARDBACK.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg img429.jpg (306.8 KB, 68 views)
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Old 29-05-2012, 13:29
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Thanks for your interest Mitch- also the photograph, which I do have; but somehow could not upload -after the first pathetic effort-which will not enlarge.
Quite a story behind the photographs.

jainso31
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Old 29-05-2012, 15:33
tjstoneman tjstoneman is online now
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Jim,

Thanks for posting the account. However, a couple of minor glitches; whilst USN aircraft carriers of the period did have wooden decks, previous RN ones had steel decks, albeit unarmoured. Also, I've seen no reference to ILLUSTRIOUS ferrying Spitfires; her part in Operation Excess (a complicated series of convoys) was sail west from Alexandria to cover Convoy MW5˝ (Alex-Malta), after which she went to meet Convoy MC4 (Gibraltar-Malta-Greece), with the outcome as described.

Tim
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Old 29-05-2012, 16:00
David Verghese David Verghese is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

On 10-11 January 1941 HMS Mohawk towed the remains of HMS Gallant into the dry dock at Malta. The latter had struck a mine near Pantellaria Island losing her bow section and up to sixty five of her crew plus a number injured. This had been during the complex meeting/ re-arrangent of Cunningham and Somerville's fleets during Operations MC4 and Excess. The Mohawk-Gallant tow was attacked unsuccessfully by Italian bombers on the way to Malta being protected by the guns of the accompanying destroyers Bonaventure and Griffin as escorts. My other half's father (Pete) was an E.R.A. on Gallant who survived the mining, shaken but glad to be alive.

The burning HMS Illustrious was there facing them as they came in. The Ju 87 Stuka attack, aided by Heinkel IIIs had been precise, determined, relentless and clinically efficient. With others he was detailed to go aboard the smoking Illustrious to recover what was left of the men who died that day, as well as unexploded shells. I won't describe what he saw did but the horror probably never left him and his shipmates during their lifetime.
The Illustrious was a sturdily built ship to take such punishment as described in the thread opening post, a credit to Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow. For several days the dockyard workers at Malta and sailors available worked around the clock to effect temporary repairs to Illustrious. By a feat of human endeavor Illustrious steamed away on the 23rd where Pete had now joined her Engine Room complement, and they arrived at the port of Alexandria a couple of days later to a rousing welcome and cheers from the ships at anchor.

These small pictures, courtesy of the killfishf9 website, are a pictorial record of the attack on Illustrious in the dockyard.
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File Type: jpg HMS Illustrious under air attack Jan 1941 i.jpg (35.3 KB, 49 views)
File Type: jpg HMS Illustrious, pallatoria wharf ii.jpg (32.7 KB, 43 views)
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Old 29-05-2012, 16:47
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Thanks Tim for squaring me away re.the couple of points that you raised-I accept the fine line between a "steel" and an "armoured"deck- I presume the latter would extra thick, hardened steel.I accepted Spitfires-knowing no better.I am however pleased that you liked the account.It was one the most harrowing accounts that I have put up.

jainso31
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Old 29-05-2012, 17:06
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

"The burning HMS Illustrious was there facing them as they came in. The Ju 87 Stuka attack, aided by Heinkel IIIs had been precise, determined, relentless and clinically efficient. With others he was detailed to go aboard the smoking Illustrious to recover what was left of the men who died that day, as well as unexploded shells. I won't describe what he saw did but the horror probably never left him and his shipmates during their lifetime.
The Illustrious was a sturdily built ship to take such punishment as described in the thread opening post, a credit to Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow. For several days the dockyard workers at Malta and sailors available worked around the clock to effect temporary repairs to Illustrious.
By a feat of human endeavor Illustrious steamed away on the 23rd where Pete had now joined her Engine Room complement, and they arrived at the port of Alexandria a couple of days later to a rousing welcome and cheers from the ships at anchor".

Thank you David for your most graphic description of the ship after it's battering at the hands of a determined Luftwaffe.There is an account in John Winton's book "Freedom's Battle"parts of which were stomach churning.incl.
"S2 pompom was a blackened twisted wreck.Poor old Annie.All that remained was a heap of smouldering clothing and a leg in a seaboot.Men at S1 pompom
were removing the remains of their oppos.and in the middle of the flight deck was the torso of a man which the Chief Bosun's Mate picked up and heaved over the side"
Also thank you for the pics ,which I also had; but was unable to upload-I will learn.

NB German Ju87 Stuka dive bombers from X Fliegerkorps (which has just arrived on Sicily) attack HMS Illustrious, hitting her with 6 bombs. Most do not penetrate the thick deck armour but 2 bombs go down an aircraft elevator shaft, turning the hangar deck into an inferno of burning aviation fuel and destroying the steering gear (124 killed). Only the armoured flight deck saves Illustrious from total destruction and she struggles into Malta escorted by destroyers HMS Hasty and Jaguar.



jainso31

Last edited by jainso31 : 29-05-2012 at 18:21.
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Old 29-05-2012, 20:29
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spruso spruso is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mitch Hinde View Post
Hi All

Illustrious is behind the wall of water somewhere.

Photo is from the National War Museum Archive, Malta.
Published in the book FORTRESS MALTA by James Holland.
ISBN 0 75285 2884 HARDBACK.
ILLUSTRIOUS is under the crane. You can see the slope of the flight deck. I think she was down at one end due to the amount of flooding. I believe the crane was lowered over her to deter low flying aircraft.

The dark blur to the left of the tall bomb splash is HMAS PERTH which suffered damage when a 1000lb bomb exploded between her and the wharf.

Cheers
Bruce
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Old 30-05-2012, 06:28
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Thanks Bruce for explaining the detail of Mitch's picture-this I take it is when she was attacked in Grand Harbour

jainso31
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Old 30-05-2012, 10:13
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Another excerpt from "Freedom's Battle"by John Winton
"Slowly they fought the ship to Malta,through several more attacks,her stokers maintaining steam in a temperature of 140 degrees F,with air vents sucking in thick,acrid smoke;her gunners keeping up a fierce barrage with the fury and blind anger of men who were watching their shipmates die in agonies all around them,and their beloved,beautiful ship being smashed into punch-drunk helplessness
.It was nearly dark now and the list on the ship seemed to be growing worse.Fire still raged in the hangar and the stench of burning flesh lay everywhere.At gun quarters huge piles of brass cordite cylinders sprawled"

An absolute nightmarish scene like something from Dante's Inferno.

jainso31
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Old 30-05-2012, 17:08
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

WITNESS STATEMENT
"I looked up with fear and apprehension. Then there was an almighty flash as a 1,000 lb bomb pierced the 4 inch armoured deck and exploded. I was only aware of a great wind, and bits of aircraft, debris, all blowing out to the forward lift shaft of 300 tons, which was also blown out. 
There were dead and wounded all around. My overalls were blown off and I had small wounds to the back of my head and shoulder.
I was probably 10-15 feet away from the bomb when it exploded. Luck I survived? I prefer the thought of someone looking out for me. 
The hanger by then was burning all over.

The ship started to sink by the stern, and everyone had to blow up lifebelts. Then came a spot of humour in all that chaos. Poor old Corporal Gater came through a side door white as a sheet saying ‘I wish I hadn’t bloody joined.’ 
The battering carried on for six to seven hours. 
There were many wounded piled up. The aft surgeons station had been destroyed, and the forward station was unable to cope quickly with so many casualties. 
Captain Boyd finally steered with the engines into Malta. The ship was quiet at last"
End of witness statement.

The magazine parties came up ,grimy and puffy eyed,from the stinking darkness that had imprisoned them all day,and asked for news
The air was brittle .every noise ,every movement,seemed magnified. Word went round that the ship had entered Grand Harbour.At last the call came "Secure from Action Stations"

jainso31

Last edited by jainso31 : 30-05-2012 at 19:24.
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Old 30-05-2012, 19:27
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harry.gibbon harry.gibbon is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

The armoured flight deck controversy

The British armoured flight decks and enclosed hangars, as seen in their Illustrious class aircraft carriers, were vastly superior to the American Essex class that had open hangars, and an armoured main deck that supported an elevated flight deck, according to generations of RN and RAN fixed-wing pilots. There were pros and cons. Illustrious- and Essex-class total armour was comparable in terms of total weight, and the ships were of a similar size, but the British armoured flight deck design offered better protection than the American, so the argument went.

Examples

After all, look at the way Illustrious survived numerous bombs in January 1941 in the Mediterranean and Formidable survived two 500 kg bombs in the Med on 26 May 1941 and even a couple of kamikazes off Okinawa in early May 1945, all with minimal casualties. On the other hand, Essex class carriers, such as Franklin (CV-13) reported 989 casualties and severe damage on 19 March 1945 from two 250 kg bombs while Bunker Hill (CV-17) had 650 casualties and equally severe damage from two kamikaze hits on 11 May 1945.

Even modern internet comment is replete with the mantra that while British carriers “shrugged off kamikazes,” American carriers “had to retire for repairs.” Closer examination suggests this might not be quite so.
---------(continues with diagrams)

Stuart Eadon reiterated the mantra as late as 1991, saying that in contrast to the “vulnerable” wooden decks of American aircraft carriers, the armoured decks of the British Fleet carriers protected them to the extent that they frequently returned to flight operations within hours of being hit. He cites one oft-repeated comment by an observer watching a kamikaze attacker that “literally bounced along the deck and then slid off into the sea” (Eadon p. 266). Even more recently, in 2004, another source boasts, “The immense strength of the ships stood them in good stead … In the Pacific War most of the (Illustrious class) ships withstood one or even two kamikaze strikes without having to leave station” (Bishop and Chant p. 46).

Justification

Anthony Preston succinctly explains why the Illustrious class carriers were built with an armoured flight deck and enclosed hangar. The British specifications aimed to:

“Provide as much protection for the aircraft as possible. This meant … building an armoured box with 4.5-inch (114 mm) sides and a 3-inch (76.2 mm) roof,” (Preston, p.60).

The designers expected the air group to land on and be struck down in the face of air attack. Meanwhile the ship’s AA armament “welcomed the opportunity” to shoot down the attackers, he adds. This never happened.

Interestingly, the Japanese Shokaku class was also a purpose-built large aircraft carrier constructed around the same time. It had an American-style “open” hangar, with a 100 mm armoured hangar deck over the machinery spaces, much like the Essex class.

Multiple variables

Other authors, such as Stuart Slade and Richard Worth, point to a host of critically important variables that must be taken into account before coming to a reasoned conclusion. They make a convincing assertion that the different damage reported by British and American carriers can be explained chiefly by the amount of refuelled and rearmed aircraft on deck when the bomb or kamikaze hit. Put simply: the bigger and more volatile the deck park, British, American or Japanese, the heavier the damage, regardless of whether the flight deck was armoured or not. One corollary found proven was that if a bomb penetrated the British flight deck armour, the damage was likely to be long-lasting and severe. Another was that good damage control procedures were vitally important. A third potentially confounding factor, frequently overlooked in comment, is that there were only four British fleet carriers exposed to kamikazes and they were rarely subjected to the heavy sustained attacks experienced by American carriers. Except to prove an exception, even the dodgiest statistician could never rely on such a small number as four.
--------------(continues with tables)

A comparison of the Illustrious, Essex and Shokaku classes .......shows that they were very similar in many respects as far as gross tonnage and dimensions are concerned. They all carried defensive armour to resist bombs, shells and torpedoes penetrating the vital machinery and magazine spaces. However, Slade makes a salient point, “The question is not so much whether armour is useful … but where the designer puts it,” he says. The British Illustrious class had the flight deck as the strength deck with three-inch amour, theoretically sufficient to resist 500-lb (226 kg) bombs and six-inch (15.2 cm) shells. Instead, the American Essex and the Japanese Shokaku classes both had 3.5 inches of armour on the hangar deck below a thinner flight deck....................
(photo)
-----------------(continues on page 2 under headings as follows)

-More armour, more aircraft or more speed?

-Lift placement

-Aviation gasoline

-------------------(final paragraph page 2) reads:-
British warship designer and well-known author David K. Brown asserts that the British armoured deck design never lived up to its reputation and concludes that "More fighters would have been better protection than armour" (Brown p. 56). He explains how the RN originally envisaged battles in comparatively restricted seas within the range of some land-based aircraft, such as the Mediterranean. This "narrow seas" concept was proven to be far removed from reality. Similarly, the idea that a 226 kg bomb would be the biggest that British carriers would need to resist was quickly refuted in practice. When a 500 kg bomb penetrated an Illustrious class carrier's armoured deck (e.g. Illustrious 10 January 1941; Formidable 12 August 1942) it caused severe and frequently lasting damage.
---------------(continues on Page 3)

_________________________________


source; Naval Officers Club - Ships - Aircraft Carriers - Armoured decks; from which the selection of excerpts were taken.


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Old 30-05-2012, 19:43
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Thank you Harry on the noteworthy treatise on armoured deck carriers,such as
HMS Illustrious.In the Pacific War the Americans were full of admiration for the way a Brit carrier "brushed off" the Kamikaze ie."out brooms"
In this story Illustrious was left for dead; but she was superlatively well made and she fought for her life for hours to reach Malta-which she did with nigh on 200 dead on board.
Great ship and equally great crew-from captain downward.!!!
QUOTE
"The British armoured flight decks and enclosed hangars, as seen in their Illustrious class aircraft carriers, were vastly superior to the American Essex class that had open hangars, and an armoured main deck that supported an elevated flight deck, according to generations of RN and RAN fixed-wing pilots. There were pros and cons. Illustrious- and Essex-class total armour was comparable in terms of total weight, and the ships were of a similar size, but the British armoured flight deck design offered better protection than the American, so the argument went."



jainso31
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Old 30-05-2012, 21:13
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Brian Wentzell Brian Wentzell is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Jim: This is an excellent recount of one part of the battle for Malta, a heroic battle by any standard. I am perplexed by the reference to the destroyer "Bonaventure". I cannot find a reference in any of the naval vessel listings I have to a destroyer by that name. There was a "X" craft depot ship, HMS Bonaventure that was completed in 1942 and survived the war to become a merchant ship.
Brian
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Old 30-05-2012, 22:09
David Verghese David Verghese is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Wentzell View Post
Jim: This is an excellent recount of one part of the battle for Malta, a heroic battle by any standard. I am perplexed by the reference to the destroyer "Bonaventure". I cannot find a reference in any of the naval vessel listings I have to a destroyer by that name. There was a "X" craft depot ship, HMS Bonaventure that was completed in 1942 and survived the war to become a merchant ship.
Brian
Brian

Thanks for detecting this error on my part (in post#5). HMS Bonaventure at that time was of course a Cruiser of the Dido Class. Alas she was lost 30 March 1941 when sunk by a torpedo from an Italian submarine in the Mediterranean Sea.

David
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Old 30-05-2012, 22:15
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

HMS Bonaventure
Dido class cruiser

1937 programme ordered 20 Mar 1937, with Hermione. Ships 6 & 7 of class.
Builder Scotts, yard no 575
LD 30. 8 37. L 19.4.39. C 24.5.40.
As ordered had 10-5.25 in twins, A,B,Q,X,Y, but Bonaventure never had X fitted.
Sunk 31.3.41 off Sollum, Med, by Italian sub Ambra, torpedoed stbd side in the engine room, sinking in 6 mins, just over half the crew going down with her, the first of 5 Dido class lost in World war 2. Bonaventure, Naiad, Hermione, Charybdis, Spartan.
So her career was rather short.

A little off topic, do not forget this Bonaventure, a little known cruiser.
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Old 31-05-2012, 07:32
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

During an attack on the convoy on 10 January, the Italian torpedo boat Vega was sunk in the Strait of Sicily by the cruiser HMS Bonaventure and the destroyer HMS Hereward. HMS Bonaventure sustained some damage and two of her complement were killed. She spent 75 per cent of her ammunition in the engagement. A second Italian torpedo boat, Circe, slipped away. While returning to station after the engagement, the British destroyer HMS Gallant struck a mine near Pantelleria, with the loss of 65 lives. Although towed to Malta, Gallant was deemed irreparable, and she was finally lost during bombing in April 1942.
Illustrious was seriously damaged by bombs, after emergency repairs in Malta, she reached Alexandria on 25 January. Fairey Fulmar fighters and AA gunners of the Royal Navy shot down at least seven aircraft on 10 January 1941, in defence of HMS Illustrious, while one Fulmar was lost.
On 11 January, air attacks sank the cruiser HMS Southampton, while returning to Alexandria with empty ships. Her sister ship, HMS Gloucester was damaged, but survived.

Brian-a little excerpt from this vicious encounter with the Luftwaffe (above)
Glad you liked the account,as I said before it was one the most harrowing to allwho experienced this attack .Dido class cruiser HMS Bonaventure was sunk as culverin describes.

jainso31
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Old 31-05-2012, 07:42
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

In the early afternoon of Thursday 16th January the sun burned away the morning cloud to leave a clear bright sky. Suddenly out of the blue a formation of Stuka dive-bombers screamed across the skies over Grand Harbour. Wave after wave of Luftwaffe aircraft followed in their wake – more than seventy of them, raining bombs on the Dockyard and surrounding areas.

The Germans had launched their first concentrated and ferocious attack of the war in the Mediterranean. Barely able to prepare for the onslaught, Malta’s few defending Hurricane and Fulmar aircraft took to the air to try and repel the raiders. Bofors guns boomed out constant rounds which echoed and re-echoed across the Harbour. The valiant response succeeded in preventing all but one bomb from falling on Illustrious but could not protect the surrounding ‘Three Cities’ of Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua from heavy bombing. Valletta, too, was badly hit, sending its citizens scurrying for shelter.

.
Malta’s oldest urban communities, established and fortified in the 16thcentury by the Knights of Malta, were now reduced to rubble. Some 200 houses were destroyed and another 500 damaged. The effect on the population was devastating. The majority had fled their homes to take refuge inland during the early raids of June 1940. But when enemy activity quietened down in the autumn, many evacuees had drifted back home to rejoin Dockyard workers who had stayed behind. Now these civilians were in the eye of the storm and large numbers fell victim to the Luftwaffe raids. Most lost their homes and everything they owned; hundreds were trapped under collapsed buildings; many were killed – men, women and children.
Over the next 12 days the workers at the shipyard in the Grand Harbour repaired the carrier under determined air attack so that she might make Alexandria. On 13 January the Ju 87s, now equipped with SC 1000 bombs failed to achieve a hit. On 14 January 44 Ju 87s scored a near hit on the ill-fated aft after lift. On 18 January, the Germans switched to attacking the airfields at Hal Far and Luqa in an attempt to win air superiority before returning to Illustrious. On 20 January two near misses breached the hull below the water line and hurled her hull against the Wharf. Still, the engineers won the battle. On 23 January she slipped out of Grand Harbour, and arrived in Alexandria two days later. The carrier later sailed to America where she was out of action for a year


jainso31
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Old 31-05-2012, 13:22
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harry.gibbon harry.gibbon is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

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Originally Posted by jainso31 View Post
On 23 January she slipped out of Grand Harbour, and arrived in Alexandria two days later. The carrier later sailed to America where she was out of action for a year

jainso31

1941

January
23rd Sailed for Alexandria at 20 knots escorted by HM Destroyers GREYHOUND), JANUS, JUNO and JERVIS.
25th Arrived at Alexandria,

February Under repair.
Permanent repair arranged in USA.
March Repair in continuation.

19th Took passage to Durban for docking to assess full extent of underwater and other structural damage.

April Passage to Norfolk, Virginia.

May
12th Taken in hand for refit and permanent repairs at US Navy Yard.

June Under repair.
to (Note: Other work carried out included installation of another aircraft lift after with
July structural modification to provide additional 50 ft of flight deck space, fit of ten 20mm Oerlikon guns to improve close range AA defence and modification of catapult to enable use by US built aircraft.


source; navalhistory.net


Presumably the drydocking for assessment at Durban resulted in the findings being signalled to the US Repair Yard, in preparation for her repair and refit.

The addition of close range AA defence and mod to cat to enable use by US built a/c --- now doesn't that have a familiar ring even in todays Navy

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Old 31-05-2012, 13:54
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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The addition of close range AA defence and mod to cat to enable use by US built a/c --- now doesn't that have a familiar ring even in todays Navy
It certainly does Harry-with almost monotonous regularity but in this ship at this time-"she was worth it"

On 4 March 1945, she sailed with the rest of the Pacific Fleet to Manus Island, and from there on 19 March to Ulithi. There Illustrious and her sisters Indomitable and Victorious, as well as Indefatigable joined the US Pacific Fleet, under the designation Task Force 57 (TF 57).
From 26 March to 9 April, TF 57 provided air support for the invasion of Okinawa (Operation Iceberg), winning her last battle honour. On 6 April, Illustrious suffered serious underwater damage from a near miss by a kamikaze. On 9 April, Illustrious was detached for a raid against Formosa, but on 14 April she was replaced by her sister, Formidable, and sent to the Philippines for inspection.

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Old 31-05-2012, 14:35
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Returning to the thread-another eye witness account

There were many wounded piled up. The aft surgeons station had been destroyed, and the forward station was unable to cope quickly with so many casualties. Captain Boyd finally steered with the engines into Malta. The ship was quiet at last.

The next morning we cleared lower deck, and a roll call was taken. An announcement on the tannoy ordered in case of further attacks on the ship, all hands other than gun crews etc. should go over the side, and into the big caves in the hillside.

No sooner said than over the enemy came again, so over the side we went!

That same day all air maintenance ratings were dispersed. The surviving 815 and 819 squadron people shipped on the cruiser Orion back to Alexandria there to reform as 815, and where we operated an RAF command for the next two years.

There were three aircraft in the air when Illustrious was damaged, but there were some spares at Dekhalia, some were sent from the UK, and we were soon fully operational.

My last memory of Illustrious was clearing lower deck and lining the ships side to pay a last salute to the destroyer carrying our dead to sea for burial. The rows of white ensigns lay row upon row. The crew were at attention as we were. Words are inadequate to express our feelings End of witness statement

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Last edited by jainso31 : 31-05-2012 at 19:05.
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Old 31-05-2012, 23:35
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Jim and Culverin: Thanks for clarifying the existence of HMS Bonaventure.
Cheers,
Brian
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Old 31-05-2012, 23:47
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Hello all!

It's been a while!

My take on this event is that Illustrious WAS saved by her armoured flight deck and armoured hangars which despite being penetrated, took some of the momentum of the bombs preventing them from going deeper into the ship to cause fatal damage. This justified her level of protection based on the "narrow seas" argument alluded to by Harry.

The drawback to the armoured "box" hangar was the meagre aircraft capacity - 36 aircraft on 23,000 tons - less than half of the capacity of contemporary US and Japanese ships of lesser displacement. But those US and Japanese ships were knocked out by less damage in some cases and ended up on the bottom - despite their greater fighter protection.

Would Ark Royal have survived the same series of hits that Illustrious took? Hard to say.... she had two hangar levels which may have given some measure of protection to the ship's vitals, exploding them before they reached her lower hangar deck (2.5-inch armour).

Anyway some awesome photos can be seen here on at least 7 web pages of the 12 on Illustrious at Maritimequest:
http://www.maritimequest.com/warship..._87_page_3.htm


Here are a few samples:
Attached Images
File Type: jpg 1941_01_10_f_ph.jpg (46.2 KB, 9 views)
File Type: jpg 1941_01_10_g_ph.jpg (52.9 KB, 9 views)
File Type: jpg 1941_01_10_k_ph.jpg (82.8 KB, 12 views)
File Type: jpg 1941_01_15_ph_07.jpg (64.1 KB, 16 views)
File Type: jpg 1941_01_15_ph_10.jpg (82.2 KB, 19 views)
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Last edited by Dreadnought : 14-06-2012 at 11:19. Reason: Pictures changed to thumbnails
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Old 01-06-2012, 07:08
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

Thanks Paul -it's good to have you back.You are right to emphasize the sturdiness of the ship-it was capable of taking a considerable hammering from Luftwaffe bombs; but if I may be so bold-so too was Captain and crew, who doggedly fought the ship from morning to night; despite death and destruction surrounding them.I thought their performance was true to the best traditions of the Royal Navy.
Thanks too for the excellent pictures of Illlustrious under attack,especially the Maritime Series

jainso31
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Old 01-06-2012, 09:25
barryp barryp is offline
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Default Re: An ILLUSTRIOUS Fight for Life Jan.1941

D K Brown had an article which covered this attack in an issue of the old 'Warship' magazine. He made the point that few of the bombs actually hit the armoured part of the flight deck (I can't remember if it was one or none) so that was not what saved the ship. The unarmoured lifts were clearly an Achilles' heel. The other point about no armoured flight deck is that it means more fighters on board to shoot down the attackers which means there are fewer or no hits. On the other hand, as a previous poster has mentioned, we are entitled to wonder if Ark Royal would have coped as well with similar damage.

Personally I think that once radar was developed along with the proper aircraft direction routines there is no argument which approach is preferable. Of course this pre-supposes that the money saved on the armour will be spent pre-war on aircraft and aircrew which for the FAA circa 1937 is another matter entirely (I also think the Americans just used deck parks that were too big, but that is a separate issue).
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