SIMPLY THE BEST--BETTER THAN ALL THE REST
Illustrious was the lead ship in her class of aircraft carriers. The design was unique in the sense that the flight deck was armored, unlike many of her contemporaries outside her class; however, the added protection also limited the total number of aircraft she was capable of carrying. Her first assignment brought her to the Mediterranean Sea where her main mission was to launch aircraft which covered Malta convoys. In Nov 1940, she launched 21 torpedo bombers against the Italian fleet at Taranto, and achieved spectacular success after sinking one battleship and damaging two others. On 11 Jan 1941, she was attacked by German dive bombers while escorting a convoy, suffering 8 bomb hits. While repair work was being done at Malta, she was once again bombed. She sailed for Alexandria, Egypt for temporary repairs, and then sailed for the Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia, United States for permanent repairs.
The repair work completed in May 1942. By which time, Japan had entered the war, threatening British possessions in Asia. The British Royal Navy, particularly, suffered a damaging defeat after the Japanese raids into the Indian Ocean in Mar-Apr 1942. As a result, Illustrious was dispatched to the Indian Ocean instead of returning to the Mediterranean. In May 1942, her aircraft provided cover for the British troops landing at Diego Suarez, Madagascar against French and French colonial troops.
In 1943, Illustrious returned to the Mediterranean Sea and joined Force H based in Gibraltar. In Sep 1943, her aircraft covered Allied troops in the Sicily invasion.
In 1944, Illustrious returned to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean for strikes against Japanese garrisons in the Southwest Pacific region. In 1945, after a period of rest and re-supply in Fremantle, Australia, she sailed north and joined Allied Task Force 57 to cover the Okinawa operation. Off Okinawa, she was hit and damaged by two Japanese special attack aircraft.
After the war, Illustrious' role was reduced to a training and trials ship due to the heavy damage suffered during WW2. She was finally modernized between Jan and Aug 1948, and then served another six years before she was decommissioned. She was sold for scrap on 3 Nov 1954 and was broken up in 1956 as Faslane.
Quo Fata Vocant-Whither the Fates call