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by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2003

HMS INDOMITABLE - Illustrious-class Fleet Aircraft Carrier including Convoy Escort Movements 

Edited by Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

HMS Indomitable in 1946 (Maritime Quest,  click to enlarge)

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Modified ILLUSTRIOUS-Class Fleet Aircraft Carrier ordered under the 1937 Estimates from Vickers Armstrong, Barrow in Furness on 6th July 1937. The ship was laid down on 10th November that year and launched on 26th March 1940 as the 3rd RN Warship to carry the name. It had previously been used by a battlecruiser sold in 1921. She was completed in 1941 and, after a successful WARSHIP WEEK National Savings campaign in March 1942, was adopted by the civil community of Belfast. Yard No on build was 735.


B a t t l e   H o n o u r s




H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge: On a Field Blue, a dexter gauntlet of plate mail White



D e t a i l s   o f   W a r   S e r v i c e


(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search



1 9 4 1


June                        Contractors trials and commissioning.

to October             Nominated for deployment in Far East with Force Z.

                                 Passage to West Indies to work-up for operational service.



                3rd          Ran aground during work-up in West Indies and departure for Trincomalee delayed.

                                Took passage to Norfolk, Va for repair.

                                (Note: This accident prevented an aircraft carrier being deployed at Singapore with

HM Battleship PRINCE OF WALES and HM Battlecruiser REPULSE in Force Z.

These two major fleet units were lost primarily because of lack of air cover. See THE

HUNTING OF FORCE Z by R Hough and Naval Staff History).


December              Passage to join Eastern Fleet in Ceylon.


1 9 4 2


January                  Diverted to off-load aircraft and embark 50 RAF Hurricane aircraft at Port Sudan for

 transfer to Singapore.

                                Passage to East Indies escorted by HM Destroyers NAPIER, NIZAM and NESTOR.

                27th        Flew off Hurricanes south of Sumatra for use at Batavia.


February                Passage to Trincomalee to refuel.


March                    Diverted on passage to Java and took second batch of Hurricanes to Ceylon to

reinforce existing air defence resources. Re-embarked own aircraft.

                                Passage to Addu Atoll for flying training and work-up for operations.

 31st        Assigned to Force A in Eastern Fleet with HM Battleship WARSPITE, HM Aircraft


Cruiser EMERALD.

                                Joined Fleet south of Ceylon and took part in unsuccessful search for Japanese

aircraft carrier force reported as bound for an attack on Ceylon.



                5th          Sailed with Force A to intercept Japanese ships without success.

                                (Note: HMS CORNWALL and HMS DORSETSHIRE which had detached earlier were

sunk by Japanese aircraft whilst on passage to Ceylon. For more details see OPERATION


                8th          Returned to Addu Atoll.

                                Took passage to Bombay with Force A.

                22nd       Nominated for support of allied landings in Madagascar (Operation IRONCLAD).

                                Took Passage to Durban to join ships preparing for landings

                                (For details of naval activities in Indian Ocean during 1941 and 1942 see above references).



                3rd          Joined Convoys Y and Z off Madagascar.

                5th          Deployed with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and provided air cover for assault landings.

                to            Launched attacks in support of shore operations.

                7th          (For details see RELUCTANT ENEMIES by W Tute and Naval Staff History).

                8th          Under torpedo attack by Vichy French submarine MONGE which failed.

                                Submarine was sunk by depth charges from HM Destroyers ACTIVE and PANTHER.


June                        Under refit followed by flying training

                                Exercised with HM Battleship VALIANT off Mombasa.


July                         Transferred to Gibraltar for duty with Force H and took passage.


August                  Joined HM Aircraft Carriers VICTORIOUS, FURIOUS, EAGLE and ARGUS in

Atlantic for joint exercises in multi-carrier operations and fighter direction.

                                (Exercise BERSERK - See RADAR AT SEA).

                10th        Part of Force Z covering passage of military convoy (WS21S) to Malta.

                12th        Under heavy air attack and hit by three AP bombs. Aircraft already airborne were

diverted to land on HMS VICTORIOUS. Fires brought under control with difficulty

and ship returned to Gibraltar.

                                (For details of this renowned convoy see PEDESTAL by Peter C. Smith, THE

BATTLE FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN by D MacIntyre and Naval Staff History).


September             Passage to USA for repair and refit.


October                  Under repair.

to December


1 9 4 3


January                  Post refit trials.


February                Passage to UK.

                                Installation of Aircraft Warning Radar Sets Type 218B and Type 79 with new Plan Type

radar displays and radio telephone equipment for fighter direction.

                                (For details of development and use of radar in RN see RADAR AT SEA by D Howse).


March                    Work-up for service.


April                       Deployed with Home Fleet.

to May                   Carried out trials with new radar equipments (See RADAR AT SEA).



                17th        Joined Force H at Scapa Flow for duty in Mediterranean and took passage to Oran.



                5th          Sailed from Algiers with HM Battleships WARSPITE, VALIANT, NELSON and


five destroyers to cover military convoys to Central Mediterranean.

                10th        Part of Force H deployed in Ionian Sea to prevent interference by Italian Navy

during landings in Sicily (Operation HUSKY).

                                (For details see ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY by Corelli Barnett and the

Naval Staff History).

                16th        Torpedoed by aircraft which had been wrongly identified during air attacks as a naval

SWORDFISH returning to carrier.

                                Repair arranged in USA.



                20th        Took passage to USA via Bermuda escorted by HM destroyers OBDURATE,


                31st         Arrived at Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia.


September             Under repair and refit.

to December          American Radar Types SM1 and SG fitted. (See RADAR AT SEA).


1 9 4 4


January                  Under repair and refit.

to April 


May                        Completed refit and returned to UK to embark aircraft.



click for HMS Indomitable in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, 1944-1945 - a photographic record



June                        Passage to Trincomalee.



                5th          Joined Eastern Fleet with HM Aircraft Carrier VICTORIOUS.

                                Prepared for operational duties with Fleet.



                23rd        With Eastern Fleet to provide air-sea rescue facilities during US air attacks by XX

                                Bomber Command on Sumatra (Operation BOOMERANG).

                24th        Launched air attacks on Padang with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS VICTORIOUS

                                covered by HM Battleship HOWE and units of Eastern Fleet. Targets included

                                cement works at Indaroeng and harbour installations at Emmerhaven (Operation


                                (For details of Eastern Fleet operations see OPERATION PACIFIC).



                18th        Deployed with HMS VICTORIOUS escorted by HMS HOWE, two cruisers and seven

                                Fleet Destroyers to launch air attacks on Sigli, Sumatra and photo-reconnaissance

                                over Nicobar Islands (Operation LIGHT).

                                Two aircraft accidentally attacked HM Submarine SPIRIT which was acting as Plane




                15th        Deployed with Task Group 63.3 for diversionary operations in Indian Ocean during

                                US landings on Leyte (Operation MILLET). Six aircrew were lost.

                17th        Launched air attacks with HMS VICTORIOUS on Nicobar Islands.

                                HM Cruiser PHOEBE provided fighter direction facilities and AA defence.

                                Group was screened by HM Destroyers WHELP, WAKEFUL, WAGER and WESSEX.

                19th        Repeated air attacks on Nicobars.

                                During retaliatory attacks by Japanese torpedo bombers, ten of the twelve enemy

                                aircraft were destroyed.



                20th        Deployed with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS to launch air attacks on Belawan Deli.

                                Cover was provided by HM Cruisers NEWCASTLE, ARGONAUT and BLACK

                                PRINCE screened by HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT (ii), WHIRLWIND, WRANGLER,

                                WESSEX and WAKEFUL. (Operation OUTFLANK).

                                (Note: Original target on Pangkalan Brandon could not be attacked due to weather

                                conditions in the area).

                22th        Became part of British Pacific Fleet with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS VICTORIOUS.

                                (For details see TASK FORCE 57 by P Smith and CARRIER VICTORY by JM Ludley).



                17th        With HMS ILLUSTRIOUS launched air attacks on Belawan Deli covered by HM

                                Cruisers NEWCASTLE, BLACK PRINCE and ARGONAUT screened by seven Fleet

                                Destroyers. (Operation ROBSON.)


1 9 4 5


January                  Joined Task Force 63.

                4th          Deployed with HMS INDEFATIGABLE and HMS VICTORIOUS, H M Cruisers

                                SUFFOLK, CEYLON, ARGONAUT and BLACK PRINCE screened by HM Destroyers


                                and URSA for air attacks on oil refineries at Pangkalang Brandan, Sumatra (Operation


                                (Note: The unsuitability of SEAFIRE aircraft for sustained carrier operations was

                                mentioned in the report on this operation).

                16th        Sailed from Trincomalee with TF63 for offensive sweep in Indian Ocean prior to transfer

                                of British Pacific Fleet for service in Pacific area.

                24th        With HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, HMS INDEFATIGABLE and HMS VICTORIOUS carried

                                out air attacks on the oil refinery at Pladjoe, Sumatra. Cover was provided by HM

                                Battleship KING GEORGE V, HMS ARGONAUT, HMS EURYALUS and HMS BLACK

                                PRINCE screened by Fleet Destroyers. (Operation MERIDIAN ONE)

                29th        With same aircraft carriers launched raids on Soengi Gerong oil refineries and airfields

                                at Lembak and Tanglangbetoetoe (Operation MERIDIAN TWO).

                                (Note: These attacks were marred by various problems. All seven KAMIKAZE aircraft

                                which attacked Fleet in retaliation were destroyed but 16 RN aircraft were lost in action

                                and another 14 by deck landing accidents. 9 pilots captured after baling out were

                                executed by the Japanese in August 1945. (Operation MERIDIAN TWO).



                4th          Arrived Fremantle with British Pacific Fleet.

                9th          Arrived at Sydney to prepare for operational service as TF113 with US Navy.


March                    Re-designated as part of Task Force 57.

                17th        Joined Task Force 57, BPF element of US 5th Fleet, at Manus

                23rd        Sailed from Ulithi to take part in combined RN/USN carrier operations in support of

                                US landings on Okinawa until 7th April (Operation ICEBERG).



                1st           Damaged in KAMIKAZE attack during operations off Sakashima Gunto group. 14 men

                                were killed and 16 wounded. Extensive damage to Island structure and some fires were

                                started. Flight deck was cleared and fires extinguished with an hour.

                9th          Flying operations transferred to targets in Formosa (Operation ICEBERG OOLONG).

                11th        With HMS INDEFATIGABLE carried attacks on Schinchiku and Matsugama.

                16th        Transferred with TF57 to renew attacks on airfields in Ishigaki and Miyako in Sakishimas.

                20th        Returned to Leyte.



                1st           Sailed from Leyte to resume attacks on Sakishima Gunto group.

                4th          After replenishing with ships of TG57 launched first of a series of air attacks with

                                HMS VICTORIOUS and HMS FORMIDABLE on airfields at Hiara, Nobara, Miyako

                                and Ishigaki.

                                Hit by KAMIKAZE aircraft but remained operational.

                9th          Damaged in another KAMIKAZE attack but continued flying operations with gaps for

                                replenishment until 23rd May.

                20th        In collision with HM Destroyer QUILLIAM which was seriously damaged.

                25th        Sailed for Manus on completion of operation requirement for TF57.


June                        Relieved by HM Aircraft Carrier IMPLACABLE and refitted in SYDNEY.


July                         On completion remained at Sydney.



                15th        Transferred to RN control after Japan surrendered.

                                Took passage to Subic Bay, Philippines with HM Aircraft Carrier VENERABLE, HM

                                Cruisers EURYALUS and SWIFTSURE screened by three Fleet Destroyers

                27th        Sailed with HMS VENERABLE, HMS SWIFTSURE, HMS BLACK PRINCE, HMS EURYALUS

                                screened by HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT, URSA, QUADRANT and WHIRLWIND as

                                Task Group 111.2 to re-occupy Hong Kong.

                29th        Met HM Battleship ANSON and HM Aircraft Carrier VENGEANCE prior to entry into the

                                Colony of Hong Kong after minesweeping completed.

                30th        Carried cut air attacks with HMS VENERABLE on Japanese explosive boats in Lamma Bay.

                                Entered Hong Kong on completion.


P o s t   W a r   N o t e s


HMS INDOMITABLE was deployed with the BPF in the Far East until 12th November 1945 and returned to the United Kingdom on 12th December. The ship was reduced to Reserve in 1946. Between 1948 and 1950 she was extensively refitted and modernised including replacement of bow and stem structure as well as installation of British radars. On completion she re-commissioned and was deployed as Flagship of the Home Fleet. In 1954 she was again put in Reserve and then placed on the Disposal List. On 30th September 1955 this ship arrived at Faslane to be broken-up.






Convoy Escort Movements of HMS INDOMITABLE

by Don Kindell


These convoy lists have not been cross-checked with the text above 






Date convoy sailed

Joined convoy as escort

Convoy No.

Left convoy

Date convoy arrived








CT 004





WS 021S








(Note on Convoys)




Collision of sister-ships HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS FORMIDABLE in December 1941

by Mark Horan

(Answering a query from Rebecca Hill , whose grandfather served on HMS Indomitable from 1940-46. We had Indomitable involved in this collision)

While all of this was going on (the career at that time of Illustrious and Formidable, followed by them returning  across the Atlantic to the UK and being in collision on the 16 December), HMS Indomitable was commissioned on 26 August 1941. She underwent further refitting until late September. On 1 October she embarked her first aircraft and sailed to conduct flying trials. On 18 October she sailed for Bermuda, travelling in convoy part of the way. She reached Bermuda on 27 October. On 31 October she sailed for Jamaica. On 3 November while entering Kingston she ran aground on a pinnacle rock when she departed from the marked channel. She did not get off until the next day and did so with substantial damage to her hull forward.

On 6 November she departed for Norfolk, arriving on 10 November. During the next 11 days the US repair facilities fitted her with a new bow. She departed Norfolk on 21 November, and after a brief trial run, sailed for Jamaica, arriving on 25 November. She then began her work up period, which was completed on 17 December, after which she departed for the Far East, making Capetown on 2 January and Aden on 11 January. After that she made two voyages to the Dutch East Indies/Ceylon with RAF Hurricanes before joining the Eastern Fleet.


Explosion on board HMS INDOMITABLE. 3rd February 1953
by David Hamilton, Commander (F), RN (Rtd)

The ship was carrying out exercises off Malta. I was Deck Landing Control Officer at the time ,and on the flight deck this day, when I heard a rumbling thump and the ship shook. Immediately thick black smoke started pouring out of the starboard side. Cause - an Avgas [aviation petrol] leak had developed in an area below decks. The Damage Control Head Quarters [DCHQ] personnel had shut off that part of the system but not as quickly as possible because, it was discovered later, the builders drawings of the fuel system had an error in them.

Our planeguard destroyer came up abeam and offered assistance but our crew managed to control and extinguish the flames, after what seemed like ages. The situation was not helped by the fact that DCHQ itself was near the seat of the explosion and filled with smoke. The subsequent enquiry determined that the cause was as follows. When the leak was discovered Emergency Damage Control State 1 was broadcast throughout the ship. This meant that every watertight door and hatch in the ship was shut and fully clipped. This was followed by DCHQ shutting down all electrical ventilation fans, to stop vapour being spread. Avgas had flowed though some areas but petrol vapour had drifted down to the deck below the leak. When fans are shut down arcing can occur in the electric motor and this caused the vapour to explode, which then ignited the liquid. On examining the area afterwards I was amazed at the power of the explosion. The site was in a passage with the hangar on one side and armour plate of the ships side on the other. Three fully clipped heavy water tight doors had been blown completely out, one after the other. Royal Navy carriers have sealed aircraft hangars, with double door air locks for access; the nearest withstood the explosion but only just. The outer door went but the inner one held, although damaged. One person was killed in the airlock. If the air lock had failed we could have lost the ship.

Later, we flew off all serviceable aircraft to RNAS Hal Far and we entered Grand Harbour for repairs and nine funerals. Two George Medals and six other awards for bravery were gazetted later. About a year later I found a Readers Digest which listed a series of violent incidents caused by 'world saboteurs' and Indomitable was included. Never bought a copy after that.


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