Colossus-class Aircraft Carrier

The loss of the mighty battlecruiser HMS Repulse and the brand new (and still not fully worked up) Battleship HMS Prince of Wales, overwhelmed and sunk by waves of Japanese bombers in December 1941, sent shock waves through the corridors of the Admiralty in London. Clearly, there was an urgent need that future operations by surface vessels in the Far East should be covered by adequate air support. This presented something of a problem to the Admiralty for Escort carriers were far too small and too slow to operate the necessary high-performance fighters, while full sized fleet carriers would take too long to construct. What was needed was something in between.

As large merchantmen were too valuable to convert, a new design was rushed through, in which a class of aircraft carrier could be constructed, it was hoped, in 18 to 21 months. These vessels would be built to mercantile (rather than military) standards, and by September 1942 no less than sixteen were on order.

The first carrier HMS Colossus was launched on the 30th September 1943, but it would not be until December 1944 that she should be joined with her sister ships HMS Glory (November 1943), HMS Venerable (December 1944) and HMS Vengeance (February 1944) to form a coherent squadron for dispatch to the Far East. Fortunately this squadron was to see no action before the Japanese surrender, for the unarmoured Colossus class carriers would have had a slender chance of surviving Japanese Kamikaze hits.

The 18,000 ton Colossus class carriers would however become much more successful in post war service. They could carry more aircraft (Janes Fighting Ships of World War II says between 39 and 44) than many of the bigger fleet carriers, yet were vastly more economical to operate. They gave an invaluable contribution during the Korean War; their Seafire and other aircraft regularly striking at enemy positions ashore.

The Colossus carriers also proved utterly durable. Even as late as 1995, at least two, the Vikrant (ex HMS Hercules)and the Minas Gerais (ex HMS Vengeance) were still operating under the Indian and Brazilian flags respectively.

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