HMS Eagle was an aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...
of the Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...
, in service 1951-1972. With her sister ship , she is one of the two largest British
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...
aircraft carriers yet built.
She was initially laid down in 1942 at Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries is a Northern Irish heavy industrial company, specialising in shipbuilding and offshore construction, located in Belfast, Northern Ireland....
shipyard in Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...
as one of four ships of the . These were laid down during World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...
as part of the British naval buildup during that conflict. However, two were cancelled at the end of hostilities, and the remaining two were suspended. Originally designated Audacious, she was finally launched as
Eagle (the fifteenth Royal Navy ship to receive this name) in March 1946, after the
Audacious class carrier
Eagle was cancelled.
A number of changes were incorporated into the design, although
Eagle was launched too early to see an angled flight deck installed, and the ship was commissioned in October 1951. A year later she took part in the first large NATO
naval exercise, Exercise Mainbrace
Exercise Mainbrace was the first large-scale naval exercise undertaken by the newly established Allied Command Atlantic , one of the two principal military commands of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization . It was part of a series of NATO exerciseS jointly commanded by Supreme Allied Commander...
A 5.5 degree 'interim' angled flight deck was fitted in 1954-1955 with a mirror landing sight, but she retained her two hydraulic catapults forward as they were adequate for the relatively light naval aircraft in service at the time. Her first wartime service came in 1956, when she took part in the Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...
. The ship's aircraft of that period included Westland Wyvern
The Westland Wyvern was a British single-seat carrier-based multi-role strike aircraft built by Westland Aircraft that served in the 1950s, seeing active service in the 1956 Suez Crisis...
s, Douglas Skyraider
The Douglas A-1 Skyraider was an American single-seat attack aircraft that saw service between the late 1940s and early 1980s. It became a piston-powered, propeller-driven anachronism in the jet age, and was nicknamed "Spad", after a French World War I fighter...
s, Hawker Sea Hawk
The Hawker Sea Hawk was a British single-seat jet fighter of the Fleet Air Arm , the air branch of the Royal Navy , built by Hawker Aircraft and its sister company, Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft. Although its origins stemmed from earlier Hawker piston-engined fighters, the Sea Hawk became the...
s and de Havilland Sea Venom
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...
had originally planned to give the Eagle a complete rebuild on the lines of , but due to high costs this was abandoned.
Eagle was instead given a more austere, but still extensive modernization. The changes included major improvements to the accommodation, including the installation of air conditioning. The island was completely rebuilt and the new 3D Type 984 radar was to be installed. The flight deck was modified and included a new 2½ inch armoured deck with a full 8.5 degree angle, two new steam catapults (BS5s, 151 ft (46 m) stroke on the port side forward and 199 ft (60.7 m) stroke in the waist) were fitted as well as new arrester gear (DAX I) and mirror sights. As well, an overhaul of the DC electrical systems, AC generators was fitted to give additional power. It was decided that Eagle would have her anti-aircraft guns removed and replaced by the Sea Cat missile
Sea Cat was a British short-range surface to air missile system intended to replace the ubiquitous Bofors 40 mm gun aboard warships of all sizes. It was the world's first operational shipboard point-defence missile system and was designed so that the Bofors guns could be replaced with minimum...
system, though her aft four 4.5 inch gun turrets were retained. All of
Eagle’s original machinery and equipment was fully overhauled. This refit was budgeted to cost around £11 million and although expensive was still three times cheaper than building a new ship, it was expected that this refit would allow the
Eagle to operate until the early 1980s. The final cost of the five year rebuild was closer to £30 million.
Eagle entered Devonport Dockyard to begin this extensive refit. By 1964 the refit was complete although at a significantly increased cost which had seen the original plan to install a new armoured deck abandoned. Standard displacement had increased to around 44,000 tons (full load displacement was 50,786 tons) and
Eagle was now the largest most capable aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy. The refit was intended to extend her operational life for another twenty years to the mid 1980s if necessary, and
Eagle now operated Blackburn Buccaneer
The Blackburn Buccaneer was a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft with nuclear weapon delivery capability serving with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force between 1962 and 1994, including service in the 1991 Gulf War...
, de Havilland Sea Vixen
The de Havilland DH.110 Sea Vixen was a twin boom 1950s–1960s British two-seat jet fighter of the Fleet Air Arm designed by de Havilland. Developed from an earlier first generation jet fighter, the Sea Vixen was a capable carrier-based fleet defence fighter that served into the 1970s...
, Supermarine Scimitar
-References:NotesBibliography* Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Supermarine Aircraft since 1914. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-800-3.* Birtles, Philip. Supermarine Attacker, Swift and Scimitar . London: Ian Allan, 1992. ISBN 0-7110-2034-5.* Buttler, Tony. "Database: Supermarine Scimitar"....
and Fairey Gannet
The Fairey Gannet was a British carrier-borne anti-submarine warfare and airborne early warning aircraft of the post-Second World War era developed for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm by the Fairey Aviation Company...
In early 1966 she was refitted at Devonport once more and was fitted with a single DAX II arrestor wire (no.3, her other wires were DAX I). She recommissioned in 1967.
Eagle was originally intended to receive a further refit that would have enabled her to comfortably operate the McDonnell Douglas Phantom
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a tandem two-seat, twin-engined, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber originally developed for the United States Navy by McDonnell Aircraft. It first entered service in 1960 with the U.S. Navy. Proving highly adaptable,...
("Eagle" had already successfully operated them in trials). Her two BS5 catapults fitted in her 59-64 refit were already powerful enough to launch fully laden F-4s, but her Jet Blast Deflectors were still of the older steel plate design, and the reheated exhaust of the Phantom's Rolls Royce Spey engines required water-cooled deflector plates. It was also planned to fit bridle catchers to the catapults as a cost saving measure, as the bridles would otherwise be lost after a single launch. During the Phantom FG1 trials (involving three newly delivered aircraft operated by 700P NAS) the longer waist catapult was used, and a thick steel plate was chained to the deck behind the catapult to absorb the heat of the Phantom's afterburners. The JBD was not used as it would have been damaged, and after each launch fire hoses were sprayed on the deck plate (which was seen to glow white hot) to cool it down before the next aircraft could be loaded onto the cat. Plans to upgrade Eagle fully were cancelled in 1968 even though it would have only cost around £5 million compared to the £32 million spent on Ark Royal which was considered to be in significantly worse material state than
Eagle. Of the 48 Phantom FG1s ordered for the FAA, 20 were diverted to the RAF equipping 43 Sqn, though some were loaned back to the Navy to equip the Phantom FG1 training unit 767 NAS which trained both RN and RAF Phantom crews until it was disbanded in 1972.
The 1966 decision to run-down the RN fixed wing carrier fleet (Centaur had already been laid up as an accommodation ship, and
Victorious was soon to be prematurely scrapped, following a minor fire) meant
Eagle's days were numbered. Despite being the RNs most modern carrier, in excellent material condition, and capable of another 10 years of service,
Eagle was paid off (many in the RN believed she should have been retained, and
Ark Royal decommissioned instead) in January 1972 at Portsmouth, and was stripped of reusable equipment (radars and missile systems primarily), after which she was towed to Devonport where she was placed in reserve and moored in a stretch of the river Tamar
The Tamar is a river in South West England, that forms most of the border between Devon and Cornwall . It is one of several British rivers whose ancient name is assumed to be derived from a prehistoric river word apparently meaning "dark flowing" and which it shares with the River Thames.The...
known as the Hamoaze
The Hamoaze is an estuarine stretch of the tidal River Tamar, between the River Lynher and Plymouth Sound, England.The Hamoaze flows past Devonport Dockyard, which belongs to the Royal Navy...
. In 1974, she was released from her moorings, towed up river, and secured in number 10 Dock, Devonport Dockyard, where she was further stripped of essential spares for Ark Royal, before being towed back out to her mooring position. Up until 1976 she was officially still in reserve, but having been exhausted as a source of spares for
Eagle was then sold for scrap and towed from Devonport in October 1978 to Cairnryan
Cairnryan is a small Scottish village in Dumfries and Galloway on the eastern shore of Loch Ryan. The village has been of vital importance in maritime history.-Ferry Port:...
near Stranraer in Scotland to be broken up, clearing her mooring space for her sister.
Eagle was completely broken up by the time her sister arrived at Cairnryan in November 1980. One of her anchors (along with one of
Ark Royals) stands guard at the entrance to the Fleet Air Arm Museum
The Fleet Air Arm Museum is located north of Yeovil, and south of Bristol. It has an extensive collection of military and civilian aircraft, as well as models of Royal Navy ships, especially aircraft carriers. Some of the museum has interactive displays...
Final Air Wing 1971
- 899 sqn. 12 Sea Vixen FAW2
- 800 sqn. 14 Buccaneer S2
- 849 sqn. D flt. 4 Gannet AEW3, 1 Gannet COD4
- 826 sqn. 6 Sea King HAS1
- Ships Flight 2 Wessex HAS1 (SAR)
The items standing guard outside the Fleet Air Arm Museum at
Yeovelton are two screws one from HMS Ark Royal and one from HMS Eagle