1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier

The 1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier, commonly referred to as the British Light Fleet Carrier, was a light aircraft carrier design created by the Royal Navy during World War II, and used by eight naval forces between 1944 and 2001. They were designed and constructed by civilian shipyards to serve as an intermediate step between the expensive, full-size fleet aircraft carriers and the less expensive but limited-capability escort carriers.

Sixteen Light Fleet carriers were ordered, and all were laid down to the Colossus class design during 1942 and 1943. However, only eight were completed to this design; of these, four entered service before the end of the war, and none saw front line operations. Two more were fitted with maintenance and repair facilities instead of aircraft catapults and arresting gear, and entered service as aircraft maintenance carriers. The final six were modified during construction to handle larger and faster aircraft, and were redesignated the Majestic class. The construction of the six ships was suspended at the end of the war. Five were eventually completed with the last commissioning in 1961, however the sixth was dismantled for spare parts and scrap.

Although not completed in time to fight in World War II, the carriers in Royal Navy service participated in the Korean War and the Suez Crisis. During the latter, two Colossus-class ships performed the first ship-based helicopter assault in history. Four Colossuses and all five completed Majestics were sold to seven foreign nations - Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, and the Netherlands - with three ships serving in three different naval forces during their careers. Foreign-operated Light Fleets took part in the Korean War, the First Indochina War, the Vietnam War, the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, and the Falklands War.

Despite being intended as 'disposable warships', all of the completed Light Fleet carriers exceeded their planned three-year service life. The maintenance carriers were the first to be paid off in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, all of the Royal Navy carriers, (bar Triumph, which was later recommissioned as a repair ship) had been sold to other nations or for ship breaking. The carriers in other navies had longer services lives. At the time of her decommissioning in 2001, the Brazilian aircraft carrier Minas Gerais was the oldest active aircraft carrier in the world. Despite attempts to preserve several Light Fleets as museum ships, the last surviving example, INS Vikrant, was sold for scrapping in 2014.

1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier
Class Ship
Type Aircraft Carrier
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
Production Period 1942 - 1945
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1944
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Argentina 1944 2001 View
Australia 1944 2001 View
Brazil 1944 2001 View
Canada 1944 2001 View
France 1944 2001 View
India 1944 2001 View
Netherlands 1944 2001 View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1944 2001 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Stephen and Sons 1942 1943 1 View
Cammell Laird 1942 1943 1 View
Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company 1943 1944 1 View
Hawthorn Leslie and Company 1943 1944 1 View
HMNB Devonport 1943 1944 1 View
Swan Hunter 1942 1943 2 View
Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries 1942 1945 4 View
Vickers-Armstrongs 1942 1945 5 View

Experiences during the early part of World War II had demonstrated to the British that the Royal Navy needed access to defensive air cover for Allied fleets and convoys, which could only be provided by more aircraft carriers. In mid-1941, the Director of Naval Construction was instructed to investigate how best to achieve this without the lengthy construction times normally associated with carriers. The options were to refit the surviving Hawkins-class cruisers with flight decks and aviation facilities, convert additional merchant vessels and passenger liners into vessels similar to but more capable than previous merchant aircraft carriers, or create a new design for a cheap, lightly armed, and unarmoured ship similar to the Woolworth carriers. In December 1941, it was decided that a new design was the best option.

This ship was conceived as an intermediate step between the expensive fleet carriers and the limited-capability escort carriers. The design had to be as simple as possible so construction time was kept to a minimum and so more shipyards (particularly those with no naval construction experience) could be used. However, the ships had to be capable of operating in fleet actions. Originally designated the 'Intermediate Aircraft Carrier', the ships were reclassified as 'Light Fleet Carriers'. Because naval design staff were overworked, the carrier was primarily designed by shipbuilders at Vickers-Armstrong.

The Light Fleet design, completed at the start of 1942, was effectively a scaled-down Illustrious. Each carrier would displace 13,190 tons at standard load and 18,040 tons at full load, have a length of 680 feet (210 m) at the flight deck and 695 feet (212 m) overall, a maximum beam of 80 feet (24 m), and a draught of 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) at standard displacement, and 23 feet 6 inches (7.16 m) at full load displacement. The hull was built to Lloyd's specifications for merchant vessels from keel to maindeck, but incorporated better subdivision of compartments to reduce secondary damage by flooding.

The propulsion machinery was of a similar design to that used in cruisers—some of the steam turbines were sourced from cancelled cruisers. The machinery was arranged in two compartments (each containing two Admiralty 3-drum boilers and a Parsons geared turbine), which were staggered en echelon, with the starboard compartment forward of the port. These provided 40,000 shaft horsepower to two propeller shafts, driving the carriers at a maximum speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph), with 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) as the designated economical speed.

The carriers were intended to be 'disposable warships': to be scrapped and replaced at the end of World War II or within three years of entering service. However, all exceeded this planned service life, with one ship operating from 1945 to 2001.

Ships in Class
Name Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Paid off Foreign service and notes Fate
Colossus class
Colossus Vickers-Armstrong 1 June 1942 30 September 1943 16 December 1944 1946  French Navy: Arromanches (1946–1974) Scrapped in France 1978
Glory Harland & Wolff 27 August 1942 27 November 1943 2 April 1945 1956 - Scrapped in Scotland 1961
Ocean Stephen & Sons 8 November 1942 8 July 1943 8 August 1945 1960 - Scrapped in Scotland 1962
Venerable Cammell-Laird 3 December 1942 30 December 1943 17 January 1945 April 1947  Royal Netherlands Navy: HNLMS Karel Doorman (1948–1968)
 Argentine Navy: ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (1969–1999)
Scrapped in India 1999
Vengeance Swan Hunter 16 November 1942 23 February 1944 15 January 1945 1952  Royal Australian Navy HMASVengeance (1952–1955)
 Brazilian Navy: Minas Gerais (1960–2001)
Scrapped in India 2004
Pioneer Vickers-Armstrong 2 December 1942 20 May 1944 8 February 1945 1954 Completed as maintenance carrier Scrapped in Scotland 1954
Warrior Harland & Wolff Ltd. 12 December 1942 20 May 1944 2 April 1945 1946  Royal Canadian Navy HMCS Warrior(1946–1948)
Returned to Royal Navy (1948-195?)
 Argentine Navy: ARA Independencia(1958–1971)
Scrapped in Argentina 1971
Theseus Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company 6 January 1943 6 July 1944 9 February 1946 1957 - Scrapped in Scotland 1962
Triumph R. & W. Hawthorn Leslie & Company Ltd. 27 January 1943 2 October 1944 9 May 1946 1975 Reclassified as repair ship in 1965 Scrapped in Spain 1981
Perseus Vickers-Armstrong 1 June 1943 26 March 1944 19 October 1945 1957 Completed as maintenance carrier Scrapped in Scotland 1958
Majestic class
Majestic Vickers-Armstrong 15 April 1943 28 February 1945 28 October 1955 30 May 1982  Royal Australian Navy as Melbourne Scrapped in China 1985
Terrible HM Dockyard Devonport 19 April 1943 30 September 1944 16 December 1948 12 November 1973  Royal Australian Navy as Sydney Scrapped in South Korea 1975
Magnificent Harland & Wolff 29 July 1943 16 November 1944 21 March 1948 1956  Royal Canadian Navy as Magnificent Scrapped in Scotland 1965
Hercules Vickers-Armstrong (construction)
Harland & Wolff (fitting out)
14 October 1943 22 September 1945 4 April 1961 31 January 1997  Indian Navy as Vikrant Scrapped in India 2014-2015
Leviathan Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Ltd. 18 October 1943 7 June 1945 Scrapped before completion Scrapped in Scotland 1968
Powerful Harland & Wolff 27 November 1943 27 February 1945 17 January 1957 3 July 1970  Royal Canadian Navy as Bonaventure Scrapped in Taiwan 1971

As Britain was unable to maintain the size of her wartime fleet after the end of World War II, several Colossus-class ships were placed into reserve, while work on the Majestic class was initially halted at the end of World War II, then restored to a low-priority status. Demands for fiscal cutbacks, combined with the rapid obsolescence of the carriers by the development of jet aircraft, saw four of the eight Colossuses and all five completed Majestics sold off to other nations.

The majority of the Light Fleets in foreign service were modernised, either during construction or afterwards, to operate jet aircraft. This usually consisted of the installation of an angled flight deck, upgrading the aircraft catapult to be steam-powered, and installing an optical landing system: Australian Majestic-class carrier HMAS Melbourne was the third aircraft carrier in the world, after HMS Ark Royal and USS Forrestal, to be constructed with these features instead of having them added later.

Operators:  Royal Navy
 Argentine Navy
 Royal Australian Navy
 Brazilian Navy
 Royal Canadian Navy
 French Navy
 Indian Navy
 Royal Netherlands Navy
Succeeded by: Centaur-class aircraft carrier
Subclasses: Colossus class
Majestic class
Built: March 1942–April 1961
In commission: December 1944 – October 2001
Planned: 16
Completed: 8 Colossus class, plus 2 maintenance carriers
5 Majestic class
Cancelled: 1
Scrapped: 15
General characteristics (Colossus class: as designed)
Displacement: 13,200 tons (standard)
18,000 tons (full load)
Length: 690 ft (210 m) (flight deck)
695 ft (212 m) overall
Beam: 80 ft (24 m)
Draught: 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m) (standard)
23 ft 3 in (7.09 m) (full load)
Propulsion: Parsons geared turbines
4 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
2 propeller shafts
Speed: 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Range: 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Complement: 1050
Armament: 6 × 4-barrelled 2 pounder anti-aircraft guns
16 × twin 20 mm Oerlikonmountings
All weapons later replaced by 40 mm Bofors in varying configurations
Aircraft carried: Up to 52
General characteristics (Majestic class: as designed)
Displacement: 15,750 tons (standard)
19,500 tons (full load)
Draught: 19 ft 6 in (5.94 m) (standard)
24 ft 9 in (7.54 m) (full load)
Armament: 30 × 40 mm Bofors (6 twin mountings, 18 single mountings)
Notes: Other characteristics as above

End notes