Military Review

British aircraft carriers under the Luftwaffe bombs


Fig. 1. Booking scheme for aircraft carriers of the “Victories” type. Led by Ross Watton. The aircraft carrier Victorious

Statement of the problem and methodology

British aircraft carriers with an armored flight deck have traditionally received quite high marks from historians. They are considered to be an almost optimal balance of characteristics for operations in confined waters under enemy dominance aviation. And practically no work is complete without praise for the armored flight deck - that distinctive feature that made such operations possible in principle.

The problem is that most of the works do not give any details about the exact place where the bombs fell and about the destruction that they caused. The authors of the book faithfully cite data on six to seven bombs that fell into the Illastries EVC, and another 1-2 in Malta and cheerfully conclude that any other aircraft carrier certainly did not survive such a beating. Readers prefer not to bother with the details, obviously, considering them boring or well-known. The bombs hit, the Germans - the masters, this is the Luftwaffe. The aircraft carriers withstood, the British - well done, it's Royal Royal. This is what the collision refrain looks like.

But what if a curious reader wants more details? Not a brief squeeze such as “a 250-kilogram bomb hit the nose elevator area,” but a full description. What kind of armor was at the point of impact, what kind of destruction did the unfortunate bomb cause? And so on for all the bombs that hit the Illastries and its sisterships. Knowing such information, we can draw conclusions about whether the protection of aircraft carriers was sufficient in thickness and area, and therefore, to give a more reasonable assessment of the project as a whole.

Bad news that for a qualified answer to this question you need to go down a level below and start working with the primary sources. These are reports of commanders and officers of the struggle for survivability, reports of engineers supervising repair and restoration work, etc. This is a dreary business and requires some special training. The good news: some of these primary sources have been processed and made publicly available at Armed with new knowledge, we can consider the problem of confronting British armor and German bombs in more detail. I would like to emphasize that in the article we will only talk about confronting bombs. The topic of kamikaze confrontation is still waiting for its study.

To begin with, I briefly recall the booking scheme for Victories class aircraft carriers in the amount that is necessary and sufficient to read the article. Our two heroes, “Illastries” and “Formidebl,” had just such a booking scheme. The third, Indomiteable, had thinner walls of the hangars, but this, as we will see later, did not play any role in our cases.

The basis of the basics is an armored box-shaped hangar, the roof of which is the notorious armored flight deck. The thickness of the armor here was 76 mm. The walls of the box are also armored. The main thing we need to do is to note the longitudinal dimensions of the hangar, which define the contour of the deck reservation. These boundaries are two transverse lines, slightly not reaching the bow and stern elevators. Aerial elevators were not included by designers in the protected hangar space. During flight operations, sliding armored doors on the transverse wall of the hangar box opened to the sides, and the plane rolled out onto the lift. Thus, the bomb that fell inside the lines most likely hit the armored deck, you only need to clarify whether it fell into the narrow "corridors" between the hangar and the outer side. If outside the lines, then, accordingly, it is guaranteed not to fall into the space protected by armor. True, the diagram shows protection in the area of ​​elevators (but not the elevators themselves), but it is only 1,5 inches according to the scheme and is exclusively protection from fragments, not bombs. In the future, as we will see, this “defense” made its way even with 250 kg bombs.

Now you can start examining the actual damage received during the combat episodes. Illastries' damage is reported in the Official Damage Report (Bomb & Shell). Damage to the Formidebla is reported by the captain of the ship to the commander of the Mediterranean fleet. Damage to the Indomiteble is given according to the report of the department of the main shipbuilder of the Admiralty about the bomb damage of the ship. Materials posted on the website

Illastries under the bombs

January 10, 1941 HMS "Illastries" was attacked by two Ju-87 air groups and was seriously damaged.

Fig. 2. Scheme of getting into the "Illastries". Hit number 1 is not indicated (the bomb did not explode)

Hit number 1: 500-kg bomb hit the platform with a pump in the middle of the ship. Having pierced the platform, the bomb struck the hull, reached the armor belt (not to be confused with the armored wall of the hangar) and bounced into the sea without exploding.

Hit number 2: 500 kg bomb. To the bow, the very edge of the flight deck, devoid of armor. The overhang of the deck was broken, and the bomb (half-armor-piercing according to the assumptions of the report compilers) exploded in the air three meters above the waterline, disfiguring the nose with fragments.

Hit # 3: 250 kg caliber bomb. On the starboard side, almost exactly in the pom-pom near the island superstructure. The explosion distorted the installation, but the deck in the area of ​​the explosion survived. The photo shows that the sheets just parted a little. It is important to note two points. First: the report indicates that the deck here was reinforced, but not armored. Second: pom-pom played the role of a buffer that took a hit on itself. The bomb in the report is allegedly classified as having a fuse with a contact detonation or simply fragmentation.

Hits No. 4, 5, 7: one 250-kg bomb and two 250-kg or 500-kg bombs fell almost exactly in the aft elevator. Explosions brought him down, turning him into a pile of scrap metal. All four feed installations of 4,5-inch guns were de-energized. The metal fire screen, which additionally protected the entrance to the hangar, was destroyed and thrown into the hangar space.

Hit number 6. We pass to the most interesting.

The heavy armor-piercing bomb landed precisely on the armored flight deck. In terms of mass, estimates vary widely. Initially, the report had 500 kg, which were then manually adjusted to 1000. American engineers in Norfolk, where the Illastries underwent repairs, also tended to the number 1000. But at the same time, those authors who consider the operation from the point of view of the Germans clearly indicate that their planes carried bombs of up to 500 kg. Personally, I also tend to an easier option - simply by the amount of evidence

The impact of the bomb was terrifying. She pierced the armor of the flight deck and exploded about half a meter above the hangar deck in the center of sector C. Although the report indicates that the armor was pierced with difficulty (the bomb had only just managed to defeat the armor plate), this was hardly a comfort to the British. Noteworthy details follow: the heavy tail section was thrown up and burst through the armor deck again (!). The blast wave went through all sections of the hangar A, B, C right up to the nose lift, sweeping away the metal fire screens and destroying the aircraft. The fragments mowed down the people, including the crew members responsible for the fire extinguishing system. But here the English are incredibly lucky. In sector C, where the bomb hit and the fire extinguishing system did not work, there were only 4 Fulmar fighters and there were no bombs or torpedoes. In sector B there were only 2 Swordfish, but 6 torpedoes. And then the fire extinguishing system was put into action. In sector A there were 7 Swordfish with deep and semi-armor-piercing bombs. There were no fires, but the system was activated just in case. A very important factor that worked in favor of the British was that the “Illastries” carried only half of the full-time air group.

Fig. 3. The scheme of hangars and the location of the aircraft at the time of hit No. 6

Thus, on January 10, the Illastries received seven direct hits, although six are usually indicated. Apparently, hit No. 1 is excluded, since the bomb hit the edge of the deck and did not explode. Of these, only four were “full-fledged”: No. 4, 5, 6, 7 (five, if you add No. 3, although there the pom-pom served as a buffer).

The ship received another direct hit on January 16 in Malta. Hit # 8: a 500 kg caliber bomb hit the unarmored aft of the flight deck and exploded in the captain’s cabin.

So, only one of the 8 bombs fell exactly on the armored flight deck and caused its penetration, which casts doubt on the familiar version of its huge role in saving the ship. But for now, let's not rush and consider the remaining examples.

Formidedle and Indomiteble under the bombs

On May 26, 1941, after the attack of the Scarpanto airfield during the battle for Crete, Formidebl received two bombs.

No. 1: a 1000-kg semi-armor-piercing bomb landed in a new part in front of the elevator and exploded. The bomb went about 10 meters deep and broke through 4 decks: flight, upper and lower gallery and hangar. The aerial lift was severely bent and incapacitated, and the destruction as a whole was very extensive.

Fig. 4. Hit number 1 in the “Formidel”. Red lines show how the decks swelled

No. 2: a 1000-kg semi-armor-piercing bomb hit the stern, just like the sponson of 4,5-inch guns on the starboard side, pierced it and exploded under water. From the explosion, sheathing broke, causing a slight penetration of water.

Fig. 5. Hit number 2 in the “Formidebl”

Damage was not critical, but the speed dropped to 18-20 knots. Although nothing particularly dangerous happened, it was in the interests of the ship and its crew to return to the port as soon as possible, since any unrest threatened more extensive flooding. Note that there were no direct hits on the armored deck.

On August 12, 1942, Indomiteble received two bombs during Operation Pedestal.

A bomb of No. 1 caliber 250 kg fell to the right of the nasal elevator, causing noticeable damage and a medium-intensity fire. The elevator was disabled.

A bomb of No. 2 caliber 250 kg fell behind the feed elevator and exploded inside the ship. The hole in the deck was simply huge, but the aft elevator could continue to work, albeit at a slower speed. Torpedoes were stored in one of the rooms in the area of ​​the explosion, which, however, did not detonate. The document does not say why.

Fig. 6. Hits in Indomiterable

One of the close gaps caused water to flow. Assessing the damage, the British refused to further participate in the operation of the ship. Here again, we note that both hits were in the unarmored part of the deck.


Starting to get acquainted with the topic, I first of all planned to figure out how effectively the 76-mm armored deck held German bombs. The reality was shocking: the advertised armored deck did not participate in the protection of British aircraft carriers from bombs in any way! They simply didn’t fall into it, but when they did, they struck. The ill-fated Illastries was saved not by the flight deck armor, it just didn’t pass the test, but by a small number of aircraft, the absence of bombs and torpedoes in hangar sector C and the fire system that worked in sector B. Of the 12 hits, only one hit the famous armored the deck. This seems to violate all logic, but, nevertheless, this zone, which accounted for 62% of the flight deck area, was tested for strength only once. Another moment is equally unexpected: nine hits were at the extremities, which totaled only about a third of the ship’s area.

In all cases, damage led to the loss of combat capability of the ship. Of course, the damage would always be sufficient to disable any other aircraft carrier. Our heroes also were no exception and did not show anything extraordinary. In addition, we note that the armored longitudinal walls of the hangars played no role. But the transverse armored walls in many cases could be useful (isolation of the gentle filling of the hangars from numerous hits in the extremities). Due to the only case of a fire extinguishing system in the hangar, it was not possible to at least superficially assess its quality, which in the sources varies from “good” to “excellent”.


Despite the unambiguity of my conclusions, I am far from considering the topic of the real effectiveness of the armored flight deck closed. My immersion in the topic was too shallow. The second point is that the twelve hits considered are not statistically significant, to say that their distribution, mainly in the extremities, is logical. What if the British were just unlucky (or, conversely, unlucky, because the effectiveness of deck armor was still in question) and in fact getting into the central region as a whole happened more often? The answer to this question can only be the use of statistics on the distribution of bombing hits in other aircraft carriers of the WWII period. In conclusion, I note that against the kamikaze, the "British" looked much more convincing.

The author wants to thank the team for the kind permission to use the site materials in the article and a huge contribution to the promotion of stories.

Sources of

1. Ross Watton. The aircraft carrier Victorious.
2. Website
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must to register.

I have an account? Sign in

  1. Free wind
    Free wind 11 July 2020 06: 02
    About widely known, in narrow circles of armored decks, I hear in the first. In the region of Italy, the Raptors ruled. In Spain, Portugal they did not seem to appear; neutrality was little by little observed. Spitfaers weren’t especially there. Nobody opposed the Lappeters. There they festivals.
  2. Comrade
    Comrade 11 July 2020 06: 34
    Great article, thank you very much, dear Engineer!
    The quality of work was very impressive.
    1. Engineer
      11 July 2020 07: 52
      Your gratitude is very valuable, I remember your sensible comments on other articles.
      1. Snail N9
        Snail N9 11 July 2020 17: 31
        The role of armored decks is probably more pronounced already during the post-war fires and accidents on aircraft carriers, in particular, during the Vietnam War ..
      2. srelock
        srelock 12 July 2020 13: 37
        Quote: Engineer
        The answer to this question can only be the use of statistics on the distribution of bombing hits in other aircraft carriers of the WWII period.
        Such statistics will be influenced by a lot of factors, location, time of day, weather, aircraft used, ammunition, crew training, etc. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring statistics for different episodes to a single denominator.
        1. Engineer
          12 July 2020 14: 38
          Undoubtedly. And the size of the ship will play an even greater role. The fact that for Soryu is a close gap for Shokaku is a direct hit.
          But I am for an objectivist approach. It is sometimes useful to rise above all these reservations to see the whole picture. Perhaps there will be a pattern, perhaps not.
  3. Avior
    Avior 11 July 2020 07: 13
    Interesting job.
    But, in my opinion, the author may not have taken into account some indirect factors.
    It falls into the ship, even as large as an aircraft carrier of the time, not every bomb dropped on it.
    The presence of an armored deck forced the Germans to use bombs of large or very large caliber, aircraft of that time could take them a few units.
    Thus, the probability of getting into the ship was sharply reduced, you can not sprinkle them in a series.
    The second nuance. The presence of an armored deck limited the Germans in tactics. In order for the bomb to break through the armor, it must have a sufficient speed, which means that the plane must be at a certain height. And not necessarily this height was comfortable for dropping bombs.
    As an example, we can cite the problems of the Argentines in the Falklands.
    Harrier and air defense missile systems drove them to extremely low altitudes, at which bombs did not have time to get into a combat platoon. On the one hand, the British air defense capabilities were limited, and on the other, there were hits, but the bombs did not explode.
    1. Engineer
      11 July 2020 08: 00
      The presence of an armored deck forced the Germans to use bombs of large or very large caliber, aircraft of that time could take them a few units.

      The Germans used mostly 250 and 500 kg bombs against aircraft carriers - a standard load against ships. Don’t be embarrassed by the ton bombs that landed in Formidebl - they were meant for another job. There almost comedic situation came out
      In order for the bomb to break through the armor, it must have a sufficient speed, which means that the plane must be at a certain height.

      The Germans used mainly semi-armor-piercing bombs and almost always tried to drop them from a minimum height to increase accuracy.
      Here, for example, from a report - a discharge from 500 meters or lower
      Seven aircraft, of which at least five were Stukas approached from astern at 15,000 feet. Each aircraft released a 500 kg. SAP bomb in a 70 degree dive - the first aircraft at 1,500 feet, the others at lower heights - and then passed over the ship at heights of 50 to 1,000 feet without firing machine guns.
      1. tlauicol
        tlauicol 11 July 2020 08: 43
        it must also be borne in mind that the bombs dropped from such a height flashed the ship at sharp angles. Those. could penetrate much more, falling vertically and gaining speed.
        here is Franklin, for example, and the trajectory of bombs. less than 45 degrees
        1. Engineer
          11 July 2020 13: 35
          The Germans partially offset this with a steep dive
          Here is the trajectory of bomb No. 2 in Formidebl, 2nd projection (1st — fig. 5 in the body of the article)

          But of course, this was not always the case. Here is the trajectory of bomb No. 1 that fell into the same Formidable
  4. Catfish
    Catfish 11 July 2020 07: 19
    Many thanks to the author for a detailed analysis. I read about everything, but there were no such details in that literature. good

    1. Engineer
      11 July 2020 08: 02
      Anyone who liked it is healthy.)
      It is not entirely clear only why this article is in the "Opinions" section and not "Armament"
      1. Catfish
        Catfish 11 July 2020 08: 07
        I also did not understand, and this is not the first case. Therefore, I just always keep the New section on the site open, it’s easier. hi
      2. mult-65
        mult-65 12 July 2020 21: 10
        For this is your opinion on this weapon. :-)
  5. Aaron Zawi
    Aaron Zawi 11 July 2020 09: 30
    Very well written. Thank.
  6. ivamoss
    ivamoss 11 July 2020 15: 58
    Interesting article
  7. sevtrash
    sevtrash 11 July 2020 16: 34
    Do armored decks have higher resistance to weapons? Higher. Clearly, it depends on the type, caliber of this very tool, as well as on the thickness of the armor, too. But higher. So there’s nothing to argue about. Is it about the thickness of the armor, which would be optimal.
  8. Octopus
    Octopus 11 July 2020 16: 46

    Well, I appreciate a thorough approach, thank you. hi

    We will think further.
    1. Engineer
      11 July 2020 20: 58
      You are welcome),
      Although in the process of working on the article, a disclaimer directly suggested itself: "Limephiles are strongly discouraged."
      1. Octopus
        Octopus 11 July 2020 21: 03
        Quote: Engineer
        "Lymephiles are strongly discouraged"

        No, everything is OK. I played on another AB. wassat
        1. Engineer
          11 July 2020 21: 08
          Well, otherwise I was wondering if it was necessary to go through a separate article on aircraft lifts, hangars and stocks of jet fuel. To trample on it there in full)

          I played on another AB

          1. Octopus
            Octopus 11 July 2020 21: 19
            No, I originally had Implacable, not Illustrious. However, the deck armor is the same in thickness.
            Quote: Engineer
            Do I need to go through a separate article on aircraft lifts, hangars and stocks of jet fuel. To get the most out there)

            Take a walk, why not? The site lacks corrosive rivet-metering materials without going to Stalin. I hope this can be avoided when discussing aircraft lifts.

            But I’m unlikely to argue with you about the details. Essexes were poorly conceptual, but in the details quite successful and well thought out. Still, the Americans were not dumb every day.
            1. Engineer
              11 July 2020 21: 28
              # Implacable spoiler is almost worse #
              In terms of usability after the war, it’s definitely worse
              Once, too, was fond of the last couple. 81 aircraft + deck with armor + anti-aircraft weapons, blablabla. In reality, the gentlemen from the Admiralty and the developers planted a whole herd of pigs.
              rivet metering materials

              In fact, I'm not a fan of figuring out "the specifics of the piping in between the bottom space of the ship X". But you have to, otherwise you just can't get through the thick of myths and misconceptions
              1. Octopus
                Octopus 11 July 2020 21: 45
                Quote: Engineer
                But you have to, otherwise you just don’t get through the thickness of myths and errors

                And this is always the case. You see from afar some of the best tank / battleship / war plane, and you come closer - here you have a single NLD / VLD from bent tempered rolled metal, here the GK tower does not fit into the barbet, here the main engine building power does not have its own engine - gradually the only question remains, why they weren’t shot all (or, in relation to the USSR, they were shot here, and not these).
                1. Engineer
                  11 July 2020 21: 55
                  How to say...
                  Baden, Richelieu, BigE, Sekaku all the rules, balanced, clearly. And of course. Though not perfect.
                  If from the little things, then Tribal II and Akizuki. You can fully remember everything.
                  And in the case of our British turtles, this is not. They are not good, even crack
                  1. deddem
                    deddem 13 July 2020 16: 13
                    Richelieu is just not quite balanced - mediocre universal artillery and before the repair in the USA - no MZA (it’s still a mystery to me why such a powerful concern as Hotchkiss could not bring the installation of 37 mm ACAD to mind).
                    Plus, according to user reviews, not very reliable electric drives and too light nose (which came to him from Dunkirk).
                    1. Engineer
                      13 July 2020 17: 49
                      Anti-aircraft guns are a matter of gain
                      But the armament - speed-armor-PTZ is the base with which the Frenchman was very decent.
            2. unknown
              unknown 11 July 2020 23: 58
              Why would they be stupid?
              Oddly enough, but they are not Anglo-Saxons.
              Forty percent of white Americans are descendants of the Germans.
              Add here Russians, Irish, French, Italians, Poles and other Swedes.
              Sorry ... the Jews forgot.
              So with the "iron" there is order.
              Here, with an OS, problems.
              The German language as a linguistic operating system is an order of magnitude more intelligent.
              1. Octopus
                Octopus 12 July 2020 05: 33
                You see, I'm not a chauvinist.

                But it would be strange to expect a good result from people who absolutely do not give a shit about what they are doing. Especially for the most useless, in the opinion of the Americans, class of ships, aircraft carrier.
                For 5 years, from the 36th to the 41st, the Americans laid only one AB. They were so unnecessary in aircraft carriers that the military recognized the Essex project first at Newport News, then at Battleham. They themselves had things to do more important: LK and KR (all - complete shit).
                1. Octopus
                  Octopus 12 July 2020 06: 13
                  Quote: Octopus
                  Essex military recognized

                  They stuck it in.
                2. unknown
                  unknown 12 July 2020 08: 04
                  Yes, I am too.
                  From an astrological point of view, the US totem animal is an BULL.
                  The Bull's age is adolescence.
                  A lot of hormones, energy, I want everything at once, and more, including size (skyscrapers, cars, ships).
                  But brains at this age ... have a rest.
                  Map of the fate of the United States - Jack of the tambourine.
                  Jack is a card of an eternal teenager.
                  The suit of the tambourine is the suit of money. For the sake of money for everything.
                  In addition, the Bull, from the point of view of astrology, is a land sign.
                  Perhaps these subtle matters also somehow affect the US shipbuilding.
                  Such a lyrical digression.
                  PS Your opinion is always interesting to me. I myself like to delve into the details. The moon, in this, like her, Virgo.
                  1. Octopus
                    Octopus 12 July 2020 10: 04
                    Quote: ignoto
                    Your opinion is always interesting to me

                    Quote: ignoto
                    In terms of astrology, a totem animal

                    Such ideas are not close to me.
  9. NF68
    NF68 12 July 2020 16: 43
    Quote: Free Wind
    In Spain, Portugal, they did not seem to appear; neutrality was gradually observed.

    The flight range of the Lapptellers was not large. Otherwise, the Lapptellers would surely get closer to Gibraltar. Yes, and they would bring their flying friends.
    1. Selevc
      Selevc 17 July 2020 14: 44
      This looks like a violation of any logic, but, nevertheless, this zone, which amounted to 62% of the flight deck area, was tested for strength only once. Another moment is equally unexpected: nine hits were at the extremities, which totaled only about a third of the ship’s area.

      In my opinion, this is explained quite simply - German pilots knew which parts of British aircraft carriers were less protected and aimed precisely there ... Therefore, the rare bombing of an armored deck can be considered pointing errors ...

      A direct analogy with Bismarck with its incredible reservations and Swordfish plywood biplanes - which even without breaking through the armor of the battleship caused damage to it which turned out to be fatal ...
      1. Engineer
        18 July 2020 12: 18
        There is a grain of reason in your words.
        Perhaps it was even easier. The Germans used aircraft lifts for aiming.
        The problem is that I cannot 100% imagine the aiming process.
        1. To maximize hits, aim at the center of the target so that its center and the center of the circle (or ellipse) of dispersion coincide. At the same time, we will rarely hit the exact center of the target due to errors of instruments and crew. This explains the observed distribution
        2. Targeting is carried out on the extremities (possibly on the specific aircraft lifts). For obvious reasons, the probability of hits is reduced. Plus, specifically, the aircraft lift is a bad marker: it is tightly fitted to the deck and a uniform camouflage is applied to it and the deck. Its a problem to discern. The operating time of the Victories elevators is about 20 seconds. That is, the "dip" in the deck is visible only for a short time. This method also explains the observed fact, I just consider it less likely