Let us test your memory. Think of a conflict where a carrier was used in combat. I am sure, several WW2 conflicts would first come to your mind. Let us think post WW2 and lemme throw in another challenge, the carrier shouldn’t be operated by a western power. One of the two answers to this question lies in the title (ironically, both answers are sisters ships). INS Vikrant, laid down as the 5th Majestic class light carrier named Hercules, last of the class out of service and one of the two of the class to see combat action. Considering we had picture posts for the other two Indian carriers, I thought why not complete the trio.
HMS Hercules seen right after her launch.
She was 20 days too late for the Second World War i.e. launched on 22nd Sept 1945 when the Japanese signed their instrument of surrender on the 2nd of that month. Hence she was laid up post launch either for sale or domestic use. India being so close to strategic naval choke points on both sides wanted an aircraft carrier for power projection. The Korean war delayed the proceedings thus the deal for Hercules was approved in the late 1950s. She was converted from a straight deck propeller aircraft carrier to an angled deck jet fighter carrier.
INS Vikrant in Malta with a packed deck circa 1960s
The air wing consisted of Hawker Sea Hawks which provided air defense and air to ground offensive capabilities. Brequet Alize provided maritime patrol and anti surface capabilities to the air wing. Helos were used for SAR before Sea Kings took over ASW from the ageing Alizes.
Carriers do look good with packed decks!
The Vikrant was comissioned on 4th of March 1961 as a CATOBAR aircraft carrier. It had two centre deck elevators, single bow steam catapult and 4 arresting wires for recovery.
The one above is my personal favourite of the lot. This could be the cover picture of an Indian Top Gun as Maverick readies to launch. Just replace USS Enterprise with INS Vikrant and F-14 with Sea Hawk. Do note INS Mysore, not the present Delhi class destroyer, but the older ex-RN Fiji class cruiser in the background.
Lemme tell you all something interesting. If you check out the stern of the vessel, right where the port side ends you can see a big “W” written. Since the Indian Navy derives a lot of its practises from the Royal Navy, they follow the tradition of marking their vessels with an alpha numeric code. Vikrant had the code W.
Similarly, Viraat has V as its code on its starboard-stern.
and the HMS QE has Q as her code.
These humble looking aircraft played a major role in enforcing a naval blockade against the adversary during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. They struck ground and sea targets to cut off any potential resupply to the opposing forces. With age, Sea Hawks gave way to the venerable Sea Harrier. For some years, Harriers operated off the CATOBAR deck due to presence of Alize and Sea Hawks.
Not many navies have fielded three fixed aircraft types on a single deck post WW2. Here we can see Harriers on the bow, 2 Sea Hawks behind them and Alizes on the stern of the vessel. In the 1989, with all the CATOBAR types bound for museums, her arresting gear and catapults made way for a ski-jump. She served the remaining 8 years of her service life as a STOVL carrier. She was retired in 1997 and sadly scrapped in 2014 after bids for making her a museum failed.
Having 2 active carriers was a big thing for a non western power at the end of the 20th century and the Indian navy was cruising along with 2 STOVL carriers.
Ship scrapping is always sad, scrapping a war veteran is worse!
The name INS Vikrant would now be carried by a new carrier. A 45,000 tonne domestically made vessel carrying around 40 MiG-29Ks and helos. It will supplement INS Vikramaditya by the end of this decade or early next decade.
For other articles of the trio: