Queen Elizabeth Class

Overview

Country: United Kingdom

By the beginnning of the 1960s the Royal Navy had scrapped most of the wartime carriers and was operating four front line fleet carriers, a light carrier and two others which were being converted into Commando ships. The four fleet carriers were however ageing assets which would need to be replaced by the beginning of the following decade. It was therefore announced in the 1962 Defence White Paper that work would begin on the design of a new class of aircraft carriers. The CVA (Fleet Carrier, Attack) Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier was designed to replace these vessels and was considerably bigger. Displacing nearly 60,000 tons and with capacity for up to 50 modern aircraft, they would have allowed the Royal Navy to maintain its significant position in carrier aviation. The design went through a number of major changes first in size (smaller) then in propulsion in an effort to keep the project alive and within the artificial political and financial constraints applied to it.

In the event the project did not survive the 1966 Defence White Paper – they along with the proposed Type 82 destroyer escorts were cancelled. The British government had decided to cut defence spending and withdraw from commitments East of Suez. With no follow-on big carrier the Royal Navy realised its days as a conventional fixed wing aircraft operator were numbered. The new and much smaller Invincible Class Carriers could only operate Sea Harrier V/STOL aircraft and had a very limited capacity.

It is interesting to consider what might have been. If the two Qeen Elizabeth carriers had been built it almost certain that the Argentines would not have invaded the Falkland Islands and that the Royal Navy could have continued to provide a strong and effective carrier air group support to NATO.

It is interesting to note that, again for political and financial reasons, that the British government turned down an offer of the loan or purchase of two or three Essex Class carriers from the US Navy – they had decided to do away with carriers and were not to be deflected from their target – in fact for a time the Invincible Class were called Through-Deck Cruisers as means of avoiding using the name aircraft carrier.

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