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HMS Eagle was an aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, in service 1951-1972. With her sister ship , she is one of the two largest Britishmarker aircraft carriers yet built.

She was initially laid down in 1942 at Harland and Wolffmarker shipyard in Belfastmarker as one of four ships of the . These were laid down during World War II 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 NATOmarker naval exercise, Exercise Mainbrace.


Her first wartime service came in 1956, when she took part in the Suez Crisis. The ship's aircraft of that period included Westland Wyverns, Douglas Skyraider, Armstrong Whitworth Sea Hawks and de Havilland Sea Venoms. An angled flight deck was fitted in 1956-1957 with a mirror landing sight.

The admiralty 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 were fitted as well as new arrester gear 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 system. 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 1980’s.

In 1959 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 and Eagle was now the largest most capable aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy. Eagle now operated Blackburn Buccaneer, de Havilland Sea Vixen, Supermarine Scimitar and Fairey Gannet aircraft.

Final Air Wing 1971
  • 800 sqn. 14 Buccaneer S2
  • 899 sqn. 16 Sea Vixen FAW2
  • 849 sqn. D flt. 4 Gannet AEW3, 1 Gannet COD4
  • 826 sqn. 5 Sea King HAS1
  • Ships Flight 1 Wessex HAS1 (SAR)

In early 1966 she was refitted at Devonport once more to give her more powerful catapults. She recommissioned in 1967. Eagle was originally intended to receive a further refit that would have enabled her to comfortably operate ("Eagle" had already successfully operated them in trials) the McDonnell Douglas Phantom, however after damaging a propeller blade this was cancelled even though it would have only cost around £2 million compared to the £32 million spent on Ark Royal which was considered to be in significantly worse material state than Eagle.

The 1966 decision to run-down the RN fixed wing carrier fleet (Centaur, and Victorious had already been laid up and scrapped) 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 or Hermes 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 known as the Hamoaze. 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 Ark Royal, Eagle was then sold for scrap and towed from Devonport in October 1978 to Cairnryanmarker 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 Royal's) stands guard at the entrance to the Fleet Air Arm Museummarker in Yeoviltonmarker.




  • Raymond Blackman, Ships of the Royal Navy (Macdonald and Jane's, London, 1973)
  • Gardiner, Robert and Stephen Chumbley. Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995. Annapolis, Ma, USA:Naval Institute Press, 1995. ISBN 1-55750-132-7.
  • Neil McCart, HMS Eagle 1942- 1978 (Fan Publications, Cheltenham, 1996. ISBN 0 9519538 8 5)

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