UKN11 HMS Illustrious / USS Robin

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UKN11: HMS Illustrious / USS Robin.

USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was badly damaged at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, leaving the United States Navy with only one fleet carrier, USS Saratoga, operational in the Pacific. In late December 1942, Victorious was loaned to the US Navy after an American plea for carrier reinforcement. After a refit in the United States at the Norfolk Navy Yard in January 1943 and the addition of Avenger aircraft, Victorious passed through the Panama Canal on 14 February to operate with United States forces in the Pacific. 

Victorious arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943 and was fitted with heavier arrester wires as RN wires had proved too light for the Grumman Avenger aircraft. Additional AA guns were also fitted. She sailed for the south-west Pacific, arriving at Nouméa, New Caledonia, on 17 May to form Carrier Division 1 with USS Saratoga. She sortied immediately for a week with Task Force 14, including Saratoga and battleships North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Indiana, sweeping against reported Japanese fleet activity, but without contact.

On 27 June, TF14 was redesignated Task Group 36.3 and sailed to provide cover for the invasion of New Georgia (part of Operation Cartwheel). Victorious spent the next 28 days continuously in combat operations at sea, a record for a British carrier, steaming 12,223 miles at an average speed over 18 knots (33 km/h) kts and launching 614 sorties. Returning to Nouméa on 25 July, Victorious was recalled home. Though the Japanese had four carriers to Ramsey's two, it seemed clear that they were not intending to press their advantage and the first two carriers of the new Essex-class had arrived at Pearl Harbor well ahead of schedule. Victorious left for Pearl Harbor on 31 July, leaving behind her Avengers as replacements for Saratoga, sailing in company with battleship Indiana and launching 165 anti submarine sweeps en route. She also carried US pilots finishing their tours as well as two Japanese POWs. After a brief stop in San Diego, Victorious passed through the Panama Canal on 26 August and arrived at Norfolk Navy Yard 1 September, where specialized US equipment was removed. Returning home, she arrived at Greenock on the Clyde on 26 September 1943 where aircraft and stores were discharged.