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HMCS Eagle (CV-23)

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HMCS Eagle (CV-23) in her 1975 configuration.
HMS Eagle (R05/CV-23) was an aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, in service 1951-1972 and later with the Canadian Forces Maritime Command from 1975-1995. With her sister ship Ark Royal, she was one of the largest British aircraft carriers built until the Queen Elizabeth. The Canadian government purchased the Eagle in 1972 and commissioned it on November 11th 1975. It remained in service until March 1995 when it was decommissioned and made into a museum ship in Vancouver, British Columbia.

History[edit]

British Service[edit]

She was initially laid down on October 24th 1942 at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast as one of four ships of the Audacious-class aircraft carriers. These were laid down during World War II as part of the British naval buildup during that conflict. Two were cancelled at the end of hostilities, and the remaining two were suspended. Originally designated Audacious, she was renamed as Eagle (the fifteenth Royal Navy ship to receive this name), taking the name of the cancelled third ship of the class on 21 January 1946. She was finally launched by Princess Elizabeth on March 19th 1946.

Several 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 NATO naval exercise, Exercise Mainbrace.

In 1953 Eagle took part in the Fleet Review to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

A 5.5 degree 'interim' angled flight deck was fitted in 1954-1955 with a mirror landing sight, but she retained her two hydraulic catapults forward as they were adequate for the relatively light naval aircraft in service at the time. 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 Skyraiders, Hawker Sea Hawks and de Havilland Sea Venoms.

The Admiralty had originally planned to give the Eagle a complete rebuild on the lines of HMS Victorious, but due to high costs, plans to fit new geared steam turbines and a stretched hull were abandoned. Eagle was instead given a more austere but extensive modernization that provided greater radar and processing capability than the systems fitted to Victorious. The changes included major improvements to the accommodation, including the installation of air conditioning. The island was completely rebuilt and a new 3D Type 984 radar was installed, with processing capacity to track and rank 100 targets, twice the capability of the early 984 system fitted to Hermes and Victorious. The flight deck was modified and included a new 2½ inch armoured deck with a full 8.5 degree angle, two new steam catapults (BS5s, 151 ft (46 m) stroke on the port side forward and 199 ft (61 m) stroke in the waist) were fitted as well as new arrester gear (DAX I) 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, though her aft four 4.5 inch gun turrets were retained. All of Eagle's original machinery and equipment was fully overhauled.

In 1959 Eagle entered Devonport Dockyard to begin this extensive refit. By May 1964 the refit was complete. Standard displacement had increased to around 44,100 tons (full load displacement was 54,100 tons) and Eagle was now the largest aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy. Total cost of the refit was £31 million. The refit was intended to extend her operational life for another 10 years, and Eagle now operated Blackburn Buccaneer, de Havilland Sea Vixen, Supermarine Scimitar and Fairey Gannet aircraft. In 1964-5 it was claimed Eagle and the proposed CVA-01 and half size Hermes would be a viable three carrier fleet until 1980. Victorious would have been replaced by CVA-01 in 1973. In reality the 1958 Royal Navy assessment was with affordable modernization of the existing carrier fleet, only HMS Hermes would be effective after 1975 and it was too small. These assessments by the Director of Naval Construction in Nov 1958, were very accurate, taking into account the slower than expected pace of reconstruction, corrosion of war built hulls, the obsolete power trains except in Victorious and the cheap unsatisfactory mix of DC electrics with AC add on generators where needed in Eagle and Ark Royal.

In early 1966 she was refitted at Devonport once more and was fitted with a single DAX II arrestor wire (no.3, her other wires were DAX I). She was recommissioned in 1967.

Eagle was originally intended to receive a further refit that would have enabled her to comfortably operate the McDonnell Douglas Phantom (she had already successfully operated them in trials). Her two BS5 catapults fitted in her 1959-64 refit were already powerful enough to launch fully laden F-4s, but her Jet Blast Deflectors were still of the older steel plate design, and the reheated exhaust of the Phantom's Rolls Royce Spey engines required water-cooled deflector plates. It was also planned to fit bridle catchers to the catapults as a cost-saving measure, as the bridles would otherwise be lost after a single launch.

During the Phantom FG1 trials (involving three newly delivered aircraft operated by 700P NAS) the longer waist catapult was used, and a thick steel plate was chained to the deck behind the catapult to absorb the heat of the Phantom's afterburners. The JBD was not used as it would have been damaged, and after each launch fire hoses were sprayed on the deck plate to cool it down before the next aircraft could be loaded onto the catapult.

Plans to upgrade Eagle fully were cancelled in 1968 even though it would have only cost around £5 million compared to the £32 million spent on Ark Royal which was considered to be in significantly worse material state than Eagle. Of the 48 Phantom FG1s ordered for the FAA, 20 were diverted to the RAF equipping 43 Sqn, though some were loaned back to the Navy to equip the Phantom FG1 training unit 767 NAS which trained both RN and RAF Phantom crews until it was disbanded in 1972.

The 1966 decision to run-down the RN fixed wing carrier fleet (Centaur had already been laid up as an accommodation ship, and Victorious was soon to be prematurely scrapped, following a minor fire) meant Eagle's days were numbered. Eagle was paid off 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.

Canadian Service[edit]

1970s[edit]

Eagle carried ex-USN F-4J Phantom IIs until the 1980s.
In 1972, the Eagle was purchased by the Canadian government at the badgering of the opposition to deal with the chaos of the unification of the Canadian Forces. Eagle was seen by Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield to an opportunity for Pierre Trudeau to restore some of the luster to the Canadian military. NDP leader David Lewis agreed with Stanfield. The two leverage Trudeau into making an offer for Eagle. Trudeau made a ridiculous offer for it, trying to get the opposition. To his surprise, Britain agreed, and Eagle is towed to Canada, arriving at Halifax in December 1972.

It is announced that the mammoth Saint John Shipbuilding yards in Saint John, New Brunswick, would rebuild HMS Eagle, including automatic boiler control, a hull stretch, AN/SPS-48E radar and a lot of work to allow Eagle, which was already in fairly good condition, to serve as late as the year 2000. The rebuild started on May 24th, 1973, at Saint John Shipbuilding. Eagle's rebuild was completed in August 1975 with an 24 foot (7.32 meter) hull stretch, 12 degree angled flight deck, modern radars and electronics, computerized propulsion controls and new boilers, three new steam catapults, much-improved HVAC systems and many other upgrades. It was commissioned on November 11th, 1975 at CFB Halifax. The 55,000-ton carrier has a crew of 1,520 and an air wing of fifty aircraft (including ex-USN F-4J Phantoms, E-1 Tracers, S-2 Trackers, and CH-124 Sea Kings).

Eagle left for its first deployment on February 17th, 1976, along with destroyers Iroquois and Athabaskan, destroyer escorts Gatineau, Terra Nova and Nipigon, the submarine Okanagan, and the support ship HMCS Preserver bound for Cyprus to support the Canadian and British Forces stuck in-between the Turks and Greeks on the island. It would spend several weeks at Cyprus before heading back to CFB Halifax.

Eagle was deployed for a second time to the area, rapidly refueling and fixing things in Halifax before departing for Cyprus on July 25th, 1976. The vessel cleared Gibraltar on August 11th and reached Cyprus on August 20th. They joined HMS Ark Royal, USS Nimitz and USS Saratoga, three other carriers on scene.

On August 25th, despite the naval forces there, Turkey began moving troops to the island in big numbers again. The powers involved asked, and got, the Greeks not to respond, but Greece did begin moving forces to Cyprus. The Peacekeeper UN forces became UN armed forces, though they made it clear that if Turkey didn't step over the de facto boundary, there would be no problem. President Ford made it clear that the US did not support Turkey's current position and that the Turks should let it be.

Despite all of this, the Turks didn't listen at all. On September 10th, the Turkish Army invaded the southern portion, one of its first acts being sending F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers against UN positions in Nicosia, killing over 60 men including 28 Canadians.

News of that hit Ottawa to an immense roar from the government and the nation. The next day, war was declared in Ottawa, followed simultaneously by Washington, London and Athens. A UN declaration of war followed suit. That day, the Canadian carrier performed its first combat missions, attacking Turkish positions in northern Cyprus. The Turkish Navy tried to remove the allied military forces - but this failed dramatically. The first sinking by Canadian Naval Forces occurred on September 18th, when HMCS Okanagan sank a Turkish destroyer. The Turks made two attempts to sink Eagle, both ending in abject failures.

1980s[edit]

1990s[edit]

After years of tension, Iraq invaded its small neighbor Kuwait on August 2, 1990, kicking off the first Gulf War. The Iraqi initial victory was very swift, and so was an American response. On August 7, the Americans began moving forces into Saudi Arabia to protect against an Iraqi attack into Saudi territory. Canada quickly followed suit, and deployed HMCS Eagle in her first real conflict since the violence on Cyprus in 1977. Eagle and its battle group including its escort vessels Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Huron, Halifax and Terra Nova and supply ships Protecteur and Provider - arrived on station in the Red Sea on September 16, 1990, having also escorted four of the United States' eight fast sealift ships from the Mid-Atlantic all the way to Saudi Arabia. During the war, Eagle would lose two Corsairs and a Hornet to the Iraqi military. HMCS Eagle and her battle group arrived in Halifax on April 25, 1991, to a crowd of nearly 40,000 people.

On June 2, 1992, Mulroney orders the Eagle battle group to South Africa, expecting trouble from all sides to the landing of troops. HMCS Eagle is joined by HMS Ark Royal, HMAS Australia and American carriers Nimitz, George Washington, John F. Kennedy and Independence, along with battleship USS Missouri, whose planned retirement had been halted due to the need for gunfire support. The landing at Cape Town on June 28, 1992, met stiff resistance mostly from SADF units, but shortly after the landings the SADF gave in and ordered a cease-fire, with it going into effect on July 1 at 12:01 am. The ANC, however, does not negotiate a cease-fire and continues fighting, forcing allied forces to separate the two.

In August 1992, UNMISA operations for the CF Maritime Command come to an abrupt end on August 11, 1992, after a malfunctioning rocket causes a giant explosion on Eagle's flight deck, and subsequent explosions seriously damage her engines and rip open a 25-foot-wide hole in the hull, fortunately well above the waterline. The disaster is by a massive margin the greatest peacetime loss ever for the CF, as 121 sailors and airmen are KIA or MIA from the disaster, and 215 injuries are tallied. Dead in the water, American fleet tug Powhatan tows Eagle home, while her vessels join the other UNMISA forces before themselves being called home on August 24.

The disaster aboard Eagle is a major confidence-shaker for the MARCOM, made worse by the Liberals insisting that the seriously-damaged carrier now has no usage in the post-Cold War era and that she should be decommissioned and scrapped. This, however, does not help the Liberals in the 1993 elections, as this decision comes to haunt the opposition. Mulroney, seeing the opportunity, cranks up a public debate by holding off on a decision to repair Eagle while she is brought home and damage is assessed. Polls, however, see an aircraft carrier as an indispensable tool to assisting the Canadian Forces in their operations around the world. But Eagle's damage is immense - a massive hole in the flight deck, engines seriously damaged, the hull's integrity being questioned by naval architects. The Canadian government decides to repair the Eagle which keeps it out of service until 1994. Also the government looks into replacing the aging Audacious-class carrier. The Eagle's final mission is in 1995 when it is involved in operations in Japan after the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. It is finally decommissioned on March 26, 1995 and becomes a museum ship in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Specifications[edit]

  • Type: Aircraft Carrier (Hull designation symbol CV)
  • Rebuilders: Saint John Shipbuilding, Saint John, New Brunswick
  • Launched: August 4, 1975
  • Commissioned: November 11, 1975
  • Decommissioned: March 26, 1995
  • Characteristics
    • Length: 835.8 feet (254.75 meters)
    • Beam (Waterline): 112.8 feet (34.38 meters)
    • Beam (Overall): 171 feet (52.121 meters)
    • Height: 36 feet (10.973 meters)
    • Displacement: 55,000 tons
  • Crew: 1,520
  • Maximum Speed: 33.4 Knots (39.24 Mile/Hour) (63.15 Kilometers/Hour)
  • Propulsion: 4 x shaft geared steam turbines, 8 x boilers (174,800 shp)
  • Range: 8,200 nautical miles at 20 knots
  • Speed: 33.4 knots
  • Sensor Suite
    • AN/SPQ-9 Fir Control Radar
    • AN/SPS-48E 3D Air Search Radar
    • AN/SPS-49 2D Air Search Radar
  • Countermeasures
    • AN/SLQ-25C Nixie torpedo countermeasures suite
    • AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare Suite
  • Armament
    • 2 x 20mm Phalanx CIWS
    • 1 x 8-cell Mk.25 Sea Sparrow Missile Launcher

Aircraft Loadout[edit]

1975-1983[edit]

  • 30 x CF-174 Phantom II
  • 4 x CE-121 Tracer
  • 8 x CP-121 Tracker
  • 6 x CH-124 Sea King

1984-1995[edit]

  • 18 x CF-188 Hornet
  • 20 x CF-187 Corsair II
  • 2 x CE-2C Hawkeye
  • 4 x CP-121 Tracker
  • 4 x CH-124 Sea King
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