|Armament||6 x 6" plus AA|
88 (designed for 100)
|Speed||36 knots (!)|
|VTS Rating||1 4 9 4|
As World War I was drawing to a close, the world's largest two battlecruisers were being laid down. Designed to project British seapower quickly to any part of her global Empire without refueling, these ships were very long (nearly 1,000 feet) and fast, with tremendous bunkerage and shallow draft. Lightly armored, their expansion spaces were filled with cork. The success of the few aircraft cariers in WW I lead to a design change to make one ship the world's largest CV.
Incomparable, like many early carriers, initially had only a 3/4 length flight deck with a flying-off deck at hangar level. Her flight deck was fully extended in a 1936 refit, and the forecastle plated all the way up to meet it for the first "hurricane" bow on any CV. Moderate armor covered the magazines and fuel. Much of her original bunkerage was converted to avgas storage, so the modern Incomparable now had to refuel at least once to get to the far corners of the Empire. Foreign contemporary battlecruiser conversions such as Lexington or Akagi were inferior. Until Yonaga in 1941, Incomparable was the "Rolls Royce" of CV's for some twenty years.
Along with her battlecruiser "sister" Superb she became the "firemen" of the Royal Navy, responding to crises and bolstering local forces. To demonstrate British seapower and willingness to protect Hong Kong when Japan invaded China, Incomparable took on fuel and planes in Singapore and headed northeast. Squeezed on board were 120 Swordfish torpedo bombers, filling her hangar deck and overflowing to a deck park. Just over the horizon from Hong Kong she launched her brood in an impressive flyover, her planes circling the city spread out in an unbroken line, as she and Superb steamed magnificently into view at 35 knots. This stunt was not lost on the Japanese, who eventually produced the high-speed duo of Shokaku and Aratama.
Shortly after WW II began, Incomparable's air complement included fewer but larger and heavier planes that helped her look (unsuccessfully) for German commerce raiders in the Indian Ocean. By the time the Japanese started the Pacific war she was equipped with the latest Marlin torpedo bombers, Firefly scout-fighters, and a deck park of Seafire interceptors for a complement of 88 aircraft.
Incomparable's first combat came when she, Superb, the Dutch CV Molucca and escorting warships tangled with three Japanese battlecruisers and seaplane carriers off Samar, sinking two ships and causing the rest to scatter. In the summer of '42 a massive polyglot of Allied and Axis ships fought near the islands of Mauritius and Incomparable got caught in a night battle. Her 6" guns hit the torpedo gallery of a Japanese cruiser and blew her up, but the other cruisers put six torpedoes into Incomparable's port side and blew out huge chunks of cork as well as flooding the machinery spaces. Her sailors clung to the myriad cork "rafts" as she capsized and sank.