HMS Illustrious was the first of a new type of aircraft carrier developed by the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy expected to have to operate within range of land based bombers in European waters so need a carrier that could withstand bombing. The Illustrious had an armoured flight deck and hangar sides but as a consequence she only had one hangar deck compared to Ark Royal's double Hangar deck, meaning she could only operate a small airgroup for her size. She was also given a fairly heavy anti aircraft battery and was equipped with radar.
HMS Illustrious was very active in WW2 and was most famous for launching the Taranto raid, where her strike force of 21 Swordfish (some from HMS Eagle) sank three Italian battleships and damaged others. Soon after Taranto, Illustious was badly damaged in an air attack by Stuka dive bombers, she was hit several times with one bomb going through one of her unarmoured aircraft lifts and a large bomb going through her armoured deck. A second attack later that day added to the damage, again with a bomb going through a lift, knocking out the steering. In addition to the ship's damage, many of her aircraft and crew were also lost. She made it back to Malta and whilst under repair, she was bombed by Ju88's, destroying the captain's cabin and damaging the machinery. There is no doubt her armoured deck prevented even worse damage. After temporary repairs, she sailed to Norfolk in the USA by way of the Suez Canal for more permanent repairs. After her repairs she sailed home with her sister ship, Formidable but they collided in bad weather and she underwent further repairs at Cammel Lairds.
Following repairs she supported the operation in Vichy French controlled Madagasgar, to deny any possible use of the Island by the Japanese. She then transferred to the Home fleet for a while before supporting the Salerno landings in 1943. She was back in the Indian ocean in early 1944, this time operating with the American carrier USS Saratoga, conducting raids on Japanese positions in the Dutch East Indies. After Saratoga returned to the US, she operated with other Royal Navy Carriers, to continue attacking Japanese positions. Later in 1944, following a refit in Durban, she was assigned to the newly created BPF, the largest Royal Navy fleet in WW2. They were to be based in Sydney and attacked Japanese positions on the way to their new base. Illustrious took part in the invasion of Okinawa, with her strike aircraft attacking Japanese positions and her fighters helping to defend the fleet. During this time she suffered a near miss by a Kamikaze.
Postwar, the plan was to refit Illustrious as a flagship but this changed and she became a trials ship. She was mainly used to test new jet fighters for carrier use and to train Fleet Air Arm pilots, she also trialled the new mirror landing system. She was eventually scrapped in 1957.
Aoshima's new (2016 tooling) Illustrious looks like quite a nice kit and it includes decals for Royal Navy and the deck markings. This Ltd Ed kit comes with a set of 6 Italian SM79 bombers.