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HMS Illustrious (R06)
HMS Illustrious 1.jpg
HMS Illustrious
Decommissioned 2013
Name: HMS Illustrious
Ordered: 14 May 1976
Builder: Swan Hunter, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom
Laid down: 7 October 1976
Launched: 14 December 1978
Sponsored by: Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Commissioned: 20 June 1982
Homeport: HMNB Portsmouth
Identification: Pennant number: R06
Deck code: L
International callsign: GVUH[1]
Motto: Vox Non Incerta
("No Uncertain Sound")
Nickname: "Lusty"
Status: Decommissioned, being scrapped
Badge: Ship's badge
General characteristics
Class & type: Invincible-class aircraft carrier
Displacement: 22,000 tonnes[2]
Length: 636 ft (194 m)
Beam: 118 ft (36 m)
Draught: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Propulsion: 4 × Rolls-Royce Olympus TM3B gas turbines providing 97,000 hp (75 MW)
8 Paxman Valenta diesel generators
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h), 18 knots (33 km/h) cruising
Range: 5,000 nautical miles at 18 knots (9,300 km at 33 km/h)
Complement: 685 crew
366 Fleet Air Arm
Armament: 3 × Goalkeeper CIWS
2 × GAM-B01 20 mm close-range guns
Aircraft carried:

Up to 22 helicopters with the combination of:

Notes: SDSR stated that it is possible that Harrier Jump Jets from other countries could operate on HMS Illustrious.

HMS Illustrious is the second of three Invincible-class light aircraft carriers built for the Royal Navy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She is the fifth warship and second aircraft carrier to bear the name Illustrious, and is affectionately known to her crew as "Lusty". In 1982, the conflict in the Falklands necessitated that Illustrious be completed and rushed south to join her sister ship HMS Invincible and the veteran carrier HMS Hermes. To this end, she was brought forward by three months for completion at Swan Hunter Shipyard, then commissioned on 20 June 1982 at sea en-route to Portsmouth Dockyard to take on board extra stores and crew. She arrived in the Falklands to relieve Invincible on 28 August 1982 in a steam past. Returning to the UK, she was not formally commissioned into the fleet until 20 March 1983. After the Falklands War, she was deployed Operation Southern Watch in Iraq, then Operation Deny Flight in Bosnia during the 1990s and Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone in 2000. An extensive re-fit during 2002 prevented her from involvement in the 2003 Iraq War, but she was repaired in time to assist British citizens trapped by the 2006 Lebanon War.

Following the retirement of her fixed-wing British Aerospace Harrier II aircraft in 2010, Illustrious now operates as one of two Royal Navy helicopter carriers.[3] She is the oldest ship in the Royal Navy's active fleet and it is envisaged that she will be withdrawn from service in 2014 (after 32 years' service) and will not be replaced until HMS Queen Elizabeth is commissioned in 2016. The UK Ministry of Defence announced on 10 September 2012 that once she is decommissioned Illustrious will be preserved for the nation.[4]



Illustrious, the second of the three Invincible class aircraft carriers, was laid down at Swan Hunter on the River Tyne in 1976 and launched in 1978. As the ship neared the end of its fitting out period, the Falklands War broke out. As a consequence, work on Illustrious was greatly speeded up. The war was won before Illustrious could be finished, but she did perform a useful service in the aftermath. Until the RAF airfield on the Falkland Islands was repaired, air defence of the area was the responsibility of the Fleet Air Arm. After Hermes returned to the UK, Invincible remained on station in the South Atlantic until September 1982. To relieve Invincible, the newly completed Illustrious was rapidly deployed, with 809 Naval Air Squadron (Harriers) and 814 Naval Air Squadron (Seaking Helicopters) embarked.[5] So rapidly was Illustrious deployed that she was commissioned while at sea. Rear Admiral Derek Reffell commanded the relief task group from Illustrious during this period. After the RAF airfield was repaired, Illustrious returned to the UK for a full shakedown cruise and workup period, and was formally commissioned on 20 March 1983.

Operational history


The ship saw no further action during the remainder of the 1980s, but continued to be a valuable asset for the Royal Navy in showing the flag and participating in exercises all around the world. During those years, the ship received several enhancements during refits, including a steeper ski-jump to enable the Harriers in the air wing to take-off with a larger payload. During an 'Extended Defect and Maintenance Period', numerous modifications were made to the ship including the removal of her Sea Dart missile defences at a cost of twelve million pounds. This allowed for extra deck space that enables her to carry up to 22 aircraft, including the Harrier GR7.

In 1986 she suffered a catastrophic gearbox failure which almost saw the end of the vessel's naval career. Just starting out on her "fly the flag" around the globe trip, at about 23:30 whilst reaching full engine revs, the oil vapour surrounding the gearbox exploded causing a fire lasting well over four hours. At one point the captain made preparations to abandon ship, but was then overruled by the fleet admiral who believed the ship could be saved. There was no loss of life or serious injury, but the trip was put off for several months whilst the ship was taken out of service for extensive repairs.


Illustrious (r) and the American USS John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf in 1998

During the 1990s, the main task of the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy was helping to maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia during the war there. All three of the navy's carriers rotated through the area. In 1998 she operated in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch, the Anglo-Saudi-American enforcement of the no-fly-zone over Southern Iraq.

In 2000 she led Task Group 342.1, a naval task force comprising HM ships — Ocean, Argyll, Iron Duke, Chatham — and numerous RFA ships in Operation Palliser, which was aimed at restoring peace and stability to Sierra Leone.

A combat deployment for the ship took place in 2001. A large British exercise, Saif Sareea II took place in Oman in late 2001. During the exercise, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center took place. Illustrious remained in theatre while other elements of the task force returned to the United Kingdom. Illustrious had elements of the Royal Marines on board, ready for possible combat operations in Afghanistan.[6] No deployment was made before Illustrious was relieved by Ocean in early 2002 and returned to Portsmouth after seven months at sea.[7]


Illustrious undergoing maintenance at Portsmouth during 2005

In mid-2003, the ship underwent a further refit at Rosyth Dockyard. This refit involved the total rebuild of the ski jump, the adding of better communications and reconfiguring the ship so that it can be more quickly switched between the light aircraft carrier and helicopter carrier roles. The refit should have enable her to carry on until 2014, when it was expected that the first of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers would come into service.[citation needed] Illustrious returned to Portsmouth following the completion of the refit in December 2004.

She was re-dedicated in 2005, and following the death of the ship's original sponsor Princess Margaret, her daughter Lady Sarah Chatto agreed to attend in a new role as "ship's friend".[8]


Illustrious along with HMS Gloucester helped in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut as a result of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis. Later that year, as part of the Royal Navy's Remembrance Day activities, Illustrious sailed up the River Thames on Friday 10 November 2006. She was moored at Wood Wharf, a few hundred yards upriver from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London, until Wednesday 15 November. Whilst there, the Falklands War commemorative events in 2007 were announced on board her.[9]


Illustrious in formation with United States Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on a Joint Task Force Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, July 2007

Illustrious carried out two weeks of fixed wing flying serials exercises in the North Sea 20 miles (32 km) off Hartlepool in March 2007, during which seven GR9 Harriers from No. 4 Squadron RAF, Joint Force Harrier touched down on her flight-deck.[10] Also during these exercises, seven of her crew had to be airlifted to hospital in Middlesbrough on 13 March suffering from fume inhalation and throat and eye irritation after an accident with chemicals in cleaning a junior ratings' toilet area. Illustrious sailed on to Portsmouth, where they rejoined her on leaving hospital.[11]

From 25 to 30 May 2007, after an exercise in the Baltic Sea, Illustrious was the first British aircraft carrier ever to visit Tallinn, Estonia. The visit provided rest for the ship's crew after the Baltic exercise, acted as a diplomatic visit, and also involved naval and air exercises with the Estonian Defence Forces.[12]

Next, in July 2007, Illustrious took part in a US-led Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFX) off the eastern coast of the United States (for which she hosted 14 US Harrier jets and 200 US Marines) before returning to Portsmouth the following month.[13]


The carrier set sail from Portsmouth on 21 January 2008 as head of the multi-national Task Group 328.01,[14] under Operation Orion 08, which from January to May 2008 carried out exercises and diplomatic visits to twenty ports in the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East, and south-east Asia. However, on 23 January, whilst still off the coast of southern England, she sailed back to Portsmouth for repairs to a minor fault in a meat freezer. It was felt to be important to repair this before sailing to a warmer climate, and Navy spokesman Anton Hanney stated that flying in an emergency plumber whilst she was underway would be more expensive than turning back whilst Illustrious was still in the English Channel. She sailed back out at 1pm on 24 January[15] and made up the lost 24 hours.[16][17][18] Her ports of call included Valletta, Malta 26–29 February 2008.[19][20]

This 2008 assignment was filmed and shown on Channel 5 as the 6-part TV documentary Warship transmitted on Mondays from 19 May 2008.[21][22] This documentary aimed to show life on board the now-aging carrier in much the same way that HMS Ark Royal was shown in the 1976 Sailor. Illustrious was commanded by Captain Steve Chick CBE BSc, who had also commanded HMS Chatham during the 2005 BBC documentary Shipmates.

By the end of July, she had returned to Portsmouth where she took part in the 2008 navy open-day. She proved to be popular with visitors and the queue to tour her was long. On board she displayed a life-size model of the F-35 Joint Combat Aircraft which will replace the Harriers then used by the ship. She was the only aircraft carrier to be part of the event, although the inactive Invincible was also visible to the public.[citation needed]

On 17 October she, along with HMS Cattistock, sailed into Liverpool where she was open to the public on Saturday 18 October. On 4 November she moored at Greenwich, arriving to take central part in the Royal Navy's remembrance week. The F-35 mock-up remained on deck.


A V22 Osprey landing on the rear flight deck of Illustrious in the Atlantic Ocean in 2007

On 7 May 2009 she returned to Greenwich to serve as the centre piece of the Royal Navy's celebration of a century of British naval aviation; on board were examples of all the Navy's operational helicopters.[citation needed]

Beginning on 8 June, she took part in the exercise Loyal Arrow in northern Sweden. The exercise lasted until 16 June. On 17 June 2009, she arrived in Tallinn. On 27 June 2009 she was in the harbour of Oslo, Norway.

On 22 October 2009 she arrived at Liverpool for a six-day visit and moored at the cruise terminal. There was a fly past along The River Mersey on 23 October as part of its celebrations to mark that year’s centenary of naval aviation. Illustrious was open to members of the public on 25–26 October and left Liverpool on 27 October 2009.


Illustrious at Greenwich in 2013

As part of Strategic Defence and Security Review, and in addition to the axing of the Harrier force and Illustrious's sister ship Ark Royal, it was announced that a short study would be carried out to determine whether Illustrious or Ocean was the most viable helicopter platform. The decision was subsequently made to retain Ocean for the longer term. In May 2011 Illustrious was made operational after a £40 million refit,[23] and she was handed back to the fleet after sea trials in late July 2011[24] She has taken over the helicopter carrier role while Ocean undergoes a planned refit, due for completion by 2014; Illustrious will then be withdrawn from service.[25] The Ministry of Defence also announced that Illustrious, as the last of the Invincible-class aircraft carriers, will be preserved as a memorial "in recognition of the service given by these ships in protecting the UK over the last 30 years".[26]

In March 2012, Illustrious took part in Exercise 'Cold Response' with HMS Bulwark, RFA Mounts Bay and other Royal Navy vessels. This was a NATO winter war games exercise being conducted in northern Norway, where she tested her capabilities as a helicopter carrier.[27] The Illustrious was awarded the Bambara Trophy, the trophy is given to a unit each year with the best flight safety record, during 'Cold Response'.[28] Following 'Cold Response' she then took part in Exercise 'Joint Warrior with vessels from Norway, the Netherlands and the United States[29] and Cougar 12 in the Mediterranean.[30] In May 2013, as part of the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of the Atlantic Commemorations, 'Illustrious' sailed up The River Thames and was moored at Greenwich where she will be used as the venue for a charity reception in aid of the Royal Navy's Aviation Heritage.

She is currently deployed Exercise COUGAR 13.[31] Joining her will be HMS Bulwark, Westminster, Montrose and 6 RFA vessels.[32]

Commanding Officers

  • 1981-1983: Captain Jock Slater RN
  • 1983-1984: Captain John Kerr RN
  • 1984-1986: Captain Alan Grose RN
  • 1986-1988: Captain Peter Woodhead RN
  • 1988-1989: Captain Jonathan Tod RN
  • 1993-1995: Captain Richard Phillips RN
  • 1995-1997: Captain Jonathan Band RN
  • 1997-1998: Captain Stephen Meyer RN
  • 1998-2000: Captain Mark Stanhope OBE RN
  • 2000-2001: Captain Charles Style RN
  • 2001-2002: Captain Alan Massey RN
  • 2004-2006: Captain Robert Cooling RN
  • 2006-2007: Captain Timothy Fraser RN
  • 2007-2009: Captain Steven Chick RN
  • 2009-2010: Captain Benjamin Key RN
  • 2011-2012: Captain Jeremy Kyd RN
  • 2012–2013: Captain Martin Connell RN
  • 2013–Present: Captain Mike Utley RN


HMS Illustrious escorting the contestants in the 2011 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race to the start line in the Solent.

In Media

In 2010, the ship was featured on Channel 5 documentary series Warship. The series centered on the daily routines and lives of the crew on board and was filmed during one of its exercises.


  1. "Royal Navy Bridge Card, February 2009". Retrieved 2009-06-20. [dead link][dead link]
  3. "Royal Navy Assault Ships". MOD. 
  4. "Royal Navy's HMS Illustrious to be preserved". BBC News Online. 10 September 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  5. 814 Naval Air Squadron
  6. Graves, David (30 September 2001). "Illustrious to take command in Swift Sword manoeuvres". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-01-24. [dead link]
  7. "HMS Illustrious returns from Afghanistan". BBC. 25 March 2002. 
  8. HMS Illustrious and Lady Sarah Chatto[dead link]
  9. Norton-Taylor, Richard (14 November 2006). "Falklands war to be remembered over four days". The Guardian.,,1947098,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  10. "Harriers touch down on HMS Illustrious". Ministry of Defence. 12 March 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  11. "Airlift for carrier sailors overcome by fumes". The Guardian. 16 March 2007.,,2035254,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  12. "HMS Illustrious in Tallinn". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 30 May 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  13. "US Marines embark Harriers onto HMS Illustrious". Ministry of Defence. 17 July 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  14. Richard Scott, 'ASW Resurfaces,' Jane's Defence Weekly, Volume 45, Issue 24, 11 June 2008, p.25
  15. Harbour Watch – Portsmouth Today
  16. Norton-Taylor, Richard (24 January 2008). "Dodgy freezer halts carrier". The Guardian.,,2245661,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  17. "Chill Out! Navy Ship's Fridge Is Wonky". Sky News. 23 January 2008.,,30100-1302053,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-24. [dead link]
  18. All news : RN Live : News and Events : Royal Navy
  19. HMS Illustrious returns to Malta
  20. HMS Illustrious reties bond with Malta before heading south
  21. All news : RN Live : News and Events : Royal Navy
  22. Warship Documentary : HMS Illustrious : Aircraft Carriers : Surface Fleet : Operations and Support : Royal Navy
  23. [1][dead link]
  24. article in Navy News[dead link]
  25. "Changes to Royal Navy's surface fleet announced". Ministry of Defence. 15 December 2010. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  26. "10 September 2012" House of Commons col. 1–4 
  28. "UK: HMS Illustrious ‘Sets Standard’ for Flying at Sea". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  30. "Naval force gears up for Cougar 12". Ministry of Defence. 27 September 2012. 
  33. "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Affiliations : HMS Illustrious : Aircraft Carriers : Surface Fleet : Operations and Support". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 

External links

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