HMS Illustrious (R06)

HMS Illustrious (R06)

:"See HMS "Illustrious" for other ships of the same name."

The fifth HMS "Illustrious" (R06) is an "Invincible"-class light aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, affectionately known as 'Lusty' to her crew.


She was laid down at Swan Hunter on the River Tyne in 1976, and launched in 1981. 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, an aircraft carrier was required on station to protect the area from possible Argentine attack. "Invincible" had been on station for many months when "Illustrious" steamed to its relief. However, "Illustrious" was needed so quickly that the ship was actually commissioned whilst underway. After the RAF airfield was repaired, "Illustrious" returned to the UK for a full shakedown cruise and workup period, with a formal commissioning on 20 March 1983.


The ship saw no further action during the remainder of the decade, 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 ski-jump with a steeper angle 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 GR.7.

In mid-2003, the ship entered 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 enable her to carry on until 2014, when it is expected that the first of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will come into service. "Illustrious" returned to Portsmouth following the completion of the refit in December 2004.

Operations and deployments


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 that 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 U.S. and coalition 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 notable combat deployment for the ship took place in late 2001. A large British exercise, Saif Sareea II took place in Oman in the autumn of 2001. During the exercise, the World Trade Center was destroyed by Al-Qaeda. "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. [cite news |first=David |last=Graves
title=Illustrious to take command in Swift Sword manoeuvres|url=
work=The Telegraph |date=30 September 2001 |accessdate=2008-01-24
] No deployment was made before "Illustrious" was relieved by "Ocean" in early 2002.


HMS "Illustrious" along with HMS|Gloucester|D96|6 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, HMS "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. [cite news |first=Richard |last=Norton-Taylor
title=Falklands war to be remembered over four days |url=,,1947098,00.html
work=The Guardian |date=14 November 2006 |accessdate=2008-01-24


"Illustrious" carried out two weeks of fixed wing flying serials exercises in the North Sea 20 miles off Hartlepool in March 2007, during which seven GR9 Harriers from IV (Four) Squadron Joint Force Harrier touched down on her flight-deck. [cite news |title=Harriers touch down on HMS Illustrious |url= |publisher=Ministry of Defence |date=12 March 2007 |accessdate=2008-01-24 ] 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. [cite news |authorlink=Press Association |title=Airlift for carrier sailors overcome by fumes |url=,,2035254,00.html |work=The Guardian |date=16 March 2007 |accessdate=2008-01-24 ]

From 25 to 30 May 2007, after an exercise in the Baltic Sea, "Illustrious" was the first British aircraft carrier ever to dock in 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. [cite news |title=HMS Illustrious in Tallinn|url= |publisher=Foreign and Commonwealth Office |date=30 May 2007 |accessdate=2008-01-24 ]

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 took on-board 14 US Harrier jets and 200 US Marines) before returning to Portsmouth the following month. [cite news |title=US Marines embark Harriers onto HMS Illustrious |url= |publisher=Ministry of Defence |date=17 July 2007 |accessdate=2008-01-24 ]


The carrier set sail from Portsmouth on 21 January 2008 as head of the multi-national Task Group 328.01, [Richard Scott, 'ASW Resurfaces,' Jane's Defence Weekly, Volume 45, Issue 24, 11 June 2008, p.25] under Operation Orion 08, which from January to May 2008 will carry 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 24th [ [ Harbour Watch - Portsmouth Today ] ] and made up the lost 24 hours. [cite news |first=Richard |last=Norton-Taylor
title=Dodgy freezer halts carrier |url=,,2245661,00.html |work=The Guardian |date=24 January 2008 |accessdate=2008-01-24
] [cite news
title=Chill Out! Navy Ship's Fridge Is Wonky |url=,,30100-1302053,00.html |work=Sky News |date=23 January 2008 |accessdate=2008-01-24
] [ [ All news : RN Live : News and Events : Royal Navy ] ] Her ports of call included Valletta, Malta 26–29 February 2008. [ [ HMS Illustrious returns to Malta] ] [ [ HMS ILLUSTRIOUS RETIES BOND WITH MALTA BEFORE HEADING SOUTH] ]

This 2008 assignment was filmed and shown on Channel 5 as the 6-part tv documentary "Warship" transmitted on Mondays from May 19th 2008 [ [ All news : RN Live : News and Events : Royal Navy ] ] [ [ Warship Documentary : HMS Illustrious : Aircraft Carriers : Surface Fleet : Operations and Support : Royal Navy ] ] . This documentary aimed to show life on-board the now-ageing carrier in much the same way that the "Ark Royal" was shown in the 1976 "Sailor". HMS "Illustrious" was commanded by ex-"Chatham" commanding officer Captain Steve Chick CBE BSc, who had also commanded HMS "Chatham" during the 2005 BBC documentary named "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-35B Joint Combat Aircraft which will replace the Sea Harriers currently used by the ship. She was the only aircraft carrier to be part of the event, although the inactive HMS "Invincible" was also visible to the public.



*Grenadier Guards
*City of London Corporation
*Worshipful Company of Lightmongers
*30 Signal Regiment, Royal Signals
*No. 7 Squadron RAF
*Metropolitan Police Service
*Bath R.F.C.


External links

* [ Maritimequest HMS Illustrious photo gallery]
* [ Windows Local Live Birdseye image of HMS Illustrious docked in Portsmouth]

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