There is a long-standing love affair between Liverpool and the Royal Navy so it is perhaps fitting that on Valentine’s Day – February 14 – HMS Illustrious will berth alongside the Cruise Liner Terminal for the start of a five-day visit.
The last time the huge Helicopter and Commando carrier visited Liverpool was in 2010 for Fly Navy 100, a celebration of 100 years of naval aviation.
This time her visit coincides with the build up among the maritime community to another historic occasion, the Battle of the Atlantic 70th anniversary, in which the Royal Navy is playing its part – along with a number of maritime partners and Liverpool City Council – in a number of commemorative events in May, starting in London, then Derry-Londonderry and culminating in the main BOA 70 focus on Liverpool over the weekend May 24-27.
Meantime, the commanding officer of HMS Illustrious, Captain Martin Connell, and his ships company are looking forward to a packed programme of events while they are in Liverpool – and best of all, the ship will be open to visitors on both Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th.
Captain Connell said: “All of us in HMS Illustrious are looking forward to visiting Liverpool and renewing our bonds with this wonderful city. Liverpool is a very special place for a ship such as HMS Illustrious to visit and we always receive a very warm welcome indeed.
“We hope to be able to reciprocate in some small way by opening our doors to the general public to visit on Saturday and Sunday and to meet some of our people for an insight into some of the things we do on board.”
The ship – known affectionately as Lusty to her crew – sails into the city on Thursday and will berth around 1pm. During the weekend (February 16-17) the ship will open its doors, free of charge, to members of the public. On Saturday visitors will be able to go onboard from 10am – 4pm and on Sunday from midday to 4pm. On both days 3pm is the latest time visitors can board.
During the weekend the cruise liner terminal will be open to the public where there will be a selection of food and drink concessions, as well as a temporary Tourist Information Centre giving out information about Liverpool and selling city souvenirs.
Liverpool City Council’s cabinet member for culture and tourism, Councillor Wendy Simon, said: “With this city’s strong links to the sea, ship visits – whether they’re cruise liners or naval vessels – are always hugely popular.
“When HMS Liverpool visited last year, around 9,000 people took the opportunity to board her, and as HMS Illustrious is one of the Royal Navy’s extremely recognisable ships we’re expecting thousands to flock to the cruise liner terminal.
“And this visit gives us just a taste of what is to come in May when Liverpool becomes the focus of the national Battle of the Atlantic 70th commemorations when around 25 warships will take pride of place on the splendour of our magnificent waterfront.”
Once secure, Captain Connell will call on the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Sharon Sullivan, a long-established naval tradition when a ship docks in a British port. On Friday, a team of barbers from Wirral College will visit Illustrious and offer free haircuts to the crew then later an Engineering Symposium is being held in the Hangar for a number of higher education students across Merseyside. There are also golf outings being held at a number of clubs across the area over the duration of the visit.
On Friday night, 270 guests and dignitaries have been invited on board ship, with the Royal Marines Band (Scotland) playing Beat Retreat and at the ceremonial sunset.
The last time Illustrious threw down her gangway to the public three years ago, over 8000 people took the opportunity each day to go aboard and get a unique insight into life in the Royal Navy.
Short tours for youth organisations and specialist interest groups are also arranged for Sunday morning. HMS Illustrious leaves the city on Monday 18 February at around 4pm to return to sea and her next operational tasking.
Information about HMS Illustrious:
HMS Illustrious assumed the Helicopter and Commando carrier role while HMS Ocean undergoes a planned refit, which is due for completion by 2014. Illustrious will then be withdrawn from service. This will ensure that the UK retains the ability to deliver an amphibious intervention force from the sea and maintain an experienced crew to support the later introduction into service of the new Queen Elizabeth Class carrier.
HMS Illustrious is the UK’s High Readiness Helicopter and Commando Carrier. This means that Illustrious can fulfill a variety of tasks anywhere around the world. Duties could include the use of helicopters such as Merlin, Sea King, Lynx or Apache and embarking Royal Marines Commandos.
Illustrious and her ship’s company are fully prepared to respond to global operations at extremely short notice. HMS Illustrious was one of the ships which deployed to the Mediterranean on the Navy’s amphibious exercise Cougar 2012.
Last year saw HMS Illustrious completing several large-scale exercises beginning with Exercise Cold Response in the Arctic Circle, Joint Warrior, which included the embarkation of 45 Commando, Royal Marines, and Scottish Lion where she helped launch the Commandos ashore. Apache helicopters from the deck of Illustrious also fired Hellfire Missiles in April for the first time in UK waters.
The 22,000-tonne ship has a complement of around 600 which would then double – to around 1250 – if Royal Marines and flight crews are embarked.
The ship is protected by three Goalkeeper anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapon system, with advanced radar systems that quickly detect incoming fire, determine the trajectory, aims and fires – with no human input.
These, of course, would provide her first line of defence against any surface threat. Depending on the operational mission, Illustrious may also have as an escort one of the Royal Navy’s anti-submarine frigates or state of the art Type 45 destroyers, completing her robust defensive line-up.
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.
Some vital statistics:
• She has eight diesel generators, each of which can generate enough power to supply over 1000 homes
• Her four gas powered turbines produce between them 100,000 shaft horse power
• She can propel her 22,000 tonnes through the oceans at 30 knots, or around 33 mph
• She has a range of 5000 miles (about the same distance as Liverpool to San Francisco)
• She produces 400 tonnes of fresh water every day to meet the demands of the ship’s complement