HMS Illustrious Leaves for Major Mediterranean Exercise

HMS Illustrious Leaves for Major Mediterranean Exercise

Sea King and Merlin helicopters emerged from the mist to land on HMS Illustrious before she sailed for a major Mediterranean exercise. Six aircraft flew thundered around Portsmouth harbour yesterday morning before they embarked the helicopter carrier in driving rain.

The Portsmouth-based ship then sailed with her crew dressed in smart uniform at Procedure Alpha past well-wishers at the Round Tower.

Lusty is one of six ships taking part in Exercise Cougar which will demonstrate Britain’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) ability over the coming months. It is a high-readiness group of ships, aircraft and servicemen and women which can be moved quickly if required by the government.

There will be representatives from six Naval Air Squadrons, 3 Commando Brigade and 45 Commando Royal Marines in a total group of 3,000 personnel. HMS Illustrious has nearly 1,400 people on board, and will take part in partnership exercises with the French and Albanian navy.

She is being armed with Sea King, Merlin, Army Apache and Chinook helicopters.

Lusty’s commanding officer, Captain Martin Connell, said the deployment would test the coherence of the task group.

He added: “It’s great to have so many aircraft embarked and landed this morning, even if the weather wasn’t the easiest.

“We have been very busy as a ship going through work-up training in various parts of northern Europe, in the Arctic and then latterly in Exercise Joint Warrior off Scotland.

We are fully trained and fully ready, so I am anticipating a very busy deployment that will improve our ability to work together.

“I am also very much looking forward to working with the French and Albanians to show the flexibility of this group.

There are nearly 1,400 people in this ship so it’s very busy presently. That poses a logistical challenge but is also very satisfying as we leave for Cougar.”

HMS Illustrious Leaves for Major Mediterranean Exercise

Able Seaman Roderick McKenzie, 26, from Guildford, is a communications information specialist on board.

AB (CIS) McKenzie said: “This is my second deployment, after going away with HMS Liverpool.

“It’s quite a large task sorting out the computers and information for such a big group of people, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Engineering Technician Peter Baker, 22, from Alnwick is a weapons engineer.

He said: “I look after the Goalkeeper weaponry we have on board. I’ve been in the Royal Navy for two years and this is my first deployment.

“I live in a 24-person mess on board, which I really enjoy because it feels like you have a huge extended family.”

HMS Illustrious will sail to the South West and join up with the rest of the Cougar units (HMS Bulwark, HMS Montrose, HMS Northumberland) for preparation exercises before the task group sails towards the Mediterranean.

Naval Today Staff, October 3, 2012; Image: RN