Apaches return to HMS Illustrious

Three Apache crews from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps joined helicopter assault ship HMS Illustrious this week to refresh their knowledge of operating the aircraft at sea.

The potency of the Apache was demonstrated last year courtesy of a succession of 'surgical strikes' against pro-government targets in Libya, when the helicopters were launched from the deck of HMS Ocean.

With Ocean undergoing maintenance, Illustrious stepped in to fill the role of providing the Apaches with some maritime training. They were joined on the flat-top by Commando Helicopter Force Sea Kings of 848 Naval Air Squadron.

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HSM Illustrious is currently at a few days' notice to sail anywhere in the world should the British Government require her services.

Today the ship berths alongside Northumbria Quay in North Shields for the start of a four-day visit to Tyneside, where she was built 30 years ago.

Sea cadets and students from a host of local schools and colleges will be given guided tours of the ship and will learn more about the varied career opportunities on board, and in the Royal Navy.

Unfortunately, on this occasion the huge 22,000-tonne warship will not be open to the general public.

The visit is part of a regional engagement programme and will give Tynesiders the chance to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of this proud ship.

The helicopter carrier will then deploy inside the Arctic Circle for eight weeks of arduous cold weather training which culminates in Exercise Cold Response, a Norwegian-led NATO exercise which will also involve ships from Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.

As the UK's on-call helicopter and commando carrier, the exercise provides an excellent opportunity for the crew of Illustrious to practise amphibious operations in a cold weather environment, helping them to be prepared and ready for action anywhere in the world.

During the exercise, she will embark her Lynx and Sea King helicopters along with a company of Royal Marines from Plymouth-based 42 Commando. The marines will be joined ashore by landing forces from the Netherlands and the United States.

The Royal Navy's amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark and destroyer HMS Liverpool will also play key roles in the exercise.

Captain Martin Connell, the Commanding Officer of HMS Illustrious, said:

"I know my ship's company are very much looking forward to visiting Tyneside, where we are always assured of a warm welcome.

"The links we enjoy with the area stretch far back to the very yards where Swan Hunter workers first laid her hull. Although the ship will not be open to the general public on this occasion, I look forward to welcoming a number of guests on board including sea cadet and school groups.

"This exercise inside the Arctic Circle will be a stiff test but it marks another significant milestone as we continue to train in our role as the UK's sole high readiness helicopter carrier. I very much look forward to supporting our NATO allies and to demonstrating those abilities in a challenging multinational exercise."

HMS Illustrious is due to be decommissioned in 2014 after 32 years in service.

Source: Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
Date: Feb 29, 2012