HMS Centaur (R06)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Centaur.
HMS Centaur (Hermes class carrier).jpg
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Centaur
Builder: Harland and Wolff
Laid down: 30 May 1944
Launched: 22 April 1947
Commissioned: 1 September 1953
Decommissioned: 1965
Homeport: HMNB Portsmouth
Identification: Pennant number: R06
Fate: Scrapped in 1973
General characteristics
Class & type: Centaur
Type: Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier
Displacement: 24,000 tonnes full load
Length: 737.75 ft (224.87 m)
Beam: 123 ft (37 m)
Draught: 27.8 ft (8.5 m)
Installed power: 76,000 shp
Propulsion: 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, Parsons geared turbines
Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h)
Range: 7,000 nautical miles at 18 knots (13,000 km at 33 km/h)
Complement: 1,390 (including air group)
Sensors and
processing systems:
Radars, Types 960/965(AW) 982(2 sets) 983 978 293.
Armament: 2 sextuple Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns
8 twin Bofors 40 mm
4 single Bofors 40 mm
4 single 3 pounder saluting guns
Armour: 1 to 2 inch on flight deck
Aircraft carried: 42 (decreased to 26 with jet fighters). 1958-60 Sea Hawk & Sea Venom, 1961-63 Sea Vixen FAW1 & Supermarine Scimitar, 1963-65 12 Sea Vixen

HMS Centaur was the first of the four Centaur-class light fleet carriers of the Royal Navy. She was the only ship of her class to retain the original configuration of a straight axial flight deck rather than the angled flight decks of her three sister ships.[clarification needed] She was laid down in 1944 in Belfast with the contract being awarded to Harland and Wolff; however, she was not launched until 22 April 1947, sometime after World War II had come to a close, due to delays relating to the end of the war. She was commissioned on 1 September 1953, a gap of almost nine years from when she was laid down in 1944.

Between 1956–1958, she underwent extensive modernisation with a six degree angled flight deck being added as well as steam catapults and arrestor cables, thereby giving her the ability to operate jet aircraft, such as the Hawker Sea Hawk and de Havilland Sea Venom; and, after the 1960 Portsmouth refit, the de Havilland Sea Vixen and Supermarine Scimitar. These were the minimum of alterations needed to operate these advanced, trans-sonic second generation fighter bombers. Centaur's aircraft operating and servicing areas were smaller and less well-designed, compared with her comprehensively updated half-sister, Hermes. The Scimitar aircraft had been pressed into service without a full development programme, and proved too large and dangerous to use from the Centaur, and in its final years Centaur's only aircraft were the Sea Vixens. However, these did not represent an adequate counter to the threat of low level Mig 17,19 and 21 strikes. Significantly, the Centaur was withdrawn at the time of the Indonesian confrontation.

In 1959, HMS Centaur was used during the making of the film Sink the Bismarck! to depict flight operations from both HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal; (she is clearly marked with her post-war pennant number R06 in both scenes). Three surviving Fairey Swordfish biplanes were restored and flown from her decks, and scenes were also shot on the bridge of the carrier, and in the aircrew briefing room.

Operations[edit]

In June 1961, President Abd al-Karim Qasim of Iraq announced that Kuwait would be annexed by Iraq; the Emir of Kuwait requested assistance from the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The UK activated Operation Vantage and immediately sent HMS Victorious and accompanying vessels. HMS Bulwark landed a company of 42 Commando, Royal Marines at Kuwait airport. HMS Centaur arrived later to relieve Victorious. Iraq recognised Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1963, after Kassim had been killed in a coup.[1]

HMS Centaur in 1955

During the crisis in Aden, from 1963 onwards, Sea Vixens from HMS Centaur launched strikes on rebellious tribesmen in the Radfan during Operation Damon. In 1964, a mutiny occurred in Tanganyika. The 1st Tanganyika Rifles, who were based near the capital Dar-es-Salaam, had mutinied against their British officers, as well as seizing the British High Commissioner and taking over the airport. Britain decided, after urgent appeals for help, to deploy Centaur accompanied by 815 Naval Air Squadron along with 45 Commando, Royal Marines. When HMS Centaur arrived at Dar-es-Salaam, a company of Royal Marines was landed by helicopter on a football field, next to the barracks of the mutineers. The company assaulted the barracks with full force in a chaotic but swift attack, securing the entrance to the barracks. After a call for the mutinous soldiers to surrender failed, the company demolished the front of the guardroom, with a deftly placed shot from an anti-tank rocket launcher. The culmination of the decision proved successful, with a large number of distressed soldiers pouring out into the open. Later on, four Sea Vixens from Centaur provided cover for more Royal Marines, who were now landing on an air strip. The operation was a success and the rest of the mutineers soon surrendered, with the main culprits being arrested. Many Tanganyikans were jubilant when the country was restored to a stable and peaceful environment. The Royal Marine Band displayed the British forces appreciation of the happy welcoming that they had received from the Tanganyikans while attempting to restore the country to stability, by taking part in a heavy schedule of marches through the streets of Tanganyika. HMS Centaur left on 29 January, nine days after originally sailing for what was then a country in crisis.

The following year, the planned conversion to a commando carrier, like her sister-ships HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, was cancelled, due to growing constraints on the defence budget and the political decision that the alternative was scrapping the Tiger class cruisers, which were only five years old and had been updated at massive expense, was politically too embarrassing. It is arguable that the conversion of Centaur to an anti submarine carrier would have been more relevant, given the new NATO focus of the time; however, she was consigned to the role of an accommodation ship for the crew of HMS Victorious while the latter ship undertook a refit. In 1966, Centaur was again an accommodation ship, this time for HMS Eagle, while that ship was going through a refit. In 1970, she was towed to Devonport, where she would await her fate for a further two years and then finally she was towed to Cairnryan and broken up.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ White, Christopher J; Robinson, Peter (2008–2010). "Gulf War Part 1: Operation Vantage". Historical RFA. Retrieved 18 Jan 2010. 

Publications[edit]