Light Fleet Aircraft Carriers - Centaur Class

  • HMS Centaur (R06) was the first of the Centaur-class light fleet carriers of the Royal Navy. She remained as a fixed wing carrier all her days, being laid down in 1944 in Belfast with the contract being awarded to Harland and Wolff. She was not launched until 1947, due to post war economies. She was subsequently commissioned in 1953, a gap of almost nine years from her laying down.

  • 17 September 1953: Ship commissioned at Belfast. Sea trials followed.
  • 2 October 1953: Entered Pompey for 1st time.
  • 28 October 1953 - 22 April 1954: Angled deck fitted & catapult trials carried out.

  • May 1954 - Sailed for Gibraltar & Mediterranean. Malta as base but visited Naples and Tripou.
  • October 1954 Centaurs first "action" after being commisioned. The 2nd Batallion, Lancashire Fusiliers, had been sent to the Free Territory Trieste, (FTT) in 1953. This territory was disputed between the Italians and Marshal Tito (Yugoslavia). The Fusiliers job was to keep them apart. Shortly after they arrived, Tito decided he would march into Trieste, and take it by force. Mass riots ensued. The Fusiliers were the first U.N. forces (with 5000 Americans) to be used this way. In 1954, as a result of a UN agreement, new borders were agreed and all UN forces were evacuated by sea. HMS Centaur and HMS Whirlwind took the Fusiliers to Malta.
  • November 1954 - May 1955 Exercises in Mediteranean, often joining HMS Albion. Visited Toulon, Bealieu,Augusta & Golfe Juan.

  • Centaur docked for essential defect repairs at Pompey in June 1955 until January 1956. The rest of the refit & modernisation was done at Devonport, May 1956 to September 1958. This included replacing hydraulic catapults with steam ones & a portside flight deck extension for the angled deck. Arrestor gear was also added giving her the ability to operate jet aircraft, such as the Sea Vixen and Scimitar.

  • In 1961, President Kassem of Iraq claimed that Kuwait was rightly part of Iraq and that he intended to annex it. Kuwait's forces being somewhat limited, the Emir duly appealed for assistance from the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The UK obliged, with Victorious and accompanying vessels being deployed to the Persian Gulf from her original position of the South China Sea. To truly display their intentions, HMS Bulwark landed 42 Commando, Royal Marines in Kuwait. When Centaur arrived, the third carrier to deploy, this time off Aden. President Kassem suddenly found new reasons to accept Kuwait's right of sovereignty.
  • During the crisis in Aden, Sea Vixens from 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 become mutinous 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 Helicopter Squadron along with 45 Commando, Royal Marines. When Centaur arrived at Dar-es-Salaam, a company of Royal Marines were 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 Marines 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. Centaur left on the 29th January, nine days after originally sailing for what was then a country in crisis.
  • August 1965. Took part in HM's Review of the Fleet in the Clyde.

  • The following year, after conversion to a commando carrier like her sister-ships Bulwark and Albion was cancelled, she was consigned to the role of accommodation ship for the crew of Victorious while the latter ship undertook a refit. In 1966, Centaur was again an accommodation ship, this time for 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 more years, when finally she was towed to Cairnryan and broken up, after a long and eventful career.

  • Centaur also took the starring role in "Sink the Bismark" in April 1959 - with Peter Twiss flying off the Swordfish aircraft. And so she lives on in film. Some photos of the filming are in "Gallery".