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HMS Centaur (R06)

HMS Centaur (R06) (1947-1972) was the only ship to retain the original configuration of the Centaur-class light fleet carrier with a straight axial flight deck rather than the angled flight decks of the rest of the Hermes-class, yet she is often included in the Hermes-class. She was laid down in 1944 in Belfast with the contract being awarded to Harland and Wolff, though was not launched until 1947, sometime after WWII had come to a close, due to delays relating to the end of the war. She was commissioned in 1953, an astonishing gap of almost nine years from when she was laid down in 1944. Between 1956-58 she underwent extensive modernisation with a six degree angled flight deck being added as well as steam catapults and arrestor gear giving her the ability to operate jet aircraft, such as the Sea Vixen and Scimitar. In 1961, President Kassem of Iraq, during a speech, claimed that Kuwait was rightly part of Iraq and that he intended to annex the small defenceless state. The Amir of Kuwait duly appealed for assistancce from the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The UK obliged, with HMS Victorious and accompanying vesseles 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 HMS Centaur arrived, the third carrier to deploy, this time off Aden. Pressent Kassem suddenly found new reasons to accept Kuwaits 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 occured 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 HMS 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 succesful, 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 recieved 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 the 29th January, nine days after originally sailing for what was then a country in crisis.

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 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 more years, when finally she was towed to Cairn Ryan and broken up, after a long and eventful career.

HMS Centaur statistics