A salute to the heroes of the Atlantic: Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious passes through Thames Barrier on visit to London to mark 70th anniversary of WW2 battle

Mon, 13 May 2013


The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious is frequently on duty in far-off climes, but yesterday she could be spotted closer to home as she travelled up the Thames through London.

The ship is taking part in a series of events to mark the 70th anniversary of the climax of the Battle of the Atlantic, which ensured that essential supplies could reach Britain throughout the Second World War.

She is now visiting the capital for the final time before being decommissioned next year, in a move which will leave the UK without any active aircraft carriers for several years.

Illustrious was pictured going through the Thames Barrier and passing Canary Wharf before docking at Greenwich, the historical home of the British fleet.

The 22,000-tonne Royal Navy carrier, known as 'Lusty' by her crew, will be moored there until next week and will be open to visitors this weekend.

This month sees the 70th anniversary of 'Black May', the month which saw the heaviest fighting in the Battle of the Atlantic when the Allies took decisive control of crucial shipping routes.

The battle, which lasted for nearly the whole of the war, started with the Allies' naval blockade of Germany, which was met with a reaction from Nazi forces.

Between March and May 1943, new technology allowed the British and American navies to turn the tide and they started destroying German U-boats in large numbers.

It gave the Allies the upper hand in the war as a whole, as Britain now had unfettered access to the materials needed for civilian and military industry.

The Royal Navy's anniversary celebrations are being held this month in Liverpool, London and Derry.

As well as visits from boats old and new, the cities will be hosting aircraft fly-pasts, while an academic conference and commemorative parade are being held in Liverpool.

Yesterday a service of commemoration for the 35,000 Allied troops killed in the Battle was held at St Paul's Cathedral.

HMS Illustrious was commissioned in 1982, and is now the Navy's only aircraft carrier in active service.

The ship first saw action in the South Atlantic in the aftermath of the Falklands War, and has since served in regions such as the Balkans and the Middle East.

After she is taken out of use in 2014, she will be preserved for the nation rather than being sold for scrap like her predecessors Invincible and Ark Royal.

The UK will then have no aircraft carriers at all until HMS Queen Elizabeth joins the fleet, probably in 2016.

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