Tuesday 6th October 8.00pm

The observational documentary series filmed on board a Royal Navy ship concludes. In the last episode of the series, HMS Bulwark is nearing the end of her mission. However, before the crew sets sail for Plymouth, they must take part in the traditional ‘crossing the line’ ceremony when they reach the equator. And Hibbsy has an important question to ask his girlfriend…

After five months at sea HMS Bulwark is finally approaching the end of her mission. Following the success of Operation Taurus in the Brunei jungle, the ship is sailing south west through the South China Sea and will head up to the port of Phuket in Thailand. When the ship reaches the equator, the crew must take part in a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony, a bizarre ritual where sailors who have never crossed the equator are welcomed into the ‘Kingdom of Neptune’. The novices are covered in batter, shaved, forced to drink a concoction of chilli and ginger and finally dumped in a paddling pool.

The crew gets busy with preparations for the ceremony, including the construction of two large paddling pools. Their plans are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of two jet skiers. The gunners react with lightning speed when they come too close to the ship. Warfare Supervisor Leroy Prout monitors the situation closely, but it transpires the skiers are just checking their fishing nets. However, Leroy takes the opportunity to show off the might of the ship’s weaponry, including a ‘goalkeeper’ system that tracks incoming missiles, and a close-range mini gun. “There’s 3,000 rounds in there. A bit like in the film ‘Predator’,” he explains, proudly.

With the drama over, preparations for the ceremony continue. ‘Dinger’ Bell has the honour of playing Neptune, and engineer Smudge gets busy constructing his costume from a curly wig and some knicker elastic. Elsewhere, head of catering Nobby makes the ‘medicine’, a revolting recipe including chilli powder, lemon juice, garlic and some ‘special ingredients’. The Chief Petty Officers (CPOs) then dress up as bears and begin summoning the ship’s crew to the ceremony. They start with the wrens’ mess before heading to 2P2 quarters – but they get more than they bargained for with the marines. “The opposition has been a bit more fierce than we anticipated,” Dinger admits.

Two sailors who will not be taking part in the ceremony are engineer Hibbsy, who crossed the equator when he was 17, and boxer Emily Lock. Hibbsy is more concerned about his recent decision to propose to his girlfriend, Hazel, when he meets her in Thailand. “I’ve got to phone my girlfriend’s dad up and ask his permission to marry his daughter,” he says nervously. Emily, meanwhile, is heading back to London to take part in a grudge match against a girl from the army. “It sounds a bit girly but I do my make-up before a fight,” she admits.

With the equator just 15 minutes away, the Chiefs get the final preparations in place for the ceremony. ‘King Neptune’ Dinger Bell is raring to go. “It’s a great place to be. I’m looking forward to it!” he enthuses. As the antics get underway, Spike and the lads from 2P2 mess are determined to escape punishment – but they are unable to avoid the wrath of Neptune. “It’s horrible,” says Spike after he has been doused and dosed. “It’s chilli and I don’t like spicy food.” All 450 sailors fall victim to Neptune’s court. Not even King Neptune is spared…

The following morning, life returns to normal and the crew gets ready to dock in Thailand. Emily arrives back from her bout with the army. Despite nearly 24 hours without sleep, she is on top form. “We won against the army,” she says happily. “Combined Service Champion, oh yes I am!” Meanwhile, Hibbsy searches for a ring for Hazel. But what will her answer be?

Five days later, the sailors are back on board, ready to make the 8,000-mile journey back to the UK. After a remarkable mission, they are looking forward to an emotional reunion with their nearest

Monday 21st September 9.00pm

The observational documentary series filmed on board a Royal Navy ship continues. This week, the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean leads the Taurus task force through the South China Sea on the way to Brunei, where 500 Royal Marines will be deployed in the jungle. Along the way, three Lynx pilots join the crew for some landing practice before the deployment, the ship’s company enjoys some downtime on the flight deck and a group of foreign navy cadets gets a taste of life aboard a 22,000-ton aircraft carrier.

After a spell in the jungles of Malaysia, the marines of 40 Commando are coming aboard the Ocean for three days of rest before their next exercise. Having spent four weeks sleeping in tents and eating anything that came to hand, the marines should see this interlude as a refreshing break – but some are not happy to be at sea. “I hate ships,” complains Ray ‘Turk’ Richardson. A hot meal in the Ocean’s dining room does little to raise the men’s spirits. “I’ve had better ration packs than this – it’s a joke,” says one marine of the sausages and beans laid before him. After dinner, there is a welcome speech by XO David Salisbury – but Turk must first find his way through the ship’s labyrinthine corridors. “Marines never get lost, we get geographically disorientated,” he jokes.

With everybody on board, the Ocean leaves the port of Johor and begins the 860-mile journey to Brunei. While in the South China Sea, the ship is joined by three Lynx helicopters from 847 squadron. Known as the ‘Ferrari of the skies’, the Westland Lynx is a small, lightweight multi-purpose military chopper. With a top speed of some 249mph, it is the fastest helicopter in the world. For Lynx pilots Ashley and Ben, there is no comparison between their craft and the Ocean’s resident Merlin. “We’re a lot more agile – I wouldn’t want to fly anything else,” says Ashley. “The Merlin driver is essentially a taxi driver,” jokes Ben. However, Merlin pilot Ryan McGivern remains loyal to his craft. “If you had to compare it to a car, it would be a Bentley or an Aston Martin,” he says of the larger Merlin. “It’s all about size!”

Aside from the banter, Ashley and Ben have a serious job to do. In preparation for their part in the deployment of the marines, they head out for a series of practice landings using night-vision goggles (NVGs). “Goggle flying is quite challenging,” says Ashley. “You have no peripheral vision at all.” NVGs are a clever piece of kit, but can be tricky to master – especially when landing a five-ton helicopter amidst £100million-worth of military equipment on a moving vessel. “The one thing you lose with nightvision goggles is your depth perception,” says Ben.

Elsewhere on the ship, navy cadets from the Middle East are given some initial sea training. For 27-year-old sub-lieutenant Thoalifqar Habeeb of the Iraqi navy, it is an invaluable experience. “My dream was to come to Britain and help my navy to become bigger and more successful in the future,” he says. But training for these cadets is not just about hanging around with the Ocean’s officers – they must learn about every aspect of running a warship, including catering. Since tonight is curry night on board, Thoalifqar is set to work making 600 naan breads. “It’s good experience for me,” he remarks. “Maybe it will make me a good husband!”

With two days remaining before arrival in Brunei, the ship’s company can enjoy a bit of downtime. While some elect to bask in the sunshine on the flight deck, others have decided to convert one of the ship’s hydraulic aircraft lifts into a dodgeball court for a tournament. Every department has put forward a team, but the marine engineers of Team Bloodsport are confident of victory. “There’s only one winner in this competition,” says Luke ‘Bones’ Stockton. “I don’t even know the word ‘lose’.”

Also this week, some of the female sailors, or ‘wrens’, organise a special birthday party for one of their own, an engineer is flown back to land after receiving some bad news from home and the marines finally reach their beloved dry land.

Monday 14th September 9.00pm

The observational documentary series filmed on board a Royal Navy ship continues. This week, HMS Ocean takes over from the Bulwark as the flagship of the deployment. Sailing through the South China Sea, the aircraft carrier joins an international fleet of warships for a simulated air-to-sea battle. Elsewhere, engineers work on a damaged Merlin helicopter and the first-aid officers must deal with a grisly discovery.

The biggest aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy’s fleet, HMS Ocean weighs some 22,000 tons and boasts a flight deck that can accommodate six Merlins and four Lynx attack helicopters. Two hydraulic lifts connect the flight deck with the enormous hangar below, where a further 13 Merlins can be housed. At present, however, there are just four Merlins on board – and only three of those are in working order. For the aircraft engineers striving to repair the damaged choppers in the searing heat below decks, it is a tough time. “It’s hotter than a Bombay bus driver’s glove,” says engineer Ricky Fairlamb.

As part of the Five Power Defence Agreement, the Ocean has joined up with an international fleet of ten warships from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. The crew of the Ocean is to lead an elaborate battle scenario involving jets, guns, fire and floods. Even the ship’s executive officer, David Salisbury, is getting involved. “The ultimate point of this is that the harder you train, the easier you fight,” says David. Lt Cdr Rob McCurrach, the ship’s principal warfare officer, prepares to be hit with the full force of the rest of the fleet. “We’re expecting F16s, F18s and F5s from a variety of nations,” he says.

It is not long before the first jet comes into view and the gunners on deck leap into action with 20mm guns and general-purpose machine guns (GPMGs). Since the weapons are not loaded, however, it is up to the gunners themselves to provide the sound effects. The most impressive weapon in the Ocean’s arsenal is the Phalanx – a computer-operated pointdefence system capable of firing some 75 rounds per second. “It’s definitely the coolest gun we’ve got on board,” says weapons engineer Jim Sampson.

Below decks, warrant officer Paul Johns leads the crew in the response effort to the damage caused by the imagined attack. While some areas are flooded, others are on fire – and a number of casualties lie injured throughout the Ocean. “I get to cause carnage on board the ship,” says Paul. “It’s a unique job.” To make the drill more realistic, the corridors are filled with smoke and water, while makeup is used to represent specific injuries – including a compound fracture to one man’s leg.

In the kitchen, staff are called upon to prepare emergency food for the entire crew, delivering hundreds of meals in just 75 minutes. To add to the confusion, one member of staff simulates a bad burn to see how the others can cope with the situation. A junior chef helpfully hurls a bucketful of water in his injured colleague’s face, for which he is rewarded with a volley of abuse.

Despite the odd joker, the crew’s overall response is good, with fires quickly extinguished, hull damage repaired and all casualties rescued and treated. “The ship is back to full fighting capacity,” says the XO. Shortly after the drill is over, however, the crew is called upon to deal with a real situation. A body floating in open water has been spotted from the bridge, and it is up to the first-aid officers to bring it aboard. Chief medical assistant Tanya Darkin, known affectionately as ‘Matron’, warns her team about what to expect. “Don’t look at the face,” she says. “You look at the face and it will be with you for weeks.”

Elsewhere this week, the sailors hold a ceremony to commemorate the sinking of two Royal Navy ships off the east coast of Malaysia during World War II, Paul Johns must cope with a genuine flood after a drill goes slightly awry and the crew enjoys some well-earned downtime.

Monday 7th September 9.00pm

The observational documentary series filmed on board HMS Bulwark continues. This week, the marines head into the jungles of Malaysia for a series of training exercises in hostile conditions. Elsewhere, teams compete in an assault course on deck, a man-overboard alarm sounds and some young sailors celebrate a birthday on shore in Singapore.

The Royal Navy’s flagship amphibious vessel, HMS Bulwark is leading a fleet of 12 warships to the far east on an ambitious deployment code-named Operation Taurus. On a mission to carry out amphibious exercises on foreign shores, the fleet has left the Bay of Bengal for Singapore where it will form part of a gathering of warships from 25 different countries around the world.

Having endured a training exercise in the swamps of Bangladesh, the 200 marines of Plymouthbased 40 Commando are now back on board the Bulwark servicing their equipment. For assault marine Daz Farmer, spending his days in the heat of the well dock where the vehicles are kept is a tough part of the mission. “On average it’s about 30 to 35 degrees down here – you’re constantly sweating your tits off!” he says. “We’re the unlucky ones.”

To give the marines and the 300 other sailors a break from the routine, physical trainer PO Lennie Armstrong has organised a sporting event on deck. Designed to replicate a Boer War scenario from over a century ago, the field gun run features a number of teams competing to carry a 12-stone weight over a tough assault course. “For four or five hours you forget about being away from your loved ones,” says Lennie. Among the teams competing this time is a line-up led by Bulwark captain Wayne Keble OBE. However, Daz is brimming with confidence for a marine success. “He’s like an old man,” Daz says of his captain. “Look at him – he’s half dead!”

Suddenly, the afternoon takes a dramatic turn when a man-overboard alarm sounds. “This isn’t a drill, it’s life or death,” says Capt Keble. The crew immediately swings into action in an attempt to locate the sailor. After a ‘thimble hunt’ to find out who is missing from the crew, however, the captain is relieved to learn that everyone is safe. Despite the false alarm, Capt Keble is pleased with the response of his team. “Today took us about 12 minutes for 538 people to check in,” he says.

After three days on the open sea, the Bulwark is back in sight of dry land. From Plymouth, the fleet has travelled halfway round the world to the Andaman Sea in southeast Asia. The Bulwark is heading for Singapore, but the marines will be dropped off in Malaysia for a foray into the jungle.

Once they have unloaded nine tons of ammunition and weapons, two tons of food, two Land Rovers, two trucks and 400 suitcases, the men of 40 Commando are dropped into the rainforest. To help the visitors cope with the harsh terrain, they are taught some invaluable survival techniques by members of the Malaysian army – including how to catch, skin and cook snakes and monkeys. While some of the marines find the sight of fried monkey flesh somewhat unappealing, one jokingly complains that his meat is overcooked.

The next morning, the marines face a tough test on a live-firing range designed to prepare them for a trip to Afghanistan in eight months’ time. In the dense undergrowth of the jungle, the men take it in turns to neutralise the enemy and rescue an injured comrade. Marine Dean Medhurst, the fittest lad in the company, is confident he will do well. However, once in the line of fire, he forgets the basics and freezes. “You can ill afford blokes like that in Afghanistan,” says Sgt Mjr Buck Ryan. “I’m majorly disappointed in myself,” says Dean. To make up for his mistakes, Dean leads a group-combat mission the following day, beginning with a drop from a helicopter. “I’ve got to pull it out of the bag,” he says.

Also this week, the lads from 2P2 mess party in Singapore to celebrate Lucky’s 18th birthday, the sailors don their ceremonial finery for a cocktail reception at Changi Naval Base and commander of the fleet Cdre Peter Hudson hosts a dinner party.

The observational documentary series filmed aboard a Royal Navy ship returns. This second series follows life on HMS Bulwark, the navy’s flagship amphibious vessel. In the first episode of the series, the Bulwark stops in the Bay of Bengal on its way to the far east. Marines practise an amphibious landing on the coast of Bangladesh, while problems with the ship’s fresh-water plant force the vessel to make a detour.

HMS Bulwark is leading a fleet of 12 warships to the far east on an ambitious deployment codenamed Operation Taurus. The 300-strong crew is escorting 200 Royal Marines from Plymouthbased 40 Commando to prove that the navy can carry out a seaborne military invasion thousands of miles from home.

The Bulwark is an amphibious warship designed for rapid deployment of ground forces. It can carry three Merlin helicopters, more than 60 ground vehicles and 30 boats – including four flatbottomed troop carriers and four huge floating command centres. The ship in essence becomes a floating harbour as the stern gate opens and the well dock fills with a million gallons of seawater. The boats carried on the Bulwark then simply sail straight out of the back.

The warship breaks its journey east with a stopover at a major naval base in the Bay of Bengal. The halt means crewmembers can receive their longawaited mail and the marines can buy some lastminute medical supplies before facing the swamps of Bangladesh. Most of them have never visited Asia before, and when they are offered Viagra over the counter, they begin to realise just how far they are from home.

The next day the ship heads 600 miles north to the east coast of Bangladesh. The marines are delivered to an island in an amphibious operation similar to the D-Day landings –much to the amazement of local villagers.

Having fought in Helmand Province last year, 40 Commando has combat experience – although half the company is now made up of new recruits. The company will be sent back to Afghanistan in March 2010, so the marines need to be prepared to face the enemy. The first training exercise consists of fighting a battle scenario and capturing a terrorist training camp. The enemy is played by the Bulwark’s young sailors, who are excited to be taking part in a war games exercise.

Young stores assistant Kate Chaddock and aircraft engineer Mike McMahon are among the volunteers facing the full wrath of the marines. In the vicious ‘battle’ that ensues, the pair enjoy playing dead, and are deeply impressed by what they see of the commandos in action.

Back on the Bulwark, the sea around Bangladesh is playing havoc with the ship’s fresh-water plant. Sediment from the mouth of the Ganges overwhelms one of the pumps, with the result that water on board has to be rationed. The Bulwark’s captain, Wayne Keble OBE, decides to sail 80 miles south to cleaner water. Keble, a fitness fanatic, is keen to distance his crew from the stereotypical reputation of hard-drinking, hard-smoking sailors. He sets an example by taking part in at least one circuit training session a day.

Also this week, the Bangladeshi Navy joins the Bulwark for boarding-party training. Smuggling and piracy are on the increase in the Bay of Bengal and the local navy needs to be able to police its shores. There are a few language barriers to overcome – as Petty Officer Steve Waudby discovers when he demonstrates the rules of boarding. But the Bangladeshi sailors are impressed by their British counterparts and shower them with compliments – ensuring a promising start to the mission.

This observational documentary series is filmed onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during a four-month deployment. In the final episode of the series, the ship reaches the easternmost point of its journey; a nuclear submarine arrives for some training exercises; and, after 92 days at sea, Illustrious heads for home.

The mighty Illustrious aircraft carrier is nearing the end of its deployment. With a crew of 1,000, this 22,000-tonne floating city – nicknamed ‘Lusty’ – is home to all manner of sailors, from stewards to engineers, officers to deckhands. The ship’s mission is to support the Harrier jump jets currently serving in Afghanistan.

The man who has overseen the ship over the last four months is Captain Steve Chick, on his first mission in charge of an aircraft carrier. “Obviously, there’s an element of nervousness for anybody in taking command of a ship for the first time,” he says. “Getting to know the ship, getting to know how it handles, getting to know the people.” But Illustrious’s mission got off to a bad start, with a failed inspection and technical difficulties keeping her in British waters for some time.

Eventually, Lusty began its deployment and completed a successful trip to Malta, where the ship’s band and ceremonial guard put on a impressive display for the locals – and the crew took some well-earned shore leave. The next leg of the journey, however, was less straightforward.

Before Illustrious could enter the sun-soaked Middle East, it had to navigate the narrow 101- mile Suez Canal – and the ship’s company had to prepare for potential terrorist attacks. Located in a volatile region, much of this waterway is so narrow that Lusty could not turn around, making her a sitting duck for any attacks.

After a tense two days, Illustrious and her crew made it through the canal without incident and entered the relative safety of the Red Sea. On Lusty’s flight deck, sentries made way for sunseekers as the sailors prepared to let off some steam and party – military style.

This week, with the Harrier jump jets onboard and the ship’s stocks replenished, Lusty is heading to Goa – the easternmost point on the deployment. In a Navy tradition known as ‘hands to bathe’, the ship’s company gets a chance to cool down with a dip in the sea. All the intrepid swimmers have to do is avoid the jellyfish!

Before the pilots of the Naval Strike Wing leave Illustrious, they get to show off the amazing Harrier jets by performing vertical take-offs. As the pilots head home, Lusty is joined by a nuclear submarine, HMS Trafalgar. As well as providing the Illustrious crew with a glimpse of life onboard a sub, Trafalgar also engages Lusty in some valuable submarine warfare exercises.

Back above the surface, life goes on as normal. The assistants at Lusty’s medical surgery get some training sewing up pigskin; while father and son Kev and Olly Stoker compare their contrasting fitness levels. When the ship finally arrives in Goa, the sailors help out at a local charity before enjoying some downtime at a beach party. Then, after 92 days at sea, Lusty and her crew head home.


This observational documentary series is filmed onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during a four-month deployment. In this episode, RAF pilots practise landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier; engineers labour to replace one of the vessel’s gigantic engines; and a supply ship arrives to replenish Illustrious’s stock.

The mighty Illustrious aircraft carrier is nearing the end of its four-month deployment. With a crew of 1,000, this 22,000-tonne floating city – nicknamed ‘Lusty’ – is home to all manner of sailors, from stewards to engineers, officers to deckhands. The ship’s mission is to support Harrier jump jets serving in Afghanistan.

In the heat of the Indian Ocean, the pilots of the Naval Strike Wing are priming themselves for their next tour of Afghanistan. To be ready for war, the pilots have to be able to take off and land from an aircraft carrier at all hours of the day and night. RAF pilot Rich Hillard undertakes daunting nighttime landings for the first time, while the Merlin helicopter pilots get to grips with a GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) and practise targeting enemy boats.

The team of marine engineers faces a mammoth job this week – one of the ship’s Olympus Rolls Royce engines must be changed at sea. Fortunately, Illustrious keeps a spare onboard. Nineteen-year-old steward Rachel Wright joins the team for some work experience and gets a chance to fulfil her dream of becoming a mechanical engineer. But the heat gets too much for her and she faints on her first day.

After 67 days at sea, Lusty’s depleted stocks need replenishing. To get ten tonnes of shopping from one moving ship to another in the middle of the ocean requires a replenishment at sea, or RAS. It is an opportunity for one unhappy sailor to get some fatherly advice, as her dad works for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, the Fort Austin, which has arrived to service Illustrious.

Also this week, able seaman Dan Appleby undergoes some gruelling exercises to become a Physical Training Instructor. He has his work cut out when he goes to train the sailors of the USS Cole and meets his match with the muscle-bound Master Chief Reynolds of the US Navy.


This observational documentary series is filmed onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during a four-month deployment. The programme follows the professional and personal lives of the young men and women who are thousands of miles from home. In this episode, the crew prepares to host a dinner for naval royalty; the awesome Harrier jump jets arrive onboard; and love is in the air for one young couple.

After nearly two months at sea, HMS Illustrious has made it through the Suez Canal and is now docked in the Middle East – which means the officers are cutting a dash in their tropical whites. The Harrier jump jets are due aboard in five days, but before that, the crew must prepare for the arrival of another important visitor – the navy commanderin- chief. In the captain’s galley, a dinner fit for an admiral is underway, and it is down to the captain’s steward, Freddie, to make sure the presentation is perfect. But such elaborate preparations mean that Freddie will miss his shore leave. “It’s just part of the job,” he says, philosophically.

When he arrives onboard, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope is welcomed as if he were royalty. As the commander-in-chief of the whole of the navy fleet, he oversees 104 ships and some 35,000 sailors. “I have to train them, maintain them, ensure they’re stored, prepared and available to be used by the government as they require,” explains the commander.

In the kitchen, 19-year-old Shiner and his twin sister, Rachel, have been drafted in to help the captain’s chef with the big meal. “Starters went down well,” says Rachel as the evening gets under way, “so it’s all good so far.” And, with such delicacies as marinated fillet of beef and roasted fennel on the menu, the main course looks set to be just as successful.

Deep in the bowels of the ship, there are far less savoury matters that need attention. Dave Smith, one of the ship’s marine engineers, has been called in to sniff out a particularly smelly problem. The filtration system in one of the toilet blocks seems to have broken, meaning that an unpleasant stench now pervades the living quarters. But Dave’s technical skills take him right to the source of the problem. “All they had to do was flush it!” he says.

Before long, Rachel has finished serving the admiral and Dave is off maintenance duty, meaning that the pair can spend an evening in – together. Despite having a boyfriend back home, Rachel clearly has feelings for Dave. “It can get confusing,” she says. “But if you’re even thinking of being unfaithful to your partner, then there’s no point being with them,” she concludes. But the pair may have more than guilt standing in the way of their union. Onboard Illustrious, the navy’s strict ‘no-touching’ rule prevents Rachel and Dave from getting too close.

Up on deck, the pilots of 814 Helicopter Squadron, better known as the Flying Tigers, are in charge of six anti-submarine Merlin helicopters – and they are used to having the flight deck to themselves. But, with the Harrier jump jets due to arrive soon, the Tigers are feeling a little sorry for themselves. “It always seems when the jets come onboard that they sort of take over,” says Steve Hayton. But Steve insists he is not jealous of the Harrier pilots. “The pilots tend to be thought of by the rotary guys as shandy drinkers,” he explains.

On the following day, the jets of the Naval Strike Wing complete their 4,000-mile journey from RAF Cottesmore in the East Midlands. But lieutenant commander Toby Everitt is well aware that their arrival on ship can sometimes cause a stir. “These guys live onboard,” he says. “It’s their home, it’s where they work – and then suddenly a whole bunch of pilots turn up and think they are the best thing since sliced bread!” When the jets finally come in to land, nobody can deny that they make for an imposing sight – but the pilots find that touching down on a platform travelling at 30 knots can be a very tough challenge…


This observational documentary series is filmed onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during a four-month deployment. The programme follows the professional and personal lives of the young men and women who are thousands of miles from home. In this episode, Illustrious negotiates the treacherous Suez Canal; a sailor goes missing; and the crew gets the chance for a well-earned celebration.

The mighty Illustrious aircraft carrier has recently set sail on a four-month deployment. With a crew of 1,000, this 22,000-tonne floating city – nicknamed ‘Lusty’ – is home to all manner of sailors, from stewards to engineers, officers to deckhands. The ship’s projected route will take it through the Strait of Gibraltar, across the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, where it will support Harrier jump jets serving in Afghanistan.

This week, Illustrious is about to enter the sunsoaked Middle East, but danger is just around the corner. The ship must navigate the narrow 101- mile Suez Canal – and the ship’s company must be ready for any potential terrorist attack. Located in a volatile region, much of this waterway is so narrow that Lusty cannot turn around, making her a sitting duck for any attacks.

However, Captain Steve Chick has a more immediate problem – a member of his crew has gone missing. For a man overboard in these waters, the chances of survival are slim, so the ship’s company quickly swings into ‘Operation Thimblehunt’. After an hour of searching, the missing person is found asleep in a cupboard, safe and well. But the hapless culprit now faces another danger – the wrath of Commander Tim Johnston and the Navy’s unique brand of justice.

As the ship moves towards the Suez Canal, it is the job of the Merlin Helicopter 814 Squadron to search the waters ahead for danger using antisubmarine technology. Better known as the Flying Tigers, the members of the squadron form something of a clique onboard Illustrious, and are committed to working – and playing – as hard as possible. Squadron member Richard Stackhouse explains that their curious nickname comes from their even stranger taste in furnishings. “We were in India and we saw the tiger fabric,” he says, “so we decided to knock up some curtains for our cabins.” The Flying Tigers also set themselves apart from the other sailors with their own mascot, Tiger Man – who can pop up anytime, anywhere.

In order to negotiate the Suez, Illustrious joins a task force made up of other craft, including a previous target for terrorists – guided missile destroyer USS Cole. The task force enters the waterway in the dead of night and, as Lusty’s new recruits assemble on her deck, the gravity of their situation begins to dawn on them. Leading hand Mo Morrison acts as the rookies’ ‘sea daddy’, babysitting them through a nerve-wracking 48 hours. “There is a terrorist threat out there,” explains Mo. Below deck, however, other crew members are taking the threat less seriously as they use the rowing machines to beat Lusty through a virtual Suez Canal.

After a tense two days, Illustrious and her crew make it through the canal without incident and enter the relative safety of the Red Sea. On Lusty’s flight deck, sentries make way for sunseekers as the sailors prepare to let off some steam and party – military style.


Filmed onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, this observational documentary series follows the professional and personal lives of the ship’s crew as they embark on a four-month deployment, travelling thousands of miles from home. In this episode, the sailors are put through their paces in a battle-readiness inspection; and the ship finally leaves British waters.

The mighty Illustrious aircraft carrier is about to set sail on a four-month deployment. With a crew of 1,000, this 22,000-ton floating city – nicknamed ‘Lusty’ – is home to all manner of sailors, from stewards to engineers, officers to deckhands. The ship’s projected route will take it through the Strait of Gibraltar, across the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, where it will support Harrier jump jets serving in Afghanistan. So far, things have not gone according to plan. It is day 21 of the deployment and Illustrious should be in Malta, but a failed inspection and technical difficulties have kept her in Portland, Dorset.

Despite the setbacks, however, life onboard ship goes on as normal. As the mail arrives, the post bags are particularly bulging since today is Valentine’s Day. A number of the crew members receive packages from home, while 19-year-old Rachel Wright has made her own card for chef Russell – despite already having a boyfriend.

One person who will not be receiving a card is weapon technician Jason Farnsworth, who symbolically shreds the last remaining photograph of his ex-girlfriend. “It was a bit difficult because I’m always away,” he says of his former relationship. “I just had to end it with her.” But he does not seem too upset by the breakup. “I’ve already got a bird lined up anyway,” he muses, philosophically.

Love is the last thing on the minds of Illustrious’s marine engineers who have had to work around the clock to fix the ship’s technical problems. One of the huge prop shafts, which connect the ship’s engines to the propellers, has developed a worrying screech and must be repaired. After a night of hard work under the watchful eye of senior marine engineer Helen Ashworth, Lusty is given a clean bill of health and can finally leave Portland. However, there is no time to celebrate as the ship and her crew head straight for a naval exercise area off the Dorset coast for a comprehensive battle-readiness test.

A few days before the inspection, everyone onboard throws themselves into preparing the ship, including the officers. To meet the high standards required, every floor must be polished, every bed made and all the sailors perfectly turned out. But all this hard work has its rewards. If the ship passes the test, the crew members will be allowed three nights in Malta. “If you give me the enthusiasm you’ve shown over the last few weeks,” says Commander Tim Johnson, “we’ll breeze through it.”

As the day of the inspection arrives, a Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) team comes aboard via helicopter. The team is led by Rear Admiral Richard Ibbotson, who will have the final say as to whether Illustrious’s crew will pass the test. “They’ve got to get past me first,” he says, ominously.

The inspection begins with a realistic emergency test, including a mock-up fire in the hangar complete with smoke and pretend casualties. The FOST team then adds another scenario into the mix – a stricken ship in the water nearby must be rescued and towed to safety. After a hectic day, the ship’s company gathers in the hangar to hear the results of the inspection. Will it be good news, or will the crew fail once more, meaning yet another costly delay to the deployment?

A tense few minutes later and Captain Steve Chick delivers the news for which everybody has been hoping – the crew has passed! Now, Illustrious can finally leave British waters for Malta, where the sailors can take a well-earned break. Before they arrive, however, there is the dangerous Strait of Gibraltar to negotiate, where the ship is at risk from terrorists and smugglers. If anything is to happen on the way to Malta, it will happen in this narrow channel, so the sailors must arm themselves and prepare for battle.

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