‘It’s cold right now but it’s nothing compared to where we’re going’

HMS Illustrious departs from Portsmouth for an eight-week excercise in the Arctic Circle with the Norwegian Navy. Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (120399-4)
HMS Illustrious departs from Portsmouth for an eight-week excercise in the Arctic Circle with the Norwegian Navy. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (120399-4)

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IF YOUR’RE feeling the cold outside, spare a thought for the sailors aboard HMS Illustrious who are heading for minus 40°C in the Arctic.

The warship left Portsmouth yesterday afternoon for an arduous eight weeks of cold weather training operations in the Arctic Circle.

Lusty will meet up with other Nato warships for a series of war games led by the Norwegian military.

It’s the ship’s first major test since returning from a £40m refit and comes as she gears up to be the UK’s on-call carrier later this year.

As the ship’s company prepared to leave the blisteringly cold jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base, onboard meteorologist Lieutenant Daniel McMahon was busy studying the weather charts.

He said: ‘It is very cold out there at the moment but it’s nothing compared to where we’re going.

‘I think we’ll be seeing temperatures of about minus 25°C, but that doesn’t take into account the wind chill which can bring it down to 40°C.’

As a biting breeze cut across the flight deck, commanding officer Captain Martin Connell said: ‘This is a good rehearsal for what will come.

‘It’s a good reminder of what we’re going to face day after day for two months.’

The 43-year-old, of Havant, who took charge of Lusty on January 5, added: ‘It’s good timing. This is part of our regeneration.

‘In a couple of months’ time we’ll be the nation’s on-call helicopter and commando carrier so we need to know everything works.’

Lusty will be training in the Arctic with a company of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, using Sea King, Lynx and the Army’s Apache attack helicopters to practice amphibious assaults.

The Nato war games – code-named Cold Response – are seen as vital for ensuring UK troops can deploy worldwide.

The freezing Arctic temperatures will push Lusty’s sailors to the limit.

Capt Connell said: ‘If you can do amphibious warfare operations in those conditions, you can do them anywhere.

‘If we are serious about operating globally, which we are, then we’ve got to test it from time to time.’

The exercise is the first time Lusty has left UK waters in two years after she went in for a 16-month refit in 2010.

The multi-million pound face-lift saw her emerge in a new role as a helicopter carrier following the government’s controversial decision to axe the navy’s Harrier jets.

After an intense six-month period of sea trials and tests, the ship’s company are looking forward to getting out on the high seas once again.

Petty Officer Paddy Taylor, 32, who lives in Eastney, said: ‘This is the first time I’ve been able to get out and do some real exercises since I joined the ship two years ago.

‘It’s an exciting time. We’ve been working really hard to get to this point and we’ve just got a new skipper which will be interesting.

‘Also, we’ve got a couple of runs ashore in Denmark so I’m looking forward to that too.’