Planes weren’t the only objects fired off the deck of Mersey-built aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
Other items were loaded on to the catapults too, including an upright piano!
It was all a bit of fun, of course, and only possible because the Ark Royal was the first aircraft carrier to be fitted with an angled flight deck and steam catapults.
Launched at Cammell Laird in May 1950, the 36,000 ton Ark Royal was one of the largest ships in the fleet.
She was originally laid down as HMS Irresistible during World War II, but work was suspended in 1945. The previous Ark Royal, also built at Cammell Laird, was sunk by German torpedoes in November 1941.
Renamed the Ark Royal when construction work started again, the new carrier undertook five years of sea trials and modifications before being commissioned in 1955.
She was launched on Merseyside in May 1950 with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, performing the official ceremony. Our photo shows crowds cheering as the mighty ship inched down the slipway.
The Ark Royal’s new angled flight deck and catapults allowed aircraft to land and take off at the same time – a major innovation.
Pianos, and sometimes toilets, were only fired off aircraft carriers when commissions came to an end or for very special occasions. A piano was shot into the sea for the Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore TV show Not Only … But Also.
Far more importantly, Phantom and Buccaneer fighter bombers could fly from the Ark Royal after a £32 million refit completed by December 1969. She was the only non-United States vessel to operate the McDonnell Douglas Phantom at sea.
The Ark Royal became a TV star in her own right in 1976 when the BBC documentary Sailor was filmed on board. It followed the carrier’s progress to the Western Atlantic for six months from February to July.
The programme’s theme tune ‘Sailing’ became a Number One hit for Rod Stewart, who visited the Ark Royal with his wife Alana Hamilton shortly before it was decommissioned in February 1979.
No songs were written about the diesel electric submarine HMS Onyx, also built at Cammell Laird. Our picture shows her leading HMS Olympus through Barton Bridge in November 1969 en route to Manchester Docks for a four-day refit.
Two more submarines HMS Otter and HMS Andrew joined the convoy. The Otter suffered a minor mishap on the way, colliding with a ferry.
There was little chance of a collision for HMS Eaglet, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve headquarters for Liverpool, permanently moored in Salthouse Dock. Our photo shows her with the minesweeper HMS Mersey coming alongside in September 1968.
The Eaglet had an interesting history. She started life as minesweeping sloop HMS Sir Bevis, named after an Epsom Derby winner, and was launched on the Clyde in May 1918.
She was transferred to the RNVR in 1923 and renamed Irwell. In 1926, she was renamed Eaglet, replacing a previous training ship of the same name which had been destroyed by fire.