Maritime Fellowship Award for ‘Immense Contribution’

Iain Ballantyne has been saluted with a Maritime Fellowship at the UK’s Maritime Media Awards 2017, which were held at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall, London.

One of the UK maritime community’s headline awards, Iain received it for his ‘immense contribution to the maritime cause’ since 1990, as a journalist, author of naval history books and Editor of WARSHIPS International Fleet Review magazine (from 1998 to the present).

One of numerous lead stories Iain Ballantyne wrote during his time as the Defence Reporter of the Evening Herald, Plymouth in the 1990s.

The Maritime Fellowship citation highlighted Iain’s varied endeavours across his career, including covering aspects of the fall of the Soviet Union as a newspaper reporter, along with other assignments including the 1990/91 Gulf War and peace talks aboard a frigate in the Adriatic.

A depiction of the end of the Cold War between the Royal Navy and Soviet Navy in the Barents Sea, one of the historic events Iain Ballantyne covered during his time as a newspaper reporter. Iain Ballantyne is among the figures waving to the Gromky (background) from the bridge roof of HMS London (foreground). Painting by Ross Watton © 2013. For more on the work of Ross Watton visit

The citation saluted Iain’s‘authoritative and well-received books’ and added: ‘Few of today’s maritime writers have his breadth of experience, his instinct for a story, or his ability to undertake a tenacious, critical and careful search for the truth.’

More than 200 prominent members of the international maritime community and media gathered to take part in the established annual event, now in its 22nd year, and established by the Maritime Foundation to honour the memory of legendary Fleet Street naval correspondent Desmond Wettern.

This year the awards were presented by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, who said: “I’d like to congratulate our prize winners, together with all those nominated. We are truly fortunate to have so many diverse, creative and persuasive communicators to spread this message of maritime opportunity far and wide.”

In accepting his award, Iain thanked the Maritime Foundation, organizers of the Maritime Media Awards, and First Sea Lord for making the presentation.

The most absorbing task of the past two decades for Iain has been establishing and running the global naval news magazine WARSHIPS IFR, which he established at the invitation of UK-based publisher Derek Knoll who attended the dinner along with his daughter Christine, who continues to play a key role in the running of the magazine.

Iain expressed his heartfelt appreciation to Derek for having ‘taken a punt’ on what remains the only naval news magazine of its kind in the world, giving him the opportunity to edit WARSHIPS IFR and also to Christine and her sister Alison for all their hard work.

Also at the awards dinner was WARSHIPS IFR Associate Editor Peter Peter Hore whose perceptive prose and commentaries have considerably enlivened the magazine since its early days.

The globally distributed contributors to the magazine around the world have, said Iain, ensured there is barely a place where a naval activity is not recorded visually and reported on, and so they deserve commensurate high praise for all their efforts. One other key player from the magazine’s editorial team who was present at the awards dinner was Usman Ansari, who is the presiding Chief Analyst, writing commentaries, analysis and news items.

Iain Ballantyne (centre) with his WARSHIPS IFR colleagues and friends Usman Ansari (left) and Peter Hore (right) at the awards dinner in London.

WARSHIPS IFR’s strength resides in its world-wide analysts and commentary writers, not least the fiery Odin who speaks truth to power via his popular monthly leader column ‘Odin’s Eye’. Many times over the years there have been enquiries as to who the incredibly well informed, astonishingly perceptive and often rather blunt ‘Odin’ is, but his (or her) true identity remains a secret. Iain suggested that keeping his acceptance speech short was important to avoid provoking Odin, who might otherwise start hurling bread rolls from the back of the room.

Iain made a special point of saluting the fantastic men and women of today’s world’s navies and Royal Navy in particular, for their work around the Globe to preserve maritime security, and thanked the veterans of wars who have made his books a success.

In fact Iain expressed his gratitude to everyone whom he has worked with across his career in newspapers, magazines and the publishers of his books, including Pen & Sword Books and Orion Publishing. It was for Orion that Iain wrote ‘Hunter Killers’ (2013), a ground-breaking book on the British experience of submarine operations in the period of the late 1940s to early 1990s.

Iain thanked Captain Doug Littlejohns and Commander Rob Forsyth for joining him at the awards dinner. The two distinguished former submarine captains – who both commanded the nuclear-powered attack submarine HMS Sceptre during the Cold War – played a key role as technical advisors for ‘Hunter Killers’ – providing him with his own version of The Perisher course (almost). It’s worth noting here that the book also told the story of their adventures in the Submarine Service, as well as fellow submarine captains Cdr Tim Hale and Capt Dan Conley among other underwater warriors, most notably Michael Pitkeathly (Pitt.k).

Iain’s next book ‘The Deadly Trade: The Complete History of Submarine Warfare from Archimedes to the Present’ is to be published in March 2018 by W&N and has again benefitted from the technical advice of his submariner friends.

Lastly, Iain paid tribute during the acceptance speech to the late Desmond Wettern as an inspiration, whom he hoped “was smiling down from heaven on the thriving pursuit of naval writing in the UK today, which may not quite be the old school variety of days gone by – when newspapers were king – but has evolved to match the times and new technology.”

For more on the awards:

Keeping watch off a burning shore

WARSHIPS IFR Editor Iain Ballantyne reflects on a previous life as a newspaper reporter that several times saw him going aboard Invincible Class carriers on operations in some of the world’s hotspots.

Bosnia burned as HMS Ark Royal loitered off the Balkans, taking her turn in providing the ultimate failsafe for British UN soldiers on a difficult mission to keep the peace between warring factions ashore.

Should the troops be attacked and find themselves in need of Combat Air Support (CAS), she was ready with her strike jets and if the call came for a speedy withdrawal from the conflict her helicopters would assist with the rescue.

Yet, when a Sea Harrier from Ark Royal was shot down over Gorazde in spring 1994, at a time of fierce fighting between Serbs and Bosnian Muslim forces, there was a real sense of shock and astonishment. Lieutenant Nick Richardson’s Sea Harrier went down in flames, during a brave low-level bombing run against a Serb tank. No British naval jet had been lost in combat since the Falklands War, more than a decade earlier.

Armourers aboard Ark Royal wait for the signal to bring forward bombs to be loaded aboard Sea Harriers about to launch on missions over the Balkans in late April 1994. Photo: Iain Ballantyne.

Prior to that event, media interest in the Royal Navy’s carriers off the Balkans – Ark Royal shared the role with Invincible – was at a low ebb. Suddenly, everybody wanted to be aboard the British naval flagship in the Adriatic. Fortunately I was already on my way there and flew aboard as preparations were being made to pluck Lt Richardson from the battlefield. Having managed to eject and scramble to Bosnian Muslim positions, the intrepid Fleet Air Arm pilot was now in the temporary safe keeping of an SAS team. Soon we saw Lt Richardson returned to the Ark, welcomed home with great joy.

This was just another episode in a long-term commitment of British strike carrier power off the Balkans. Back in the early 1990s the UK’s government still regarded the Royal Navy as the first line of defence, understanding that the ability to deploy a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to the Adriatic was a powerful gesture of commitment to stopping the slaughter ashore from getting any worse.

The loss of a Sea Harrier was evidence that the Royal Navy’s mission was one in which there might be risks but the effect of the British, and other nations’, naval presence off the Balkans was not always immediately apparent.  Aside from providing a backstop for UK and other UN ground forces, the idea was to deprive the Serbs, and other factions, of the fuel and arms they needed for their respective ethnic cleansing campaigns. How much worse would it all have been without the presence of Ark Royal and other British and allied warships, such as Invincible (which I also visited in the Adriatic) exerting pressure via a trade embargo off the Balkans?

It must be remembered that this was an era, in the immediate aftermath of both the Cold War ending and the coalition campaign to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait, when even the loss of a single British soldier posed considerable political risk for the UK Govt. Britain was not accustomed, as it became by the mid-to-late 2000s, to seeing its young servicemen and women regularly coming home in coffins to RAF Brize Norton.

Bombed-up Sea Harriers waiting for their next mission over the Balkans as HMS Ark Royal cruises in the Adriatic, April 1994. One of the Ark’s Sea Harrier jets had just been shot down over Gorazde, Bosnia. Photo: Iain Ballantyne

In the 1990s nobody wanted to get bogged down in a shooting war in the Balkans that might cost hundreds of British lives to no appreciable impact on the end result, which would ultimately have to be a negotiated settlement. The fact that John Major’s administration was prepared to deploy naval task groups to the Adriatic, on constant rotation from 1992 until 1995, showed a much more thorough grasp of their worth than UK Govts showed thereafter.

Ark’s aircraft and the RN’s warships were put in harm’s way to some effect, subtle though it may have been for the most part. It was therefore strange to hear Prime Minister David Cameron declare Ark and her sisters of limited use – despite ample operational evidence to the contrary – when he set out the logic of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in late 2010. For arguably, setting the 1982 Falklands War to one side, among the greatest hours of the Royal Navy’s Invincible Class carriers were surely their post-Cold War operations.

An aircraft maintainer, helping to prepare a Sea Harrier FA2 for an early morning Combat Air Patrol over Southern Iraq, throws a rag to a colleague who is cleaning the cockpit of another jet. Photo: Iain Ballantyne.

Their ability to project power was enhanced by repeated refits, to enable them to embark both Sea Harrier fighters and RAF ground-attack Harriers, as well as provide a more effective amphibious assault platform. From Invincible’s launching of Sea Harriers on Combat Air Patrol over southern Iraq – which I also witnessed, in the late 1990s – to the Ark’s final moment of combat glory sending ashore Royal Marines to kick down the door into Iraq for the coalition invasion in 2003, their continuing relevance was obvious.

In 2003 HMS Ark Royal receives an enthusiastic welcome at Portsmouth on her return from service in the Iraq War. Nine years earlier one of her Sea Harriers was down over the Balkans during a bombing mission. Photo: Jonathan Eastland/AJAX.

Yet this was not so for David Cameron and whoever advised him to get rid of the Ark Royal and her Harriers. It was an error of epic proportions, compounded by discarding four valuable frigates and making redundant 5,000 highly-trained men and women from the Naval Service. It showed sea blindness in political circles that was deeply disturbing. It blew apart carefully devised plans to ensure there was no UK strike carrier capability during the period of transformation from the Invincibles to the new Queen Elizabeth Class vessels.

The 2015 SDSR did not repair the damage and has left the Royal Navy struggling to meet the challenges of introducing into service super-carriers with no Invincible Class to maintain active UK carrier strike capability.

The two new carriers – about three times the size of the Invincibles – will be commissioned into the front line fleet in the next few years, so the die has been cast and Britain must now make the best of them. This includes creating the accompanying task groups that can protect them and support the power projection mission.

It has taken almost two decades to get the first of the Royal Navy’s new super-carriers to sea, for the requirement was first stated in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDSR). The historic first sailing finally took place at the end of June 2017 and the 65,000 tonnes HMS Queen Elizabeth – reportedly nicknamed ‘Big Betty’ by her ship’s company – has conducted sea trials. Queen Elizabeth’s maiden arrival at Portsmouth in August was a spectacular and historic event, yet another milestone in British naval history.

Queen Elizabeth makes her maiden entry to Portsmouth in August 2017. Photo: Royal Navy.

The future HMS Prince of Wales is not far behind. With an anticipated lifespan of 50 years these massive and deeply impressive vessels will be flagships of a fleet with an outstanding reputation for fighting and winning stretching back centuries.

It is now time for Britain to capitalise on the huge investment and potential offered by the new carriers to not only project power around the world but also help to shape events at sea, on land and in the air for the good of mankind.

HMS Queen Elizabeth begins her sea trials in the North Sea. Photo: Royal Navy.

There remain problems, however, with the state of the Royal Navy as a whole, which has been badly damaged by the continual process of defence cuts, especially since 2004. It is time to rebuild the British fleet, not least in swiftly boosting frigate and destroyer numbers. The RN must field strike carriers while simultaneously meeting all the many other commitments it is tasked with to defend Britain, its interests and people at home and abroad.


  • This is an edited and extended version of an article featured in the WARSHIPS IFR Guide to the RN 2017/18, using some additional text published in the August 2017 edition of WARSHIPS IFR.


Buy the Guide to the Royal Navy 2017/18 direct from Tandy Media publishing or visit local branches W.H. Smith and other high street newsagents. Click here for list of stockists.

WARSHIPS International Fleet Review
Guide to the Royal Navy 2017/18
£6.50, soft cover
64 pages (A4 format)
Full colour throughout


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