HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares for commissioning into the Royal Navy

Today HMS Queen Elizabeth formally commissions in the presence of the ship’s sponsor, Her Majesty the Queen. This ceremony marks the transition from being a ship to a warship as she becomes part of the Royal Navy, serving in the fleet potentially for 50 years. The Queen will arrive by royal train at Portsmouth Harbour and be taken by car to the ship which is alongside at Princess Royal Jetty. The ceremony will be held in the vast aircraft hangar with a reception for around 3,700 people including the ship’s company, their families and many invited guests.

The commissioning does not always mark the actual hand over of the ship from the builders. However, QE was formally handed over by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance to the MoD today, who signed a large final cheque.

Captain Jerry Kyd: “We are proud to have flown the blue ensign but now it’s time to transition to the White Ensign and special sense of pride that goes with that”.

The captain is adept at dealing with the media and for a man carrying enormous responsibility, he has a relaxed and friendly style. Speaking with obvious excitement about the visit of Her Majesty for the ceremony he said: “She is very supportive of the armed forces, she married a naval officer and two of her sons served in the navy – I think she will be very proud and I hope she enjoys it”. He also noted the incredible achievement that the QEC represent; “Putting together an aircraft carrier and all its various facets is a complex business that takes time… building aircraft carriers is not for the faint-hearted, it has been a national endeavour that few other nations can match”. Commenting on the need for these ships he added: “there had never been a more important time for a strong navy, the RN needs to be credible, strong and we have to be ready… These ships are just that future – embodied in steel”

17-year-old steward AB Callum Hui is the youngest member of the ship’s company, and in keeping with tradition will cut the commissioning cake with the Captain’s wife.

For the ceremony, the hangar has been temporarily converted into an auditorium with seating, and stage lighting.

A 96-man honour guard commanded by Lt Cdr Nick Leeson and around 500 of the ship’s company, will parade in front of Her Majesty.

PO Dean Allen, galley manager – cooking for the Queen and responsible for managing the team catering for 3,700 people.

There are normally 48 chefs on board HMS Queen Elizabeth but for the commissioning ceremony, extra catering staff from the Defence Maritime Logistics School at HMS Raliegh have been brought in. An additional function for 200 people in aid of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) will be held on board in the evening.

The QEC are designed to carry food stores for up to 45 days without replenishment. The ships’ company presently number around 720 but this number could more than double when the air group and EMF (Embarked Military force) are on board. A healthy 500-calorie breakfast is served each day except Sunday when the full English is available. Trivia enthusiasts will be excited to know that QE’s storerooms currently hold about 12,000 tins of beans, 60,000 sausages and 50,000 pieces of bacon.

Security around HMS Queen Elizabeth is reassuringly tight. Visitors must not only be allowed into the naval base, but must also pass through further security checks to gain access to Princess Royal Jetty. Armed Royal Marines are on guard and on the waterfront, at least 3 police boats patrol around the ship 24/7.

A nice final touch – engraved steel plates bearing the names of the thousands of contractors, civil servants and forces personnel who helped build HMS Queen Elizabeth have been mounted on the forward hangar doors.

The ship’s wooden name board being craned into place on the starboard side of the forward island.

AB Ellie Smith and Jessica Hewes, responsible for raising the white ensign for the first time rehearse the ceremony with the blue ensign.

The vast flight deck. Note the 2 x 4m Electronic Information Display boards. Four are fitted on the islands and two in the hangar. They can show real-time data to pilots and aircraft handlers including wind speed, ships speed, heading and aircraft movements. They are also handy for the ship’s company to watch football matches.

The aircraft handlers offices and rest/briefing compartment in the aft island. Note their branch motto painted over the door “Nostris In Manibus Tuti” which translates as “safe in our hands”.

Aircraft Lift

The scale and design of the QEC require special gangways for accessing the ship. Also visible is the extendable gantry that carries the High Voltage cables providing shoreside power. The 90-year-old Queen will access the ship via the temporary passenger lift (on the dockside far right) to take her up to hangar level.

For the majority of the part 1 and part 2 sea trials the ship encountered unusually benign weather, so far the ship has only been briefly exposed to a moderate sea state (6). Some slight rolling was experienced but very little pitching. Unsurprisingly, the ship has proved immensely stable and sea trials threw up no serious issues. The ship’s company is still very much learning about how to operate the vessel but reports about living on board are generally very favourable.

The ship will sail for Operational Sea Training (OST) sometime in January. OST will not be conducted in and around Plymouth as normal (QE cannot go alongside in Devonport). The FOST sea riders will embark in the ship for a training period in the South Western approaches. As the ship is not yet fully equipped for combat, the focus will be on safety and damage control. In February or March, the ship will head into the Atlantic for heavy weather trials and will embark Merlin Mk 2 helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron. In the summer the ship will cross the Atlantic to the US to embark the first F-35s.

The Queen first visited the ship when she formally named her on 4th July 2014 in Rosyth. Three and a half years later she makes her second visit to attend the commissioning which will be another memorable milestone on the long journey to restore carrier capability to the UK.