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.
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”
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.
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.
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