Hurricanes and Lightnings. HMS Queen Elizabeth Westlant 18 deployment – Part 2

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived at Naval Sation Mayport, Florida 5th September for what was intended to be a brief visit. The arrival of Hurricane Florence in the Eastern Atlantic resulted in a considerable change to the programme and she remained in Mayport until the 13th September.

HMS Queen Elizabeth made a spectacular entry in Mayport and her arrival was welcomed by the media, politicians and people of the US. With more than 1,200 personnel onboard many headed for a well deserved run ashore. Unfortunately, six sailors from the ship were involved in fights amongst themselves and were arrested, one was tasered while resisting. This tiny incident was quickly seized upon by the UK media and was rapidly blown out of all proportion. Some outlets even published the names and police mugshots. Tasering is pretty routine for Florida police and you only need to go to a typical town centre in Britain on a Saturday night to see far worse!

While not condoning misbehaviour, sailors getting drunk on run ashore has been happening since mankind began seafaring. This is such a non-story that it is worth asking why the media bother to report something so insignificant? The high profile of the QE makes her a large and convenient media target and the RN has to accept the spotlight will be on her as a floating ambassador for the UK. The media love to focus on the negative but the vast majority of the ship’s company made a good impression in Florida. (Defence blogger Sir Humphrey has comprehensively put this nonsense to bed in the article here.)

Merlin Mk2 practices underslung load lifting during the mostly very calm weather experienced while crossing the Atlantic.

A Merlin Mk2 from 820 Naval Air Squadron practices with dipping sonar (5th September). When deployed in high threat areas up to 9 Merlins may be embarked to provide round-the-clock anti-submarine protection for the carrier.

Royal Marines muster in the Hangar for helicopter assault rehearsal.

Merlin Mk4 ready to receive a 12-man stick of marines who have just been brought to the flight deck on the aircraft lift. Note the ramp which allows rapid embarkation of troops one of the key differences between the Merlin Mk4 and ASW Mk2. Theoretically, the aircraft can take up to 30 troops and their kit. (Photo: @CdrBobBond)

HMS Ocean is now gone and the RN must learn to make the QEC work in the assault role. During Westlant 18, QE is making tentative steps in developing this capability. The planned assault landing using the three Merlin Mk4s had to be cancelled due to the hurricane impacting the intended training area in South Carolina. Instead, 42 Cdo did a first assault route rehearsal while in alongside in Mayport. It may appear very simple but when the QEC are used in the assault role, this procedure must work in darkness, rough seas & potentially with up to 10 aircraft & 250 men launching simultaneously.

Exercises in the medical facility.

The Role 2 Surgical Team conducted a series of realistic exercises on board and has now been declared as having Full Operational Capability onboard the carrier. The ship has a permanent Role 1 Team to ensure that all onboard receive first aid, GP and dental services. An 18-strong Role 2 Team joined the ship for the deployment and includes surgeons, anaesthetists, specialist nurses, and intensive care staff. A role 2 team is able to perform advanced resuscitation techniques, including damage control surgery, beyond that of Role 1.

HMS Monmouth conducted a casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) to the carrier by helicopter during an exercise to prove the system. The casualty is seen here on the aircraft lift about to be taken down to the medical facility on deck below the hangar.

Firefighting exercise in the hangar. Fires are a particular threat to the safety of an aircraft carrier.

Leaving Mayport, Florida on 13 September in fine weather. (Photo: @SurfCounty)

An HM (Hydrography and Metrology) rating uses satellite imagery to monitor the progress of Hurricane Florence.

Both QE and HMS Monmouth took evasive action to avoid the damaging winds which have lashed North and South Carolina and Virginia, bringing tidal surges and several months’ worth of rain through the weekend. QE skirted south of the Hurricane, but still close enough for the effects to still be felt. The ship encountered four-metre swell, five-metre wave height and winds gusting 40 knots.

HMS Monmouth seen here in better weather on 31st August

Instead of heading directly north from Mayport, as previously planned, HMS Monmouth sailed to the south of the Bahamas, which provided a natural windbreak and shelter from the strong swell before heading for Norfolk.

A sign of good things to come… rainbow on entry to Norfolk. (Photo: @HMSQNLZ)

A queen passes a president. USS Abraham Lincoln seen from QE on arrival in Norfolk.

Naval Station Norfolk is usually empty as 30 ships sailed out from the base last week to avoid damage as it was thought Hurricane Florence could hit the area. (Ships alongside are vulnerable to damage from severe winds than at sea where they can avoid the worst or ride out storms). In the event, the base was spared the worst effects and USS Abraham Lincoln and other ships are gradually returning home. Amphibious ships USS Kearsarge and USS Arlington, along with 800 embarked Marines have been involved in rescue work around Wilmington in Carolinas where the hurricane impact was most severe.

Arrival at Naval Station Norfolk

Note the ‘Bish’ (ship’s chaplain) in position on the top of the ski ramp. An excellent tradition of having the ‘sky pilot’ in the eyes of the ship has now been established on entering and leaving harbour.

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Monmouth alongside Pier 11 and 12 in the world’s largest naval base (Photo: @HMS_MONMOUTH)

The visit to Norfolk is primarily to embark around 200 personnel and test equipment from the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF). They will install sensors, data collection and analysis equipment ready for the F35-B First of Class Flying Trials (FOCFT) which are scheduled to start this coming weekend. The ship will be at sea for about 3 weeks conducting the first of the two Development Testing (DT-1) phases planned for the Westlant 18 deployment. (More details on the FOCT and aviation aspects in our previous article here). She is due to visit New York at the end of October before beginning the second phase of development flying.