HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth on her maiden operational mission
UNDER the dim glow of a setting sun, HMS Queen Elizabeth set sail from Portsmouth to begin her first operational deployment cheered on by thousands of well-wishers.
Scores of families lined the harbour walls in Portsmouth and Gosport to watch history unfold as the £3.2bn warship set sail on its 28-week deployment to the Far East.
The mighty 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier will travel some 26,000 nautical miles as she sails towards the Indo-Pacific region, visiting India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore.
The Royal Navy flagship will be spearheading the UK’s new carrier strike group in the most ambitious British-led maritime mission in a generation.
And she left Portsmouth proudly displaying her embarked squadron of 18 F-35B Lightning II stealth jets, the most advanced warplanes in the world, on her enormous flight deck.
Crowds of well-wishers cheered as HMS Queen Elizabeth was guided out of Portsmouth Harbour and into the Solent.
Among those lining the Hot Walls to see her off was David Armstrong, who was accompanied by his children Eva, eight, and Henry, 11, to cheer on his wife, Surgeon Commander Amanda Armstrong – who is an anaesthetist on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.
David, of Wickham, said: ‘We’re used to Amanda going away – she goes away with the navy quite a lot. However, seeing her go never gets easier. As the children get older it gets harder. But we’re incredibly proud of her. ‘
Also in the crowd was Marian Stant, of Portsmouth, whose husband, Lieutenant Commander Mark Stant, is the head of carrier’s weapon engineering department.
The 40-year-old from Portsmouth, who was joined by her boys William, nine, and Freddie, five, said: ‘It’s a very exciting moment for us all. We’re so proud of him and all the crew.’
It was a sentiment shared by well-wisher Liesl Houston, whose husband Captain Darren Houston is the commanding officer of HMS Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth’s former skipper.
She said: ‘The two carriers have reignited the fact that Portsmouth is a naval city. There has been a lot of support and positive vibes. It’s been amazing to see.’
Friend Alison Wright added: ‘Today is massive. It’s been tremendous. It has captured people’s imagination.’
Simon Haill, a retired Captain in the Royal Navy agreed, and said: 'I’m incredibly proud seeing HMS Queen Elizabeth leaving Portsmouth because towards the end of my time in the navy there was a lot of doubt as to whether there will be an aircraft carrier at all.
‘There was that tremendous gap between Ark Royal paying off when we didn’t have any fixed-wing aircraft. So it’s a great day.’
Earlier the ship was visited by the Queen, who was welcomed onto the carrier by the vessel’s commanding officer Captain Angus Essenhigh, and Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, commander of the UK carrier strike group (CSG)
She was given a briefing on the deployment which will take the CSG through the Mediterranean to the Red Sea then from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.
The Queen also had a chance to meet some of the 1,700 personnel on board the carrier which include Royal Navy sailors, Royal Air Force airmen and women, Royal Marines, and 250 United States personnel.
Her hour-long visit followed a tour by prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday.
Captain Essenhigh told PA: ‘It’s always a great privilege to host the Queen and to have her as both our sovereign and our lady sponsor come and wish us well as we set off on a seven-month deployment is something incredibly special.’
The Queen presented a medal for 15 years’ long service and good conduct to Petty Officer Matthew Ready, 38, from Gosport.
He said: ‘It was an incredible honour for me and my family.’
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander UK CSG, said the Queen was looking forward to some peace and quiet, as the F35B jets based near her home in Sandringham would be away on the deployment for seven months.
He said: 'It wasn’t lost on her they are from Marham, just down the road from Sandringham, so she hears them regularly, so she was just relieved to see them go to sea and get a little peace over her.”
He added: ‘It was an absolute privilege to host her majesty on her flagship, she was really fascinated and interested in where we were going and was particularly struck not just by where the carrier was going but where the frigates and destroyers are going and the variety of the trip.’
The MoD has announced that the CSG’s F35B Lightning fast jets operated by the renowned ‘Dambusters’ squadron, or 617 Squadron, will join Operation Shader targeting the remnants of so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The F35B jets are multi-role combat aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology – enabling them to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.
The deployment has been organised as part of the ‘UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region’.
Accompanying HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a surface fleet made up of Type 45 destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, Type 23 anti-submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring, as well as the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
The Royal Navy Astute-class submarine will also deploy, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.