HMS Queen Elizabeth: Why has Royal Navy ship returned to Portsmouth early, where has she been and where next?

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Royal Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth unexpectedly returned to Portsmouth on Sunday after two months on deployment.

The huge £4bn warship left her home port on September 8 to take up her role as the flagship for the UK Carrier Strike Group. Crew were put through their paces in several different scenarios – preparing them for future operations.

HMS Queen Elizabeth was due to come back to Portsmouth in the middle of November, but was spotted by eagle-eyed residents on Sunday night. Here is what the Royal Navy said about her return, and information about what she has been doing on deployment.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth deployment

HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside HNoMS Otto Sverdrup during her Carrier Strike Group exercises off the coast of Norway. Picture: LPhot Belinda Alker.HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside HNoMS Otto Sverdrup during her Carrier Strike Group exercises off the coast of Norway. Picture: LPhot Belinda Alker.
HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside HNoMS Otto Sverdrup during her Carrier Strike Group exercises off the coast of Norway. Picture: LPhot Belinda Alker.

The ship’s company joined allies as part of the Carrier Strike Group, with the aim of completing intense ship movement and aircraft exercises. Commodore James Blackmore, Commander of the Carrier Strike Group, said the formation is designed “to be out at sea delivering effect”, working alongside allies to become “integrated”. Crew worked with F-35 fighter jets, F-35 fighter jets and other aircraft assets.

The group have been operating in the Norwegian Sea and North Sea alongside allies linked to Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) – including Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, USA and Germany.

JEF is a s a high-readiness task group committed to regional security that can respond to crises alongside Nato or as an independent force. Ferocious strike missions and combat-style training was carried out involving a variety of ships and aircraft.

The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has docked in Portsmouth with F-35B jets on board. (Photo: Ben Mitchell/PA Wire) The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has docked in Portsmouth with F-35B jets on board. (Photo: Ben Mitchell/PA Wire)
The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has docked in Portsmouth with F-35B jets on board. (Photo: Ben Mitchell/PA Wire)

This included Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond; Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker RFA Tideforce; Norwegian ships HNoMS Otto Sverdrup and HNoMS Maud; Dutch ships HNLMS De Zeven Provincien and HNLMS Van Amstel; and Belgian frigate BNS Louise Marie. HMS Queen Elizabeth launched her aircraft on several occasions, including F-35 Lightning fighter jets of 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron and Wildcat helicopters from 815 and 847 Naval Air Squadrons.

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Military personnel carried out Exercise Cobra Warrior alongside the RAF in the force’s largest annual exercise. Missions included destroying targets and rescuing down aircrew.

Sailors and helicopter crews – as part of the Role 2 Afloat Team – completed essential medical exercises including such as life support, advanced resuscitation techniques and trauma surgery. Later in the month of October, a Merlin helicopter launched a Training Variant Torpedo (TVT) abeam of Type 23 frigate HMS Portland – a first for HMS Queen Elizabeth’s aircraft.

Multiple aircraft worked alongside the Norwegians to give them realistic training scenarios. Crews then took a well deserved rest in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Why has HMS Queen Elizabeth returned to Portsmouth early?

Speculation was rife after the 65,000 tonne warship arrived in her home port on Sunday – with a slew of fighter jets on her deck. Reports suggested there was a fault on the ship which needed to be repaired.

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The Royal Navy made no comment about major repairs in their response to The News. A spokesman said: “HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to port for a logistics stop and a short period of maintenance.”

What is next for HMS Queen Elizabeth?

It is expected that the aircraft carrier will resume her Autumn deployment in the Norwegian and North Seas. Military personnel said the deployment was going well and was exactly what the crew needed.

As previously reported in The News, Wing Commander Stew Campbell, Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, said: “617 Squadron have enjoyed an extremely successful five weeks embarked in HMS Queen Elizabeth.

"We have experienced a graduated and increasingly complex training package that has seen us qualify multiple new pilots in carrier operations both day and night, take part in both UK and foreign led large force exercises and employ live ordnance on an air to surface range. 617 Squadron always enjoy our embarked periods as operating from an aircraft carrier is the pinnacle of aviation activity and we are proud to be a part of it.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commanding Officer Captain Will King RN OBE is leading the deployment after taking the helm of the carrier in July.