BRITAIN’S two supersized aircraft carriers have docked together, stern to bow, in Portsmouth for the first time in a historic moment the Royal Navy.
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived at the city’s naval base after a three-month deployment to the USA for test flights of its F-35B Lightning stealth jets.
The 65,000-tonne behemoth was manoeuvred into place alongside her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, which arrived for the first time in the city last month and will be commissioned into the navy by the Prince of Wales of Duchess of Cornwall on Tuesday.
Queen Elizabeth’s commanding officer, Captain Steve Moohouse – who is the only person to have commanded both of the £3.1bn leviathans – said the vessels would be ‘at the heart of UK defence for many years to come’.
‘This has been a huge moment for the Royal Navy,’ he told The News. ‘We’ve often seen computer-generated images of what it will look like but to see 130,000 tonnes of British steel and naval warship together is truly outstanding.’
Queen Elizabeth and her carrier strike group, which included Portsmouth-based Type 45, HMS Dragon, sailed from the UK in August.
It was the second time the warship had visited the US to carry out flight tests of the F-35s but the first time involving British warplanes.
She spent five weeks putting the stealth jets through their paces in a series of wargames off Florida’s coast, before later embarking a small number of US Marine Corps F-35s, which will be on the ship during her maiden operational deployment in 2021.
Her final duty before coming home was to lead a small international taskforce in the Atlantic on an anti-submarine warfare exercise, involving British and Norwegian warships.
Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in Portsmouth was blessed with bright sunshine and a crisp winter chill.
Thousands of people lined the Princess Royal Jetty to cheer the ship home.
Among the eager relatives was 60-year-old Debbie Leah, who had to rush her son, Leading Hand James Lear, away to see the birth of his second child.
‘His baby girl could be born any second so I’ve got to rush him Verwood in Dorset to be with his fiance, Hannah Burnell,’ she said.
‘His baby girl was due on the 28th or 29th of December but we have been told she is now coming early so could come any minute.’
Speaking of her son’s naval job, Debbie added: ‘I’m so proud of him for everything he has achieved in the navy, I could cry.’
Capt Moorhouse added the reunion of his sailors and their families was always a highlight for him.
He said: ‘It’s always huge to come to Portsmouth for a homecoming, especially one so close to Christmas.
‘Close to 3,500 have travelled from all over the United Kingdom, which is absolutely fantastic for the sailors and goes to show how they’ve taken the ship to heart.’
Both the two 919ft long aircraft carriers have a 50-year lifespan and can be pressed into action for various work such as high-intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
Queen Elizabeth will remain in Portsmouth undergoing maintenance until early next yet, when she will resume the last phase of her F-35s off the British coast.