Ark Royal’s final bow will hit the navy’s self-esteem

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It has become a sight all too common to those who care passionately about the Royal Navy and watch eagerly the comings and goings of its warships in Portsmouth Harbour.

We are used to seeing old and past-their-sell-by-date vessels disappearing forever to the scrapyard. But, and it’s a rarity these days, we celebrate when shiny new models slide into the home of the senior service to launch a new maritime era.

But there will be something different about the ignominious demise of HMS Ark Royal.

The one-time flagship of the fleet will take her final bow later this month, probably on May 20, when she is towed, yes towed, away to a Turkish breaker’s yard.

How the mighty are fallen.

Of course, The Mighty Ark would reach the end of the road at some stage, but that moment should have come in 2016 not 2011.

That’s when the veteran of the Bosnian and Iraq wars should have been retired gracefully. But the ship with the most emotive name in the Royal Navy bit the dust in the 2010 Strategic Defence Review – a move which sparked national outrage. That decision still provokes anger.

As former naval officer and Warship World publisher Mike Critchley says on page 7 today: ‘The early demise of Ark Royal and her aircraft is a national disgrace, leaving the... fleet without protective air cover wherever it may be needed to operate at any serious distance away from the UK coast.

‘The time span from the end of fixed-wing flying from the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers as operational vessels is heading towards being a massive 10 years with all the resulting loss of skills.’

Apparently many people, among the thousands expected to watch Ark’s departure, are planning to wear black armbands as she is pulled out of Portsmouth.

We understand their bitterness and sympathise. For too long we have watched the Royal Navy become a shadow of its former self in a world more uncertain and worrying that at any time since the Second World War.

What happens on or around May 20 will be yet another emasculating blow to a service slashed to the core by spending cuts.