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Naval base's Herculean team effort to prepare for carrier deployment

30 April 2021
Tomorrow sees the departure of Portsmouth-based constituents of the HMS Queen Elizabeth group to join forces with other maritime and air elements for Exercise Strike Warrior.

It means about 86,000 tonnes of warship has been receiving engineering support, stores and spares for this moment over the past six months and are then due to sail on the same day.

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Dragon are also returning to action today, adding about 73,000 more tonnes to what has been prepared and moved in a 36-hour period.

On Saturday, HMS Diamond will be first away at 0800; HMS Queen Elizabeth last at 1545, either side of HMS Defender and Kent. Final preparations going to plan thanks to the Defence and industry partnership which forms the Team Portsmouth enterprise at the naval base.

Head of Naval Base Operations, Steve Hopper, said: “We are, encouragingly, slightly ahead of schedule.

“Whilst two months ago I was having sleepless nights worried that it wouldn’t happen, the people in the base, the people who man the gates, the chaperones who escort the lorries, the jetty managers, crane operators, security and everyone else involved have delivered and the ships will be fully stored and ready to go as planned for which I thank everyone in Team Portsmouth.

Just moving a Queen Elizabeth class carrier takes 200 people from the base to get her safely out.

Steve Hopper, Queen's Harbourmaster, Portsmouth

“Then of course the next stage is getting the ship out of the harbour, so is that is another raft of activity; planning the six tugs and crews, riggers, the pilots who move her and the police who protect her. Just moving a Queen Elizabeth class carrier takes 200 people from the base to get her safely out.”

The carrier strike group deployment is the first operational deployment by a Royal Navy aircraft carrier for more than a decade, and will take in visits to 40 countries as it makes its way through the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and into the Pacific to return home around seven months later.

Planning for the resumption of carrier strike operations began about 12 years ago designing a jetty able to accommodate the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy, removing 3.5 million cubic metres of mud from the harbour so they could navigate it, and building a power plant on the base to provide electricity to the carriers.

Mr Hopper, who spent more than 30 years in the Royal Navy, added: “From about six months out until today, that’s been about getting the ship materially ready and more recently, for about the last month, is what we call mounting for operations.”

This has involved loading 924 pallets of food, 55 shipping containers, making about 400 crane lifts onto the ship, as well as embarking 250 United States Marines plus Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force personnel.

Seven Mk2 Merlin landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth this week, the first time any helicopters carrying the new Crowsnest radar have joined the carriers they were designed to protect.

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