Britain’s biggest warship in action
As airstrikes are launched in Syria, Chris Terrill looks at how battles may be fought in the future
June 25 2017, Rosyth Shipyard, Scotland. Tomorrow HMS Queen Elizabeth, the biggest warship ever built for the Royal Navy, goes to sea for the first time. Ahead of its six weeks of gruelling sea trials in the North Sea, commanding officer Jerry Kyd addresses his crew – 700 sailors, a quarter of whom have never been to sea before.
“You must realise that no cavalry will come riding over the horizon to rescue us when things go wrong,” he tells them. “And I say ‘when’ not ‘if ’. There will be floods, there will be fires and there will probably be casualties. We are about to make history but look after each other.”
Within 24 hours HMS Queen Elizabeth is slicing through the Moray Firth and heading for the wide expanse of the North Sea – its ultimate proving ground. How will it manoeuvre? What is its top speed? How stable is it?
There are many questions to ask because as a first of class, prototype warship there is nothing to compare it with. For all its innovation, it is untried, untested, unproven. This could be a bumpy ride for all on board because the nation’s first £3.1billion super carrier must be pushed to breaking point before it can be sent on live operations.
I am here to film this voyage into the unknown for a three-part documentary that starts tonight. No one has ever been allowed to film the sea trials of a prototype warship before, so it is a great privilege.
It is an enormous challenge too – it has 3.1miles of passageways and 3,300 compartments, which are just two of its eye-watering statistics that so excite the “spotters”. Weighing in at 65,000tons it is three times bigger than the previous biggest ship in the Royal Navy, HMS Ocean.
It has taken 10,000 workers 51million man hours to build Queen Elizabeth over eight years. Longer than the Houses of Parliament and taller than Nelson’s Column it is made up of 17million constituent parts and the total length of its electric cabling and wiring would circle the entire earth… six times.
It has not been without controversy either. Some have questioned its strategic role in the modern world, saying it would have been better to spend the money on more destroyers and frigates. The truth is we won’t know how effective the nation’s first supercarrier is until it goes to sea in anger. Right now the challenge is to make sure it works both as a warship and home to 700 sailors whose job is to breath life in n to it.
Royal Navy sailors often refer to their warships as “grey villages”. By that logic HMS Queen Elizabeth is set to become the navy’s first grey city. All life is here. Black, white, male, female, gay, straight, Muslim, Christian,
There are seasoned oned sailors with anchors inked into muscled forearms and there are baby sailors fresh from training and yet to succumb to their first tot of rum. There are senior officers who have sailed saile the seven seas and young m midshipmen who’ve nev never spent one night afloat afloat.
Jerry Kyd Kyd, the ship’s first seagoing ca captain, is a master navigator an and natural leader. Affable, ap approachable and with a self-confessed weak weakness for cho chocolate Hobnobs, he is an aircraft car carrier man th through and through (he commanded both Illustrious and the Ark Royal). He knows the next six weeks will be critical.
“Up to now we really only knew how this ship performed on paper,” says Kyd.
“But, I have no worries. What you see here is the best of British maritime engineering and it is manned by the best trained sailors in the world.
“By itself the ship means nothing. Without the muscle and emotion of highly trained and committed people this ship is just a gigantic metal box full of wires and gadgetry signifying nothing – an anodyne robot. My sailors
Capturing the action: out for six weeks of sea trials, Chris Terrill, below, was there to record every moment on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, including its first helicopter landing