Bri­tain’s big­gest war­ship in ac­tion

As airstrikes are launched in Syria, Chris Ter­rill looks at how bat­tles may be fought in the fu­ture

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features - Th y aight, ian,

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,

Hindu, athe­ist.

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

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