United Kingdom

Royal Navy's biggest deployment in a generation – time for rugby and clay pigeon shooting

Britain’s new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is leading six Royal Navy ships, a Royal Navy submarine, a US Navy destroyer and a frigate from the Netherlands, in what has been described as the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.

As part of the deployment the crews have carried out a series of sophisticated exercises, including a flare firing by HMS Defender’s 219 Flight (Wildcat) to test its capability and a Crash On Deck Exercise (CODEX), in which the same ship’s company tested its aircraft recovery, firefighting, and first aid skills.

During its 26,000-nautical-mile global tour the group will interact with over 40 nations, including joint exercises and diplomatic visits, sailing through some of the planet’s most challenging waters.

As well as clay Pigeon shooting and netball the ships’ companies have taken part in the bi-annual Mark Till 50-mile relay race, held in remembrance of CPO Mark Till who died onboard HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War.

Among the images captured by the Navy photographers was one of HMS Defender being battered by waves as it ploughed through what the crew describe as the “gnarly weather” of the Bay Of Biscay, off the western coast of France.

While cutting through the Mediterranean HMS Queen Elizabeth made its first port visit of the deployment, stopping at Augusta, in Sicily.

Here they took on the local rugby team San Gregorio Rugby in the first competitive match for both sides in almost two years due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Playing on a pitch surrounded by olive groves HMS Queen Elizabeth beat San Gregorio 44-0.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, said before the fleet set sail: “As the Carrier Strike Group heads to sea, a new phase opens in Britain’s maritime renaissance. HMS Queen Elizabeth, her escorts and her aircraft, will now begin the most important peacetime deployment in a generation.” 

Referring to those under his command Commodore Moorhouse added: “I would like to thank our families. I have every confidence that these young men and women will do you proud.”

The deployment is designed to regenerate the UK’s Carrier Strike capability and comes after the Government announced an increase in Defence funding of over £24 billion across the next four years to enable the Armed Forces to adapt to meet future threats.

Tasked with maintaining security across the high seas the men and women of the UK Carrier Strike Group are required to be at a constant state of readiness.

However, that doesn’t mean the Navy life is all work and no play. After all, with so many days and weeks at sea there has to be some time to switch off.

Which explains why one seaman managed to fit in a round of clay pigeon shooting in between his more onerous duties. 

Royal Navy photographers captured the daily life of ratings and officers in this fascinating set of pictures released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). 

The nine ships, 32 aircraft, and 3,700 personnel of the Carrier Strike Group set sail last month on the seven-month global deployment through the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, and then on to the Indo-Pacific.

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