HMS Queen Elizabeth passes through Suez Canal as the UK Carrier Strike Group heads east

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet Storyline: HMS Queen Elizabeth

Flanked by the spectacular scenery of Egypt’s desert landscape, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her escorts and auxiliaries have passed through the Suez Canal, marking a new chapter in the operational deployment of the UK Carrier Strike Group.

The passage through the world famous waterway marked the end of a six-week phase of exercises and operations in the Eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea. 

The nine ships of the Carrier Strike Group between them visited eleven different European countries, drawing together presidents, prime ministers, diplomats and military leaders, as well as holding a series of events designed to support British trade and exports.

But the central purpose of the opening phase of this seven-and-a-half month deployment was to promote solidarity and cooperation with the United Kingdom’s NATO partners.

Highlights included exercises with the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle; called Exercise Gallic Strike, this dual carrier operation with the French will be the first of many where Europe’s two most powerful navies rendezvous and work together.

There were also exercises with the Italian air force and navy, and with the combined might of Western maritime forces for Steadfast Defender, NATO’s flagship exercise for 2021.

More recently, the Strike Group joined coalition operations in the Eastern Mediterranean; a historic milestone as British and American F-35B strike fighters flew the first operational missions from a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, as they stood ready to strike at Daesh. 

Meanwhile, 1,600 miles away, HMS Defender and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen visited Ukraine, Georgia and Romania in a mission designed to underline NATO’s commitment to security, prosperity and the rule of law in the Black Sea.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, said: “The Carrier Strike Group’s period working with our NATO partners in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Seas offers unmistakable proof that the United Kingdom’s most important overseas defence commitment remains the security of the Euro-Atlantic region.

“While HMS Queen Elizabeth launched counter-Daesh missions over Iraq and Syria from the Eastern Mediterranean, HMS Defender and HNLMS Evertsen were conducting concurrent operations 1600 miles away in the Black Sea – true strategic reach.

“Meanwhile, our programme of defence engagement involved a huge amount of work in support of British Embassies and High Commissions, but from Alicante to Alexandria and Bar to Batumi, the message was the same: Britain’s friends and allies are delighted to see the Royal Navy back in town.

“Now we head east, towards the rising economies of the Indo-Pacific. From the Strait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Malacca, CSG21 offers unprecedented influence and engagement in support of Global Britain.”

Squadron Leader Joanna Magill, a Royal Air Force physiotherapist based within HMS Queen Elizabeth’s medical team, said: “The days are long and the work is hard but it’s rewarding: I am enjoying the deployment so far. After a year of being so restricted at home it’s great to be able to look out and experience the world, even if at times it is still from the confines of the ship.”

Petty Officer Adam Walker works with HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Air Weapons Party. He said: “Operation SHADER was a busy period for the Air Engineering department. Maintaining HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System has given me an incredible opportunity to expand my experience as an engineer. No other Navy has anything with this level of automation. The system enables us to provide Air Weapons for preparation in a fraction of the time it took on a traditional carriers, and with a minimum of personnel. During these operations we have also been working closely with US Marine Corps aircraft and US Navy weapons and our integration with them has been seamless.”