Royal Navy carriers ready for Arctic role after Prince of Wales’ High North operation

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet Storyline: HMS Prince of Wales

Britain’s biggest warship sailed within 900 miles of the North Pole as the Royal Navy pushed the boundaries of aircraft carrier operations into the Arctic.

HMS Prince of Wales led a task group to 77 Degrees North in the North Atlantic to demonstrate the ability of the UK’s two 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class carriers to operate in the harshest environmental conditions.

The carrier returned home to Portsmouth in the small hours of this morning after seven weeks away – inside or on the fringes of the Arctic Circle – training with allies from NATO and the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, having laid the foundations for Royal Navy carrier operations in the High North for the next half century.

Captain Steve Higham, the carrier’s Commanding Officer, said the concerted period operating in and on the fringes of the Arctic had helped the Royal Navy “to push the boundaries of UK carrier operations in the cold, harsh environment.

“HMS Prince of Wales deploying in the High North has proved our ability to operate in the Arctic. I’m very proud of our ship's company and their constant innovation in the face of extreme conditions.”

Having acted as NATO command ship throughout Cold Response – the largest winter exercise hosted in Norway in more than 30 years – the carrier and her task group, including frigate HMS Richmond, destroyer HMS Defender, tankers RFA Tiderace and Tidesurge and a hunter-killer submarine remained in the North Atlantic to continue their Arctic deployment/cold weather operations under the banner of UK defence’s new policy of contributing to the wider defence of the High North, announced by the Secretary of State last month.

The ship embarked an ice expert from the Royal Norwegian Navy, Commander Harald Thor Straten, who shared more than 40 years’ experience of working in sub-zero conditions to help the carrier operate in such an unforgiving environment.


“The next time a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier sails into these waters, they will be more ready and prepared, using the reports and operations that HMS Prince of Wales has covered,” said Commander Thor Straten.

“It will be of great importance that this experience has been updated in 2022 as a reference for other Navies. I feel very privileged to have been able to offer advice and ideas as to what the Norwegians do when we face similar cold weather challenges.”

Having visited Reykjavik in Iceland, paid her respects to the battle-cruiser HMS Hood sunk in the Denmark Strait in May 1941, and called upon remote Jan Mayen Island, home to the world’s most northerly volcano.

Celebrating his 33rd birthday, Petty Officer Luke Witts was among the small party who went ashore at Jan Mayen to visit a Norwegian base.

“It was probably the best birthday I’ve ever had, the whole experience flying from the ship and seeing the island was amazing! The food from the chefs was phenomenal and it was great to meet the people there.”

The task group continued north to 77 Degrees – the same latitude as the Svalbard archipelago – with outside temperatures as low as -5 Celsius, lowered to 22 degrees below zero by the wind chill.

Throughout, the carrier has been developing the skills needed to defend herself from hostile submarines in such conditions, with three Merlin anti-submarine helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron embarked.

They’ve conducted daily sorties, building up cold-weather skills, and working with an Astute-class Royal Navy submarine and four other allied submarines to train British and NATO submarine commanders of tomorrow+.

The task group also worked with the Royal Air Force’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, which was controlled by HMS Richmond. The frigate returned home to Plymouth earlier this week.

The next time a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier sails into these waters, they will be more ready and prepared, using the reports and operations that HMS Prince of Wales has covered.

said Commander Thor Straten