HMS Prince of Wales has made her first non-UK port visit to Gibraltar. Gibraltar will host the Royal Navy’s largest aircraft carrier for a short logistics stop from the 6–10 July.
The 65,000 tonne Portsmouth based carrier has spent the Spring/Summer on sea trials off the South Coast of England after receiving a series of upgrades and enhancements throughout 2020. The ship has recently rendezvoused with HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea for the first time and HMS Prince of Wales has now operated with the state of the art F35 Lightning 2 jet. HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth are both at sea at the same time and both able to operate the F-35 jet. Alongside the UK’s warships, submarines, helicopters and F-35 jets, these aircraft carriers make a significant contribution to NATO Deterrence and Defence.
For many of the ship’s newest sailors, Gibraltar is their first run ashore away from Portsmouth and the visit comes towards the end of an intense training period, including undergoing assessments under the watchful eyes of Fleet Operation Sea Training or ‘FOST’. Excited to sample Gibraltarian delights, and having only recently joined the ship, Able Rate Susan Stobie said:
“I’ve really been looking forward to Gibraltar. It’s my first trip away from the UK with the Royal Navy and it’ll be a good opportunity for the crew to relax after a quite busy period at sea!”
That busy period has included multiple milestones for the ship as it generates towards being a fully operational aircraft carrier. This has included the lengthy embarkation of aircraft squadrons on HMS Prince of Wales. First were the Apache attack helicopters of the Army Air Corps’ 656 Squadron and now the Wildcat maritime attack helicopters of 825 Naval Air Squadron. Both units and the ship working together to train new personnel in aircraft operations whilst also refreshing old hands. The UK’s Carrier Strike capability (for which PWLS is generating) contributes to European regional security and prosperity in the face of threats to the international order. It demonstrates that the UK is an outward facing, modern, responsible nation which takes its defence and security responsibilities seriously, and invests in them accordingly.
For Captain Darren Houston RN, the Commanding Officer of HMS Prince of Wales, the visit is particularly poignant as it is in Gibraltar where he will hand over the command of the ship to a new Commanding Officer; Captain Stephen Higham OBE RN.
Captain Darren Houston said:
“This is another moment in history for the ship and my sailors, as we partake in our first foreign port visit after an extremely busy period at sea, successfully completing our operational sea training, which is a critical milestone on the path of declaring the Initial Operating Capability for UK Carrier Strike capability. As Europe’s leading contributor to NATO, the UK Carrier Strike Group will form a vital component of the UK contribution to the NATO Readiness Initiative. HMS Prince of Wales will directly contribute to the safety and security of the UK and our Allies, through NATO.”