HMS Prince of Wales has been commissioned into the Fleet today as the largest warship ever built for the nation.
HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, as the ship’s Lady Sponsor, alongside HRH The Prince of Wales, presided over the ceremony at HM Naval Base Portsmouth this morning, to an audience of 2,000 from industry, allies, friends and families.
Commanding Officer, Captain Darren Houston, read the commissioning warrant to the crew and guests gathered in the hangar which will soon house F-35 jets and a variety of helicopters. Among those watching were the First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, ambassadors from France and USA, and the commander of the US Sixth Fleet, Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti.
The iconic White Ensign then replaced the Blue Ensign which has flown since she left Rosyth in September for her initial sea trials. Leading Writer Megan Ryan (27, from Stoke-On-Trent) was granted the honour of raising the new ensign; and youngest sailor, Chef Seth Day (17), cut the commissioning cake with Liesl Houston, the Commanding Officer’s wife.
“The men and women of my Ship’s Company have demonstrated significant flexibility, patience and resilience. However, I also want to recognise the wider naval family for their support of our achievements, and I am so pleased that so many of our families and loved ones are able to share this special day with us,” said Captain Houston.
About 550 VIP guests, 1,400 family and friends of the ship’s company, including guests with connections to the previous HMS Prince of Wales, a battleship sunk on that same date 78 years earlier by Japanese forces in the South China Sea, joined the crew for the ceremony.
Leading Writer Ryan said: “I am lucky enough to have been involved in the commissioning of three ships, but this is the one I will always look back on with exceptional pride. Raising the White Ensign for the first time on HMS Prince of Wales is such a privilege that I will never forget.”
Nearly 7,000 miles away, the crew of HMS Enterprise stopped at the final resting place of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse last week to hold a memorial service and lower a White Ensign to the remains.
For the whole crew, from the chefs making the cakes to the warrant officers perfecting the drills, there has been a sense of pride in preparing the ship and themselves for this day.
AET Patrick Gauson (30, from Edinburgh) said: “Having been present at HMS Queen Elizabeth’s commissioning, to be involved in HMS Prince of Wales’ as well is an immense honour and privilege. It’s another day in my career that I can look back on with great pride and a sense of achievement.”
AET Sam Ward (21, from York) said: “To be part of such an important day in the ship’s history gives me great pride and it will definitely be an interesting story to regale to the grandkids one day.”
HMS Prince of Wales, which by naval tradition will be referred to in the feminine form despite carrying the title of the male heir apparent, is marginally larger and heavier than her sister.
The carrier is powered by four diesel engines and two gas turbines, run by the 170-strong marine engineering department. They are part of a core ship’s company of about 700 which can swell to more than double that with the addition of personnel from Naval Air Squadrons and Royal Marines.
She departed Rosyth in September and conducted her first sea trials before making her first entry to Portsmouth harbour in mid-November.
More than 10,000 people across the UK have contributed to the delivery of the ship as part of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, building on the experience they gained in constructing and operating HMS Queen Elizabeth.
HMS Queen Elizabeth has recently returned from her second deployment to the east coast of North America conducting aviation trials with UK F-35 jets and developing her warfighting capabilities. Both carriers are alongside in Portsmouth for routine maintenance and well-earned Christmas leave for their crews before resuming their programmes to reach operational capability.