As part of the preparations for her maiden operational deployment in May, HMS Queen Elizabeth has made her first visit to the Clyde to embark munitions.
The ship sailed from Portsmouth on 1st March for about a month away from home, initially conducting training and preparations for the carrier Strike Group deployment in May (CSG21). She has been operating in the Channel and the Irish Sea, working up the ship’s company which includes a significant number of new members since she returned from successful exercises at the end of October. She has also conducted helicopter training, including with Army Air Corps Apaches and RAF Chinooks to maintain aircrew currency for carrier flying.
At the weekend the carrier arrived in the Firth of Clyde. This is the first time the ship has sailed these waters, although the most complex sections of the ship, including the engine rooms, were constructed at the Govan shipyard on the upper Clyde, before being taken by barge to Rosyth for assembly.
The ship held a memorial service over the Second World War wreck of HMS Dasher off Ardrossan. The Dasher was a US-built merchant ship, hastily converted to an escort carrier. Tragically, she blew up and sank with the loss of 379 men on 27th March 1943. The explosion was probably caused by faulty petrol handling arrangements – typical of the kind of accident caused by the pressures of war.
On 15th March the carrier sailed up the spectacular Clyde estuary on her way to the newly refurbished Northern Ammunition Jetty (NAJ) at Glen Mallan on Loch Long. In 2019, work began on a £64 Million project to modernise the NAJ to meet the requirements of the QEC aircraft carriers. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) announced earlier this month at the project had been delayed by 5 months due to COVID but evidently, the work was sufficiently advanced for the carrier to be able to berth.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to be alongside at Glen Mallan for a week or so in order to load the largest outfit of munitions she has yet embarked. The Jetty is served from nearby DM Glen Douglas, the largest ammunition depot in Western Europe which provides secure storage in a series of hillside bunkers for bombs and complex weapons.
Munitions are brought by lorry from Glen Douglas onto the jetty and the two pedestal cranes raise the loads onto the lowered aircraft lifts. The munitions are then struck down to the magazines below via dedicated lifts in the hangar.