Thousands welcome HMS Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth home

Tens of thousands of people have lined the walls of Portsmouth Harbour to welcome the UK's £3 billion aircraft carrier which has berthed at its home port for the first time.

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth. Picture: Getty Images
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth. Picture: Getty Images

The HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived alongside Portsmouth Naval base where the Royal Navy’s newest and biggest ship will be based for its estimated 50-year lifespan.

The 919ft (280m), 65-000 tonne vessel has been undergoing training and tests at sea after setting out from Scotland’s Rosyth dockyard in June.

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth. Picture: Getty Images

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Those on board and watching from the shore were treated to two separate flypasts of Royal Navy helicopters, the first featuring a Sea King, two MK2 Merlins and two MK3 Merlins, which were then joined by two Hawk jets for the second.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “Today we welcome our mighty new warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to her home for the very first time.

“She is Britain’s statement to the world: a demonstration of British military power and our commitment to a bigger global role.

“The thousands of people across the UK who have played a part in building her and her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, should be immensely proud as our future flagship enters Portsmouth.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth docked at Portsmouth Harbour. Picture: PA

“She has made good progress in sea trials and will now embark on the next phase of preparations that will see the return of Britain’s carrier strike ability.

“When she enters service she will help keep Britain safe at a time of increased threats, be able to fill multiple roles from providing air power anywhere at any time to fight future campaigns, supporting allies or delivering humanitarian aid.”

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A flotilla of craft followed the behemoth aircraft carrier as she sailed into the Solent before heading into Portsmouth, where, at its narrowest point, there was less than 66ft (20m) clearance on each side.

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth. Picture: Getty Images

With boots polished and caps perfectly placed, all the ship’s available company stood at the edge of the vessel as she arrived in the harbour and naval base.

As eager crowds waved and welcomed her in, Commander Darren Houston could be heard saying over the tannoy to those on the shore: “Good morning, Portsmouth.”

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Some of the keen well-wishers had camped out over on the Round Tower, the traditional spot in Old Portsmouth to view navy ships leaving and arriving at the base, in order to get a good view.

An 820ft (250m) exclusion zone, enforced by armed police in small boats, meant the port was effectively closed to the flotilla of boats which had turned out to greet the Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth docked at Portsmouth Harbour. Picture: PA

A Champagne breakfast was held on board the Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond for “VIPs and “VVIPs” from the Ministry of Defence.

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Navy officers and family members also lined the jetty in the Navy base to welcome the ship, while the band of the Royal Marines played to entertain the crowds.

Lieutenant Commander Ian Pratt, who took a moment to take a photograph of the carrier as it sailed past, said: “Absolutely fantastic.

“What a wonderful day for the Royal Navy, for Portsmouth and the whole of the country, the flagship of our nation is home. Fantastic.”

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Louise Bond, 30, from Fareham, Hampshire, whose husband, Petty Officer Greg Bond, 33, is serving on board, said: “It’s my first homecoming, it’s brilliant, I was up at 2.30am, first in line.

“It’s amazing, I wouldn’t miss it for the world, it’s a historic moment, once in a lifetime to see.”

Tanya Baker, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, came with daughter Eloise, two, to meet her partner Petty Officer Craig May.

She said: “We are really proud that my partner is coming in on the Queen Elizabeth, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him and we are both proud to be part of the aircraft carrier.”

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Lt Cdr Neil Twigg, a fast jet pilot responsible for integrating the F35 fighter jet into the carrier group, said: “We are very ready, there is still a lot more work to be done, the aircraft is still going through its testing programme in America and the ship has still some more sea trials but we are on the right track.

“The sheer size, this is the 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier, the largest the Royal Navy has ever had, she is specifically built for the F35, the only aircraft carrier in the world designed for that air system, so a pretty unique capability the UK now has.”