Royal Navy’s biggest deployment in a generation – time for rugby and clay pigeon shooting

Tasked with maintaining security across the high seas the men and women of the UK Carrier Strike Group are required to be at a constant state of readiness.

However, that doesn’t mean the Navy life is all work and no play. After all, with so many days and weeks at sea there has to be some time to switch off.

Which explains why one seaman managed to fit in a round of clay pigeon shooting in between his more onerous duties. 

Royal Navy photographers captured the daily life of ratings and officers in this fascinating set of pictures released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). 

The nine ships, 32 aircraft, and 3,700 personnel of the Carrier Strike Group set sail last month on the seven-month global deployment through the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, and then on to the Indo-Pacific.

HMS Queen Elizabeth and the UK Carrier Strike Group joined ships from NATO Standing Maritime Groups One and Two for an impressive display of maritime power in the Eastern Atlantic in May

Credit: Royal Navy/UK Ministry of Defence

Britain’s new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is leading six Royal Navy ships, a Royal Navy submarine, a US Navy destroyer and a frigate from the Netherlands, in what has been described as the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.

As part of the deployment the crews have carried out a series of sophisticated exercises, including a flare firing by HMS Defender’s 219 Flight (Wildcat) to test its capability and a Crash On Deck Exercise (CODEX), in which the same ship’s company tested its aircraft recovery, firefighting, and first aid skills.

219 Flight (Wildcat) takes part in a flare firing from HMS Defender whilst in the Mediterranean

Credit: MOD

During its 26,000-nautical-mile global tour the group will interact with over 40 nations, including joint exercises and diplomatic visits, sailing through some of the planet’s most challenging waters.

As well as clay Pigeon shooting and netball the ships’ companies have taken part in the bi-annual Mark Till 50-mile relay race, held in remembrance of CPO Mark Till who died onboard HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War.

Among the images captured by the Navy photographers was one of HMS Defender being battered by waves as it ploughed through what the crew describe as the “gnarly weather” of the Bay Of Biscay, off the western coast of France.

HMS Defender crashes through waves in the Bay of Biscay as she makes head way to the Mediterranean. The Type 45 Destroyer from HMNB Portsmouth was able to witness the high sea state first hand as she traversed across it before she swings east into the Mediterranean

Credit: MOD

While cutting through the Mediterranean HMS Queen Elizabeth made its first port visit of the deployment, stopping at Augusta, in Sicily.

Here they took on the local rugby team San Gregorio Rugby in the first competitive match for both sides in almost two years due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The crew of the HMS Queen Elizabeth play a rugby match against San Gregorio Rugby club. They took on local side whilst alongside in Augusta, Sicily, between 9-13 June, the vessel's first port visit of the deployment

Credit: MOD

Playing on a pitch surrounded by olive groves HMS Queen Elizabeth beat San Gregorio 44-0.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, said before the fleet set sail: “As the Carrier Strike Group heads to sea, a new phase opens in Britain’s maritime renaissance. HMS Queen Elizabeth, her escorts and her aircraft, will now begin the most important peacetime deployment in a generation.” 

Her Majesty's Ambassador Jill Morris visited HMS Queen Elizabeth to host a Department for International Trade event and Capability Demonstration. British & American F-35Bs from HMS Queen Elizabeth joined those from the US, Italy and Israel for Exercise Falcon Strike 21,  between the 7 and 8 June

Referring to those under his command Commodore Moorhouse added: “I would like to thank our families. I have every confidence that these young men and women will do you proud.”

The deployment is designed to regenerate the UK’s Carrier Strike capability and comes after the Government announced an increase in Defence funding of over £24 billion across the next four years to enable the Armed Forces to adapt to meet future threats.

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