When HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are launched and deployed in the service of the Royal Navy, accompanied by modern Type 45 destroyers and amphibious landing vessels such as HMS Ocean, the appalling state into which this Government, which has no sympathy for nor genuine understanding of the Armed Services and how they are to best prepared to meet a whole variety of threats, will have been to some extent reversed.

As planned these are two seriously formidable ships which will give the Royal Navy and Britain the power to punch significantly above our weight. They bring a degree of ‘power-projection’ to HMG’s planning table which we have not had since the mid-60s in the days before we got rid of our conventional carriers and opted for the smaller Invincible class carriers of which HMS Invincible did so well in The Falklands War (together with the altogether older and much-converted HMS Hermes) but which struggle to bring really serious firepower to the equation.

Older readers will recall that the Invincibles were at one stage called “Through-Deck Command Cruisers” or just “Through-Deck Cruisers” in order to hoodwink ignorant anti-British Labour backbenchers into thinking the UK was abandoning aircraft carriers altogether and with it any suggestion of an Imperial or post-Imperial global reach for the Royal Navy. Fortunately they swallowed the bait and the class has gone on to be at the heart of British operations overseas ever since.

This new Queen Elizabeth class of carriers is of an altogether different stripe and marks a return to the concept of the conventional carrier which was abandoned in the 1960s. At some 65,000 tons, they will be the largest Royal Navy ships ever deployed (three times the size of the Invincibles. Thus they will be much nearer in size and capability to a US Navy Nimitz class carrier and will put the UK into the number two slot as far as carrier deployment is concerned. Each will be able to deploy 36 of the new F-35B Lightning II strike fighters which will enable Britain to conduct its air operations in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan without having to rely on reluctant hosts such as Saudi Arabia. There has been some concern that having only two ships will reduce our long-term abilities at a time of necessary refits, but the spin is that it is planned that advanced design and maintenance techniques will eliminate the present requirement for major refits. That may be so, but what if one is gravely damaged at some stage? But we must, I suppose, be grateful for the two we have.

The F35 B Lightning II will replace the UK’s aging Harrrier force with a Mach 1.8 short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. On any view this is a first-class fighter, possession of which will put the RN and the RAF in the top rank as far as a air defence and air striking power are concerned. For the first time in a while the UK will have, with the Typhoon fighter also in place, a modern and highly capable air defence and air strike capability of a kind which will be a more than adequate replacement for the present rather long in the tooth arrangement of Tornadoes and Harriers (without for a moment belittling either of those excellent aircraft, the Harrier for example is based on essentially 1950s technology, deriving as it does from the Hawker P.1127 of 1957 design and the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel FGA.1 of the 1960s) which are fast reaching their sell-by dates.

These are serious warships which will give the Royal Navy strike power it has not enjoyed since the 1960s. With just one of these formidable weapons platforms the Falklands war would have been a much shorter affair. Now we can deliver a thumping blow from the relative security of the open ocean without having to rely upon uncertain allies such as Saudi Arabia for vulnerable ground bases and can be self-reliant on the safety and integrity of our striking forces from a distance that minor powers such as Iran will be unable to match.

The only other HMS Queen Elizabeth was the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of battleships, launched in 1913 and scrapped in 1948. The Queen Elizabeth-class battleships were a class of five super-dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy. The lead ship was named in honour of Elizabeth I of England. These majestic battleships were superior in firepower, protection and speed to their Royal Navy predecessors of the Iron Duke-class as well as preceding German classes such as the König-class, although the corresponding Bayern-class ships were competitive except for being 2 knots slower. As such, they are generally considered the first fast battleships.

The Queen Elizabeths were the first battleships to be armed with 8 x 15 inch guns (381 mm), and were described in the 1919 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships as “the finest class of Capital Ships yet turned out.” They saw much service in both world wars. HMS Queen Elizabeth missed Jutland, but took part in the Dardanelles Campaign in World War I. In World War II she was mined and sunk by Italian frogmen at Alexandria in 1941. She was subsequently raised, repaired, and served in the Far East until 1945, being scrapped in 1948.

The name HMS Prince of Wales has been borne by seven previous ships of the Royal Navy:

  • The first Prince of Wales was a 74-gun third-rate launched in 1765 and broken up 1783.
  • The second Prince of Wales was a 90-gun second-rate launched in 1794 and broken up in 1822.
  • The third Prince of Wales was a 38-gun transport purchased in 1795, and still on the records in 1801, but little more is known.
  • The fourth Prince of Wales was a 14-gun Indian sloop of 248 tons, launched at the Bombay Dockyard in 1805, but whose fate is unknown.
  • The fifth Prince of Wales was a 121-gun screw-propelled first-rate, converted to a training ship and renamed Britannia in 1869, sold in 1914.
  • The sixth Prince of Wales was a battleship launched in 1902 and sold for scrap in 1921.
  • The seventh Prince of Wales was a battleship launched in 1939 and sunk in off Malaya in December 1941.

The last Prince of Wales was the second of the King George V class of battleships and was commissioned in 1941, taking part in the pursuit of the Bismarck with engineers still aboard. She took Churchill to the USA later that same year and was then sent to the Far East in October 1941 with the battle cruiser HMS Repulse. Both were lost during the invasion of Malaya when bombed by Japanese forces. She had a novel arrangement of ten 14 inch guns (356mm), disposed in a fore turret of four guns, a second fore turret of two guns and a third aft turret of four guns.

With this news we can now hope that the part-time Defence Minister and Scots Junta Member, Des Browne, will turn his attention to the parlous and depleted state of the Army which Labour has done so much to destroy whilst it has been engaged in its foreign adventures.