Her Majesty the Queen will commission the new British aircraft carrier named after her into Royal Navy service in three weeks – on the anniversary of an infamous naval battle where numerous warships were sunk.
On Thursday, December 7, the Queen will formally welcome the 75,000-tonne warship into her fleet. During the last few months, HMS Queen Elizabeth has been on sea trials off the British coast, testing the ship's systems and sensors before F-35 flight trials start next year.
Unfortunately for the Ministry of Defence, December 7 is also the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The surprise attack, delivered before Japan's formal declaration of war on America, was intended to sink the US Navy's Pacific-based aircraft carriers.
Although thousands of US Navy personnel were killed and many ships were damaged and sunk, the three strategically vital aircraft carriers based in Hawaii were away on a training exercise and survived. The attack was the direct cause of the US entering the Second World War.
"Was Taranto Day fully booked?" quipped Tim Robinson, editor of the Royal Aeronautical Society journal, in response to the MoD announcement of the British warship's commissioning ceremony date.
The Battle of Taranto was a daring British raid on Fascist Italy's main naval base over the night of November 11-12 1940, the early days of the Second World War. Delivered by obsolete Swordfish naval biplanes launched from British aircraft carriers, the raid was a decisive strike that crippled half of the Italians' most powerful battleships. British morale rocketed.
During HMS Queen Elizabeth's commissioning ceremony, Her Majesty will "say a few words" in her formal capacity as the warship's lady sponsor. Each new Royal Navy warship has a lady sponsor who is normally the wife of someone important in the British establishment. For example, the lady sponsor of nuclear attack submarine HMS Triumph is Lady Hamilton of Epsom, the wife of Margaret Thatcher's former Armed Forces minister, Archie Hamilton. Naturally, with the new carrier being named after Her Majesty (well, sort of*), she simply couldn't have anyone else as a lady sponsor.
At the moment, the ship is technically a civilian vessel and still the property of her builders, the Aircraft Carrier Alliance. Once commissioned she is formally handed over to the Navy and becomes government property. The distinction is largely ceremonial as the ship's company, made up of RN sailors, and her captain, have been living aboard and operating her for months.
Although HMS QE's sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, is named after Prince Charles, that ship's official sponsor is Charles' wife, the Duchess of Rothesay – or Camilla, as the rest of Britain knows her. ®
Big grey boat note
*HMS Queen Elizabeth is supposedly named after Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I, who saw off the invading Spanish Armada of 1588. To this end, the carrier's emblem is the colours of the Tudor queen. In reality, however, everyone knows the ship is named after our current monarch. Over the past few years keener-eyed Reg readers may have noticed the explosion in the number of things named after the Queen, including, off the top of your correspondent's head: an aircraft carrier; a housing estate; and a railway line, to name but three.