The Royal Navy’s largest warship HMS Ocean celebrated her royal links by hosting Her Majesty the Queen on board in Plymouth.
On a gloriously sunny day Her Majesty paid her fourth visit to the nation’s ‘very high readiness’ helicopter carrier since commissioning in 1998. She was welcomed into HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth, on her way to the ship by military and civilian staff lining the route waving Union Flags.
Her Majesty, the ship’s sponsor since the official naming ceremony on 20th February 1998, was treated to a military ceremony alongside the ship at the jetty at Devonport, where she inspected a 96-man Royal Guard of sailors and attended a ship’s rededication ceremony carried out in front of an invited audience of hundreds while entertained by HM Band Royal Marines Plymouth playing military tunes.
The Royal guest was then escorted on board by the ship’s commanding officer Captain Tim Henry to meet members of the ship’s company and be shown examples of the ship’s amphibious capability, before having lunch and being flown off the ship in the Royal helicopter.
HMS Ocean’s second-in-command Commander Tony Rackham described the day as like ‘Cup Finals Day’: “The culmination of years’ of preparation of the ship from refit to getting ready for sea and operations and then rehearsing for our Royal sponsor. It can’t get any better than this. It’s real reward for all our hard work.’’
AB Natasha Hill, a communicator on board HMS Ocean, took part in the ceremonial guard. She was joined by her parents Debbie and Nick. Natasha said: “This was a chance of a life-time and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything. Once we got the hang of the many rehearsals it was really enjoyable. But the actual event was rather nerve wracking. I was worried I’d get it wrong. But it went very well. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.’’
Nick said: “we’re both very proud to see Natasha play such a prime role in this important event – wouldn’t any parent. It’s also great for the ship and the Navy to be part of such a high profile event.’’
Jason Phillips, HMS Ocean operations room supervisor, took part in the parade as the Queen’s Colour Escort. He was watched by his family, wife Lucy and their children Charles, 3, and Oscar 6. Jason said: “This was the highlight of my career by far. I was there to protect the Queen’s Colour – which was a great honour. It was a fantastic occasion to be part of and made extra special by having my family watching and being part of it with me.’’
Lucy said: “The boys were so excited by having their dad out there looking so smart. We all enjoyed this special day so much. I felt honoured being part of it all and proud of Jason.’’
Her Majesty has revisited the ship twice since naming her: in 2003 to present a new Colour to the Royal Navy Fleet, and a further visit in 2010.
HMS Ocean was rededicated following her refit, sea trials and operational work up to officially welcome her back into service as the Royal Navy’s only Landing Platform Helicopter.
The Queen’s Colour of the Fleet holds special significance; this was the same Colour that was presented to the Royal Navy onboard HMS Ocean during the Queen’s visit in 2003.
Lt Thomas McPhail, HMS Ocean’s Gunnery Officer, who has been co-ordinating the parade training said: “The sailors manning the Royal Guard and Queen’s Colour Party are warfare ratings, engineers, Naval airman and logisticians; it brings together everyone in the crew in order to honour Her Majesty The Queen and the ship in which we serve. Training such a varied team to perform ceremonial duties, and to such a high standard, is a real, but rewarding challenge.’’
After a well-earned Easter break, HMS Ocean will return to sea for Exercise Joint Warrior off the North West coast of Scotland. She will assume duties as the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship in June.
HMS Ocean is designed to deliver troops to the centre of the action by helicopter or by landing craft. Aviation capabilities include six helicopter operating spots on her flight deck with space in the hangar to hold, transport and maintain many more aircraft. Ocean’s Ship’s Company of 380 personnel includes 9 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, who operate the four landing craft vehicle and personnel and provide the projection of fighting capability ashore for HMS Ocean. The 21,500 tonne amphibious assault ship was launched in 1995, has a top speed of 16 knots and a range of 8,000 miles.