Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

'Britain’s new aircraft carrier may be a vast folly — but it still provokes awe'


Ian Jack writes: As a little admiral growing up on the Firth of Forth, I caught the naval bug – and the awkward truth is, it’s still with me . . When HMS Queen Elizabeth left Rosyth for her sea trials on Monday, I remembered my days as a little admiral and considered how some of my enthusiasms that were formed during that short-trousered age have never completely left me.

This is an awkward residue of interest. It can lead to a protective attitude towards what the military historian Max Hastings, writing this week in the Daily Mail, described as “giant embarrassments … symbols of almost everything that is wrong with British defence policy”. He has a good case. The aircraft carrier and her yet-to-be-completed sister, HMS Prince of Wales, are the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy, costing a total of £6.2bn. Their complicated construction – six shipyards spread throughout Britain supplied the “blocks” or modules that were welded together in Rosyth – suggest that their purpose was as much about jobs in Labour constituencies as about fulfilling a grand naval strategy . .

(The) ship runs on outdated software (Microsoft Windows XP) and will take far fewer aircraft (the Lockheed Martin F35) than originally planned. Also, big ships are vulnerable unless heavily defended. This week a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry, reacting to some boastful remark by Fallon, said that the HMS Queen Elizabeth amounted to “nothing more than a huge, easy naval target”.

It is, apart from all that, a disappointingly ugly ship. Nonetheless, Britain managed to build it. That fact alone deserves a cheer from the little admirals who still survive in so many of us


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