It hasn’t been a good couple of months for the Royal Navy’s most-expensive warship ever built, but on Friday HMS Prince of Wales finally left Portsmouth for Fife for much-needed repairs. The £3 billion warship broke down off the Isle of Wight in late August, as she was preparing to head to the U.S. from the Portsmouth Naval Base.
Inspections by divers and engineers found that the 33-tonne starboard propeller had malfunctioned, with a coupling holding it in place breaking. The warship was forced to be towed back to Portsmouth, where it underwent further inspections, which determined the carrier would have to return to the port of Rosyth, Fife in Scotland where she was constructed.
That trip was initially scheduled to depart early last week, but the carrier only began her journey late on Friday. It was hardly the Royal Navy’s finest moment, especially considering that the carrier took on the role of NATO flagship earlier this year.
Though HMS Prince of Wales had been able to take part in the Exercise Cold Response, the large-scale Norwegian-led deployment that involved more than 35,000 troops from twenty-eight nations, the sidelining of the carrier will mean she is unable to fill its role with the alliance’s Maritime High Readiness Force – the international task group formed to deal with major global events.
The Royal Navy’s carrier had assumed command of the NATO response force from the French Marine Nationale on January 1, and was expected to see deployments to the Arctic, Baltic, and Mediterranean waters. It remains unclear when the HMS Prince of Wales will be able to return to service, but it has been expected that the vessel could be in drydock for months rather than weeks!
“Royal Navy divers have inspected the starboard shaft of the ship and the adjacent areas and they have confirmed there is significant damage to the shaft on the propeller and some superficial damage to the rudder but no damage to the rest of the ship,” explained Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse, director of Force Generation, who is responsible for making sure Royal Navy ships are ready to deploy.
“Our initial assessment has shown that coupling that joins the final two sections of the shaft has failed,” Moorhouse added. “This is an extremely unusual fault and we continue to pursue all repair options.”
The 65,000-tonne vessel has already missed important flight trials with the United States Navy.
As a result of the breakdown, the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth was deployed to the United States instead. The carrier recently hosted the Atlantic Future Forum in New York – a defense conference aimed at strengthening UK and U.S. bonds.
In addition to hosting the conference, the Royal Navy used the opportunity to showcase its “jetpack” technology earlier this month, when Royal Marines successfully flew over New York Harbor and landed on the deck of the carrier. No doubt the Royal Navy hopes the attention will be on the successful showcase of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the flying Royal Marines rather than on the broken down Prince of Wales!
It could be worse, the Russian Navy flagship Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov has spent years in drydock and it is looking increasingly likely that the carrier will never return to service.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.