The Voyage South
QE2's departure from Southampton was anything but quiet. The government wanted to display
its determination. Accordingly, bagpipes and regimental bands played while families and well-
wishers lined the shores. Military and naval commanders crowded onto the ship's bridge much to
the annoyance of the pilot and the ship's officers. The press gave full coverage.
The ship moved slowly down Southampton Water surrounded by tugs. Most spectators
probably thought this stately progress was just part of the event. Others, more familiar with the
comings and goings of QE2, would have known that QE2 normally proceeds slowly in these
waters so as not to disturb the underwater pipelines leading to the oil refinery at Fawley and to
negotiate the tricky sand bars near Cowes. But, this time, QE2 was going slowly because she
could not go faster. During the previous transatlantic voyage, one of the ship's boilers had been
taken down for routine maintenance. Now, one of the other boilers had sprung a massive leak.
As a result, the ship had only one working boiler and could only manage seven knots - - a speed at
which the ship is difficult to control. Thus, the tugs surrounding the ship were not ceremonial
escorts but were there to help maneuver and propel the giant ship.
Once out of sight of land, QE2 anchored and repair work commenced. In the end, the problem
turned out to be a valve that had been left in the wrong position. Now that QE2 was capable of
attaining her service speed, she headed out to sea leaving the third boiler to be repaired en route.
QE2 could only hold enough fuel for a one way voyage to the Falklands, which was some 8,000
miles away. Accordingly, provision was made for replenishing at sea. Normally, QE2 takes on
fuel through an opening on the starboard side of Five Deck. However, this opening was too close
to the waterline for use at sea. Therefore, a fuel pipe was installed in a baggage entryway on Two
Deck in the midst of some of the first class cabins and then run below to the tanks. To test this
arrangement, QE2 rendezvoused with the tanker RFA GREY ROVER and with soldiers and crew
members hauling on lines and hoses, several tons of fuel were successfully taken on.
The first leg of QE2's voyage was marked by regimental dinners and evening entertainment by
the various regimental bands. Officers were assigned to eat in the luxury Queens Grill restaurant
while senior NCOs had to make do with the slightly less sumptuous Princess Grill. Enlisted
personnel used the ship's two large dining rooms.
The Fifth Infantry Brigade had just completed training exercises in the Welsh mountains - - the
British terrain deemed most similar to the Falklands. To maintain their edge, the troops continued
to exercise during their two weeks onboard QE2. Floating garbage bags were used for target
practice from the open decks. Soldiers running in full combat gear around the one-fifth mile
jogging track on Boat Deck caused the chalking to protrude from between the teak planks. The
Gurkas were especially serious about staying fit. Starting at the bottom of "A" Stairway, one
soldier would climb on the back of another who would then run up eight decks. To simulate
conditions if the ship lost power, the runners were blindfolded.
The first leg ended when the ship arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to take on fuel and water.
Some adventure was added to the call when the gold-braided pilots told the Cunard officers that
the practice there was for the ship's officers to dock their own ship. However, the captain
managed to bring the giant ship along side in this unfamiliar harbor without incident.
Little effort had been made thus far to keep the ship's movements secret and the ship had been
observed by a Soviet spy trawler. After leaving Freetown, however, the ship's radar was turned
off, electronic silence observed, and the ship was blacked-out at night. With hundreds of portholes
and large picture windows, achieving a full black-out was not easy. In order to avoid painting the
windows black, black garbage bag plastic was taped over them. While this arrangement blocked
the light, the plastic caused a greenhouse effect that severely taxed the ship's air conditioning as she
traversed the tropics. Unfortunately, these precautions were defeated when the ship crossed the
path of another Soviet spy trawler.
The next stop was Ascension Island, a British colony some 4,000 miles from the Falklands that
the British were using as a forward staging area. Major General Jeremy Moore, RM, Commander
Land Forces Falklands, had flown out from Britain and joined the ship there.
While QE2 was making her way south, the British had established a beachhead at San Carlos
Bay and the fleet had come under incessant air attacks. A Cunard container ship, ATLANTIC
CONVEYOR, which had been acting as a support ship for the carriers, was destroyed by an
Exocet missile. The destroyer HMS COVENTRY and the frigates HMS ANTELOPE and HMS
ARDENT burnt and sank following air raids. Accordingly, heavy machine gun platforms were
installed on the wings of QE2's bridge, light machine guns at various other locations, and Blowpipe
air defense missiles were placed around the funnel. The mood was somber as the great liner,
blacked-out and without radar, hurdled toward the war zone at 27 knots.
A Guards officer awoke early one morning and went out on the open decks for air. His men had
become fascinated by the Book of Revelation and there had been much talk about its apocalyptic
visions. As he was looking at the sea in the pre-dawn light, he recalled one that begins “I stood
upon the sand of the sea and saw a beast rise up out of the sea . . ..” (13:1). The water began to
foam and a dark gray form began to emerge. Overcoming his initial reaction that he was seeing
some biblical sea monster, he realized that what was before him was a nuclear submarine
surfacing. Signal lamps flashed, presumably to the military communications center on QE2, and the
Moving south, the heat of the tropics was replaced by the onset of the South Atlantic winter.
Lookouts were placed on the bridge wings and near the funnel as a precaution against icebergs.
All watertight doors were shut. On the night of 29 May, a heavy fog engulfed the ship. The ship's
officers and the naval authorities agreed to risk giving away the ship's location by turning on the
radar. The radar sweep showed over 100 icebergs in the vicinity. Most were small but others
were miles long and hundreds of feet high. All night the ship weaved through the ice.
Rendezvousing with the destroyer HMS ANTRIM the next day, QE2 disembarked General
Moore and his staff by helicopter. She then proceeded on to South Georgia which had already
been retaken. At South Georgia, QE2's troops were transferred to the smaller CANBERRA and
other ships more suited to maneuvering in the confined waters around the Falkland beachhead.
In their place, QE2 embarked the survivors of COVENTRY, ANTELOPE and ARDENT.
Some of the survivors were barely alive when they reached QE2 and were placed in the ship's
hospital - - one of the best on a commercial ship. Other survivors who had seen how their
aluminum ships had burnt so fiercely were reluctant to enter QE2's superstructure and even
requested that their emergency muster stations be located within the steel hull. This request could
not be accommodated because of the compartmentalization resulting from closing the water tight
The Return Home
It had been thought that at South Georgia QE2 was beyond the range of Argentine aircraft.
However, when a nearby British tanker was attacked, QE2 put to sea and headed into the ice
floes where it was thought that she would be harder to find.
By now, the fuel taken on at Freetown was running out. Steaming north, QE2 met with the
tanker RFA BAYLEAF. However, a storm made it impossible to pass a line between the ships.
On the third day, the seas were still high but QE2 was down to a day and a half's fuel, so the ships
tried again. This time 3,800 tons were passed before the replenishment had to be halted due to the
onset of night and the chafing of the fuel hose. Although QE2's tanks were not full, it was enough
to allow her to return to Ascension.
The plan had been to disembark the navy survivors at Ascension and then return to the war
zone. However, by now, the campaign was going well enough that the authorities decided that
QE2 could go home. The troops she had brought south had landed and, even though they were
outnumbered, they were well on the way to retaking the islands. This was not without cost.
Especially hard hit were the Welsh Guards who sustained heavy casualties when the landing ship
they were on was bombed.
On 11 June, QE2 entered home waters. As she steamed toward Southampton, helicopters
brought newsmen, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy, and the chairman of Cunard's
parent company. Near Yarmouth, the royal yacht BRITANNIA with the Queen Mother on deck
joined QE2. Ships and small craft sounded their whistles as the great liner arrived home. Crowds
again line the shores. A few days later, the Argentine troops on the Falklands surrendered.
Although it had taken less than a week to convert QE2 for military use, it took nine weeks to
restore her to passenger service. Admittedly, Cunard did take the opportunity to make a few
changes, one of which involved the funnel. When QE2 was designed, a conscious effort was made
to distance the ship from her predecessors, which, like much else during the 1960s, were seen only
as old fashioned. Accordingly, since going into service, the ship's funnel had been painted white
and black rather than the traditional Cunard livery of red-orange and black. After the Falklands,
however, tradition mattered and QE2's funnel was painted in the Cunard colors.
QE2 In the