P.A Charles de Gaulle (Trafalgar 200) Feature Report
Tuesday 28th June
The Royal Navy took centre stage to hold an international event to celebrate 200 years of Admiral Lord Nelson and his victory at Trafalgar. Over 135 naval vessels, including submarines, from around the world gathered and positioned themselves at anchor at Spithead near Portsmouth for the International Fleet Review. The list of participating foreign countries was impressive and included Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, South Korea, Estonia, Russia, Japan, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, India, Pakistan, France, United States of America and Australia.
reports from the Trafalgar 200 celebrations in Portsmouth and looks at some of the aviation elements that were part of this maritime event. All photos by the author.
The International Fleet Review held on June 28 was just one part of the Trafalgar 200 events. It was also a celebration of maritime friendship which resulted in modern day naval vessels and a good number of Tall Ships, some of which had sailed from Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Russia, Italy, India and the United States, coming together and sharing an area of over 20 square miles of the Solent.
The largest modern day military vessel attending the event was the nuclear-powered French Navy aircraft carrier the P.A Charles de Gaulle. This 40,000 ton aircraft carrier, the largest warship in Europe and clearly the pride of the French Navy, was anchored next to two other helicopter and/or aircraft carrying vessels, the SNS Principe de Asturias from Spain and the USS Saipan of the US Navy. It was an impressive sight both in its size and with the number of aircraft embarked; although this was only part of the airwing and comprised one E-2C Hawkeye, six Super Etendards, one Dauphin 2, one Alouette III and four Rafale M's. The remainder of the airwing had disembarked to their shore bases prior to the de Gaulle's arrival at Portsmouth.
The de Gaulle has supported UN operations against Afghanistan. In December 2001 as part of Task Force 473 and under "Operation Héraclès" it was sent to the Indian Ocean with an airwing comprising two E-2C Hawkeyes, sixteen Super Etendards, two Dauphin 2's, one Alouette III and two Rafale M's. On 19th December Super Etendard aircraft carried out their first missions - reconnaissance and bombing above Afghanistan covering an area of 3000 kms. In total over 140 missions were flown, averaging 12 per day, and there were five instances where the aircraft had to avoid Stinger missiles fired at them. This deployment was the first time the Rafale M's had been deployed at sea and as Task Force 473 was integrated in an international force of over 100 ships including two US carriers, the USS John C Stennis and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Rafale M's were provided the opportunity to take part in joint training exercises with US Navy F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats. In May the de Gaulle arrived in Singapore.
More recently in March 2005 the de Gaulle took to the sea again, this time with a complete airwing embarked to participate in a three week exercise "Trident d'Or 05" near Corsica in the Mediterranean. This exercise was organised by France and Italy with participation from Canada, Germany, UK, Spain, Greece, Turkey and the US. The exercise was a further step in the integration of the French naval components in the NATO Response Force (NRF) and after four days of evaluation the de Gaulle returned to port with the airwing disembarking to their respective land bases of Landivisiau, Lann-Bihoué and Hyères.
At the beginning of May 2005 the de Gaulle sailed from the port of Toulon for exercises in the Atlantic. The embarked airwing comprised two E-2C Hawkeyes, twelve Super Etendards, and eight Rafale Ms. Towards the end of May the de Gaulle had positioned off the east coast of the USA to participate in a further exercises which involved the USN aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Dwight D Eisenhower as well other US, French, Spanish, Canadian and British ships. This exercise was "Multi National Maritime Exercise (MNME) 05-01" which provided a step towards NATO Response Force certification. This also provided the opportunity for cross deck handling which resulted in US Navy aircraft landing on and launching from the de Gaulle and Rafale M's carrying out a series of "touch and go's" on the USS Dwight D Eisenhower.
In early June "Exercise CANFREX" was held off the coast of Canada where, for five days, the de Gaulle participated with other French naval vessels and the Canadian Navy. Following the completion of this exercise the de Gaulle returned to France visiting Cherbourg before sailing to Portsmouth. After the visit to Portsmouth the de Gaulle sailed for Brest for a two day visit, following which the next stop would be Toulon in early July where it will be readied for another sailing later this year. The French Navy are, quite rightly, very proud of their aircraft carrier the Charles de Gaulle.
To be onboard the de Gaulle and witness the International Fleet Review was a great privilege and the position at anchor provided a vantage point from where both the helicopter and fixed wing aircraft flypasts could be viewed. With the fleet at anchor there were a number of vessels with helicopters embarked but not all were visible for photography, and some helicopters had already departed their ships to a shore base in preparation for the helicopter flypast.
The helicopters had been positioned at RAF Odiham and the flypast included participants from the RN, the RAF, the Danish Navy, the Pakistani Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. The fixed wing aircraft flypast comprised an RAF E-3D Sentry with two Tornado F.3's, a VC10 K3 with two Jaguars, a formation of four Hawk T.1's, a Nimrod MR2, a nine aircraft formation of Sea Harriers and Harrier GR7's, a Nimrod MR2, a formation of four RN Jetstream T.1's and a single Eurofighter Typhoon.
With the flypasts and the fleet review over, the events of the day continued nearer the shore and the crowd of over 250,000 people that had gathered on Southsea Common were ideally placed for the small airshow. However just before the display commenced, a thunderstorm together with heavy rain downpours threatened to dampen proceedings but thankfully they didn't and the display went ahead. To round off the day the massed crowds witnessed a re-enactment of "an early 19th-century sea battle" involving some of the Tall Ships complete with pyrotechnics which was followed by an impressive firework display which closed the day's events.
It was quite simply a remarkable day and although Nelson had defeated both the French and Spanish fleets 200 years ago at Trafalgar, the P.A Charles de Gaulle can be proud that it was their participation that helped them "win" this day in 2005.