QE2 Comes Through In the Falklands War

The British Royal Navy barely had enough warships to prosecute the Falklands War. Two ocean liners were requisitioned by the government to serve as troopships, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (“QE2“) from the Cunard Line and the SS Canberra from the P & O Line.

This obituary of the QE2’s Master during the Falklands appeared in the Daily Telegraph of Thursday 19 January 2009. It gives the details of the QE2’s service in the Falklands War as well as how the ship was transformed in seven days from a luxury liner to a troop ship. It is worth noting that during this time the officers and crew of the QE2 were all volunteers from the British merchant navy.

The Daily Telegraph
Captain Peter Jackson, who has died aged 86, was master of the Cunard steamship Queen Elizabeth 2 during the Falklands War.

Jackson was on leave when he heard that his ship had been requisitioned to carry troops to the South Atlantic. He returned on board to find his cabin full of generals and admirals, but he soon took charge with the same tact and skill which he deployed on his wealthy, and sometimes difficult, peacetime passengers.

Over the next eight days Jackson oversaw QE2‘s conversion in Southampton from transatlantic liner to troop carrier. The soft furnishings and her five grand pianos were landed; the panelled bulkheads and miles of carpets were covered with plywood; and 90 days’ worth of food embarked. The cabins (for 604 first-class passengers and 1,223 tourist) were turned into barracks for 3,500 Gurkhas and Welsh and Scots Guards. Flight decks were fitted over the swimming pool and on the forecastle to take helicopters, and the skeet shooting stand was used by the soldiers for training.

Jackson chose 640 Merchant Navy volunteers to man QE2 and she steamed unescorted, via Freetown and Ascension Island, to Cumberland Sound in South Georgia, 800 hundred miles east of the Falklands.

QE2‘s speed enabled her to reach the South Atlantic in only 12 days, but once there Jackson reverted to age-old measures to protect his ship. Slowing to nine knots, he hid from aircraft under the overcast skies, and, switching off his radar and radio, he navigated by eye among the icebergs, zigzagging to avoid detection by submarines….

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N Minesweepers HMS Cordella and HMS Junella alongside the QE2, South Georgia Islands, the Falklands, May 1982.

[Source: The Daily Telegraph Image courtesy of Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officers’ Association.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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