June 14, 2002
It’s not every -- or, come to think of it, almost any -- cruise ship that can celebrate its war heritage. That is unless it’s Cunard’s QE2 which today hosted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a 20th anniversary observance of the Falklands war. The vessel was converted for military purposes and began serving in May, 1982; QE2’s duty was to transport supplies and soldiers to South Georgia. It only took nine days to convert the ship for its military role -- specifically, carpeting was covered with plywood, public rooms were transformed into dormitories, and luxury bed spreads and window treatments were removed. Imagine this: fuel pipes were laid along the corridors (so the ship could refuel without a stop in port) and helipads were added, both forward and aft.
According to Cunard, “the ship set off on May 12, 1982 Southampton, England on a 3,000-mile journey south, with just one port of call at Freetown, Sierra Leone. After leaving Freetown all portholes and windows were covered with plastic sheeting to ensure a complete blackout, and on May 23 the ship's radar was switched off to help avoid detection by the Argentineans. In the dark, and with no modern navigational aids, the ship sped south through ice fields - arriving safely in South Georgia on May 27. After discharging all the troops and supplies, QE2 returned to the U.K. carrying 650 survivors from HMS Coventry, HMS Antelope and HMS Ardent.”
QE2 was by no means the first Cunard ship to serve in wartime -- in fact its vessels have played a role in every conflict from 1840 to the 1991 Gulf War.