Dramatic footage has captured the moment Britain’s prized naval flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth was ‘buzzed’ by a squadron of supersonic Russian fighter jets.
The trio of SU-24 fighter-bombers were filmed charging towards the £3.2bn aircraft carrier and her battle group as they sailed towards the Suez Canal.
The extraordinary footage, filmed in June 2021 during Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission, has been revealed today ahead of the release of a BBC documentary into the ship’s seven-month deployment to the Far East.
In it, the three Russian warplanes can be seen hurtling towards the 920ft ship and the 1,500 men and women who live on board – in a move that could easily have triggered a diplomatic catastrophe.
The trio of SU-24 fighter-bombers – which can carry nuclear missiles – were spotted roaring towards HMS Queen Elizabeth as she approached the Suez Canal in 2021
HMS Queen Elizabeth was on her first operation deployment and had been using her embarked airwing of F-35 stealth jets to carry out strike missions against ISIS terrorists in the Middle East when the drama with the Russians unfolded
As the aircraft approach, Royal Navy officers can be seen scrambling into action as Queen Elizabeth’s compliment of F-35 stealth jets are readied to fly.
‘I’ve got three Russian jets at six miles,’ one naval officer reports as the Russian squadron, armed with 23mm cannons, closes in at 7,000ft.
‘Visual. Roger. Three Russian aircraft coming in,’ others say as the fighters charge towards Queen Elizabeth, in an act of brazen hostility.
‘This is a coalition warship. Your actions appear to be threatening. Turn away immediately or I may take action against you,’ a naval officer warns over the radio.
In the command room of the vast aircraft carrier, another officer says: ‘Warnings have been read following hail from Queen Elizabeth, no response to the warnings this time, aircraft continuing to close.’
The jets, thought to have been scrambled from Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base on the north-east coast of Syria, are then filmed screaming past the warship before heading away.
It is one of several encounters with Putin’s forces reportedly faced by the crew of HMS Queen Elizabeth.
At the time of the drama, F-35 stealth jets from 617 Squadron had been carrying out strike missions in the Middle East against ISIS terrorists.
And it can now be revealed that leading up to the confrontation, Russia’s prized Black Sea Fleet flagship, Admiral Makarov, was also involved in the extraordinary encounter.
The Russian frigate had been attempting to ‘block’ the aircraft carrier and stop the ship from launching her jets.
The trio of Russia warplanes pictured as they are spotted soaring towards HMS Queen Elizabeth. They are believed to have flown from a Russian airbase in Syria
The Royal Navy crew inside HMS Queen Elizabeth are filmed as they calmly track the jets
But at one point, a sailor on board the British aircraft carrier warns the Russian warplanes to ‘turn away immediately’ or the ship ‘may take action against you’. Pictured is that moment as an F-35 stealth jet is filmed launching off HMS Queen Elizabeth
As sirens screech out across HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Russian jets are filmed banking away from the British flagship after making a close pass of the £3.2bn vessel
The BBC documentary, called The Warship: Tour of Duty, shows Queen Elizabeth’s American escort ship, US destroyer The Sullivans being scrambled to deter the Makarov.
It was one of a slew of encounters with Russian forces experienced by HMS Queen Elizabeth during her mission, with a defence source telling the MailOnline: ‘It was frequent. It wasn’t daily. But they were frequent.’
The source insisted there were no hostile exchanges between the British task group and the Russians and added: ‘There’s a heathy respect for safety. However, we can’t let an aircraft from another nation overfly our carrier without standing up and defending our carrier.’
A Royal Navy spokesperson added: ‘HMS Queen Elizabeth and her multinational taskforce were routinely approached by maritime and airborne forces throughout the successful Carrier Strike Group deployment in 2021.
‘As ever, robust measures were in place to protect the group, including an Astute Class submarine, and where necessary and appropriate, routine challenges were issued.’
Admiral Makarov, one of Russia’s most state-of-the-art frigates, was involved in the incident with HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021 (file image)
HMS Queen Elizabeth is pictured after the incident with the Russian jets sailing through the Suez Canal on her way to the Far East
Russia’s Su-24 jets are equipped with 23mm cannon, laser-guided air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles and can also carry tactical nuclear bombs
The extraordinary BBC footage is believed to have taken place just days before Russian forces clashed with a British destroyer in the Black Sea.
In a sensational claim from the Kremlin at the time, Russia said one of its patrol boats had fired warning shots at HMS Defender, and that bombs had been dropped in front of the ship.
Defender had been part of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s carrier group and was sailing close to Crimea – which Russia had illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – when the drama unfolded.
The Type 45 destroyer was told ‘If you don’t change course I’ll fire.’ Moscow later boasted that an Su-24 dropped four bombs in the vessel’s path after it refused to back down and warning shots were fired from their patrol ship, but Britain flatly denied the claims, saying the destroyer stayed in international waters and no shots were fired.
It was the first time since the Cold War that Moscow acknowledged using live ammunition to deter a NATO warship.
The Kremlin even released footage filmed from one of its Su-24M attack jets which showed HMS Defender sailing off Crimea.
The HMS Defender crew readied for a potential confrontation after Russia claimed to have fired warning shots and dropped bombs
Members of the ship’s crew were pictured wearing anti-flash gear, which protects them from flame exposure and heat
Footage of HMS Defender from the air, was released by Russian defence ministry’s TV channel Zvezda at the time
BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale was on board HMS Defender and said the ship’s crew were primed and weapons systems loaded as they approached the southern tip of the peninsula.
He said: ‘Increasingly hostile warnings were issued over the radio – including one that said ‘if you don’t change course I’ll fire’. We did hear some firing in the distance but they were believed to be well out of range.’
However, it was not the first time the Royal Navy has been faced with Russian aggression in recent years.
The footage was captured in a Channel 5 documentary as Duncan led a Nato fleet through the Black Sea.
Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson described the incident as ‘brazen hostility’ from Russia while he praised the work done by the flagship, worth around £1 billion, and her crew.
The Russian jets, pictured, flew low and close to the ship in an act of ‘brazen hostility’, according to former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan, pictured in Gibraltar, was ‘buzzed’ by 17 Russian fighter jets while in the Black Sea in May 2018 on assignment with Nato
While Commodore Mike Utley, who was leading the Nato task force from Duncan, said: ‘HMS Duncan is probably the only maritime asset that has seen a raid of that magnitude in the last 25 years.’
He added: ‘I think their tactics are naive. What they don’t know is how capable the ship is.
‘When you see that much activity, I think it reinforces the nature of what people expect at the moment and why there is a challenge from Russia.’
The footage shows the jets circling the ship before returning to Russian airspace with one of the pilots sending a message to Duncan’s crew, saying: ‘Good luck, guys.’
The documentary, called Warship: Life at Sea, showed one of Duncan’s sailors saying they felt the message could have been a warning to the ship while another said: ‘They had 17 aircraft, we have 48 missiles – I think we’re going to win that one.’
Speaking at the time, Commander Eleanor Stack, Duncan’s captain, said: ‘To me if felt unprecedented. There were more aircraft than we have seen in a long time.’
HMS Queen Elizabeth spent seven months at sea during her 2021 deployment, having departed from her home base in Portsmouth in May – after a visit from Her Majesty the Queen.
The Royal Navy flagship has arrived home following the first operational deployment of the carrier strike group (CSG) which was dogged with incidents including the loss of a £100 million fighter jet at sea
Dramatic video showed the moment the F-35 stealth jet toppled off the end of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s runway before it sank into the Mediterranean, sparking a scramble to recover its wreckage before Russian or Chinese teams got their hands on the plane’s top-secret tech
The 65,000-tonne warship and her support ships arrived back to the UK just before Christmas in 2021 – with emotional sailors being reunited with their loved ones at HMNB Portsmouth
The supercarrier, which is longer than the House of Commons, set off with seven warships and a submarine as part of its show-of-force voyage to the Far East.
Her carrier strike group, with its combined crew of 3,700 sailors travelled a whopping 25,000 nautical miles, visiting the likes of the Mediterranean, Gulf, Indian Ocean and Japan.
But the task force was dogged with problems during the epic overseas mission – that included the loss of one of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s £100 million F-35 stealth jets, which toppled off its flight deck and into the Med shortly after take-off.
One of the two Royal Navy destroyers tasked with protecting her, HMS Diamond, also suffered a catastrophic malfunction just weeks into the trip, forcing it to undergo emergency repairs at a port in Italy.
And in July 2021, a number of ships in the battle grop, including the carrier, experienced a Covid-19 outbreak despite all crew being double-vaccinated.
The ship eventually returned to Portsmouth in December, 2021, with hundreds of family’s lining the naval city’s ancient battlements to welcome her home.
The Warship: Tour of Duty airs on Sunday, January 22 on BBC 2 with the episode featuring the Russian encounter being broadcast on January 29.