Admiral Stanhope stepped down as the professional head of the Royal Navy after a career spanning 43 years.
The official handover ceremony was conducted on board the First Sea Lord’s flagship, HMS Victory, where the event was marked by the signing of the ‘Victory Book’ and the lowering and raising of Admiral Stanhope’s and Admiral Zambellas’s flags.
This is the first time Victory has hosted the ceremony - until last year the veteran of Trafalgar was the flagship of the Second Sea Lord.
Surrounded by what Admiral Stanhope called his ‘maritime family’ - his own family, the heads of the French and US navies and the Royal Navy’s 3 most senior officers, Britain’s outgoing highest-ranking sailor sat at Nelson’s table in the great cabin of his flagship and formally handed over command to Admiral Zambellas.
The last act of Admiral Stanhope’s naval career took place on Victory’s cold, damp quarterdeck.
After inspecting a Guard of Honour formed of ratings drawn from the Portsmouth Flotilla, the Admiral saluted as his standard, the Cross of St George, was lowered and the strains of Auld Lang Syne, performed by a band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, echoed around the Victory amphitheatre.
With the flag hauled down, it was carefully folded then presented to the outgoing First Sea Lord by Victory’s Able Seaman ‘Jude’ Law.
As he and Lady Stanhope departed the ship, senior officers from the 3 navies and their staffs stood on the side of the quarterdeck to give a final wave.
And then, at the stroke of 1pm, a new Cross of St George was hoisted on Victory. With the flag billowing in the stiff easterly breeze, HMS Victory’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Rod Strathern, could report to Admiral Zambellas:
Your flag flies from Victory’s main mast, Sir.
If I could rejoin I would
Of his career with the Royal Navy, Admiral Stanhope said:
The Royal Navy’s sense of purpose and strength of ethos have made for a hugely varied and rewarding 43 years during which I have enjoyed being a part of an organisation that makes a positive difference around the world.
Throughout, it has been a privilege to serve with and an honour to lead such brilliant people - sailors, marines and civil servants.
The Royal Navy has a fantastic future. If I could rejoin I would.
Admiral Zambellas said:
We owe Sir Mark a huge debt of gratitude for his unstinting professionalism, strategic vision and leadership of the Royal Navy. He has worked tirelessly for the Service for over 40 years and leaves a legacy of a highly capable, efficient and globally deployable future Fleet. It is a privilege to succeed him.
First Sea Lord’s role
As the new First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Zambellas is the Royal Navy’s professional head and chairs the Navy Board. He is responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence for the fighting effectiveness, efficiency and morale of the Service, and supports the Chief of the Defence Staff in the management and direction of the Armed Forces.
As a member of the Armed Forces Committee, he advises on maritime strategy and policy and has a collective responsibility for providing strategic direction to the department, managing performance and ensuring that Defence delivers the required outputs.