A vast fleet of ships from all over the world lined up for the Queen yesterday as part of celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Britain's greatest naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson.
The armada of 167 ships from the Royal Navy and 35 other nations gathered along the Solent, off Southsea, Portsmouth, for what was the largest peacetime international review in history.
HMS Endurance escorted the Queen, in her role as Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, and the Admiral of the Fleet, the Duke of Edinburgh, past the fleet which included warships and tall ships and representatives from all sectors of the maritime industry.
A Nimrod escorted by Harrier jets and helicopters were also flown overhead to mark the historic occasion watched from the shore by 250,000 people and from a flotilla of yachts.
Later, they will be treated to a son et lumiere mock sea battle with 17 tall ships, gun smoke and state-of-the-art pyrotechnics at 7pm.
The grand finale will include 10,000 fireworks fired from 35 pontoons and six barges at 9.30pm.
Images of the spectacular bicentenary event were also being transmitted across the globe.
In a written message, the Queen paid tribute to Lord Nelson who fought and died as he led the Navy in the decisive victory against French and Spanish fleets establishing British dominance at sea in
1805. She said the presence of such a large international fleet was a mark of the high esteem in which Nelson continued to be held and of a special bond that existed between all mariners.
"Admiral Lord Nelson's supreme qualities of seamanship, leadership with humanity and courage in the face of danger are shared among our maritime community today," the Queen said. "He could wish for no greater legacy."
Countries from as far afield as Japan and the US lined up to wait for the Queen's inspection with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Morocco, and Estonia among other countries represented.
The battleships included the flagship of the French fleet, the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, and the flagship of the Spanish fleet, Principe de Asturias.
Organisers said the event had the largest number of countries of any previous fleet review throughout the world.
The Prince of Wales, dressed in the uniform of a Vice-Admiral, watched the fleet review on board the survey ship HMS Scott with the Duchess of Cornwall.
Camilla, wearing a white dress, long blue coat and white hat with a blue ribbon was forced inside to the bridge as her hat threatened to fly off.
Navy Commander, the Duke of York, watched the spectacle from HMS Enterprise, the Princess Royal from RFA Sir Bedivere, the Duchess of Gloucester from HMS Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent from RFA Fort George.
The royals are also attending various All Ranks receptions and dinners on the fleet including on HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious.
As Rule Britannia blasted out from speakers along the seafront, Lieutenant Commander Clive Woodman said the presence of the largest ships from the French and Spanish navies showed that any animosity from 200 years ago was "long since buried".
He said: "I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime. It's spectacular. Seeing this line of ships stretching down Southampton Water is a once in a lifetime sight."
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West rejected criticisms of the event, insisting that Nelson would have approved of its contents.
Admiral West said: " I thought in the summer, when it's good weather, we would have a large fleet review and get a lot of nations in because that is the way we are employed around the world now, fighting terrorism, working with our close allies.
" Nelson would have approved of that, to get the maritime back in the public eye."
Former paratrooper Tony Briens, 62, who travelled from Radcliffe, in Manchester, to witness the historic occasion, said: "None of us will ever get the chance again to see something like this. It ' s spectacular."
Fleet reviews in the Solent date from 1346 and the last was in 1977 to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee.
But today's international review is the largest of its kind in peace time. A massive security operation costing #1.7 million, involving more than 400 navy personnel, has been launched.