After the eruption of the Icelandic Eyjafjallajokull
volcano entered an explosive phase on 14 Apr 2010, a basaltic ash cloud spread across parts of Western Europe. Aviation authorities closed some national airspace, stranding European nationals abroad and trapping visitors to northern countries while the flight bans were in place. To expedite the return of Britons abroad, the UK government tasked HMS Albion - already scheduled to collect troops returning from Afghanistan
(whose homeward flights had been diverted or grounded) - to include a further 280 or so Brits who had collected at the northern Spanish port of Santander. HMS Ark Royal
was also placed on standby for this operation from her Auriga 2010
deployment, but later stood down. The so-called Ash Dash, began on 20 Apr when Albion docked in Spain and concluded in the evening of 21 Apr, when she tied up alongside Sheer Jetty in Portsmouth
. Operation Cunningham is named after Admiral Andrew Cunningham (1883-1963), who between 24 Apr and 29 Apr 1942 commanded the evacuation of c 41,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops from Greece during World War II.