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Blue Ensign of the United Kingdom worn by British-registered merchant vessels commanded by active or retired officers of the RNR, when authorised by Admiralty warrant.

The Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) is the volunteer reserve force of the Royal Navy (RN) in the United Kingdom. The present Royal Naval Reserve was formed in 1958 by merging the original Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), a reserve of civilian volunteers founded in 1903.


The original Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was founded under the Naval Reserve Act in 1859 as a reserve of professional seamen from the British Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. The RNR was originally a reserve of seamen only but in 1862 this was extended to include recruitment and training of officers. From its creation, RNR officers wore a unique, distinctive lace consisting of stripes of interwoven chain.

A number of drillships were established at the main seaports around the coast of Britain and Ireland and seamen left their vessels in the base ports to undertake gunnery training in a drillship for a period of one month annually. After initial shore training officers embarked in larger ships of the fleet (usually battleships or battle cruisers) for a one-year period to familiarise themselves with gunnery and naval practice. Although under the operational authority of the Admiral Commanding Reserves, the RNR was administered jointly by the Admiralty and the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen in the Board of Trade throughout its separate existence. In 1910, the RNR (Trawler Section) was formed to actively recruit and train fishermen for wartime service in minesweepers and minor war vessels.

Officers and men of the RNR soon gained the respect of their naval counterparts with their professional skills in navigation and seamanship and served with distinction in a number of conflicts including the Boer War and Boxer Rebellion. Prior to the First World War, 100 RNR officers were transferred to permanent careers in the regular navy - forever after referred to as 'the hungry hundred'. In their professional careers, many RNR officers went on to command the largest passenger liners of the day and held senior positions in the shipping industry and government.

On mobilisation in 1914, the RNR consisted of 30,000 officers and men. Officers of the permanent RNR on general service quickly took up seagoing appointments in the fleet, many in command, in destroyers, submarines, auxiliary cruisers and Q ships. Others served in larger units of the battle fleet including a large number with the West Indies Squadron who became casualties at the Battle of Coronel and later Jutland. Fishermen of the RNR(T) section served with distinction onboard trawlers fitted out as minesweepers for mine clearance operations at home and abroad throughout the war where they suffered heavy casualties and losses. One such casualty was the H.M. Armed Naval drifter, Frons Olivae, which hit a Naval mine off Ramsgate on the 12/10/1915 in an explosion which killed at least five other seaman. One casualty, a Canadian national serving with the Royal Naval Reserve, was subsequently buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery, Deal, Kent.[1]

A number of RNR officers qualified as pilots and flew aircraft and airships with the Royal Naval Air Service whilst many RNR ratings served ashore alongside the RN and RNVR contingents in the trenches of the Somme and at Gallipoli with the Royal Naval Division. Merchant service officers and men serving in armed merchant cruisers, hospital ships, fleet auxiliaries and transports were entered in the RNR for the duration of the war on special agreements.

Although considerably smaller than both the RN and the RNVR (three times the size of the RNR at the end of the First World War) the RNR had an exceptional war record being awarded 12 Victoria Crosses.

On commencement of hostilities in the Second World War, the RN once again called upon the experience and professionalism of the RNR from the outset to help them shoulder the initial burden until sufficient manpower could be trained for the RNVR and 'hostilities only' ratings. Again, RNR officers found themselves in command of destroyers, frigates, sloops, landing craft and submarines, or as specialist navigation officers in cruisers and aircraft carriers. In convoy work, the convoy commodore or escort commander was often an RNR officer. As in the First World War, the RNR acquitted itself well, winning four VCs.

During World War II no more ratings were accepted into the RNVR, which then became the main route for wartime officer entry. The service was colloquially called the "Wavy Navy", after the 3/8-inch wavy sleeve 'rings' that RNVR officers wore to differentiate them from RN/RNR officers. By Command of HM King George VI in 1952, these were replaced by the straight rank lacing used in the full-time RN, with the addition of a small 'R' in the centre of the executive curl on cuff and epaulette insignia. From 30 November 2007, mainly due to increasing involvement of the RNR in RN operations and deployments, the wearing of the distinctive 'R' was discontinued for all other than honorary officers. Similarly, RNR ratings no longer wear RNR shoulder flashes.

As 'nominal' members of the RNR, officers of the Sea Cadet Corps and the RN CCF Combined Cadet Force retain the use of the former RNVR 'wavy navy' lace, and are 'appointed' within their respective Corps, rather than commissioned (unless they also hold a commission as officers within the 'mainstream' RNR).

From 1938 until 1957 the RNVR provided aircrew personnel in the form of their own Air Branch. In 1947, their contribution was cut to anti-submarine and fighter squadrons only. By 1957 it was considered by the UK government that the training required to operate modern equipment was beyond that expected of reservists and the Air Branch squadrons were disbanded. The US government took a different view, and the US Navy and Marine reserve squadrons today still operate front-line types alongside the regular units. The Air Branch was reformed at RNAS Yeovilton in 1980.

The British naval reserve forces were amalgamated in 1958, and the RNR was absorbed into the much larger RNVR organisation. After 100 years of proud service the RNR as a separate professional naval service ceased to exist. Today the majority of Merchant Navy Officers who would have joined the original RNR are now encouraged to join the modern RNR’s Amphibious Warfare (AW) Branch. The centenary of the formation of the RNVR (formed in 1903) was commemorated by the RNR in London in 2003 with a parade on Horse Guards, at which HRH Prince Charles took the salute. The Merchant Navy officers within today's RNR commemorated RNR 150 in 2009.

Defence reviews over the last 50 years have been inconsistent. Successive reviews have seen reserve forces cut then enlarged, allocated new roles, then withdrawn, then re-imposed. Options for Change in 1990 reduced the RNR by 1,200 and closed many training centres, including HMS Calpe (Gibraltar), HMS Wessex (Southampton) and HMS Graham (Glasgow). The Strategic Defence Review in 1998 continued this by removing the RNR Cold War mine warfare role, but promised to increase the RNR by 350 posts. The restructured RNR was designed to "provide an expanded pool of personnel to provide additional reinforcements for the Fleet”, mainly in the roles of logistics and communications.

This left the mine-warfare, seaman and diving specialists in "limbo" until the second Gulf War, when the Royal Navy realised it had a pool of reservists with no real sea post. Echoing the Royal Naval Division in World War I, the Above Water Force Protection branch was formed "from RN reservists with no draft appointment at the outbreak of war." Because of a lack of full-time personnel, mine-warfare and diving has recently returned (in part) to the RNR. Officers and ratings currently serve on active service in Full Time Reserve Service billets throughout the RN, as well as in mobilised posts in Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Balkans and the UK.

Following the disbandment of the associated Royal Naval Auxiliary Service (RNXS) in 1994, the Maritime Volunteer Service (MVS) was formed as a national maritime training organisation with charitable status. It has taken over and expanded many RNXS roles.

RNR Units

The modern RNR has fourteen Royal Naval Reserve Units (with six satellite units). These are:[2]

Personnel in the Royal Naval Reserve Air Branch are not attached to a single RNR Unit, but complete their training on regular Fleet Air Arm Units; and administered through Staff Offices at RNAS Yeovilton and Culdrose.

The University Royal Naval Units, although under the jurisdiction of BRNC Dartmouth, are also a part of the Royal Naval Reserve. Students hold the honorary ranks of Officer Cadet (in their first year of enrolment) and Midshipman RNR (from the second year onward) provided they have completed the issued 'Taskbooks' to the satisfaction of the Commanding Officer of each unit.

Selected men of the RNR

The RNR had an exceptional war record, as evidenced by the dozen Victoria Crosses awarded in WWI; and demonstrations of exceptional merit continued in peacetime.

  • Lieutenant Commander Richard Baker (broadcaster) OBE RD RNR (formerly RNVR) - broadcaster (first BBC newsreader), actor, musician, author
  • Sub-Lieutenant Rupert Davies RNR - BBC TV’s ‘Inspector Maigret’
  • Lieutenant Commander Ian Fraser VC, DSC, JP, RD RNR – VC awarded as CO of HM Midget Submarine XE-3 attacking Japanese heavy cruiser in Johore Straits. Last surviving naval VC from WWII. Younger Brother Trinity House, Freeman of Wirral.
  • Commodore Sir Bertram Fox Hayes KCMG DSO RD RNR – Commodore White Star Line
  • Commander Charles Lightoller DSC, RD RNR – Senior surviving deck officer from RMS Titanic. Took his own yacht to Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 aged 66.
  • Group Captain Adolph Malan DFC, DSO RAF - Fighter pilot in Battle of Britain. Former Master Mariner, Sub-Lieutenant RNR (1932–36)
  • Commodore Sir Charles Matheson DSO RD RNR – Commodore Orient Line
  • Daniel Poole, a recipient of the Distinguished Conduct Medal during World War I.[3]
  • Captain Sir Samuel Robinson KBE RNR—Captain, Empress of Australia; rescue work at Yokohama after 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.[4]
  • Sir Ernest Shackleton CVO – Master Mariner, Lieutenant Royal Naval Reserve. Explorer
  • Commander Edward John Smith RD RNR - Commodore White Star Line and Captain of RMS Olympic then RMS Titanic
  • Sir Keith Speed RD MP - Lieutenant Commander RNR. Conservative MP 1968-97 and Navy Minister 1979-81, sacked by Thatcher when he refused reductions in RN strength.
  • Captain Ronald Niel Stuart VC DSO RD RNR -- Holder of US Navy Cross, Commodore Canadian Pacific Steamships [5]
  • Surg Cdr Andrew Murrison RNR - Conservative Member of Parliament
  • Captain Lawrence Portet RD RNR - Master, Cunard Line
  • Lieutenant Mark Versallion RNR - Councillor, & previously Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.[6]
  • Commodore John F Wacher CBE RD RNR - Commodore (Master), P&O Steam Navigation Co Ltd
  • Captain Wm E Warwick CBE RD RNR. Commodore of Cunard Line & first Master of Queen Elizabeth 2.
  • Captain Robin A Woodall RD RNR. Cunard Line - Master of Queen Elizabeth 2.

RNVR Units

Since its inception in 1903, the RNVR has diversified as times changed and the needs of the Royal Navy evolved.

Selected men of the RNVR

Many notable people have served in the RNVR, including:

Selected fictional characters

  • James Bond served in the RNVR, reaching the rank of Commander.
  • Lawrence Jamieson (played by Michael Caine) in the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
  • Ralph Ross Lanyon in Mary Renault's British wartime novel The Charioteer served in the RNVR after being wounded at Dunkirk.

Commonwealth Naval Reserve Forces

There are also naval reserve forces operated by other Commonwealth of Nations navies, including the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR), the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNZNVR), and the Canadian Naval Reserve. Previously there were also colonial RNVR units, such as the Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR), Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR), Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (HKRNVR) and the South African Division of the RNVR.

See also


  1. "Casualty Details - Victor Joseph Benoit". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  2. Royal Naval Reserve webpage
  3. Foldi, N.S. (1978). Poole, Daniel (1882 – 1959)'. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, Melbourne University Press, p. 255. Retrieved on 9 August 2009.
  4. "Captain S. Robinson of the 'Empress of Asia' (1913) (G10732)". National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  5. "Obituary: Captain Ronald Neil Stuart", The Times (London). February 9, 1954.
  6. Royal Navy web site, retrieved 04Sep2007.

External links

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