Military Wiki

The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the oldest of HM Armed Forces (and is therefore known as the Senior Service). From the beginning of the 18th century until well into the 20th century it was the most powerful navy in the world,[1] playing a key part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power from 1815 until the early 1940s. In World War II the Royal Navy operated almost 900 ships. During the Cold War it was transformed into a primarily anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines, mostly active in the GIUK gap. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, its role for the 21st century has returned to focus on global expeditionary operations.

The Royal Navy is a blue water navy and the second-largest navy of NATO alliance, in terms of the combined displacement approx. 450,000 long tons (460,000 t) 950,000 long tons (970,000 t) including the Royal Fleet Auxiliary) after the United States Navy.[2] As of 2015 there were 87 commissioned ships in the Royal Navy, including aircraft carriers, a helicopter carrier, landing platform docks, ballistic missile submarines, nuclear fleet submarines, guided missile destroyers, frigates, mine counter-measures and patrol vessels. 16 vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) also contribute to the Royal Navy's order-of-battle. The Royal Navy's ability to project power globally is considered second only to the U.S. Navy.[3][4] The Royal Navy maintains the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons.

The Royal Navy is a constituent component of the Naval Service, which also comprises the Royal Marines, Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve. As of April 2009 the Royal Navy numbered approximately 39,100 Regular personnel of whom 7,500 were in the Royal Marines; in addition, there were 3,600 Volunteer Reserve personnel, giving a total of 42,700 personnel.[5][6]

The Royal Navy is also supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, a civilian logistical support fleet which is owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence as part of the British Merchant Navy.[7] The RFA primarily serves to replenish Royal Navy warships at sea, but also augments the Royal Navy's amphibious warfare capabilities through its four Bay-class LSDs (Landing Ship Dock).


The development of England's navy


The strength of the fleets of the united Kingdom of England was an important element in the kingdom's power in the 10th century.[8] At one point Aethelred II had an especially large fleet built by a national levy of one ship for every 310 hides of land, but it is uncertain whether this was a standard or exceptional model for raising fleets.[9] During the period of Danish rule in the 11th century a standing fleet was maintained by taxation, and this continued for a time under the restored English regime of Edward the Confessor, who frequently commanded fleets in person.[10]

Victory at the Battle of Sluys.

English naval power seems to have declined as a result of the Norman conquest.[11] Medieval fleets, in England as elsewhere, were almost entirely composed of merchant ships enlisted into naval service in time of war. From time to time a few 'king's ships' owned by the monarch were built for specifically warlike purposes, but unlike some European states England did not maintain a small permanent core of warships in peacetime. England's naval organisation was haphazard and the mobilisation of fleets when war broke out was slow.[12]

With the Viking era at an end, and conflict with France largely confined to the French lands of the English monarchy, England faced little threat from the sea during the 12th and 13th centuries, but in the 14th century the outbreak of the Hundred Years War dramatically increased the French menace. Early in the war French plans for an invasion of England were thwarted when their fleet was destroyed by Edward III of England in the Battle of Sluys in 1340.[13] Major fighting was thereafter confined to French soil and England's naval capabilities sufficed to transport armies and supplies safely to their continental destinations. However, while subsequent French invasion schemes came to nothing, England's naval forces were unable to prevent frequent raids on the south coast ports by the French and their Genoese and Castilian allies, which were finally halted only by the occupation of northern France by Henry V.[14]


Victory over the Spanish Armada.

The standing Navy Royal, with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships, was created in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII.[15] Under Elizabeth I England became involved in a war with Spain, which saw privately-owned ships combining with the Navy Royal in highly profitable raids against Spanish commerce and colonies.[16] In 1588 Philip II of Spain sent the Spanish Armada against England in order to end English support for Dutch rebels, to stop English corsair activity and to depose the Protestant Elizabeth I. The Spaniards sailed from Lisbon, planning to escort an invasion force from the Spanish Netherlands but the plan failed due to poor planning, English harrying, blocking action by the Dutch and bad weather.[17]

During the early 17th century England's relative naval power deteriorated and a new threat emerged from the slaving raids of the Barbary corsairs, which the Navy had little success in countering.[18] Charles I undertook a major programme of warship building, creating a small force of powerful ships, but his methods of fund-raising to finance the fleet contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War.[19] In the wake of this conflict and the abolition of the monarchy, the new Commonwealth of England, isolated and threatened from all sides, dramatically expanded the Navy, which became the most powerful in the world.[20]

The new regime's introduction of Navigation Acts, providing that all merchant shipping to and from England or her colonies should be carried out by English ships, led to war with the Dutch Republic.[21] In the early stages of this First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654), the superiority of the large, heavily armed English ships was offset by superior Dutch tactical organisation and the fighting was inconclusive.[22] English tactical improvements resulted in a series of crushing victories in 1653 at Portland, the Gabbard and Scheveningen, bringing peace on favourable terms.[23] This was the first war fought largely, on the English side, by purpose-built, state-owned warships.

As a result of their defeat in this war, the Dutch transformed their navy on the English model, and the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) was a closely fought struggle between evenly-matched opponents, with a crushing English victory at the Battle of Lowestoft (1665) countered by Dutch triumph in the epic Four Days Battle (1666).[24] In 1667 the restored royal government of Charles II of England was forced to lay up the fleet in port for lack of money to keep it at sea, while negotiating for peace. Disaster followed, as the Dutch fleet mounted the Raid on the Medway, breaking into Chatham Dockyard and capturing or burning many of the Navy's largest ships at their moorings.[25] In the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), Charles II allied with Louis XIV of France against the Dutch, but the combined Anglo-French fleet was fought to a standstill in a series of inconclusive battles, while the French invasion by land was warded off.[26]

The influence and reforms of Samuel Pepys, the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both Charles II and subsequently King James II, were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.[27]

During the 1670s and 1680s the Navy succeeded in permanently ending the threat to English shipping from the Barbary corsairs, inflicting defeats which induced the Barbary states to conclude long-lasting peace treaties.[28] Following the Glorious Revolution, England joined the European coalition against Louis XIV in the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–1697) in alliance with the Dutch. The allies were defeated at Beachy Head (1690), but victory at Barfleur-La Hogue (1691) was a turning-point marking the end of France's brief pre-eminence at sea and the beginning of an enduring English, later British, supremacy.[29]

In the course of the 17th century the Navy completed the transition from a semi-amateur Navy Royal fighting in conjunction with private vessels into a fully professional institution, a Royal Navy. Its financial provisions were gradually regularised, it came to rely on dedicated warships only, and it developed a professional officer corps with a defined career structure, superseding an earlier mix of sailors and socially prominent former soldiers.[30] Under the Acts of Union in 1707 the three-ship Royal Scots Navy merged with that of England to create a British Royal Navy.

Development of the United Kingdom's navy


HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, is still a commissioned Royal Navy ship, although she is now permanently kept in dry-dock.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the Royal Navy was the largest in the world, but until 1805 its forces were repeatedly matched or exceeded in numbers by a combination of enemies.[31] Despite this it was able to maintain an almost uninterrupted ascendancy over its rivals through superiority in financing, tactics, training, organisation, social cohesion, hygiene, dockyard facilities, logistical support and, from the middle of the 18th century, warship design and construction.[32]

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1714), the Navy operated in conjunction with the Dutch against the navies of France and Spain. Naval operations in European waters focused on the acquisition of a Mediterranean base, contributing to a long-lasting alliance with Portugal in 1703 and the capture of Gibraltar (1704) and Minorca (1708), which were both retained by Britain after the war, and on supporting the efforts of Britain's Habsburg allies to seize control of Spain and its Mediterranean dependencies from the Bourbons. French naval squadrons did considerable damage to English and Dutch commercial convoys during the early years of the war. However a devastating victory over France and Spain at the Battle of Vigo Bay (1702), further successes in battle, and the scuttling of the entire French Mediterranean fleet at Toulon in 1707 virtually cleared the Navy's opponents from the seas for the latter part of the war. Naval operations also enabled the conquest of the French colonies in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.[33]

After a period of relative peace, the Navy became engaged in the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–1742) against Spain, which saw a disastrous amphibious operation against Cartagena in the Caribbean. The war was quickly followed by the wider War of the Austrian Succession (1744–1748), again pitting Britain against France. Naval fighting in this war, which for the first time included major operations in the Indian Ocean, was largely inconclusive, the most significant event being the failure of an attempted French invasion of England in 1744.[34] The subsequent Seven Years War (1755–1763) saw the Navy conduct amphibious campaigns leading to the conquest of French Canada and French islands in the Caribbean, while operations in the Indian Ocean contributed to the destruction of French power in India.[35] A new French attempt to invade Britain was thwarted by victories at Lagos and the extraordinary Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. Once again the French navy was effectively eliminated from the war, abandoning major operations.[36] In 1762 the resumption of hostilities with Spain led to the British capture of Havana, along with a Spanish fleet sheltering there, and Manila.[37]

In the American Revolutionary War, the small Continental Navy of frigates fielded by the rebel colonists was obliterated with ease, but the entry of France, Spain and the Netherlands into the war against Britain produced a combination of opposing forces which deprived the Navy of its position of superiority for the first time since the 1690s, briefly but decisively. The war saw a series of indecisive battles in the Atlantic and Caribbean, in which the Navy failed to achieve the conclusive victories needed to secure the supply lines of British forces in North America and cut off the colonial rebels from outside support.[38] The most important operation of the war came in 1781 when in the Battle of the Chesapeake the British fleet failed to lift the French blockade of Lord Cornwallis's army, resulting in Cornwallis's surrender in the Battle of Yorktown.[39] Although this disaster effectively concluded the fighting in North America, it continued in the Indian Ocean, where the French were prevented from re-establishing a meaningful foothold in India, and in the Caribbean. Victory there in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 and the relief of Gibraltar later the same year symbolised the restoration of British naval ascendancy, but this came too late to prevent the independence of the Thirteen Colonies.[40]

The Napoleonic Wars (1793–1801, 1803–1814 and 1815) saw the Royal Navy reach a peak of efficiency, dominating the navies of all Britain's adversaries, which spent most of the war blockaded in port. The Navy achieved an emphatic early victory at the Glorious First of June (1794), and gained a number of smaller victories while supporting abortive Royalist efforts to regain control of France. In the course of one such operation the majority of the French Mediterraean fleet was captured or destroyed during a short-lived occupation of Toulon in 1793.[41] The military successes of the French Revolutionary regime brought the Spanish and Dutch navies into the war on the French side, but the losses inflicted on the Dutch at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 and the surrender of their surviving fleet to a landing force at Den Helder in 1799 effectively eliminated the Dutch navy from the war.[42] The Spithead and Nore mutinies in 1797 incapacitated the Channel and North Sea fleets, leaving Britain potentially exposed to invasion, but were rapidly resolved.[43] The British Mediterranean fleet under Nelson failed to intercept Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 expedition to invade Egypt, but annihilated his fleet at the Battle of the Nile, leaving his army isolated.[44] The emergence of a Baltic coalition opposed to Britain led to an attack on Denmark, which lost much of its fleet in the Battle of Copenhagen (1801) and came to terms with Britain.[45]

During these years the Navy also conducted amphibious operations which captured most of the French Caribbean islands and the Dutch colonies at the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon and in the Dutch East Indies, but all of these gains except Ceylon and Trinidad were returned following the Peace of Amiens in 1802, which briefly halted the fighting.[46] War resumed in 1803 and Napoleon, now ruling France as emperor, attempted to assemble a large enough fleet from the French and Spanish squadrons blockaded in various ports to cover an invasion of England. The Navy frustrated these efforts and, following the abandonment of the invasion plan, the combined Franco-Spanish fleet which had been gathered was smashed by Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).[47] This victory marked the culmination of decades of developing British naval dominance, and left the Navy in a position of uncontested hegemony at sea which endured until the early years of the twentieth century.

After Trafalgar, large-scale fighting at sea was limited to the destruction of small, fugitive French squadrons at Cape Ortegal, the San Domingo and the Basque Roads, and amphibious operations which again captured the colonies which had been restored at Amiens, along with France's Indian Ocean base at Mauritius.[48] In 1807 French plans to seize the Danish fleet led to a pre-emptive British attack on Copenhagen, resulting in the surrender of the entire Danish navy.[49] The impressment of British and American sailors from American ships contributed to the outbreak of the War of 1812 (1812–1814) against the United States, in which the naval fighting was largely confined to commerce raiding and single-ship actions.[50] The brief renewal of war after Napoleon's return to power in 1815 did not bring a resumption of naval combat.[51]


Between 1815 and 1914 the Navy saw little serious action, owing to the absence of any opponent strong enough to challenge its dominance. It succeeded in maintaining the huge advantage it had built up over all potential rivals despite the comprehensive transformation of naval warfare brought about by steam propulsion, metal ship construction and high-explosive munitions, which required the complete replacement of war fleets.

HMS Warrior, the first iron-hulled, armour-plated warship

Thanks to British leadership in the Industrial Revolution, the country enjoyed unparalleled shipbuilding capacity and financial resources, which ensured that no rival could take advantage of these revolutionary changes to negate the British advantage in ship numbers. The Navy was thus able to preserve a numerical dominance based on the 'two power standard', which stipulated that it should remain larger than its two most powerful competitors combined.

HMS Dreadnought

The end of the 19th century saw structural changes brought about by the First Sea Lord (Chief of Naval Staff) Jackie Fisher who retired, scrapped, or placed into reserve many of the older vessels, making funds and manpower available for newer ships. He also oversaw the development of HMS Dreadnought, the first all-big-gun ship, which rendered all existing battleships obsolete. Unlike the far more dramatic technological revolutions of the mid-19th century, this opportunity was exploited to mount a serious challenge to British naval supremacy, since there was now a rival able to compete with Britain's shipbuilding capacity. The industrial and economic development of Germany had by this time overtaken Britain, and a politically charged and expensive arms race ensued. Britain emerged from this contest triumphant, in as much as it was able to maintain a substantial numerical advantage over Germany, but for the first time since 1805 another navy now existed with the capacity to challenge the Royal Navy in battle.


File:Grand Fleet sails.jpg

British Grand Fleet.

During the two World Wars, the Royal Navy played a vital role in keeping the United Kingdom supplied with food, arms and raw materials and in defeating the German campaigns of unrestricted submarine warfare in the first and second battles of the Atlantic.

During the First World War most of the Royal Navy's strength was deployed at home in the Grand Fleet, confronting the German High Seas Fleet across the North Sea. A few inconclusive clashes took place between them, chiefly the Battle of Jutland in 1916. These exposed the deficiencies of a British approach to capital ship design which prioritised speed and firepower, as against the German emphasis on resilience, as well as the inadequacies of Britain's hastily-assembled munitions industry. However, the Germans were repeatedly outmanoeuvred and the British numerical advantage proved insurmountable, leading the High Seas Fleet to abandon its challenge to British dominance. As a result, the Navy was able to maintain an effective blockade against its enemies' overseas trade throughout the war.

Elsewhere in the world, the Navy hunted down the handful of German surface raiders at large. During the Dardanelles Campaign against the Ottoman Empire in 1915 it suffered serious losses during a failed attempt to break through the system of minefields and shore batteries defending the straits.

The most serious menace faced by the Navy came from the attacks on merchant shipping mounted by German U-boats. For much of the war this submarine campaign was restricted by prize rules requiring merchant ships to be warned and evacuated before sinking. In 1915 the Germans renounced these restrictions and began to sink merchant ships on sight, but later returned to the previous rules of engagement to placate neutral opinion. A resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 raised the prospect of Britain and its allies being starved into submission. The Navy's response to this new form of warfare had proved inadequate due to its refusal to adopt a convoy system for merchant shipping, despite the demonstrated effectiveness of the technique in protecting troop ships. The belated introduction of convoys sharply reduced losses and brought the U-boat threat under control.

File:HMS Ark Royal.JPG

HMS Ark Royal.

In the inter-war period the Royal Navy was stripped of much of its power. The Washington and London Naval Treaties imposed scrappings of capital ships and limitations on new construction. In 1932 the Invergordon Mutiny took place over a proposed 25% pay cut which was eventually reduced to 10%. International tensions increased in the mid-1930s and the Second London Naval Treaty of 1935 failed to halt the development of a naval arms race. By 1938 treaty limits were effectively ignored. The rearmament of the Royal Navy was well under way by this point; the Royal Navy had begun construction of the King George V-class and several aircraft carriers including Ark Royal. In addition to new construction several existing old battleships, battlecruisers and heavy cruisers were reconstructed, and anti-aircraft weaponry reinforced, while new technologies such as ASDIC, Huff-Duff and hydrophones were developed. The Navy had lost control of naval aviation when the Royal Naval Air Service was merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918, but regained it with the establishment of the Fleet Air Arm in 1937. However, the effectiveness of its aircraft lagged behind its rivals and around this time the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States Navy began to surpass the Royal Navy in power.

During the early phases of World War II the Royal Navy provided critical cover during British evacuations from Dunkirk. At the Battle of Taranto Admiral Cunningham commanded a fleet that launched the first all-aircraft naval attack in history. Later Cunningham was determined that as many Commonwealth soldiers as possible should be evacuated after their defeat on Crete. When army generals feared he would lose too many ships, he famously said, "It takes the Navy three years to build a new ship. It will take three hundred years to build a new tradition. The evacuation will continue."[52]

British Battlecruiser HMS Hood

The Royal Navy suffered huge losses in the early stages of the war including HMS Courageous, HMS Glorious, HMS Hood, and HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Singapore. There were, however, early successes against enemy surface ships, in particular off Norway. As well as providing cover in operations, it was also vital in guarding the sea lanes that enabled British forces to fight in remote parts of the world such as North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Naval supremacy in the Atlantic was vital to the amphibious operations carried out, such as the invasions of Northwest Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy.

Postwar period and early 21st century

After World War II the decline of the British Empire and the economic hardships in Britain at the time forced the reduction in the size and capability of the Royal Navy. The increasingly powerful U.S. Navy took on the former role of the Royal Navy as global naval power and police force of the sea. However, the combination of the threat of the Soviet Union, and Britain's commitments throughout the world, created a new role for the Navy. Governments since World War II have had to balance commitments with increasing budgetary pressures, partly due to the increasing cost of weapons systems, what historian Paul Kennedy called the Upward Spiral. These pressures have been exacerbated by bitter inter-service rivalry.

HMS Dreadnought, the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine, was launched in the 1960s. The navy also received its first nuclear weapons with the introduction of the first of the Resolution-class submarines armed with the Polaris missile. The introduction of Polaris followed the cancellation of the GAM-87 Skybolt missile which had been proposed for use by the Air Force's V-Bomber force. As a result, the navy became responsible for the maintenance of the UK's entire nuclear deterrent. The financial costs attached to nuclear deterrence became an increasingly significant issue for the navy.

HMS Illustrious, one of the Royal Navy's current Invincible-class aircraft carriers.

The Navy began plans to replace its fleet of aircraft carriers in the mid-1960s. A plan was drawn up for three large aircraft carriers, each displacing about 60,000 tons; the plan was designated CVA-01. These carriers would be able to operate the latest aircraft that were coming into service, and would keep the Royal Navy’s place as a major naval power. However, the new Labour government that came into power in the mid-1960s was determined to cut defence expenditure as a means to reduce public spending, and in the 1966 Defence White Paper the project was cancelled.[53]

After this the navy began to shrink and by 1979 the last fleet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was scrapped. The navy was forced to make do with three much smaller Invincible-class aircraft carriers, and the fleet was now centred around anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic as opposed to its former position with worldwide strike capability.

HMS Vanguard of the current Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines.

One of the most important operations conducted predominantly by the Royal Navy after the Second World War was the 1982 defeat of Argentina in the Falkland Islands War. Despite losing four naval ships and other civilian and RFA ships the Royal Navy proved it was still able to fight a battle 8,345 miles (12,800 km) from Great Britain. HMS Conqueror is the only nuclear-powered submarine to have engaged an enemy ship with torpedoes, sinking the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano. The war also underlined the importance of aircraft carriers and submarines and exposed the weaknesses of the service's late 20th century dependence on chartered merchant vessels.

Before the Falklands War in 1982 Defence Secretary John Nott had advocated and initiated a series of cutbacks to the Navy.[54] The Falklands War though, proved a need for the Royal Navy to regain an expeditionary and littoral capability which, with its resources and structure at the time, would prove difficult. At the end of the Cold War at the beginning of the 1990s the Royal Navy was a force focused on blue water anti-submarine warfare. Its purpose was to search for and destroy Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic, and to operate the nuclear deterrent submarine force.

The Royal Navy also took part in the Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, the Afghanistan Campaign, and the 2003 Iraq War, the last of which saw RN warships bombard positions in support of the Al Faw Peninsula landings by Royal Marines. In August 2005 the Royal Navy rescued seven Russians stranded in a submarine off the Kamchatka peninsula. The Navy's Scorpio 45 remote-controlled mini-sub freed the Russian submarine from the fishing nets and cables that had held it for three days. The Royal Navy was also involved in an incident involving Somali pirates in November 2008, after the pirates tried to capture a civilian vessel.

The Royal Navy today


The Naval Service comprises both the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. For December 2009, the total trained regular strength of the Naval Service was 34,660, of which 27,710 were Royal Navy and 6940 were Royal Marines.[55] Within this total, 3960 were untrained personnel. The Navy List reports an up to date list of all officers within the Royal Navy. There are 380 Full-time reserve service personnel within these figures. HMS Raleigh at Torpoint, Cornwall is the basic training facility for newly enlisted personnel. Britannia Royal Naval College is the initial officer training establishment for the navy, located at Dartmouth, Devon.

Personnel are divided into a general duties branch, which includes those seamen officers eligible for command, and other branches including the Royal Naval Engineers, medical, and Logistics Officers, the renamed Supply Officer branch. Present day officers and ratings have several different Royal Navy uniforms; some are blue, others are white.

Women began to join the Royal Navy in 1917 with the formation of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), which was disbanded after the end of the First World War in 1919. It was revived in 1939, and the WRNS continued to exist until 1993 when a separate branch for women was inactivated. The only restriction on women currently in the RN is that they may not serve on submarines, in the Mine Clearance Diving trade, or with the Royal Marine Commandos.

Fleet composition

HMS Bulwark, an Albion-class landing platform dock

In the 1990s the navy began a series of projects to modernise the fleet and convert it from a North Atlantic-based anti-submarine force to an expeditionary force. This has involved the replacement of much of the Fleet and has seen a number of large procurement projects.[56]

Large fleet units – amphibious and carriers

HMS Ocean: the Royal Navy's helicopter carrier.

Two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers which have been ordered are to be a new generation of aircraft carrier to replace the three Invincible-class aircraft carriers. The two vessels are expected to cost £3.9 billion, will displace 65,000 tons and, although as of 2014 somewhat delayed, are planned to enter service from around 2016. The initial decision was that both would operate the STOVL variant of the F-35 Lightning II. Acquisition of the platforms is to be considered within the Strategic Defence and Security Review ordered by the Coalition Government in June 2010. The large investment represented by the carriers may be vulnerable due to the numerous significant demands on the defence budget.[57] A dedicated helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, complements the aircraft carrier force.

The introduction of the four vessels of the Bay class of landing ship dock into the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 2006 and 2007, and the two Albion-class landing platform docks gave the Royal Navy a significantly enhanced amphibious capability. In November 2006 First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said, "These ships represent a major uplift in the Royal Navy's war fighting capability."[58]

Escort units

HMS Daring: the first Type 45 guided missile destroyer

The escort fleet, in the form of frigates and destroyers, is the traditional workhorse of the Navy,[59] and is also being updated. The 2010 fleet of five Type 42 destroyers are to be replaced with the much larger Type 45 destroyer class.

Six Type 45 destroyers are planned, of which 2 are in service, 1 is waiting to enter service and 3 are under construction as of 2014.[60][61] Under the terms of the original contract the Navy was to order twelve vessels,[62] but only the six will be constructed.[63][64] The main role of the Type 45 destroyer is anti-air warfare; in order to fulfil this role, it will be equipped with the Sea Viper (formerly known as PAAMS) integrated anti-aircraft system which will fire Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles. The Type 45 will operate the highly sophisticated Sampson radar system that will be fully integrated into the PAAMS system.[63]

The last frigate to enter service was the Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans in 2002. On 21 July 2004, in the Delivering Security in a Changing World review of defence spending, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that three frigates of the fleet of sixteen would be paid off as part of a continuous cost-cutting strategy and were sold to Chile. Several designs have been created for a new generation frigate such as the Future Surface Combatant, but these concepts have not yet obtained Main Gate approval, this design is designated the Type 26 Combat Frigate for service from 2020. The remaining fleet of four batch 3 Type 22 frigates, the Type 23 frigate's predecessor, are in service to complement the Royal Navy's fleet of destroyers.


HMS Astute: the first Astute-class submarine.

Seven Astute-class submarines are planned, with the first completed and awaiting commissioning, three under construction, the fifth ordered, and the procurement process started for the sixth.[65][66][67] The first, HMS Astute was due to enter service in 2009.[68] These submarines are much larger than their predecessors, the Trafalgar class and are expected to displace 7,800 tons submerged.[69] Six Trafalgar-class submarines are currently in service, with one Swiftsure-class submarine, the Trafalgar-class's predecessor, also still in service. In December 2006, plans were unveiled for a new class of four ballistic missile submarines to replace the Vanguard-class submarine, which is due to be replaced by 2024. This new class will mean that the United Kingdom will maintain a nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet and the ability to launch nuclear weapons.[70]

Other vessels

HMS Endurance: the Royal Navy's Antarctic patrol ship.

At the beginning of the 1990s the Royal Navy had two classes of Offshore Patrol vessel, the Island class, and the larger Castle class. However, in 1997 a decision was taken to replace them. An order for three much larger offshore patrol vessels, the River class was placed in 2001. Unusually, the three River-class ships are owned by Vosper Thorneycroft, and leased to the Royal Navy until 2013. This relationship is defined by a ground-breaking Contractor Logistic Support contract which contracts the ships' availability to the RN, including technical and stores support. A modified River-class vessel, HMS Clyde, was commissioned in July 2007 and became the Falkland Islands guardship. The Royal Navy also has the Sandown-class minehunter and the Hunt-class mine countermeasure vessel. The Hunt class of 8 vessels are mine countermeasure vessels that combine the separate role of the traditional minesweeper and that of the active minehunter in one hull. If required, they can take on the role of offshore patrol vessels. The Royal Navy has a mandate to provide support to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which comes in the form of the dedicated Antarctic Patrol Ship HMS Endurance. The four Hecla-class vessels were replaced by the survey vessel HMS Scott which surveys the deep ocean. The other survey vessels of the Royal Navy are the two multi-role ships of the Echo-class which came into service in 2002 and 2003.

Current role

Royal Navy EH-101 Merlin at RIAT 2009

The current role of the Royal Navy (RN) is to protect British interests at home and abroad, executing the foreign and defence policies of Her Majesty's Government through the exercise of military effect, diplomatic activities and other activities in support of these objectives. The RN is also a key element of the UK contribution to NATO, with a number of assets allocated to NATO tasks at any time.[71] These objectives are delivered via a number of core capabilities:[72]

The F-35 will replace the Harrier aboard the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, which will replace the Invincible-class aircraft carriers.

Current deployments

The Royal Navy is currently deployed in many areas of the world, including a number of standing Royal Navy deployments. These include several home tasks as well as overseas deployments. The Navy is deployed in the Mediterranean as part of standing NATO deployments including mine countermeasures and NATO Maritime Group 2 and until 2010 had the now disbanded Royal Navy Cyprus Squadron. In both the North and South Atlantic RN vessels are patrolling. There is always a Falkland Islands Patrol Vessel on deployment, currently the new vessel HMS Clyde. The Navy also deploys in the Middle East and provides "security and surveillance in the Northern Persian Gulf".[73]

Command, control and organisation

The head of the Royal Navy is the Lord High Admiral, a position which has been held by the Sovereign since 1964 (the Sovereign being the overall head of the British Armed Forces).

The professional head of the Naval Service is the First Sea Lord, an Admiral and member of the Defence Council of the United Kingdom. The Defence Council delegates management of the Naval Service to the Admiralty Board, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence, which directs the Navy Board, a sub-committee of the Admiralty Board comprising only naval officers and Ministry of Defence (MOD) civil servants. These are all based in MOD Main Building in London, where the First Sea Lord, also known as the Chief of the Naval Staff, is supported by the Naval Staff Department.


Structure of CINCFLEET

Full command of the Royal Navy is vested in Commander-in-Chief Fleet, CINCFLEET, who has responsibility for the provision of Force Elements at Readiness to conduct military and diplomatic tasks as required by Her Majesty's Government, including recruitment and training of personnel. CINCFLEET has responsibility for personnel, commando forces, ships and submarines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary in commission. CINCFLEET command is exercised through the Navy Command Headquarters, based at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth. An Operational Headquarters, the Northwood Headquarters, at Northwood, London, is co-located with the Permanent Joint Headquarters of the United Kingdom's armed forces, and a NATO Regional Command, Allied Maritime Component Command Northwood (AMCCN).

The Royal Navy was the first of the three armed forces to combine the personnel and training command, under the Principal Personnel Officer, with the operational and policy command, combining CINCFLEET and Naval Home Command into a single organisation, Fleet Command, in 2005 and becoming Navy Command in 2008. Within the combined command the Second Sea Lord, Commander in Chief Naval Home command, continues to act as the Principal Personnel Officer.

The Naval Command senior appointments are:

  • Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, Commander-in-Chief, Fleet
  • Commander-in-Chief Fleet Headquarters:[74]
    • Deputy CINC and Chief of Staff: Vice Admiral Paul Boissier, (based in HMS Excellent, commands the Headquarters).
    • Chief of Staff (Capability): Major General Garry Robison
    • Commander Operations: Rear Admiral Mark Anderson (based at Northwood, also Rear Admiral Submarines and Commander Submarine Allied Forces North (NATO)).
    • Commander UK Maritime Forces: Rear Admiral Peter Hudson (deployable Force Commander responsible for Maritime Battle Staffs; UK Task Group, UK Amphibious Task Group, UK Maritime Component Command).
    • Commander UK Amphibious Force: Major General Buster Howes, also the Commandant General Royal Marines
    • Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland: Rear Admiral Martin Alabaster
    • Flag Officer Sea Training: Rear Admiral C. A. Snow
  • Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command

Intelligence support to fleet operations is provided by intelligence sections at the various headquarters and from MOD Defence Intelligence, renamed from the Defence Intelligence Staff in early 2010. There are further details of the Royal Navy's historical organisation at List of fleets and major commands of the Royal Navy.


HMNB Clyde at Faslane, the home of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent.

Four commissioned ships of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth dockyard; HMS Endurance, the Type 42 destroyer HMS Liverpool, the historic Ship of the line HMS Victory and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.

The Royal Navy currently operates three bases in the United Kingdom where commissioned ships are based; Portsmouth, Clyde and Devonport, Plymouth — Devonport is the largest operational naval base in the UK and Western Europe.[75] Each base hosts a Flotilla Command under a Commodore, or in the case of Clyde a Captain, responsible for the provision of Operational Capability using the ships and submarines within the flotilla. 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines is similarly commanded by a Brigadier and based in Plymouth.

Historically the Royal Navy maintained Royal Navy Dockyards around the world.[76] Dockyards of the Royal Navy are harbours where ships are overhauled and refitted. Only four are operating today; at Devonport, Faslane, Rosyth and at Portsmouth.[77] A Naval Base Review was undertaken in 2006 and early 2007, the outcome being announced by Secretary of State, Des Browne the Defence Secretary confirming that all would remain however some reductions in manpower were anticipated.[78]

The academy where initial training for future Royal Navy officers takes place is Britannia Royal Naval College, located on a hill overlooking Dartmouth, Devon.

Significant numbers of naval personnel are employed within the Ministry of Defence, Defence Equipment and Support and on exchange with the Army and Royal Air Force. Small numbers are also on exchange within other government departments and with allied fleets e.g. United States Navy.

Royal Marines

Royal Marines on exercise.

The Royal Marines are a maritime-focused, amphibious, highly specialised light infantry force.[79] They are capable of deploying at short notice in support of the United Kingdom Government's military and diplomatic objectives overseas. The Royal Marines are organised into a light infantry brigade, 3 Commando Brigade, and a number of separate units. These include the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines (previously the Comacchio Group), a special guard and oil rig guard force, the Special Boat Service, a maritime special forces unit, and an assault craft unit, 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, which supervises landing craft on board the amphibious ships and landing craft training.

Titles and naming

Of the Royal Navy

The British Royal Navy is commonly referred to as the "Royal Navy" both in the United Kingdom and other countries. Navies of Commonwealth of Nations countries where the British monarch is also head of state also include their national name e.g. Royal Australian Navy. Some navies of other monarchies, such as the Koninklijke Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy) and Kungliga Flottan (Royal Swedish Navy), are also called "Royal Navy" in their own language and the French Navy, despite France being a republic since 1870, is often nicknamed "La Royale" (literally: The Royal).[80]

Of ships

Type 23 frigates or Duke-class are named after British Dukes.

Royal Navy ships in commission are prefixed since 1789 with Her Majesty's Ship (His Majesty's Ship), abbreviated to HMS, e.g., HMS Ark Royal. Submarines are styled HM Submarine, similarly HMS. Names are allocated to ships and submarines by a naming committee within the MOD and given by class, with the names of ships within a class often being thematic (e.g.. the Type 23 class are named after British Dukes) or traditional (e.g., the Invincible class all carry the names of famous historic ships). Names are frequently re-used offering a new ship the rich heritage, battle honours and traditions of her predecessors. Often, a particular vessel class will be named after the first ship of that type to be built.

As well as a name each ship, and submarine, of the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is given a pennant number which in part denotes its role.

Custom and tradition

The Royal Navy has several formal customs and traditions including the use of ensigns and ships badges. Royal Navy ships have several ensigns used when under way and when in port. Commissioned ships and submarines wear the White Ensign at the stern whilst alongside during daylight hours and at the main-mast whilst under way. When alongside, the Union Jack (as distinct from the Union Flag, often referred to as the Union Jack) is flown from the jackstaff at the bow, and can only be flown under way either to signal a court-martial is in progress or to indicate the presence of an Admiral of the Fleet on-board (including the Lord High Admiral, the Monarch).[81]

The Fleet Review is an irregular tradition of assembling the fleet before the monarch. The first review on record was held in 1400, and the most recent review as of 2014 was held on 28 June 2005 to mark the bi-centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar; 167 ships from many different nations attended with the Royal Navy supplying 67.[82]

Another popular tradition of the British Navy is that they play several cricket matches with local teams, and against the Royal Australian Navy in The Ashes.

There are several less formal traditions including service nicknames and Naval slang.The nicknames include "The Andrew" (of uncertain origin, possibly after a zealous press ganger)[83][84] and "The Senior Service".[85][86] The RN has evolved a rich volume of slang, known as "Jack-speak". Nowadays the British sailor is usually "Jack" (or "Jenny") rather than the more historical "Jack Tar". Royal Marines are fondly known as "Bootnecks" or often just as "Royals". The current compendium of Naval slang was brought together by Commander A. Covey-Crump and his name has in itself become the subject of Naval slang; Covey Crump.[85] A game traditionally played by the Navy is the four-player board game "Uckers". This is similar to Ludo and it is regarded as easy to learn, but difficult to play well.[87]

In popular culture

The Royal Navy of the 18th century is depicted in a novel and several films [88] dramatizing the voyage and mutiny on the Bounty. The Royal Navy's Napoleonic campaigns are a popular subject of historical novels. Some of the best-known include Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower chronicles, Showell Styles' The Midshipman Quinn stories, Dudley Pope's Lord Ramage novels and Douglas Reeman's Richard Bolitho novels. Alexander Kent is a pen name of Douglas Reeman who, under his birth name, has written many novels featuring the Royal Navy in the two World Wars. Other well-known novels include Alistair MacLean's HMS Ulysses, Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea, and C.S. Forester's The Ship, all set during World War II.

The Navy can also be seen in numerous films. The fictional spy James Bond is 'officially' a commander in the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is featured in The Spy Who Loved Me, where a missile submarine is stolen, and in Tomorrow Never Dies when a media baron sinks a Royal Navy warship in an attempt to trigger a war between the UK and People's Republic of China. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was based on Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. The Pirates of the Caribbean series of films also includes the Navy as the force pursuing the eponymous pirates. Noël Coward directed and starred in his own film In Which We Serve, which tells the story of the crew of the fictional HMS Torrin during the Second World War. It was intended as a propaganda film and was released in 1942. Coward starred as the ship's captain, with supporting roles from John Mills and Richard Attenborough.[89] Other examples of full length feature films focusing specifically on the Royal Navy, have been: Seagulls over Sorrento; Yangtse Incident, the story of HMS Amethyst's escape down the Yangtze river; We Dive at Dawn; The Battle of River Plate; Sink the Bismarck!.

CS Forester's Hornblower novels have been adapted for television, as have Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, which, although primarily involving the Peninsular War of the time, includes several novels involving Richard Sharpe at sea with the Navy. The Royal Navy was the subject of an acclaimed 1970s BBC television drama series, Warship, and of a five-part documentary, Shipmates, that followed the workings of the Royal Navy day to day.[90]

Television documentaries about the Royal Navy include Sailor, about life on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal; and Submarine, about the submarine captains' training course 'The Perisher'. A book based on the series, and also called Submarine, was produced by Jonathan Crane. The popular BBC radio comedy series The Navy Lark featured a fictitious warship ("HMS Troutbridge") and ran from 1959 to 1977.

See also


  1. "The Royal Navy". Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  2. "Chapter II: REGIONAL OVERVIEW AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF KEY ALLIES: Contributions of Selected NATO Allies". Allied Contributions to the Common Defense: A Report to the United States Congress by the Secretary of Defense. United States Department of Defense. March 2001. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  3. "Vanguard to Trident 1945-2000". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  4. "The Royal Navy: Britain’s Trident for a Global Agenda". Henry Jackson Society website. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  5. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named
  6. "TSP 7 - UK Reserves and Cadets Strengths—01 Apr 2009 Revised". Defence Analytical Services and Advice. 23 November 2009. "click on "PDF 90 KB" button to view pdf, data is on page 4" 
  7. Queen's Regulations of the Royal Navy (BR2), chapter one
  8. Rodger, N. A. M., The Safeguard of the Sea - a naval history of Britain - Volume one, 660-1649 (1997), pp. 18-30
  9. Swanton, p. 138
  10. Swanton, pp. 154-5, 160-72
  11. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 35-49
  12. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 52-3, 117-30
  13. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 93-9
  14. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 91-7, 99-116, 143-4
  15. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 221-37
  16. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 238-53, 281-6, 292-6
  17. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 253-71
  18. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 349-63
  19. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 379-94, 482
  20. Rodger, N. A. M., The Command of the Ocean - a naval history of Britain 1649-1815 (2004), pp. 2-3, 216-7, 607
  21. Rodger, Command, pp. 6-8
  22. Rodger, Command, pp. 12-16
  23. Rodger, Command, pp. 16-18
  24. Rodger, Command, pp. 67-76
  25. Rodger, Command, pp. 76-7
  26. Rodger, Command, pp. 80-5
  27. Ollard, 1984, ch.16
  28. Rodger, Command, pp. 88-91
  29. Rodger, Command, pp. 142-52, 607-8
  30. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 395-8; Rodger, Command, pp. 33-55, 95-122
  31. Rodger, Command, p. 608
  32. Rodger, Command, pp. 291-311, 408-25, 473-6, 484-8
  33. Rodger, Command, pp. 164-80
  34. Rodger, Command, pp. 234-56
  35. Rodger, Command, pp. 263-79, 284
  36. Rodger, Command, pp. 277-83
  37. Rodger, Command, pp. 284-7
  38. Rodger, Command, pp. 330-51
  39. Rodger, Command, pp. 351-2
  40. Rodger, Command, pp. 353-7
  41. Parkinson, C. Northcote, Britannia Rules - the classic age of naval history 1793-1815 (1977), pp. 15-19; Rodger, Command, pp. 427-33
  42. Parkinson, pp. 33-7, 45-9; Rodger, Command, pp. 435-6, 438-40, 456, 463
  43. Parkinson, pp.40-5; Rodger, Command, pp. 445-50
  44. Parkinson, pp. 54-61; Rodger, Command, pp. 457-61
  45. Parkinson, pp. 75-82; Rodger, Command, pp. 468-71
  46. Parkinson, pp. 82-4; Rodger, Command, pp. 428-9, 435-6, 472
  47. Parkinson, pp. 91-114; Rodger, Command, pp. 528-44
  48. Parkinson, pp. 114, 117-8, 131-40; Rodger, Command, pp. 542-3, 545-8, 555-7
  49. Parkinson, pp. 120-1; Rodger, Command, p. 549
  50. Rodger, Command, pp. 564-72
  51. Rodger, Command, p. 562
  52. Churchill, Winston.The Second World War. Vol. 2, Their Finest Hour.©1949 Houghton Mifflin Company:p. 229
  53. Eric J. Grove, Vanguard to Trident, Naval Institute Press/The Bodley Head, London, 1987
  54. "We were heading for war...and the Commons blamed me". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2002-03-01. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  55. DASA Royal Naval Situation Report
  56. Smith, Michael. "Half of Royal Navy’s ships in mothballs as defence cuts bite". The Times. London. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  57. Daily Telegraph, [1], 30 May 2010. Defense News said the gap in finances at the MOD was at least £6 billion. Andrew Chuter, 'U.K. Braces for Review: New Gov't To Issue Emergency Budget in July,' Defense News,, May 17, 2010.
  58. "Royal Navy unveils new Amphibious landing ships". MOD. 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  59. "Royal Navy information". MOD. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  60. MoD - Dauntless is Delivered
  61. "HMS Diamond sets off on Sea Trials". Royal Navy website. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  62. "Clyde yard lands new destroyers". BBC. 1999-11-23. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  63. 63.0 63.1 "Type 45 Destroyer". BAE Systems. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  64. "Government admits destroyers will never be built". Portsmouth News. 2008-06-19. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  65. "Ministry of Defence Major Projects Report 2007" (PDF). National Audit Office. 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  66. "Ministry of Defence Major Projects Report 2009" (PDF). National Audit Office. 2009-12-15. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  67. "UK Government Go-Ahead for Fifth and Sixth Astute Submarines". BAE Systems. 25 March 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  68. "Lords Hansard 21 May 2007". 2007-05-21. Retrieved 2008-10-01. 
  69. "Royal Navy to Get New Attack Submarine". Royal Navy. 2007-05-21. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  70. Knight, Will (2006-12-05). "UK unveils plans for a new submarine fleet". New Scientist (Environment). Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  71. "Joint operations". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  72. "Core Capabilities". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  73. "Fleet Deployments". Royal Navy. 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  74. "Senior Appointments". Royal Navy. Retrieved 19 May 2009. 
  75. "HMNB Devonport". The Royal Navy. Retrieved 2007-10-18. 
  76. "Royal Navy Dockyards". National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  77. Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham (2007-03-13). "The Royal Navy at the Brink" (pdf). Royal United Services Institute. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  78. "Devonport 'secure' says minister". BBC. 2007-07-25. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  79. Royal Marines home page on Royal Navy website
  80. Randier, Jean (2006). La Royale : L'histoire illustrée de la Marine nationale française. ISBN 9782352610229. 
  81. "Use of the Union Jack at Sea". Flags of the World. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  82. "French top gun at Fleet Review". The Times. London. 2005-06-26. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  83. Admiralty Manual of Seamanship. HMSO. 1964. 
  84. "FAQs;Royal Navy's nickname". National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  85. 85.0 85.1 Jolly, Rick. Jackspeak. Maritime Books Dec 2000. ISBN 0-9514305-2-1. 
  86. "Naval Slang". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  87. "The Basic Rules of Uckers". Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  88. 1935 film, 1962 film, and The Bounty, a 1984 film
  89. In Which we Serve at the Internet Movie Database
  90. "Devon Shipmates on TV". BBC. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 

External links

Video clips

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).