of the British Armed Forces
|History and future|
The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.
From the middle decades of the 17th century and through the 18th century, the Royal Navy vied with the Dutch Navy and later with the French Navy for maritime supremacy. From the mid 18th century it was the world's most powerful navy until surpassed by the United States Navy during the Second World War. The Royal Navy played a key part in establishing the British Empire as the unmatched world power during the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries. Due to this historical prominence, it is common, even among non-Britons, to refer to it as "the Royal Navy" without qualification.
Following World War I, the Royal Navy was significantly reduced in size, although at the onset of World War II it was still the world's largest. By the end of the war, however, the United States Navy had emerged as the world's largest. During the Cold War, the Royal Navy transformed into a primarily anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines, mostly active in the GIUK gap. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its focus has returned to expeditionary operations around the world and remains one of the world's foremost blue-water navies. However, reductions in naval spending have led to the Royal Navy suffering from multiple problems during the 21st century, including a personnel shortage and a reduction in the number of warships.
The Royal Navy maintains a fleet of technologically sophisticated ships and submarines including an amphibious assault ship, two amphibious transport docks, four ballistic missile submarines (which maintain the UK's nuclear deterrent), six nuclear fleet submarines, six guided missile destroyers, thirteen frigates, 15 mine-countermeasure vessels and 22 patrol vessels. As of 19 March 2016, there are 77 commissioned ships (including submarines) in the Royal Navy, plus 9 ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA); there are also five Merchant Navy ships available to the RFA under a private finance initiative. The RFA replenishes Royal Navy warships at sea, and augments the Royal Navy's amphibious warfare capabilities through its three Bay-class landing ship vessels. It also works as a force multiplier for the Royal Navy, often doing patrols that frigates used to do. The total displacement of the Royal Navy is approximately 337,000 tonnes (603,000 tonnes including the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Marines).
The Royal Navy is part of Her Majesty's Naval Service, which also includes the Royal Marines. 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. The Royal Navy operates three bases in the United Kingdom where commissioned ships are based; Portsmouth, Clyde and Devonport, the last being the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.
- 1 Role
- 2 History
- 3 Royal Navy today
- 4 Naval bases
- 5 Command, control and organisation
- 6 Titles and naming
- 7 Ranks, rates and insignia
- 8 Custom and tradition
- 9 Navy Cadets
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 Bibliography
- 15 External links
As the seabourne branch of HM Armed Forces, the RN has various roles. As it stands today, the RN states its 6 major roles as detailed below as umbrella terms.
- Preventing Conflict - On a global and regional level
- Providing Security At Sea - To ensure the stability of international trade at sea
- International Partnerships - To help cement the relationship with the United Kingdom's allies (such as NATO)
- Maintaining a Readiness To Fight - To protect the United Kingdom's interest across the globe
- Protecting the Economy - To safe guard vital trade routes to guarantee the United Kingdom's and it's allies' economic prosperity at sea
- Providing Humanitarian Aid - To deliver a fast and effective response to global catastrophes
The strength of the fleet of the Kingdom of England was an important element in the kingdom's power in the 10th century. 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. During the period of Danish rule in the 11th century, the authorities maintained a standing fleet by taxation, and this continued for a time under the restored English regime of Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042–1066), who frequently commanded fleets in person.
English naval power seemingly declined as a result of the Norman conquest. 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.
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 failed when Edward III of England destroyed the French fleet in the Battle of Sluys in 1340. 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 could not prevent frequent raids on the south-coast ports by the French and their Genoese and Castilian allies. Such raids halted finally only with the occupation of northern France by Henry V.
Henry VII deserves a large share of credit in fostering sea power. He embarked on a program of building merchant ships larger than heretofore. He also invested in dockyards, and commissioned the oldest surviving dry dock in 1495 at Portsmouth.
A standing "Navy Royal", with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships, emerged during the reign of Henry VIII. Under Elizabeth I England became involved in a war with Spain, which saw privately owned vessels combining with the Queen's ships in highly profitable raids against Spanish commerce and colonies.
In 1588, Philip II of Spain sent the Spanish Armada against England to end English support for Dutch rebels, to stop English corsair activity and to depose the Protestant Elizabeth I and restore Catholicism to England. The Spaniards sailed from Lisbon, planning to escort an invasion force from the Spanish Netherlands but the scheme failed due to poor planning, English harrying, blocking action by the Dutch, and severe storms. A major English expedition the following year was intended by Elizabeth to destroy the survivors of the Spanish fleet, but instead dissipated its efforts in unsuccessful schemes to intercept a Spanish treasure convoy or foment revolt against Spanish rule in Portugal.
During the early 17th century, England's relative naval power deteriorated, and there were increasing raids by Barbary corsairs on ships and English coastal communities to capture people as slaves, which the Navy had little success in countering. 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. 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.
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. 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. English tactical improvements resulted in a series of crushing victories in 1653 at Portland, the Gabbard and Scheveningen, bringing peace on favourable terms. This was the first war fought largely, on the English side, by purpose-built, state-owned warships. It was followed by a war with Spain, which saw the English conquest of Jamaica in 1655 and successful attacks on Spanish treasure fleets in 1656 and 1657, but also the devastation of English merchant shipping by the privateers of Dunkirk, until their home port was captured by Anglo-French forces in 1658.
The English monarchy was restored in May 1660, and Charles II assumed the throne. One of his first acts was to re-establish the Navy, but from this point on, it ceased to be the personal possession of the reigning monarch, and instead became a national institution – with the title of "The Royal Navy".
As a result of their defeat in the First Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch transformed their navy, largely abandoning the use of militarised merchantmen and establishing a fleet composed mainly of heavily armed, purpose-built warships, as the English had done previously. Consequently, the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) was a closely fought struggle between evenly matched opponents, with English victory at Lowestoft (1665) countered by Dutch triumph in the epic Four Days Battle (1666). The deadlock was broken not by combat but by the superiority of Dutch public finance, as in 1667 Charles II 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. 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.
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. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, England joined the European coalition against Louis XIV in the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–1697). Louis' recent shipbuilding programme had given France the largest navy in Europe. A combined Anglo-Dutch fleet was defeated at Beachy Head (1690), but victory at Barfleur-La Hogue (1692) 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.
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. 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 "gentlemen" (upper-class soldiers) and "tarpaulins" (professional seamen, who generally served on merchant or fishing vessels in peacetime).
The 1707 Acts of Union, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, established the Royal Navy of the newly united kingdom by the merger of the three-ship Royal Scots Navy with the Royal Navy of England. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Royal Navy was the largest maritime force in the world, but until 1805 combinations of enemies repeatedly matched or exceeded its forces in numbers. 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.
During the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1714), the Navy operated in conjunction with the Dutch against the navies of France and Spain, in support of the efforts of Britain's Austrian Habsburg allies to seize control of Spain and its Mediterranean dependencies from the Bourbons. Amphibious operations by the Anglo-Dutch fleet brought about the capture of Sardinia, the Balearic Islands and a number of Spanish mainland ports, most importantly Barcelona. While most of these gains were turned over to the Habsburgs, Britain held on to Gibraltar and Menorca, which were retained in the peace settlement, providing the Navy with Mediterranean bases. Early in the war French naval squadrons had done considerable damage to English and Dutch commercial convoys. However, a major victory over France and Spain at 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. Further conflict with Spain followed in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718–1720), in which the Navy helped thwart a Spanish attempt to regain Sicily and Sardinia from Austria and Savoy, defeating a Spanish fleet at Cape Passaro (1718), and in an undeclared war in the 1720s, in which Spain tried to retake Gibraltar and Menorca.
After a period of relative peace, the Navy became engaged in the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–1748) against Spain, which was dominated by a series of costly and mostly unsuccessful attacks on Spanish ports in the Caribbean, primarily a huge expedition against Cartagena de Indias in 1741. These led to heavy loss of life from tropical diseases. In 1742 the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was driven to withdraw from the war in the space of half an hour by the threat of a bombardment of its capital Naples by a small British squadron. The war became subsumed in the wider War of the Austrian Succession (1744–1748), once 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.
The subsequent Seven Years' War (1756–1763) saw the Navy conduct amphibious campaigns leading to the conquest of French Canada, of French colonies in the Caribbean and West Africa and of small islands off the French coast, while operations in the Indian Ocean contributed to the destruction of French power in India. A new French attempt to invade Britain was thwarted by the defeat of their escort fleet in the extraordinary Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759, fought in a gale on a dangerous lee shore. Once again the British fleet effectively eliminated the French Navy from the war, leading France to abandon major operations. In 1762 the resumption of hostilities with Spain led to the British capture of Manila and of Havana, along with a Spanish fleet sheltering there.
In the American War of Independence (1775–1783) the Royal Navy readily obliterated the small Continental Navy of frigates fielded by the rebel colonists, 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 inconclusive battles in the Atlantic and Caribbean, in which the Navy failed to achieve the decisive victories needed to secure the supply lines of British forces in North America and to cut off the colonial rebels from outside support. 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 at Yorktown. Although this disaster effectively concluded the fighting in North America, hostilities continued in the Indian Ocean, where the French were prevented from re-establishing a meaningful foothold in India, and in the Caribbean. British victory in the Caribbean 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.
The eradication of scurvy from the Royal Navy in the 1790s came about due to the efforts of Gilbert Blane, chairman of the Navy's Sick and Hurt Board, which ordered fresh lemon juice to be given to sailors on ships. Other navies soon adopted this successful solution.
The French Revolutionary Wars (1793–1801) and Napoleonic Wars (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 French Royalist efforts to regain control of France. In the course of one such operation, the majority of the French Mediterranean fleet was captured or destroyed during a short-lived occupation of Toulon in 1793. The military successes of the French Revolutionary régime 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. The Spithead and Nore mutinies in 1797 incapacitated the Channel and North Sea fleets, leaving Britain potentially exposed to invasion, but were rapidly resolved. The British Mediterranean fleet under Horatio Nelson failed to intercept Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 expedition to invade Egypt, but annihilated the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, leaving Bonaparte's army isolated. 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.
During these years, the Navy also conducted amphibious operations that captured most of the French Caribbean islands and the Dutch colonies at the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon. Though successful in their outcome, the expeditions to the Caribbean, conducted on a grand scale, led to devastating losses from disease. Except for Ceylon and Trinidad, these gains were returned following the Peace of Amiens in 1802, which briefly halted the fighting. Menorca, which had been repeatedly lost and regained during the 18th century, was restored to Spain, its place as the Navy's main base in the Mediterranean being taken by the new acquisition of Malta. War resumed in 1803 and Napoleon 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, Nelson defeated the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar (1805). 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 20th century.
After Trafalgar, large-scale fighting at sea remained limited to the destruction of small, fugitive French squadrons, and amphibious operations which again captured the colonies which had been restored at Amiens, along with France's Indian Ocean base at Mauritius and parts of the Dutch East Indies, including Java and the Moluccas. 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. 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. The brief renewal of war after Napoleon's return to power in 1815 did not bring a resumption of naval combat.
Between 1815 and 1914, the Navy saw little serious action, owing to the absence of any opponent strong enough to challenge its dominance. During this period, naval warfare underwent a comprehensive transformation, brought about by steam propulsion, metal ship construction, and explosive munitions. Despite having to completely replace its war fleet, the Navy managed to maintain its overwhelming advantage over all potential rivals. Due 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.
In 1859, the fleet was estimated to number about 1000 in all, including both combat and non-combat vessels. In 1889, Parliament passed the Naval Defence Act, which formally adopted the 'two-power standard', which stipulated that the Royal Navy should maintain a number of battleships at least equal to the combined strength of the next two largest navies.
The first major action that the Royal Navy saw during this period was the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 by a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet under Lord Exmouth, to force the Barbary state of Algiers to free Christian slaves and to halt the practice of enslaving Europeans. During the Greek War of Independence, the combined navies of Britain, France and Russia defeated an Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Navarino in 1827, the last major action between sailing ships. During the same period, the Royal Navy took anti-piracy actions in the South China Sea. Between 1807 and 1865, it maintained a Blockade of Africa to counter the illegal slave trade. It also participated in the Crimean War of 1854–56, as well as numerous military actions throughout Asia and Africa, notably the First and Second Opium Wars with Qing dynasty China. On 27 August 1896, the Royal Navy took part in the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which was the shortest war in history.
The end of the 19th century saw structural changes brought about by the First Sea Lord 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, launched in 1906. Its speed and firepower rendered all existing battleships obsolete. The industrial and economic development of Germany had by this time overtaken Britain, enabling the Imperial German Navy to attempt to outpace British construction of dreadnoughts. In the ensuing arms race, Britain succeeded in maintaining 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.
During the First World War, most of the Royal Navy's strength was mostly deployed at home in the Grand Fleet, confronting the German High Seas Fleet across the North Sea. Several inconclusive clashes took place between them, chiefly the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The British numerical advantage proved insurmountable, leading the High Seas Fleet to abandon any attempt to challenge British dominance.
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 heavy losses during a failed attempt to break through the system of minefields and shore batteries defending the straits.
Upon entering the war, the Navy had immediately established a blockade of Germany. The Navy's Northern Patrol closed off access to the North Sea, while the Dover Patrol closed off access to the English Channel. The Navy also mined the North Sea. As well as closing off the Imperial German Navy's access to the Atlantic, the blockade largely blocked neutral merchant shipping heading to or from Germany. The blockade was maintained during the eight months after the armistice was agreed to force Germany to end the war and sign the Treaty of Versailles.
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.
In the inter-war period, the Royal Navy was stripped of much of its power. The Washington and London Naval Treaties imposed the scrapping of some 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 being ignored. The re-armament of the Royal Navy was well under way by this point; the Royal Navy had begun construction of the still treaty-affected and undergunned new battleships and its first full-sized purpose-built aircraft carriers. In addition to new construction, several existing old battleships (whose gun power offset to a significant extent the weakly armed new 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 control of ship-board aircraft with the return of the Fleet Air Arm to Naval control in 1937. However, the effectiveness of its aircraft lagged far behind its rivals, and around this time the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States Navy began to surpass the Royal Navy in air power.
At the start of the Second World War in 1939, the Royal Navy was the largest in the world, with over 1,400 vessels, including: