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The Royal Navy of the United Kingdommarker 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, 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 Sovietmarker 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 the second-largest navy of the NATOmarker alliance, in terms of the combined displacement (approx. 400,000 tonnes) after the United States Navy. There are currently 88 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. Twenty-two vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary 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. 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. The Royal Navy numbers 38,400 people of whom approximately 6,000 are in the Royal Marines.

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. 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


While the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms certainly engaged in naval warfare and occasional specific instances of troops being transported by sea are known, the earliest surviving references to them fighting at sea come from the period of Viking raids in the 9th century. Under Aethelwulf of Wessex and his son Alfred the Great, who instituted a programme of building large warships on a new design, battles were fought at sea against marauding Danes. The basis of naval organisation at this time is unclear, but the strength of its fleets, perhaps supported by levies on landholding, was an important element in the power of the united Kingdom of England which emerged 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 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. When the Norman invasion was imminent, King Harold assembled a large fleet to prevent Duke William from crossing the Channel, but he was forced to dismiss his ships when their supplies ran out and the Normans were able to cross unopposed and defeat Harold at the Battle of Hastingsmarker.

English naval power seems to have 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 Francemarker 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 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 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.


The creation of a standing Navy Royal, with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships, occurred in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII. By the time of Henry's death in 1547 his fleet had grown to 58 vessels, although armed merchantmen owned by private individuals still comprised a large proportion of war-fleets. Under Elizabeth I England became involved in a war with Spainmarker, which saw privately-owned ships combining with the Navy Royal in highly profitable raids against Spanish commerce and colonies. 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 maladministration, logistical errors, English harrying, blocking actions by the Dutch, and bad weather.

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. Charles I undertook a major programme of warship building, creating a small force of ships of unprecedented size and power, but his methods of fund-raising to finance this fleet contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War. In the wake of this conflict, the king's execution 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 Portlandmarker, the Gabbardmarker and Scheveningen, bringing peace on favourable terms. 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 Lowestoftmarker (1665) countered by Dutch triumph in the epic Four Days Battlemarker (1666). The war was ended not by fighting but finance, as in 1667 the restored royal government of 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 the base at Chathammarker 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 peace treaties which would long endure. Following the Glorious Revolution, England joined the European coalition against Louis XIV in the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697), and combined with the Dutch against the French navy, which had grown rapidly to become the world's largest. The allied fleet was 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.

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, national institution, a Royal Navy. Its financial provisions were gradually regularised, it came to rely purely on dedicated warships, phasing out the use of armed merchantmen, and it developed a professional officer corps with a defined career structure, superseding the earlier mixture of 'tarpaulins' (merchant captains and others who had risen from the ranks of ordinary seamen) and 'gentlemen' (aristocratic soldiers without prior maritime experience, appointed to positions of command on the basis of social status).

Under the Acts of Union in 1707 the Royal Scots Navy then numbering just three ships, merged with that of England to create a British Royal Navy.

Development of the United Kingdom's navy


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. 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. Naval operations in European waters focused on the acquisition of a Mediterraneanmarker base, contributing to a long-lasting alliance with Portugalmarker in 1703 and the capture of Gibraltarmarker (1704) and Minorcamarker (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, but a devastating victory over France and Spain at Vigomarker (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 Scotiamarker and Newfoundland. While the Habsburgs ultimately failed to conquer Spain, with the Navy's help they had acquired its Italian territories, and in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-20), the Navy helped frustrate a Bourbon attempt to regain these possessions, smashing a Spanish fleet at Cape Passaro (1718).

After a period of relative peace, the Navy became engaged in the War of Jenkin's Ear (1739-1742) against Spain, and then 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 Oceanmarker, was largely inconclusive, the most significant event being the failure of an attempted French invasion of England in 1744. The subsequent Seven Years War (1755-1763) saw the Navy conduct amphibious campaigns which brought about the conquest of the remainder of French Canadamarker and the capture of a number of French islands in the Caribbeanmarker, while facilitating the capture of the French possessions in Indiamarker. A new French attempt to invade Britain was thwarted by victories at Lagos and the extraordinary Battle of Quiberon Baymarker in 1759. Once again the French navy was effectively eliminated from the war, abandoning major operations. In 1762 the resumption of hostilities with Spain led to the British capture of Havanamarker, along with a Spanish fleet sheltering there, and Manilamarker.

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. 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. 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.

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. The military successes of the French Revolutionary regime brought the Spanish and Dutch navies into the war on the French side, but in 1797 the British inflicted a defeat on Spain at Cape St Vincent and crushed the Dutch at Camperdown; two years later the remainder of the Dutch fleet surrendered to an Anglo-Russian landing force at Den Helder. The British Mediterranean fleet under Nelson failed to intercept Napoleon Bonaparte's 1797 expedition to invade Egypt, but annihilated his fleet at the Battle of the Nilemarker, leaving his army isolated. Two major mutinies at the Spithead and the Nore in 1797, were potentially very dangerous for Britain, because at the time the country was at risk of a Frenchmarker invasion. 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 Copenhagenmarker (1801) and came to terms with Britain.

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 Hopemarker and Ceylonmarker and in the Dutch East Indiesmarker, but all of these gains except Ceylon and Trinidadmarker were returned following the Peace of Amiens in 1802, which briefly halted the fighting. 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 Trafalgarmarker (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 twentieth century.

After Trafalgar, large-scale fighting at sea was limited to the destruction of small, fugitive French squadrons at Cape Ortegal, San Domingomarker 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 Mauritiusmarker. 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. In the later years of the war the French devoted great effort to rebuilding their navy, but the scattered force of hastily-built, often unseaworthy ships and inexperienced and demoralised crews they produced was incapable of challenging British control of the sea and remained under blockade until the fighting ended in 1814, while 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. 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. 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 the potential 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.

During the 19th century the Royal Navy enforced a ban on the slave trade, acted to suppress piracy, and continued to map the world. To this day, Admiralty charts are maintained by the Royal Navy. Royal Navy vessels on surveying missions carried out extensive scientific work. Charles Darwin travelled around the world on , making scientific observations which led him to propose the idea of evolution.

The end of the 19th century saw structural changes brought about by the First Sea Lord (Chief of 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 , the first all-big-gun ship and one of the most influential ships in naval history. This ship rendered all other battleships then existing obsolete, and unlike the more dramatic technological revolutions of the 19th century it brought a serious challenge to British naval hegemony. The industrial and economic development of Germanymarker had by this time overtaken Britain, enabling it to compete in warship building, 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. During these years, British supremacy was also undermined by the development of submarines, which made it possible for commerce raiders to bypass a dominant surface 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 this period, relations between the Royal Navy and the separate navies of the Dominions — the Royal Australian Navy (established as a separate service in 1901), the Royal Canadian Navy (1910), the Royal New Zealand Navy (1941) and the South African Navy (1922) — were very close. Officers were frequently transferred between them and the RN, and many ships belonging to Dominion navies served in British fleets and flotillas. The Dominion navies were frequently regarded as branches of the RN, and Dominion governments often did little to contradict this impression.

During the First World War, the majority of the Royal Navy's strength was deployed at home in the Grand Fleet. The primary aim was to draw the Hochseeflotte (the German "High Seas Fleet") into an engagement. No decisive victory ever came though. The Royal Navy and the Kaiserliche Marine fought many engagements including the Battle of Heligoland Bight, and the Battle of Jutlandmarker. Although it suffered heavier losses than the Hochseeflotte it did succeed in preventing the German Fleet from putting to sea in the latter stages of the War.
In the inter-war period the Royal Navy was stripped of much of its power. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, together with the deplorable financial conditions during the immediate post-war period and the Great Depression, forced the Admiralty to scrap some capital ships and to cancel plans for new construction. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 deferred new capital ship construction until 1937 and reiterated construction limits on cruisers, destroyers and submarines. In 1931, Britain was forced off the Gold Standard by the worsening economic conditions, in 1932 she revoked her involvement in free trade, and the Invergordon Mutiny took place over a proposed 25% pay cut which was eventually reduced to 10%. As international tensions increased in the mid-1930s the Second London Naval Treaty of 1935 failed to halt the development of a naval arms race and by 1938 treaty limits were effectively ignored. The re-armament 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 . In addition to new construction, several existing old battleships, battlecruisers and heavy cruisers were reconstructed, and anti-aircraft weaponry reinforced. New technologies such as ASDIC, Huff-Duff and hydrophones were also developed, and the Fleet Air Arm was reintroduced in 1937. However 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 Tarantomarker 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 three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition".
British Battlecruiser

The Royal Navy suffered huge losses in the early stages of the war including to the Bismarkmarker, and and HMS Prince of Wales of Force Z during the fall of Singaporemarker. 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 Mediterraneanmarker and the Far East. Naval supremacy in the Atlantic was vital to the amphibious operations carried out, such as the invasions of Northwest Africamarker, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. During the war however, it became clear that aircraft carriers were the new capital ships of naval warfare, and that Britain's former naval superiority in terms of battleships had become irrelevant. Though Britain was an early innovator in aircraft carrier design and in many naval technologies, it did not have the resources to pursue this in the post-war period.

Postwar period and 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. However, the threat of the Soviet Union and British commitments throughout the world created a new role for the Navy.

The 1960s saw the peak of the Royal Navy's capabilities in the post-war era. The two Audacious class fleet carriers , , the rebuilt and the four Centaur class light carriers gave the Royal Navy the most powerful carrier fleet outside the United States. The navy also had a large fleet of frigates and destroyers. New, more modern units like the s and s also began to enter service in the 1960s.
, one of the Royal Navy's current .
The 1960s also saw the launch of HMS Dreadnought, the Royal Navy's first SSN. The navy also received its first nuclear weapons with the introduction of the first of the Resolution class submarines and was later to become responsible for the maintenance of the UK's entire nuclear deterrent.

The Navy began plans for a replacement of its fleet of aircraft carriers in the mid-1960s. A plan was drawn up for 3 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.

After this the navy began to fall in size and by 1979 the last fleet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was scrapped. The navy was forced to make do with three much smaller s, and the fleet was now centred around anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic as opposed to its former position with world wide strike capability.
The most important operation conducted predominantly by the Royal Navy after the Second World War was the defeat in 1982 of Argentinamarker 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. 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 service's late 20th century dependence on chartered merchant vessels. 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 peninsulamarker. Using its Scorpio 45, a remote-controlled mini-sub, the submarine was freed from the fishing nets and cables that had held the Russian submarine 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 Royal Navy has approximately 39,000 personnel on active duty as of 1 June 2009 of which 34,400 are trained. This also includes active duty Royal Marine personnel.

Fleet composition

In numeric terms the Royal Navy has significantly reduced in size since the 1960s, reflecting the reducing requirement of the state. This raw figure does not take into account the increase in technological capability of the Navy's ships, but it does show the general reduction of capacity. The following table is a breakdown of the fleet numbers since 1960. The separate types of ship and how their numbers have changed are shown.

Year Submarines Carriers Assault Ships Surface Combatants Mine Counter Measure Vessels Patrol Ships and Craft Total
Total SSBN SSN SS & SSK Total CV CV(L) Total Cruisers Destroyers Frigates
1960 48 0 0 48 9 6 3 0 145 6 55 84 202
1965 47 0 1 46 6 4 2 0 117 5 36 76 170
1970 42 4 3 35 5 3 2 2 97 4 19 74 146
1975 32 4 8 20 3 1 2 2 72 2 10 60 43 14 166
1980 32 4 11 17 3 0 3 2 67 1 13 53 36 22 162
1985 33 4 14 15 4 0 4 2 56 0 15 41 45 32 172
1990 31 4 17 10 3 0 3 2 49 0 14 35 41 34 160
1995 16 4 12 0 3 0 3 2 35 0 12 23 18 32 106
2000 16 4 12 0 3 0 3 3 32 0 11 21 21 23 98
2005 15 4 11 0 3 0 3 2 28 0 9 19 16 26 90
2006 14 4 10 0 2 0 2 2 25 0 8 17 16 22 82
2007 13 4 9 0 3 0 3 3 25 0 8 17 18 25 88
2009 12 4 8 0 3 0 3 3 23 0 6 17 18 25 85

Before the Falklands War in 1982, the then Defence Secretary John Nott had advocated, and initiated, a series of cutbacks to the Navy. 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. With 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 Sovietmarker submarines in the North Atlanticmarker, and to operate the nuclear deterrent submarine force.

UK foreign policy after the end of the Cold War has given rise to a number of operations which have required an aircraft carrier to be deployed globally such as the Adriatic, Peace Support Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker and Kosovomarker, Sierra Leonemarker, the Persian Gulfmarker. Destroyers and frigates have been deployed against piracy in the Malacca Straitsmarker and Horn of Africa. Consequently 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.

Large fleet units – amphibious and carriers

Two s which have been ordered are to be a new generation of aircraft carrier to replace the three aircraft carriers. The two vessels are expected to cost £3.9 billion, will displace 65,000 tons and, although now somewhat delayed, are planned to enter service from around 2015. They will be STOVL supercarriers, operating the STOVL variant of the F-35 Lightning II, which is planned for both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force to replace the Harrier. A helicopter carrier designed from the Invincible class aircraft carriers, 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 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."

Escort units

The escort fleet, in the form of frigates and destroyers, is the traditional workhorse of the Navy, and is also being updated. The 2009 fleet of five and 1 in reserve Type 42 destroyers are to be replaced with the much larger Type 45 destroyer class.

Six Type 45 destroyers are under construction or waiting to enter service . Under the terms of the original contract the Navy was to order twelve vessels, but only the six will be constructed. 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.

The last frigate to enter service was the Type 23 frigate, . 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. 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. 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.


: the first .
Four s are currently under construction or awaiting to enter service, with a further three or four planned depending on costs. The first, is due to enter service in 2009. These submarines are much larger than their predecessors, the and are expected to displace 7,800 tons submerged. All seven Trafalgar class submarines are currently in service, with one , 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 , 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.

Other vessels

At the beginning of the 1990s the Royal Navy had two classes of Offshore Patrol vessel, the , and the larger . However, in 1997 a decision was taken to replace them. An order for three much larger offshore patrol vessels, the 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, , was commissioned in July 2007 and became the Falkland Islandsmarker guardship.The Royal Navy also has the 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. When needed they 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 . The four vessels were replaced by the survey vessel which surveys the ocean floor. meanwhile, surveys the UK continental shelf or other shallow waters in support of the larger vessels. 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

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. These objectives are delivered via a number of core capabilities:

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 Royal Navy is deployed in the Mediterranean as part of standing NATO deployments including mine countermeasures and NATO Maritime Group 2 and also has the Royal Navy Cyprus Squadron. In both the North and South Atlantic Royal Naval vessels are patrolling. There is always a Falkland Islands Patrol Vessel on deployment, currently the new vessel . The Royal Navy is also deployed in the Middle East to provide "maritime security and surveillance in the Northern Persian Gulf".

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 Armed Forces).

The professional head of the Naval Service is the First Sea Lord, an Admiral and member of the Defence Council. 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.

Senior leadership

As of July 2009, the following persons were in office:

Fleet command

Full command of all deployable fleet units (including the Royal Marines and the Fleet Auxiliary) is the responsibility of Commander-in-Chief Fleet (CINCFLEET), with a Command Headquarters at in Portsmouth and an Operational Headquarters at Northwoodmarker, Middlesexmarker. The latter is co-located with the Permanent Joint Headquartersmarker of the United Kingdom's armed forces, and a NATO Regional Command, Allied Maritime Component Command Northwood (AMCCN). CINCFLEET is also Commander AMCCN. The purpose of CINCFLEET is to provide ships and submarines and commando forces at readiness to conduct military and diplomatic tasks as required by the UK government, including the recruitment and training of personnel.
  • Commander-in-Chief Fleet Headquarters:
    • 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
    • Chief of Staff (Support and Transformation): Rear Admiral M. Kimmons
    • 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 P. A. Jones (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 Andy Salmon OBE, 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 Headquarters


The Royal Navy currently operates three bases in the United Kingdom where commissioned ships are based; Portsmouthmarker, Clydemarker and Devonportmarker, Plymouthmarker — Devonport is the largest operational naval base in the UK and Western Europe. 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 Brigademarker Royal Marines is similarly commanded by a Brigadier and based in Plymouth.

Historically the Royal Navy maintained Royal Navy Dockyards around the world. Dockyards of the Royal Navy are harbours where ships are overhauled and refitted. Only four are operating today; at Devonport, Faslanemarker, Rosythmarker and at Portsmouth. 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.

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

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 eg United States Navy.

Special forces

The Royal Navy, through the Royal Marines, provides the Special Boat Servicemarker (SBS), one of the three Special Forces units within the United Kingdom Special Forces group. The SBS is a maritime Special Forces capability and is an independent force element of the Royal Marines. Based at RM Poole in Poolemarker, Dorsetmarker it is made up of 4 operational squadrons and an element of the Royal Marines Reserve which provides individual trained ranks to the regular force.

Roles include maritime activities such as covert shore reconnaissance, small boat operations, amphibious raiding and Maritime Counter-Terrorism however the force also conducts traditional land-centric activities.

The SBS provides the special forces element of 3 Commando Brigademarker when deployed.

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).

Of ships

Royal Navy ships in commission are prefixed since 1789 with Her Majesty's Ship (His Majesty's Ship), abbreviated to HMS, e.g., . 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 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).

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 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.

Another popular tradition of the British Navy is that they play several cricket matches with local teams, and against the 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) and "The Senior Service". 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. 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.


 - Samuel Eliot Morison

In popular culture

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 Chinamarker. 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. Other examples of full length feature films focusing specifically on the Royal Navy, have been: Seagulls over Sorrento; Yangtse Incident, the story of '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.

Television documentaries about the Royal Navy include Sailor, about life on the aircraft carrier ; 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., Dasa
  2. Queen's Regulations of the Royal Navy (BR2), chapter one
  3. Bede, A History of the English Church and People, tr. Leo Sherley-Price (1955)
  4. Swanton, Michael (ed. and tr.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (2000), pp. 64-5, 76-9, 90-1
  5. Rodger, N. A. M., The Safeguard of the Sea - a naval history of Britain - Volume one, 660-1649 (1997), pp. 18-30
  6. Swanton, p. 138
  7. Swanton, pp. 154-5, 160-72
  8. Swanton, pp. 194-9
  9. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 35-49
  10. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 52-3, 117-30
  11. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 93-9
  12. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 91-7, 99-116, 143-4
  13. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 221-37
  14. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 238-53, 281-6, 292-6
  15. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 253-71
  16. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 349-63
  17. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 379-94, 482
  18. Rodger, N. A. M., The Command of the Ocean - a naval history of Britain 1649-1815 (2004), pp. 2-3, 216-7, 607
  19. Rodger, Command, pp. 6-8
  20. Rodger, Command, pp. 12-16
  21. Rodger, Command, pp. 16-18
  22. Rodger, Command, pp. 67-76
  23. Rodger, Command, pp. 76-7
  24. Rodger, Command, pp. 80-5
  25. Rodger, Command, pp. 88-91
  26. Rodger, Command, pp. 142-52, 607-8
  27. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 395-8; Rodger, Command, pp. 33-55, 95-122
  28. Rodger, Command, p. 608
  29. Rodger, Command, pp. 291-311, 408-25, 473-6, 484-8
  30. Rodger, Command, pp. 164-80
  31. Rodger, Command, pp. 227-8
  32. Rodger, Command, pp. 234-56
  33. Rodger, Command, pp. 263-79, 284
  34. Rodger, Command, pp. 277-83
  35. Rodger, Command, pp. 284-7
  36. Rodger, Command, pp. 330-51
  37. Rodger, Command, pp. 351-2
  38. Rodger, Command, pp. 353-7
  39. Parkinson, C. Northcote, Britannia Rules - the classic age of naval history 1793-1815 (1977), pp. 15-19; Rodger, Command, pp. 427-33
  40. Parkinson, pp. 33-7, 45-9; Rodger, Command, pp. 435-6, 438-40, 456, 463
  41. Parkinson, pp. 54-61; Rodger, Command, pp. 457-61
  42. Parkinson, pp.40-5; Rodger, Command, pp. 445-50
  43. Parkinson, pp. 75-82; Rodger, Command, pp. 468-71
  44. Parkinson, pp. 82-4; Rodger, Command, pp. 428-9, 435-6, 472
  45. Parkinson, pp. 91-114; Rodger, Command, pp. 528-44
  46. Parkinson, pp. 114, 117-8, 131-40; Rodger, Command, pp. 542-3, 545-8, 555-7
  47. Parkinson, pp. 120-1; Rodger, Command, p. 549
  48. Rodger, Command, pp. 564-72
  49. Rodger, Command, p. 562
  50. Churchill, Winston; The Second World War Volume III, "The Grand Alliance", Chapter XVI Crete: The Battle. p265
  52. created from data found at and Conways All the World's Fighting Ships 1947–1995

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