This is the first volume edited for the Navy Records Society to deal with the post-1945 Royal Navy. It begins in January 1944, the point at which serious thought started to be given to the size and shape of the postwar Fleet. It concludes with the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, an event which upset many previous planning assumptions and initiated a short-lived rearmament programme. Subsequent volumes will continue the story through the 1950s and beyond.
By the beginning of 1944 Italy had already been defeated and victory against Germany some time in 1945 looked increasingly sure, though the war against Japan was expected to last well into 1946 at least. For the first eighteen months of the period, therefore, planning the future fleet was based on postwar requirements in Europe but a continuing war in the Far East to which Britain intended to make a substantial contribution.
The sudden and unexpected Japanese surrender in August 1945 immediately removed the latter requirement, and without the Navy having suffered the heavy losses of modern ships that were anticipated. But the new Labour Government led by Clement Attlee faced a fresh challenge – an economic crisis that necessitated immediate retrenchment to reduce spending on the Armed Forces and, as important, to release manpower for the civilian economy. Large parts of the Navy’s new construction programme were cancelled but the wartime fleet and residual building programme enabled the Fleet to ‘live off the fat’ of the wartime years for some time. The War left another legacy in that, lacking any better information, planning assumed a third Battle of the Atlantic much like the previous one.
By 1947 the incipient Cold War with Russia and continuing worldwide interests and responsibilities provided a basis for longer-term planning to begin. 1957 soon became the planning date for the future fleet as that was when it was assumed – on scant evidence – that war with the Soviet Union would become more likely. Renewed economic crises in 1947 and again in 1949 derailed plans almost as soon as they were developed.
The imperative to reconcile economic realities with the pressing need to modernise an increasingly obsolescent fleet resulted in the ‘Revised Restricted Fleet’ of 1949. This included a huge and largely unmodernised Reserve Fleet awaiting a call to arms in the event of mobilisation. Plans for new construction remained very modest and a steady stream of newly completed ships was almost entirely delayed wartime construction. It was also apparent that most of the Navy’s carriers would be unable to operate the larger, heavier, faster aircraft of the 1950s. Manpower remained a perennial issue, especially the retention of Regulars.
The establishment of the NATO alliance brought force commitments which Britain always struggled to meet. Then the outbreak of the Korean War caused planning to start again with fresh assumptions and revised targets.
This diary was written by Petty Officer Samuel George Hobbs between September 1912 and November 1916. It is held in the archives of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.
The Final Part: Part III: The Sinking of the Dresden, March 1915
This article tell the story of the German cruiser Königsberg, and the enormous efforts made by the British to sink her, a task that took an entire year. And Robley Browne, Fleet Surgeon on board HMS Hyacinth, flagship of the squadron of the Cape of Good Hope Station, was on hand to record the events.
This post presents an account by Captain Edmund Hooper of the loss of HMS Jarak off Singapore in 1942. A subsequent post will publish Hooper’s excellent sketchbook detailing the sinking and his imprisonment at the infamous Chungkai prison camp.
This transcribed passage is but one interview from the courts martial proceedings during the 1776 trial of Mr Ford Forster, who had been serving as Master aboard the Carcass. The trial was held in New York on 15 December, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, and resulted in Forster being ‘Dismissed from His Majesty’s Service, and rendered incapable of serving as an officer in it’. The peculiarities of Forster’s ‘very mutinous and disorderly behaviour’ – and the manner in which Forster’s case was handled by the assembled court – gives us insight into how naval authority and discipline was exercised, in times of war and an ocean away from home.
 ‘Ford Forster Master of the Carcass Bomb Vessel for Mutinous behaviour’. TNA, ADM 1/5307/589-592, Courts Martial records.
A 3- part post exploring the fascinating history of Gilbert Blane. Sir Gilbert Blane (1749-1834), has a considerable reputation as a reformer of naval health, especially in terms of preventative health measures and he has been hailed as “the father of naval medical science”. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and, after qualifying, he was recommended to George Rodney, who appointed Blane as his personal physician to look after his health needs and those of his crew. In 1779 Blane sailed with Rodney to the West Indies on board HMS Sandwich. He was swiftly promoted, by Rodney, to the position of Physician to the Fleet in 1780 and served in that role for 3 years during the American Revolutionary Wars.
This is the second and last excerpt from a notebook of 24-year-old Lieutenant Alexander Colvill, written during the unsuccessful attempt to capture Cartagena in 1741. It is presented as an exclusive preview of papers now being catalogued by archivists at the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum. Members of the Navy Records Society who visited the library in February 2019 were shown some of the many documents donated by the Colville family. In this part, Colvill’s ship, the bomb ketch Alderney, is again in the forefront of the action as the large British amphibious force attempts to bombard and storm the fort of San Lazaro (now known as the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas). Capture of the fort would have opened the way to take the nearby centre of Cartagena. The failure of the attack in 1741 hastened the fall of the government of Robert Walpole the following year and has been debated among historians ever since.[i]
[i] Accounts of the Cartagena expedition can be found in B. McL. Ranft, The Vernon Papers, (London, Navy Records Society, Vol. 99, 1958), including Ranft’s introduction and a selection of Vernon’s correspondence; Richard Harding, Amphibious Warfare in the Eighteenth Century: The British Expedition to the West Indies 1740-1742, (Woodbridge, A Royal Historical Society Publication published by the Boydell Press, 1991), pp. 83-121; Julián de Zulueta, ‘Health and Military Factors in Vernon’s Failure at Cartagena’, Mariner’s Mirror, Vol. 78, Issue 2, 1992, pp. 127-141
This was Thomas’s second sea service; before Devonport, he had spent 3 years on the Mediterranean Station with HMS HUSSAR, a Dryad-class torpedo gunboat only an eighth of the tonnage of his new posting. HMS KENT was a Monmouth-class armoured cruiser of 9,800 tons, completed in 1903 but put in reserve, and now recommissioned for the China station.
“Said goodbye to my dear young wife. I never thought I should have felt so “cut up.” Never felt so bad before in my life!! However I had to bite my lips & grin & bear it!!! That’s the worst of a seafaring life.” (pp.6-7) For all that, Thomas seems to have taken the opportunity of the voyage to absorb as many new experiences as possible, from “ginrickshaws”* to the occasional “flutter” at the gambling tables of Macao, then a Portuguese territory where pastimes forbidden in Hong Kong attracted visitors both Chinese and European.
*Rickshaws; a variant of the original spelling jinrikisha, according to the Oxford English Dictionary from the Japanese jin man + riki strength, power + sha ve
The 22-year-old Victor ‘Dick’ Hutley records his voyage as part of the Royal Tour of West Africa, South Africa and South America from the sick berth of the battlecruiser, HMS Repulse.
Part IV: Simonstown Hospital
Part V: Treating the Prince.
F. (Thomas Frederick) Richards, born in Scilly, joined the Royal Navy on the 8th January 1897, not long after his 21st birthday, as an Acting ERA (Engine Room Artificer) 4th class on the books of HMS Vivid II, the Stokers and Engine Room Artificers School in Devonport. Eight years later, in 1905, he was promoted to the warrant rank of Artificer Engineer. The First World War Medal Roll records him as Chief Engineer Artificer Thomas F. Richards, sent the “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” trio (1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal) in 1920/21, when he was again on the books of HMS Vivid, at that time the RN barracks. At a later date he was promoted to officer rank. The notebook featured here, with its various enclosures, is among the private papers of Thomas Richards’s descendants. It opens with details and general characteristics and dimensions of HMS Revenge. Directly afterwards that the diary begins with February 1 1916, the date on which Revenge was commissioned, and continues until June 5 of the same year, a few days after the Battle of Jutland.
Mervyn Stawell Norris Bryan was born in 1851, youngest son of Reverend J W Bryan, of Cliddesden, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England. He wrote three journals describing his experiences in the Royal Navy. He also left a photograph album of his travels between 1869 and 1879. His visited many Mediterranean ports, the Azores, St Helena and Ascension Island, the West Coast of Africa, South Africa, the West Indies and Australia.
Lieutenant Bryan’s diaries cover his life at sea, commencing as a midshipman on HMS Royal Albert and HMS Caledonia, as a sub-Lieutenant, on HMS Hector and HMS Encounter, as a Lieutenant on HMS Barracouta and HMS Boxer.
This brief article focusses on his time in the Navy during the 3rd Ashanti War (1873-4), on the Gold Coast of Africa, aboard the Encounter and Barracouta.
The downturn in naval orders starting 1922 with the Washington Treaty sent shockwaves through the armaments industry, starting with the collapse of the Coventry Ordnance Works in 1925, but eventually toppling industrial giants like Beardmore and Palmer’s. How the industry reacted and adapted to this change is still understudied. The extracts presented represent one of the most novel, but also shocking, attempts to do so in the 1920s and 1930s: by fixing prices for Admiralty contracts through the formation of a cartel. By examining two cases from the years preceding rearmament, it shows both the costs and benefits of such a scheme to the British state.
This post presents extracts from William Schaw Lindsay’s (1815-1877) papers held in the National Maritime Museum. In 1854, during the ....
This post presents photographs taken during HMS Ajax’s first commission and an extract from her log. The photographs are taken from the ....
Bryan Godfrey Godfrey-Faussett (always known as Godfrey to his friends) was a contemporary at HMS Britannia of Rosslyn Wemyss, Sir ....