Coming Soon




Captain Jeremy Stocker, Planning the Postwar Fleet Volume 1; 1944 – 1950 Vol 171 (2024) 

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.



Samuel Bentham, Inspector General of Naval Works, 1796-1807, Letters and Papers edited by Dr Roger Morriss. 

Samuel Bentham, Inspector General of Naval Works, 1796-1807, built successful ships, advocated non-recoil gunnery and introduced steam powered machinery into the dockyards. The facilities he created at Portsmouth remain as a memorial to his ambition. As a technologist and ideologue, he straddled the 18th and 19th centuries and helped to create the steam navy. Yet, in virtually everything he did, he courted controversy, not least because he recognised vested interest and, like his elder brother, Jeremy, pursued the interest of the public by commitment to the Principle of Utility.

Trained in the royal yards as a shipwright, Bentham went to Russia in 1779 and entered the service of Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin. There he fostered his talent for invention and innovation, developed the concept of the Panopticon and learned the value of individual responsibility. Having equipped the flotilla of small craft that fought and defeated the Turkish navy in the Black Sea, he returned to Britain in 1791 aged 34 as a Brigadier General.

Attached to the Admiralty from 1795, he aimed to enlarge the capacity and efficiency of the dockyards, as measured by the turn-around speed of ships refitting and undergoing minor repairs. He admired ‘mill practice’ and developed the Wood and Metal Mills at Portsmouth to demonstrate the ability of the navy to become as efficient as private industry. To this end, he aimed to use contemporary science, logical thinking and education to enhance yard productivity. Economy naturally depended on cultural factors and in 1800 he advanced a programme of administrative reform based on personal accountability, detailed accountancy and central control.

Bentham was supported by First Lords Spencer and St Vincent, but avoided involvement in the latter’s Commission of naval inquiry into abuses in the naval departments. However, he aggravated members of the Navy Board by the works he directed at Portsmouth and he aroused their apprehension by his obvious ambition and condemnation of collective responsibility. In 1805 he was sent to Russia on a mission to build ships for Britain. That proved abortive. Yet, while he was away, his Admiralty post was abolished by the Commission of naval revision and in 1808 he was obliged to accept the post of Civil Architect and Engineer at the Navy Board. In 1812 that post too was dissolved and Bentham was forced to wait until 1815 for his pension and Russian expenses.

A brilliant man of extraordinary capabilities, a polymath who planted many modern ideas in the civil departments of the navy, Samuel Bentham was nevertheless a challenging figure. He has been too little known: his Mechanist and friend, Simon Goodrich, advised him he was regarded as a ‘strange creature’ at the Navy Board. Yet in 1812 he left his record of Services which became a source of guidance during the post-war rationalisation. The Whig government of 1806 also admired his ideas and, in conjunction with those of his brother, they continued to have influence in the nineteenth century when the Whigs returned to power.  


The Diary of Petty Officer Samuel George Hobbs, September 1912- November 1916

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

The Sinking of HMS Jarak 1942

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.

The Court Martial of Mr Ford Forster 1776

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’.[1] 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.

[1] ‘Ford Forster Master of the Carcass Bomb Vessel for Mutinous behaviour’. TNA, ADM 1/5307/589-592, Courts Martial records.

Letters from Sir Gilbert Blane (1749-1834) in the West Indies 1779.

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.



The Colville Papers Part III: Cartagena 1741

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


East of Aden on board HMS Kent – from the diary of TF Richards

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

Victor Hutley’s diary of the 1925 Royal tour of Africa and south America, in five parts

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.

HMS Revenge at the Battle of Jutland – from the diary of TF Richards

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.

Diary of Lieutenant Mervyn Bryan : the Royal Navy’s role in the 3rd Ashanti War 1873-4.

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.

Interwar Naval Price Fixing

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.