Royal Navy

This article is about the United Kingdom's navy. For other uses, see Royal Navy (disambiguation) and Senior Service (disambiguation).
Royal Navy
Founded 1660
Country  United Kingdom[nb 1]
Branch Her Majesty's Naval Service
Type Navy
Role Naval warfare
Size 32,880 Regular
3,040 Maritime Reserve
7,960 Royal Fleet Reserve[nb 2]
77 commissioned ships[nb 3]
174 aircraft[1]
Naval Staff Offices Whitehall, London, England, UK
Nickname(s) Senior Service
Motto(s) "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (Latin)
"If you wish for peace, prepare for war"
Colours Red and white
March "Heart of Oak"
Fleet 1 ship of the line
11 submarines
1 amphibious assault ship
2 amphibious transport docks
6 destroyers
13 frigates
4 offshore patrol vessels
15 mine countermeasures vessels
18 fast patrol boats
4 survey ships
1 icebreaker
1 static ship
Lord High Admiral HRH the Duke of Edinburgh
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB
Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Ben Key CBE
Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock OBE
White Ensign [nb 4]
Naval Jack [nb 5]
Aircraft flown
Attack Wildcat, Lynx, F-35B Lightning II
Fighter F-35B Lightning II
Patrol Wildcat, Lynx, Merlin, Sea King
Reconnaissance Wildcat, Lynx, Merlin, ScanEagle
Trainer Tutor, Hawk
Transport Merlin, Sea King, Dauphin

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's principal 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,[2] although at the onset of the Second World War 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.[3][4][5]

The Royal Navy maintains a fleet of technologically sophisticated ships and submarines[6] including an amphibious assault ship, two amphibious transport docks, four ballistic missile submarines (which maintain the UK's nuclear deterrent), seven nuclear fleet submarines, six guided missile destroyers, 13 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, Plymouth, the last being the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.


Development of an English navy

Middle Ages

The strength of the fleets of the Kingdom of England was an important element in the kingdom's power in the 10th century.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

The Battle of Sluys as depicted in Froissart's Chronicles; late 14th century

English naval power seemingly declined as a result of the Norman conquest.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

Henry VII deserves a large share of credit in the establishment of a standing navy. He embarked on a program of building ships larger than heretofore. He also invested in dockyards, and commissioned the oldest surviving dry dock in 1495 at Portsmouth,[14]


A late 16th century painting of the Spanish Armada in battle with English warships

A standing "Navy Royal", with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships, originated in the early 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII.[15] Under Elizabeth I England became involved in a war with Spain, which saw privately owned ships combining with the Royal Navy in highly profitable raids against Spanish commerce and colonies.[16]

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.[17] A Counter Armada, known as the English Armada, was dispatched to the Iberian coast in 1589, but failed to drive home the advantage England had won upon the dispersal of the Spanish Armada in the previous year.

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.[18] Charles I undertook a major programme of warship building, creating a small force of powerful ships, but his methods of fund-raising to finance the fleet contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War.[19] In the wake of this conflict and the abolition of the monarchy, the new Commonwealth of England, isolated and threatened from all sides, dramatically expanded the Navy, which became the most powerful in the world.[20]

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

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

The Dutch Raid on the Medway in 1667 during the Second Anglo–Dutch War

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.[27] Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, England joined the European coalition against Louis XIV in the War of the Grand Alliance (1688–1697) in alliance with the Dutch. The allies were defeated at Beachy Head (1690), but victory at Barfleur-La Hogue (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.[28]

In the course of the 17th century, the Navy completed the transition from a semi-amateur Navy Royal fighting in conjunction with private vessels into a fully professional institution, a Royal Navy. Its financial provisions were gradually regularised, it came to rely on dedicated warships only, and it developed a professional officer corps with a defined career structure, superseding an earlier mix of sailors and socially prominent former soldiers.[29]

Development of Britain's navy


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

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.[30] 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.[31]

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1714), the Navy operated in conjunction with the Dutch against the navies of France and Spain. Naval operations in European waters focused on the acquisition of a Mediterranean base, contributing to a renewal of the long-lasting alliance with Portugal in 1703 and to the capture of Gibraltar (1704) and Minorca (1708) (both of which Britain retained after the war), and on supporting the efforts of Britain's Austrians Habsburg allies to seize control of Spain and its Mediterranean dependencies from the Bourbons. French naval squadrons did considerable damage to English and Dutch commercial convoys during the early years of the war. However, a major victory over France and Spain at the Battle of Vigo Bay (1702), further successes in battle, and the scuttling of the entire French Mediterranean fleet at Toulon in 1707 virtually cleared the Navy's opponents from the seas for the latter part of the war. Naval operations also enabled the conquest of the French colonies in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.[32] 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 Minorca.

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.[33][34] The siege ended in defeat and huge losses for the British navy and army.[35] 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.[36]

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 in 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.[37] A new French attempt to invade Britain was thwarted by 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.[38] In 1762 the resumption of hostilities with Spain led to the British capture of Havana (along with a Spanish fleet sheltering there) and of Manila.[39]

The Battle of the Saintes (1782). On the right, the French flagship, the Ville de Paris, in action against HMS Barfleur.

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 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 to cut off the colonial rebels from outside support.[40] 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.[41] 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 Caribbean victories in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 and in 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.[42]

The Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 to support the ultimatum to release European slaves

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.[43]

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.[44] 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.[45] The Spithead and Nore mutinies in 1797 incapacitated the Channel and North Sea fleets, leaving Britain potentially exposed to invasion, but were rapidly resolved.[46] The British Mediterranean fleet under 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.[47] 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.[48]

The Battle of Trafalgar, depicted here in its opening phase

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, Ceylon and in the Dutch East Indies. 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.[49] 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 in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).[50] 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 to amphibious operations which again captured the colonies which had been restored at Amiens, along with France's Indian Ocean base at Mauritius.[51] In 1807 French plans to seize the Danish fleet led to a pre-emptive British attack in the second Battle of Copenhagen, resulting in the surrender of the entire Danish navy.[52] At the time of Trafalgar, over half of the Royal Navy's 120,000 sailors were pressed men.[53] 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.[54] The brief renewal of war after Napoleon's return to power in 1815 did not bring a resumption of naval combat.[55]


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.

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

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.[56] 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 pirate 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.[57] 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 1905. 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. Britain emerged triumphant from the ensuing arms race, 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.[58]

Reforms were also gradually introduced in the conditions for enlisted men with the abolition of military flogging in 1879, amongst others.[59]


During the two World Wars, the Royal Navy played a vital role in protecting the flow of food, munitions and raw materials to Britain by defeating the German campaigns of unrestricted submarine warfare in the first and second battles of the Atlantic.

During the First World War, most of the Royal Navy's strength was 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 First World 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.[60]

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:[61][62]

During the early phases of the Second World War, the Royal Navy provided critical cover during British evacuations from Dunkirk. At the Battle of Taranto, Admiral Cunningham commanded a fleet that launched the first all-aircraft naval attack in history. Later, Cunningham was determined that as many Allied soldiers as possible should be evacuated after their defeat on Crete. When army generals feared he would lose too many ships, he famously said, "It takes the Navy three years to build a new ship. It will take three hundred years to build a new tradition. The evacuation will continue."[63]

British battlecruiser HMS Hood

The Royal Navy suffered huge losses in the first two years of the war, including the carriers HMS Ark Royal, HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious, battleships HMS Royal Oak and HMS Barham, and the battlecruiser HMS Hood in the European Theatre, and the carrier HMS Hermes, battlecruiser HMS Repulse, battleship HMS Prince of Wales, and heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire, HMS Cornwall, and HMS Exeter in the Asian Theatre. Of the 1,418 men on the Hood, only three survived.[64] Over 3,000 people were lost when the converted troopship Lancastria was sunk in June 1940, creating the greatest maritime disaster in Britain's history.[65] There were, however, early successes against enemy surface ships, at the Battle of the River Plate in 1939, and off Norway in 1940. In May 1941, with the sinking of the Bismarck, Germany effectively lost her open ocean surface ship capabilities. As well as providing cover in operations, it was also vital in guarding the sea lanes that enabled British forces to fight in remote parts of the world such as North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Naval supremacy in the Atlantic was vital to the amphibious operations carried out, such as the invasions of Northwest Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. Royal Navy ships also provided an important role in escorting convoys across the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and to other countries on the allied side, protecting them from air, surface and submarine attack. The German battleship Scharnhorst was one capital ship sunk while trying to attack an allied convoy in 1943. By the end of the war the Royal Navy comprised over 4,800 ships, and was the second largest fleet in the world.[66]

Postwar period and early 21st century

After the Second World War, the decline of the British Empire and the economic hardships in Britain forced the reduction in the size and capability of the Royal Navy. All of the pre-war ships (except for the Town-class light cruisers) were quickly retired and most sold for scrapping over the years 1945–48, and only the best condition ships (the four surviving KG-V class battleships, carriers, cruisers, and some destroyers) were retained and refitted for service. The increasingly powerful United States Navy took on the former role of the Royal Navy as global naval power and police force of the sea. The combination of the threat of the Soviet Union, and Britain's commitments throughout the world, created a new role for the Navy. Governments since the Second World War have had to balance commitments with increasing budgetary pressures, partly due to the increasing cost of weapons systems, what historian Paul Kennedy called the Upward Spiral. These pressures have been exacerbated by bitter inter-service rivalry. A modest new construction programme was initiated with some new carriers (Majestic- and Centaur-class light carriers, and Audacious-class large carriers being completed between 1948 through 1958), along with three Tiger-class cruisers (completed 1959–61), the Daring-class destroyers in the 1950s, and finally the County-class guided missile destroyers completed in the 1960s.

HMS Dreadnought, the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine, was launched in the 1960s. The navy also received its first nuclear weapons with the introduction of the first of the Resolution-class submarines armed with the Polaris missile. The introduction of Polaris followed the cancellation of the GAM-87 Skybolt missile which had been proposed for use by the Air Force's V bomber force. By the 1990s, the navy became responsible for the maintenance of the UK's entire nuclear arsenal. The financial costs attached to nuclear deterrence became an increasingly significant issue for the navy.

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class aircraft carrier

The Navy began plans to replace its fleet of aircraft carriers in the mid-1960s. A plan was drawn up for three large aircraft carriers, each displacing about 60,000 tons; the plan was designated CVA-01. These carriers would be able to operate the latest aircraft coming into service and keep the Royal Navy's place as a major naval power. The new Labour government that came to power in 1964 was determined to cut defence expenditure as a means to reduce public spending, and in the 1966 Defence White Paper the project was cancelled.[67] The existing carriers (all built during, or just after World War II) were refitted, two (Bulwark and Albion) becoming commando carriers, and three (Victorious, Eagle, and Ark Royal) being rebuilt with modern radars, angled decks, and steam catapults to operate modern jet aircraft. Starting in 1965 with Centaur, one by one these carriers were decommissioned without replacement, culminating with the 1979 retirement of Ark Royal. By the early 1980s, only Hermes survived and received a refit (just in time for the Falklands War), to operate Sea Harriers. She operated along with three much smaller Invincible-class aircraft carriers, and the fleet was now centred around anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic as opposed to its former position with worldwide strike capability. Along with the war era carriers, all of the war built cruisers and destroyers, along with the post-war built Tiger-class cruisers and large County-class guided missile destroyers were either retired or sold by 1984.

One of the most important operations conducted predominantly by the Royal Navy after the Second World War was the 1982 defeat of Argentina in the Falkland Islands War. Despite losing four naval ships and other civilian and RFA ships, the Royal Navy fought and won a war over 8,000 miles (12,000 km) from Great Britain. HMS Conqueror is the only nuclear-powered submarine to have engaged an enemy ship with torpedoes, sinking the cruiser ARA General Belgrano. The war also underlined the importance of aircraft carriers and submarines and exposed the weaknesses of the service's late 20th century dependence on chartered merchant vessels.

Before the Falklands War, Defence Secretary John Nott had advocated and initiated a series of cutbacks to the Navy.[68] The Falklands War though, provided a reprieve in Nott-proposed cutbacks, and proved a need for the Royal Navy to regain an expeditionary and littoral capability which, with its resources and structure at the time, would prove difficult. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Royal Navy was a force focused on blue-water anti-submarine warfare. Its purpose was to search for and destroy Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic, and to operate the nuclear deterrent submarine force. For a time Hermes was retained, along with all three of the Invincible-class light aircraft carriers. More Sea Harriers were ordered; not just to replace losses, but to also increase the size of the Fleet Air Arm. New and more capable ships were built; notably the Sheffield-class destroyers, the Type 21, Type 22, and Type 23 frigates, and new LPDs of the Albion class, and HMS Ocean, but never in the numbers of the ships that they replaced. As a result, the RN surface fleet continues to reduce in size. A 2013 report found that the current RN was already too small, and that Britain would have to depend on her allies if her territories were attacked.[69]

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

In 2015, the Royal Navy was deployed to the Mediterranean in the mission to rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.[70]

Royal Navy today


Britannia Royal Naval College

HMS Raleigh at Torpoint, Cornwall, is the basic training facility for newly enlisted personnel. Britannia Royal Naval College is the initial officer training establishment for the navy, located at Dartmouth, Devon. Personnel are divided into a general duties branch, which includes those seamen officers eligible for command, and other branches including the Royal Naval Engineers, medical, and Logistics Officers, the renamed Supply Officer branch. Present day officers and ratings have several different Royal Navy uniforms; some are blue, others are white. Women began to join the Royal Navy in 1917 with the formation of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), which was disbanded after the end of the First World War in 1919. It was revived in 1939, and the WRNS continued until disbandment in 1993, as a result of the decision to fully integrate women into the structures of the Royal Navy. The only current restriction on women in the RN is that they may not serve in the Royal Marines (they are allowed in the band).

As of 1 January 2015, the Naval Service (Royal Navy and Royal Marines) numbered some 32,880 Regular[71] and 3,040 Maritime Reserve personnel (Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve),[72] giving a combined component strength of 35,920 personnel. In addition to the active elements of the Naval Service (Regular and Maritime Reserve), all ex-Regular personnel remain liable to be recalled for duty in a time of need, this is known as the Regular Reserve. In 2002, there were 26,520 Regular Reserves of the Naval Service, of which 13,720 served in the Royal Fleet Reserve.[73] Publications since April 2013 no-longer report the entire strength of the Regular Reserve, instead they only give a figure for Regular Reserves who serve in the Royal Fleet Reserve.[74] They had a strength of 7,960 personnel in 2013.[75] All personnel figures exclude the University Royal Naval Unit.

Surface fleet

Large fleet units – amphibious and carriers
HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's dedicated helicopter carrier, during Exercise Cold Response in Norway, 2010

The large fleet units in the Royal Navy consisted of amphibious warfare ships and aircraft carriers, until August 2014, when the last carrier was decommissioned. Amphibious warfare ships in current service include an amphibious assault ship (HMS Ocean), and two landing platform docks (HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark)—Ocean being the current flagship of the fleet. While their primary role is to conduct amphibious warfare, they have also been deployed for humanitarian aid missions.

HMS Illustrious was the sole remaining aircraft carrier in service with the Royal Navy. Following the disputed[76] retirement of the Harrier GR9 aircraft in 2010, Illustrious had been serving as an amphibious assault ship while Ocean was in refit. Illustrious was decommissioned on 28 August 2014, after Ocean had returned to active duty.[77] However, two much larger Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are under construction. These carriers are expected to cost £6 billion (double the original estimate),[78] displace 70,600 tonnes and commence flight trials in 2018. Both are intended to operate the STOVL variant of the F-35 Lightning II. While it had been speculated that one of the ships may be placed in "extended readiness" or sold with "cooperation with a close ally to provide continuous carrier-strike capability",[79] Prime Minister David Cameron stated at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales that both carriers would enter operational service. [80] This was confirmed by the November 2015 Government Strategic Defence Review.[81]

The Navy's large fleet units are supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary which possesses three amphibious transport docks within its operational craft. These are known as the Bay-class landing ships, of which four were introduced in 2006–2007, but one was sold to the Royal Australian Navy in 2011.[82] In November 2006, the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band described the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels as "a major uplift in the Royal Navy's war fighting capability."[83]

Major surface combatants – destroyers and frigates

The escort fleet, in the form of guided missile destroyers and frigates, is the traditional workhorse of the Navy.[84] As of January 2014 there are six Type 45 destroyers and 13 Type 23 frigates in active service. Among their primary roles is to provide escort for the larger capital ships—protecting them from air, surface and subsurface threats. Other duties include undertaking the Royal Navy's standing deployments across the globe, which often consists of: counter-narcotics, anti-piracy missions and providing humanitarian aid.

All six Type 45 destroyers have been built and are in commission, with HMS Duncan being the last and final Type 45 entering service in September 2013.[85] The new Type 45 destroyers replaced the older Type 42 destroyers. The Type 45 is primarily designed for anti-aircraft and anti-missile warfare and the Royal Navy describe the destroyers mission as "to shield the Fleet from air attack".[86] They are equipped with the PAAMS (also known as Sea Viper) integrated anti-aircraft warfare system which incorporates the sophisticated SAMPSON and S1850M long range radars and the Aster 15 and 30 missiles.[87]

Initially, 16 Type 23 frigates were delivered to the Royal Navy, with the final vessel, HMS St Albans, commissioned in June 2002. However, the 2004 review of defence spending (Delivering Security in a Changing World) announced that three frigates of the fleet of sixteen would be paid off as part of a continuous cost-cutting strategy, and these were subsequently sold to the Chilean Navy.[88] The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced that the remaining 13 Type 23 frigates would eventually be replaced by the Global Combat Ship.[89]

Mine countermeasure, patrol and survey vessels

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Royal Navy had two classes of offshore patrol vessel, the Island-class, and the larger Castle-class. However, in 1997, a decision was taken to replace them; this decision came in the form of three much larger offshore patrol vessels, the River-class. Unusually, the three River-class ships were owned by Vosper Thorneycroft, and leased to the Royal Navy until 2013. This relationship was defined by a ground-breaking contractor logistic support contract which contracts the ships' availability to the RN, including technical and stores support. A modified River-class vessel, HMS Clyde, was commissioned in July 2007 and became the Falkland Islands guard-ship. In November 2013, it was announced that to sustain the shipbuilding base, three new ocean-going patrol vessels with Merlin-capable flightdecks are to be delivered from 2017. It is yet to be decided if these will be replacing the three River-class patrol vessels or if they will be in addition to them.[90] In October 2014, the Ministry of Defence announced the names of these ships to be HMS Forth, HMS Medway and HMS Trent.[91]

The Royal Navy's largest patrol ship is HMS Protector. Protector is a dedicated Antarctic patrol ship that fulfils the nations mandate to provide support to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Mine countermeasure vessels in service with the Royal Navy include: seven Sandown-class minehunter and eight Hunt-class mine countermeasure vessels. The Hunt-class combine the separate roles of the traditional minesweeper and the active minehunter in one hull. If required, the Sandown and Hunt-class vessels can take on the role of offshore patrol vessels. HMS Scott is an ocean survey vessel and at 13,500 tonnes is one of the largest ships in the Navy. 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, and HMS Gleaner, which at just over 20 tonnes is the smallest commissioned vessel in the Navy.

Submarine Service

The Submarine Service is the submarine based element of the Royal Navy. It is sometimes referred to as the "Silent Service",[92] as the submarines are generally required to operate undetected. The service was founded in 1901. The service made history in 1982 when, during the Falklands War, HMS Conqueror became the first nuclear-powered submarine to sink a surface ship, the ARA General Belgrano. Today, the Submarine Service consists of ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and fleet submarines (SSN). All of the Royal Navy's submarines are nuclear-powered.

Of ballistic missile submarines, the Royal Navy operates the four Vanguard-class, each displacing nearly 16,000 tonnes and equipped with Trident II missiles (armed with nuclear weapons) and heavyweight Spearfish torpedoes. In December 2006, the Government published recommendations for a new class of four ballistic missile submarines to replace the current Vanguard-class, starting 2024. These new Dreadnought-class submarines will mean that the United Kingdom will maintain a nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet and the ability to launch nuclear weapons.[93]

Seven fleet submarines are presently in service, with four Trafalgar-class and three Astute-class making up the total. The Trafalgar-class displace little over 5,300 tonnes when submerged and are armed with Tomahawk land-attack missiles and Spearfish torpedoes. The Astute-class at 7,400 tonnes[94] are much larger and carry a larger number of Tomahawk missiles and Spearfish torpedoes. Four more Astute-class fleet submarines are expected to be commissioned and will eventually replace the remaining Trafalgar-class boats. HMS Artful was the latest Astute-class boat to be commissioned.[95]

In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK Government reaffirmed its intention to procure seven Astute-class submarines.[96]

Fleet Air Arm

Main article: Fleet Air Arm
The F-35B will be operated from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is the branch of the Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft, it can trace its roots back to 1912 and the formation of the Royal Flying Corps. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates helicopters: the AgustaWestland Merlin, the AgustaWestland Wildcat, the Westland Sea King and the Westland Lynx Maritime Helicopters. The primary role of these helicopters is to conduct anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare as well as reconnaissance, medium-lift, troop-transport and airborne early warning and control missions. Pilots designated for rotary wing service train at the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury.

With the retirement of the Joint Force Harrier and the Harrier GR7/GR9 strike aircraft in 2010, the FAA has no fixed-wing aircraft in front-line operations.There is an intention to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II B version with the Royal Air Force. 809 NAS is hoped to be the first FAA Squadron to operate that aircraft.[97] The F-35B will be operated from the Navy's new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers starting 2018 for initial flight training. For information regarding the types of aircraft operated by the Fleet Air Arm, see List of active United Kingdom military aircraft.

Royal Marines

Main article: Royal Marines
Royal Marines in Sangin, 2010

The Royal Marines are an amphibious, specialised light infantry force of commandos, capable of deploying at short notice in support of Her Majesty's Government's military and diplomatic objectives overseas.[98] The Royal Marines are organised into a highly mobile light infantry brigade (3 Commando Brigade) and a number of separate units, including 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines and a company strength commitment to the Special Forces Support Group. The Corps operates in all environments and climates, though particular expertise and training is spent on amphibious warfare, Arctic warfare, mountain warfare, expeditionary warfare and commitment to the UK's Rapid Reaction Force.

The Royal Marines have seen action in a number of wars, often fighting beside the British Army; including in the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, World War I and World War II. In recent times, the Corps has been deployed in expeditionary warfare roles, such as the Falklands War, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Kosovo War, the Sierra Leone Civil War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. The Royal Marines have international ties with allied marine forces, particularly the United States Marine Corps[99] and the Netherlands Marine Corps/Korps Mariniers.[100]

Current role

Royal Navy EH-101 Merlin at RIAT 2009

The current role of the Royal Navy 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 Royal Navy is also a key element of the British contribution to NATO, with a number of assets allocated to NATO tasks at any time.[101] These objectives are delivered via a number of core capabilities:[102]

Current deployments

The Royal Navy is currently deployed in many areas of the world, including a number of standing Royal Navy deployments. These include several home tasks as well as overseas deployments. The Navy is deployed in the Mediterranean as part of standing NATO deployments including mine countermeasures and NATO Maritime Group 2 and until 2010 had the now disbanded Royal Navy Cyprus Squadron. In both the North and South Atlantic RN vessels are patrolling. There is always a Falkland Islands patrol vessel on deployment, currently HMS Clyde.

The Royal Navy operates a Response Force Task Group (a product of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review), which is poised to respond globally to short-notice tasking across a range of defence activities, such as non-combatant evacuation operations, disaster relief, humanitarian aid or amphibious operations. In 2011, the first deployment of the task group occurred under the name 'COUGAR 11' which saw them transit through the Mediterranean where they took part in multinational amphibious exercises before moving further east through the Suez Canal for further exercises in the Indian Ocean.[103][104]

The RN presence in the Persian Gulf typically consists of a Type 45 destroyer and a squadron of minehunters supported by an RFA Bay-class "mothership"

In the Persian Gulf, the RN sustains commitments in support of both national and coalition efforts to stabilise the region. The Armilla Patrol, which started in 1980, is the navy's primary commitment the Gulf region. The Royal Navy also contributes to the combined maritime forces in the Gulf in support of coalition operations.[105] The UK Maritime Component Commander, overseer of all of Her Majesty's warships in the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters, is also deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces.[106] The Royal Navy has been responsible for training the fledgling Iraqi Navy and securing Iraq's oil terminals following the cessation of hostilities in the country. The Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission (Navy) (Umm Qasr), headed by a Royal Navy captain, has been responsible for the former duty whilst Commander Task Force Iraqi Maritime, a Royal Navy commodore, has been responsible for the latter.[107][108]

The Royal Navy contributes to standing NATO formations and maintains forces as part of the NATO Response Force. The RN also has a long-standing commitment to supporting the Five Powers Defence Arrangements countries and occasionally deploys to the Far East as a result.[109] This deployment typically consists of a frigate and a survey vessel, operating separately. Operation Atalanta, the European Union's anti-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean, is permanently commanded by a senior Royal Navy or Royal Marines officer at Northwood Headquarters and the navy contributes ships to the operation.[110]

Command, control and organisation

The titular head of the Royal Navy is the Lord High Admiral, a position which has been held by the Duke of Edinburgh since 2011. The position had been held by Queen Elizabeth II from 1964 to 2011;[111] the Sovereign is the overall head of the British Armed Forces.[112] The professional head of the Naval Service is the First Sea Lord, an admiral and member of the Defence Council of the United Kingdom. The Defence Council delegates management of the Naval Service to the Admiralty Board, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence, which directs the Navy Board, a sub-committee of the Admiralty Board comprising only naval officers and Ministry of Defence (MOD) civil servants. These are all based in MOD Main Building in London, where the First Sea Lord, also known as the Chief of the Naval Staff, is supported by the Naval Staff Department.


The Fleet Commander has responsibility for the provision of ships, submarines and aircraft ready for any operations that the Government requires. Fleet Commander exercises his authority through the Navy Command Headquarters, based at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth. An operational headquarters, the Northwood Headquarters, at Northwood, London, is co-located with the Permanent Joint Headquarters of the United Kingdom's armed forces, and a NATO Regional Command, Allied Maritime Component Command Northwood.

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

The Naval Command senior appointments are:[113]

Rank and pre-nominal Name post-nominal(s) Position
Professional Head of the Royal Navy
Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (1SL/CNS)
Fleet Commander
Vice admiral Ben Key CBE Fleet Commander & Deputy Chief of Naval Staff
Navy Command Headquarters
Rear admiral Hine, NicholasNicholas Hine Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy)
Rear admiral Paul Bennett Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Capability)/Chief of Staff Naval HQ
Rear admiral Robert Tarrant Commander Operations
Rear admiral Alex Burton Commander UK Maritime Forces
Major general Robert Magowan CBE, RM Commander UK Amphibious Forces
Rear admiral Wheale, JohnJohn Wheale Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland & also Rear Admiral Submarines
Chief of Naval Personnel & Training and Second Sea Lord
Vice admiral Woodcock, JonathanJonathan Woodcock OBE Second Sea Lord
Rear admiral Simon Williams CVO Chief of Staff (Personnel)/Naval Secretary
Rear admiral John Clink CBE Flag Officer Sea Training
The Venerable Ian Wheatley QHC Chaplain of the Fleet

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


Portsmouth dockyard during the Trafalgar 200 International Fleet Review. Seen here are commissioned ships from; the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Greece, Pakistan and Nigeria.
HMNB Clyde, Faslane, home of the Vanguard-class submarines

The Royal Navy currently operates from three bases in the United Kingdom where commissioned ships are based; Portsmouth, Clyde and Devonport, Plymouth – Devonport is the largest operational naval base in the UK and Western Europe.[114] Each base hosts a flotilla command under a commodore, or, in the case of Clyde, a captain, responsible for the provision of operational capability using the ships and submarines within the flotilla. 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines is similarly commanded by a brigadier and based in Plymouth. Historically, the Royal Navy maintained Royal Navy Dockyards around the world.[115] Dockyards of the Royal Navy are harbours where ships are overhauled and refitted. Only four are operating today; at Devonport, Faslane, Rosyth and at Portsmouth.[116] A Naval Base Review was undertaken in 2006 and early 2007, the outcome being announced by Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, confirming that all would remain however some reductions in manpower were anticipated.[117]

The academy where initial training for future Royal Navy officers takes place is Britannia Royal Naval College, located on a hill overlooking Dartmouth, Devon. Basic training for future ratings takes place at HMS Raleigh at Torpoint, Cornwall, close to HMNB Devonport.

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, such as the United States Navy. The navy also posts personnel in small units around the world to support ongoing operations and maintain standing commitments. Nineteen personnel are stationed in Gibraltar to support the small Gibraltar Squadron, the RN's only permanent overseas squadron. A number of personnel are also based at East Cove Military Port and RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands to support APT(S). Small numbers of personnel are based in Diego Garcia (Naval Party 1002), Miami (NP 1011 – AUTEC), Singapore (NP 1022), Dubai (NP 1023) and elsewhere.[118]

On 6 December 2014, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced it would expand the UK's naval facilities in Bahrain to support larger Royal Navy ships deployed to the Persian Gulf. Once complete, it will be the UK's first permanent military base located East of Suez since it withdrew from the region in 1971. The base will reportedly be large enough to accommodate Type 45 destroyers and Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.[119][120][121]

Titles and naming

Type 23 frigates or "Duke class" are named after British dukes

Of the Navy

The navy of the United Kingdom is commonly referred to as the "Royal Navy" both in the United Kingdom and other countries. Navies of other Commonwealth countries where the British monarch is also head of state 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. The French Navy, despite France being a republic since 1870, is often nicknamed "La Royale" (literally: The Royal).[122]

Of ships

Royal Navy ships in commission are prefixed since 1789 with Her Majesty's Ship (His Majesty's Ship), abbreviated to "HMS"; for example, HMS Beagle. Submarines are styled HM Submarine, also abbreviated "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 (for example, the Type 23s are named after British dukes) or traditional (for example, the Invincible-class aircraft carriers 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. For example, the destroyer HMS Daring displays the pennant number 'D32'.

Ranks and insignia

Main article: Royal Navy uniform

The Royal Navy ranks and insignia form part of the uniform of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy uniform is the pattern on which many of the uniforms of the other national navies of the world are based (e.g. Ranks and insignia of NATO navies officers, Uniforms of the United States Navy, Uniforms of the Royal Canadian Navy, French Naval Uniforms).

For officers (see also Royal Navy officer rank insignia):

NATO codeOF-10OF-9OF-8OF-7OF-6OF-5OF-4OF-3OF-2OF-1OF(D)Student Officer

United Kingdom

Admiral of the
Admiral Vice admiral Rear admiral Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant
Lieutenant Sub
Midshipman Officer
Abbreviation Adm of the Fleet1 Adm VAdm RAdm Cdre Capt Cdr Lt Cdr Lt SLt or S/Lt Mid OCdt
1 Rank in abeyance – routine appointments no longer made to this rank, though honorary awards of this rank are occasionally made to senior members of the Royal family and prominent former First Sea Lords.

For Enlisted rates (see also Royal Navy ratings rank insignia):

United Kingdom United Kingdom
(Royal Navy)

No equivalent No equivalent No equivalent No equivalent
Warrant Officer Class 1 Chief Petty Officer Petty Officer Leading Rate Able Seaman
Abbreviation WO1 WO2(being phased out) CPO PO LH AB1 AB2
United Kingdom United Kingdom
(Royal Marines)

No equivalent No insignia No equivalent
Warrant Officer Class 1 Warrant Officer Class 2 Colour Sergeant Sergeant Corporal Lance Corporal Marine
Abbreviation WO1 WO2 CSgt Sgt Cpl L/Cpl Mne


The Royal Navy has the following branch of service badges:

Badge of Royal Naval Pilot of the Fleet Air Arm wings.
Badge of fully qualified submariner.

Custom and tradition

The Queen and Admiral Sir Alan West during a Fleet Review

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 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 or the monarch).[124]

The Fleet Review is an irregular tradition of assembling the fleet before the monarch. The first review on record was held in 1400, and the most recent review as of 2009 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.[125]

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)[126][127] and "The Senior Service".[128][129] 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". A 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.[128] 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.[130]

In popular culture

The Royal Navy of the 18th century is depicted in many novels and several films[131] dramatising the voyage and mutiny on the Bounty. The Royal Navy's Napoleonic campaigns of the early 19th century are a popular subject of historical novels. Some of the best-known are Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower chronicles, Julian Stockwin's Kydd series, Showell Styles' The Midshipman Quinn stories, Dudley Pope's Lord Ramage novels and Douglas Reeman's Richard Bolitho novels. 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 the Second World War.

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, when a nuclear ballistic-missile submarine is stolen, and in Tomorrow Never Dies when a media baron sinks a Royal Navy warship in an attempt to trigger a war between the UK and People's Republic of China. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was based on Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. The Pirates of the Caribbean series of films also includes the Navy as the force pursuing the eponymous pirates. Noël Coward directed and starred in his own film In Which We Serve, which tells the story of the crew of the fictional HMS Torrin during the Second World War. It was intended as a propaganda film and was released in 1942. Coward starred as the ship's captain, with supporting roles from John Mills and Richard Attenborough.[132] Other examples of full-length feature films focusing specifically on the Royal Navy, have been: Seagulls over Sorrento; Yangtse Incident, the story of HMS Amethyst's escape down the Yangtze river; We Dive at Dawn; The Battle of River Plate; Sink the Bismarck!; The Navy Lark.

C. S. 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.[133]

Television documentaries about the Royal Navy include: Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World, a four-part documentary depicting Britain's rise as a naval superpower, up until the First World War; Sailor, about life on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal; and Submarine, about the submarine captains' training course, 'The Perisher'. A book based on the series, and also called Submarine, was produced by Jonathan Crane. There have also been recent Channel 5 documentaries such as Royal Navy Submarine Patrol, following a nuclear-powered fleet submarine.

The popular BBC radio comedy series The Navy Lark featured a fictitious warship ("HMS Troutbridge") and ran from 1959 to 1977.

See also


  1. Since April 2013, MoD publications no longer report the entire strength of the Regular Reserve, instead, only Regular Reserves serving under a fixed-term reserve contract are counted. These contracts are similar in nature to the Maritime Reserve.
  2. In Royal Navy parlance, "commissioned ships" invariably refers to both submarines and surface ships. Non-commissioned ships operated by or in support of Her Majesty's Naval Service are not included.
  3. 1630–1707
  4. 1545–1606


  1. Military Aircraft:Written question – 225369 (House of Commons Hansard),, March 2015
  2. Rose, Power at Sea, p. 36
  3. Hyde-Price, European Security, pp.105-106
  4. "The Royal Navy: Britain's Trident for a Global Agenda". Henry Jackson Society. 4 November 2006. Retrieved 4 November 2006. Britannia, with her shield and trident, is the very symbol, not only of the Royal Navy, but also of British global power. In the last instance, the Royal Navy is the United Kingdom's greatest strategic asset and instrument. As the only other 'blue-water' navy other than those of France and the United States, its ballistic missile submarines carry the nation's nuclear deterrent and its aircraft carriers and escorting naval squadrons supply London with a deep oceanic power projection capability, which enables Britain to maintain a 'forward presence' globally, and the ability to influence events tactically throughout the world.
  5. Bennett, James C (2007). The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-first Century. United States: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 286. ISBN 0742533336. ...the United States and the United Kingdom have the world's two best world-spanning blue-water navies... with the French being the only other candidate... and China being the most likely competitor in the long term
  6. Getting ship shape: IfM develops a fleet management tool for the Royal Navy, University of Cambridge.
  7. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 18-30
  8. Swanton, p. 138
  9. Swanton, pp. 154–5, 160–72
  10. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 35–49
  11. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 52–3, 117–30
  12. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 93–9
  13. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 91–7, 99–116, 143–4
  14. Nelson, Tudor Navy, p.36
  15. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 221–37
  16. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 238–53, 281–6, 292–6
  17. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 253–71
  18. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 349–63
  19. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 379–94, 482
  20. Rodger, Command, pp. 2–3, 216–7, 607
  21. Rodger, Command, pp. 6–8
  22. Rodger, Command, pp. 12–16
  23. Rodger, Command, pp. 16–18
  24. Rodger, Command, pp. 67–76
  25. Rodger, Command, pp. 76–7
  26. Rodger, Command, pp. 80–5
  27. Rodger, Command, pp. 88–91
  28. Rodger, Command, pp. 142–52, 607–8
  29. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 395–8; Rodger, Command, pp. 33–55, 95–122Ollard, 1984, ch.16;
  30. Rodger, Command, p. 608
  31. Rodger, Command, pp. 291–311, 408–25, 473–6, 484–8
  32. Rodger, Command, pp. 164–80
  33. Beatson, Memoirs, pp. 25-27
  34. Browning, Austrian Succession, p.60
  35. Coxe, William. Memoirs of the kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon, Volume 3, London 1815. Coxe also gives the overall loss of the expedition during the campaign as 20,000 lives lost, Reed Browning considers this "not implausible". p. 382.
  36. Rodger, Command, pp. 234–56
  37. Rodger, Command, pp. 263–79, 284
  38. Rodger, Command, pp. 277–83
  39. Rodger, Command, pp. 284–7.
  40. Rodger, Command, pp. 330–51
  41. Rodger, Command, pp. 351–2
  42. Rodger, Command, pp. 353–7
  43. Bown, Stephen R. Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail, Viking 2003.
  44. Parkinson, C. Northcote, Britannia Rules – the classic age of naval history 1793–1815 (1977), pp. 15–19; Rodger, Command, pp. 427–33
  45. Parkinson, pp. 33–7, 45–9; Rodger, Command, pp. 435–6, 438–40, 456, 463
  46. Parkinson, pp.40–5; Rodger, Command, pp. 445–50
  47. Parkinson, pp. 54–61; Rodger, Command, pp. 457–61
  48. Parkinson, pp. 75–82; Rodger, Command, pp. 468–71
  49. Parkinson, pp. 82–4; Rodger, Command, pp. 428–9, 435–6, 472
  50. Parkinson, pp. 91–114; Rodger, Command, pp. 528–44
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