Royal Navy

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Military History and War

Naval Service
Royal Navy
  • Surface Fleet
  • Fleet Air Arm
  • Submarine Service
Royal Marines
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Royal Naval Reserve
Royal Marines Reserve
History of the Royal Navy
Future of the Royal Navy
Current Fleet
Current deployments
Historic ships
The Admiralty
Senior Officers
Officer rank insignia
Enlisted rate insignia

The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the oldest of the British armed services (and is therefore the Senior Service). From the early 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, it was the largest and most powerful navy in the world, helping to establish the British Empire as the dominant power of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. During the Cold War, it was transformed into primarily an anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines, being mostly active in the North Atlantic Ocean. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, its role for the 21st century has returned to focus on global expeditionary ( blue water) operations.

The Royal Navy is the second largest navy in the world in terms of gross tonnage. There are currently 90 commissioned ships in the Royal Navy, including aircraft carriers, submarines, mine counter-measures and patrol vessels as well as the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

The Royal Navy is a constituent component of the Naval Service, which also comprises the Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and associated reserve forces under command. The Naval Service had 39,400 regular personnel as of April 2006.


The role of the Royal Navy (RN) is to protect British interests at home and abroad, executing the foreign and defence policies of Her Majesty's Government through the exercise of military effect, diplomatic activities and other activities in support of these objectives. The RN is also a key element of the UK contribution to NATO, with a number of assets allocated to NATO tasks at any time. These objectives are delivered via a number of capabilities:

  • Maintenance of the UK Nuclear Deterrent through a policy of Continuous at Sea Deterrence
  • Delivery of the UK Commando force
  • Contribution of assets to Joint Force Harrier
  • Contribution of assets to the Joint Helicopter Command
  • Maintenance of standing patrol commitments; Atlantic Patrol Task (North), Atlantic Patrol Task (South), Persian Gulf patrols etc.
  • Delivery of Mine Counter Measures capability to UK and allied commitments
  • Provision of Hydrographic and meteorological capabilities deployable worldwide
  • Protection of UK and EU fisheries

Command, Control and Organisation

The Royal Navy is established under the Royal Prerogative, hence members of the Navy (unlike the British Army and Royal Air Force) have never been required to take the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign. The head of the Royal Navy is the Lord High Admiral, the overall head of the Armed Forces is the British Sovereign with the two roles currently vested in the same individual, Queen Elizabeth II.

The professional head of the service is the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, who is a member of the Defence Council and of the Admiralty Board, which undertakes the management as delegated by the Defence Council. The Navy Board, a sub-committee of the Admiralty Board, is responsible for the running of the Naval Service. These are all based in Ministry of Defence Main Building in London, where First is supported by the Naval Staff Department.

Full Command of all deployable Fleet units including the Royal Marines and the Fleet Auxiliary is delegated to Commander-in-Chief Fleet, Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, with a Command Headquarters at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth and an Operational Headquarters at Northwood, Middlesex, co-located with the Permanent Joint Headquarters and a NATO Regional Command, Allied Maritime Component Command Northwood. CINCFLEET is dual hatted as Commander AMCCN.

CINC is supported by:

  • Second Sea Lord, based in HMS Excellent, Principal Personnel Officer for the Naval Service. Also Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm.
  • Deputy CINC, based in HMS Excellent, who commands the HQ
  • Commander Operations, based at Northwood, responsible for operational command of RN assets. Also Rear Admiral Submarines and Commander Submarine Allied Forces North (NATO)
  • Commander UK Maritime Forces, the deployable Force Commander responsible for the Maritime Battle Staffs; UK Task Group, UK Amphibious Task Group, UK Maritime Component Command.
  • Commander UK Amphibious Force/ Commandant General Royal Marines

The three Naval Bases; Portsmouth, Clyde and Plymouth each host a Flotilla Command under a Commodore 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.

The purpose of CINCFLEET is to provide ships and submarines and commando forces at readiness to conduct military and diplomatic tasks as required by the UK government, including the recruitment and training of personnel.

Significant numbers of naval personnel are employed within the Ministry of Defence, Defence Logistics Organisation, Defence Procurement Agency and on exchange with the Army and Royal Air Force. Small numbers are also on exchange within other government departments.

In earlier times the office of Lord High Admiral was delegated to a naval officer. The office later came to be frequently put into commission, during which time the Royal Navy was run by a board headed by the First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1964 the functions of the Admiralty were transferred to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Defence Council of the United Kingdom. Since then, the historic title of Lord High Admiral has been restored to the Sovereign.

History of the Commanders-in-Chief

Historically, the Royal Navy has usually been split into several commands, each with a Commander-in-Chief, e.g. Commander-in-Chief Plymouth, Commander-in-Chief China Station, etc. There now remain only two Commanders-in-Chief, Commander-in-Chief Fleet and Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command.

In 1971, with the withdrawal from Singapore, the Far East and Western fleets of the Royal Navy were unified under the Commander-in-Chief Fleet (CINCFLEET), initially based in HMS Warrior, a land base in Northwood, Middlesex. This continued the trend of shore-basing the home naval command that had started in 1960 when the Home Fleet command was transferred ashore. The majority of the staff have transferred to a new facility in HMS Excellent.

The Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command (CINCNAVHOME) has traditionally also been known as the Second Sea Lord (2SL) and is responsible for the shore-based establishments and manpower of the Royal Navy, and is based in Portsmouth. The Second Sea Lord and his staff were resident in Victory Building, Portsmouth Dockyard, and he formally flies his flag aboard HMS Victory.

In 2006 the staffs of CINCFLEET and 2SL merged, with the majority of 2SL's staff joining the CINCFLEET staff in Excellent.

Titles and naming

Of the Royal Navy

The British Royal Navy is commonly referred to as the "Royal Navy" both inside and outside the United Kingdom. Commonwealth navies also include their national name e.g. Royal Australian Navy. However, there are other navies, such as the Koninklijke Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy) which are also called the "Royal Navy" in their own language.

Of ships

Royal Navy ships in commission are prefixed with Her Majesty's Ship ( His Majesty's Ship), abbreviated to HMS e.g. HMS Ark Royal. Submarines are styled HM Submarine, similarly HMS. Names are allocated to ships and submarines by a naming committee within the MOD and given by class, with the names of ships within a class often being thematic (e.g. the Type 23 class are named after British Dukes) or traditional (e.g. the Invincible class all carry the names of famous historic aircraft carriers). Names are frequently re-used offering a new ship the rich heritage, battle honours and traditions of her predecessors.

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.


(all headings after 1601 and the Union of the Crowns apply to the United Kingdom)

The Royal Navy has historically played a central role in the defence and wars of England, Great Britain and later the United Kingdom. As Britain is an island nation, any enemy power would have to cross the sea to invade. Attainment of naval superiority by a hostile power would have placed the nation in great peril. Moreover, a large navy was vital in maintaining the security of supply and communication with the Empire.

England - Saxon navy (c. 800-1066)

England's first navy was established in the 9th century by Alfred the Great but, despite inflicting a significant defeat on the Vikings in the Wantsum Channel at Plucks Gutter near to Stourmouth, Kent , it fell into disrepair. It was revived by King Athelstan and at the time of his victory at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, the English navy had a strength of approximately 400 ships. Just Prior to the Norman invasion, King Harold had put his trust in his navy, which was to halt William the Conqueror's invasion fleet from crossing the Channel, although, obviously failed to defend against William's superior navy.

England - Norman and Medieval, to 1485 - The Cinque Ports

Saxon naval forces having failed to prevent William the Conqueror from crossing the channel and winning the Battle of Hastings, the Norman kings started an equivalent force in 1155, with ships provided by the Cinque Ports alliance (possibly created by Norman, possibly pre-existing then developed by them for their own purposes). The Normans probably did establish the post of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

King John had a fleet of 500 sail. In the mid-fourteenth century Edward III's navy had some 712 ships. There then followed a period of decline.

Sir Francis Drake, c. 1540–1596.
Sir Francis Drake, c. 1540–1596.

England - The Tudors and the Royal Navy

The first reformation and major expansion of the Navy Royal, as it was then known, occurred in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII whose ships, Henri Grâce a Dieu ("Great Harry") and Mary Rose, engaged the French navy in the battle of the Solent in 1545. By the time of Henry's death in 1547 his fleet had grown to 58 vessels.

In 1588 the Spanish Empire, at the time Europe's superpower, threatened England with invasion and the Spanish Armada set sail to enforce Spain's dominance over the English Channel and transport troops from the Spanish Netherlands to England. However, the armada failed, due to bad weather and a revolt by the Dutch in Spain's territories across the Channel. The defeat of the armada is the first major 'victory' by the English at sea. However, the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589 saw the tide of war turn against the Royal Navy. England continued to raid Spain's ports and ships travelling across the Atlantic Ocean under the reign of Elizabeth I but was to suffer a series of damaging defeats against a reformed Spanish navy.


A permanent Naval Service did not exist until the mid 17th century, when the Fleet Royal was taken under Parliamentary control following the defeat of Charles I in the English Civil War. This second reformation of the navy was carried out under 'General-at-Sea' (equivalent to Admiral) Robert Blake during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. The incorporation of the Royal Navy was in contrast to the land forces, which are descended from variety of different sources including both royalist and Parliamentary forces.

Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1758–1805

After defeats in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars the Royal Navy gradually developed into the strongest navy in the world. From 1692 the Dutch navy was placed under the command of the Royal Navy's admirals (though not incorporated in it) by William III's command following the Glorious Revolution. In 1707, the Royal Navy absorbed the Royal Scots Navy per the Acts of Union. The early 18th century saw the Royal Navy with a superior number of ships to contemporary navies, although it suffered severe financial problems throughout this period, and found itself in heavy debt, which affected most of its operations and administration. As the 18th century drew on the government developed improved means of financing the Royal Navy through bonds. With improved cash flow, the Royal Navy began to develop the strategic ability to counteract the movements of other countries' naval forces by the means of blockades, supported by unprecedented naval logistics, the gradual development of superior naval tactics and strategy and consistently high morale. This eventually led to almost uncontested power over the world's oceans from 1805 to 1914, when it came to be said that " Britannia ruled the waves". Even before 1805, the Royal Navy suffered only one strategic defeat - during the American Revolution at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781 against a French fleet commanded by the able Comte de Grasse (although in 1796 a French invasion fleet was prevented from landing in Bantry Bay, Ireland only by the weather). The Napoleonic Wars saw the Royal Navy reach a peak of efficiency, dominating the naval forces of all Britain's adversaries. The height of the Navy's achievements came on 21 October 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar where a combined French and Spanish fleet was decisively beaten by a numerically smaller but more experienced British fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The victory at Trafalgar consolidated the United Kingdom's advantage over other European maritime powers. By concentrating its military resources in the navy it could both defend itself and project its power across the oceans as well as threaten rivals' ocean trading routes. The United Kingdom therefore needed to maintain only a relatively small, highly mobile, professional army that could be dispatched to where it was needed by sea, as well as be given support by the navy with bombardment, movement, supplies and reinforcement. Meanwhile rivals could have their sea-borne supplies cut off, as had occurred with Napoleon's army in Egypt. Other major European powers were forced to split their resources between maintaining both a large navy and enormous armies and fortifications to defend their land frontiers. The domination of the sea therefore allowed the United Kingdom to rapidly build its empire from the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) and throughout the 19th century, giving it enormous military, political and commercial advantages.

HMS Victory
HMS Victory

Unlike the French navy of pre-revolutionary France, the highest commands of the Royal Navy were open to all within its ranks showing talent. This greatly increased the pool available, even if there was a bias towards the upper class. Furthermore, the French revolution's anti-aristocratic purges caused the loss of most of the French navy's experienced commanders, increasing the Royal Navy's advantage.

Despite the success of the Royal Navy during this period, the conditions of service for ordinary seamen, including no increases in pay for a century, late payment of wages and maintaining ships in commission for years without shore leave, all set against the background of harsh and arbitrary discipline, eventually resulted in serious mutinies in 1797 when the crews of the Spithead and Nore fleets refused to obey their officers and some captains were sent ashore. This resulted in the short-lived "Floating Republic" which at Spithead was quelled by promising improvements in conditions, but at the Nore resulted in the hanging of 29 mutineers.

Napoleon acted to counter Britain's maritime supremacy and economic power, closing European ports to British trade. He also unleashed a storm of privateers, operating from French territories in the West Indies, which placed great pressure on British mercantile shipping in the western hemisphere. The Royal Navy was too hard-pressed in European waters to release significant forces to combat the privateers. Its large ships-of-the-line were not useful, in any case, for seeking out and running down the nimble privateers, which operated individually, or in small numbers, scattered far-and-wide. The Royal Navy reacted by commissioning small warships, of traditional Bermuda design. The first three ordered from Bermudian builders, HMS Dasher, HMS Driver and HMS Hunter, were each sloops of 200 tons, armed with twelve 24-pounders. A great many more ships of this type were ordered, or bought up from trade, primarily for use as advice ships. The most notable was HMS Pickle, the former Bermudian merchantman that carried news of victory back from Trafalgar.

In the years following Trafalgar, there was increasing tension at sea between the Britain and the United States. American traders took advantage of their country's neutrality to trade with both the French controlled parts of Europe and Britain. Both France and Britain tried to prevent trade but only the Royal Navy was in a position to enforce a blockade. Another irritant was the suspected presence of British deserters aboard US merchant and naval vessels. Royal Navy ships often attempted to recover these deserters. In one notorious instance in 1807, otherwise known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, HMS Leopard fired on USS Chesapeake causing significant casualties before boarding and seizing suspected British deserters.

In 1812, while the Napoleonic wars continued, the United States declared war on the United Kingdom and invaded Canada. At sea, the war was characterised by single ship actions between small ships, and disruption of merchant shipping. The better designed American frigates were heavier and faster than their counterparts, and handled well under volunteer crews. As a result a number of British ships were defeated and mid-way through the war, the Admiralty was forced to issue the order to not engage American frigates individually. Additionally, there were also significant merchant losses of merchant shipping to American privateers, 866 merchant vessels; however, the Royal Navy gradually reinforced the blockade of the American coast, virtually halting all trade by sea and capturing many merchant ships and forcing the US navy frigates to stay in harbour or risk being captured.

Admiral Sir George Cockburn
Admiral Sir George Cockburn

By this time, the Royal Navy had begun building a naval base and dockyard in Bermuda, which had become the winter location of the Admiralty previously based in Newfoundland. The Royal Navy had begun development after American independence had deprived it of bases on most of the North American seaboard. In time, Bermuda would become the headquarters for Royal Naval operations in the waters of southern North America and the West Indies. During the War of 1812, the Royal Navy's blockade of the US Atlantic ports was orchestrated from Bermuda and Halifax Nova Scotia. The blockade kept most of the American navy trapped in port. The Royal Navy also occupied coastal islands, encouraging American slaves to defect. Units of Royal Marines were raised from these freed slaves. After British victory in the Peninsular War, part of Wellington's Light Division was released for service in North America. This 2,500 man force, composed of Major-General Ross and detachments from the 4, 21, 44, and 85 Regiments, with some elements of artillery and sappers, arrived in Bermuda in 1815 aboard a fleet composed of the 74-gun HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops and ten other vessels. It had been thought to use the combined force to launch raids on the coastlines of Maryland and Virginia, with the aim of drawing US forces away from the Canadian border. Following American atrocities at Lake Erie, however, Sir George Prevost requested a punitive expedition which would 'deter the enemy from a repetition of such outrages'. The British force arrived at the Patuxent on 17 August. It landed the soldiers within 36 miles of Washington DC. Led by Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, the force drove the US government out of Washington, DC. Ross shied from the idea of burning the City, but Cockburn and others set it alight. Buildings burned included the US Capitol and the US President's Mansion.

Between 1793 and 1815 the Royal Navy lost 344 vessels to non-combat causes - 75 by foundering, 254 shipwrecked and 15 from accidental burnings or explosions. In the same period it lost 103,660 seamen - 84,440 by disease and accidents, 12,680 by shipwreck or foundering, and 6,540 by enemy action.


During the 19th century the Royal Navy enforced a ban on the slave trade and the suppression of piracy. Another job of the Royal navy was given during the 19th century (and before and after as well), was to map the world. Mostly, this involved recording every coastline to provide this information for humanity. To this day, Admiralty charts are maintained by the Royal Navy.

Royal Navy vessels on surveying missions carried out extensive scientific work. On one voyage, Charles Darwin travelled around the world on the Beagle, making scientific observations which later influenced his theory of evolution.

Life in the early Royal Navy would be considered harsh by today's standards; discipline was severe and flogging was used to enforce obedience to the Articles of War. The law allowed the navy to use the unpopular practice of impressment where seamen were forced to serve in the navy during times of manpower shortage, usually in wartime. Impressment reached its peak in the 18th and early 19th century but was abandoned after the end of the Napoleonic Wars as the peacetime navy was smaller.

During the later half of the 19th century, ships of the Royal Navy were used for ' gunboat diplomacy'. For this, large, heavily armed boats with shallow draught were employed in coastal areas in the far reaches of the Empire, mostly to assure the local population/ruler of the United Kingdom's power and also to interfere where the UK's interests were at stake.

By the end of the 19th century though, the Royal Navy, despite being the largest in the world, was not as powerful as it seemed to be. It was a collection of new, powerful pre-Dreadnoughts such as the Royal Sovereign Class, and of old ironclad vessels and even sailing ships, by then several decades old. Mainly thanks to the efforts of John Arbuthnot Fisher, then First Lord of the Admiralty, many of the older vessels were retired, scrapped, or placed into reserve, freeing up funds and manpower for newer ships. He also was the main force behind the development of the HMS Dreadnought, the first all big gun ship and possibly one of the most influential ships in naval history. At one stroke, this ship rendered all other battleships then existing totally obsolete, and started an arms race in which Great Britain had a lead over all others. Fisher was also a proponent of submarines, and bought a few based on John Holland's design from Vickers.

At this time, other changes also took place. Admiral Percy Scott introduced new gunnery training programs and a central fire control station, greatly improving accuracy and ship effectiveness in battle. Telegraphs were introduced onto flagships, and the Parson Turbine and experimentation with oil as fuel led to greatly increased range and speed.


Landing craft convoy crossing the English Channel in 1944
Landing craft convoy crossing the English Channel in 1944

During the two World Wars, the Royal Navy played a vital role in keeping the United Kingdom supplied with food, arms and raw materials and in defeating the German campaigns of unrestricted submarine warfare in the first and second battles of the Atlantic.

During the First World War the majority of the Royal Navy's strength was deployed at home in the Grand Fleet in an effort to blockade Germany and to draw the Hochseeflotte (the German "High Seas Fleet") in to an engagement where a decisive victory could be gained. Although the latter never materialised, the Royal Navy and the Kaiserliche Marine fought many battles; Battle of Heligoland Bight, Battle of Coronel, Battle of the Falkland Islands, Battle of Dogger Bank and the Battle of Jutland. The latter engagement is the best-known and was a somewhat indecisive affair, with the Royal Navy suffering heavier losses yet succeeding in its strategic goal of blockading the Hocheseeflotte. The Royal Navy was also heavily committed in the Dardanelles Campaign against the Ottoman Empire. During the war, the Navy contributed the Royal Naval Division to the land forces of the New Army.

In the inter war period, the Royal Navy was stripped of much of its power. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 imposed limits on individual ship tonnage and gun calibre, as well as total tonnage of the navy. The treaty, compounded by the deplorable financial conditions during the immediate post-war period and the Great Depression, forced the Admiralty to scrap all capital ships from the Great War with a gun calibre under 15 inches and to cancel plans for new construction. Three planned units of the Hood class of battlecruiser and a class of 16-inch battlecruisers and 18-inch battleships - the G3 and N3 classes respectively - were cancelled. Also under the treaty, three "large light cruisers" - Glorious, Courageous and Furious - were converted to aircraft carriers. New additions to the fleet were therefore minimal during the 1920s, the only major new vessels being the two units of the Nelson class of battleships and fifteen heavy cruisers of the County and York classes.

The London Naval Treaty of 1930 deferred new capital ship construction until 1937 and reiterated construction limits on cruisers, destroyers and submarines. As international tensions increased in the mid-1930s the Second London Naval Treaty of 1935 failed to halt the deterioration into a naval arms race and by 1938 treaty limits were effectively null and void. The re-armament of the Royal Navy was well under way by this point however. This resulted in the new capital ship construction, in the shape of the King George V class of 1936, being limited to the 35,000 tons and 14-inch armament. Other significant new construction included the carriers Ark Royal and of the Illustrious classes, the Town and Crown Colony classes of light cruiser and the Tribal class destroyers. In addition to new construction, several changes were made to existing ships, such as the reconstruction of old battleships, battlecruisers and heavy cruisers and the reinforcement of anti-aircraft weaponry.

As a result, the Royal Navy entered the Second World War as a relatively heterogeneous force composed of World War I veterans, inter war ships limited by close adherence to treaty restrictions and new construction. It remained, however, a powerful force, though smaller and more aged than it was during World War I.

During the earlier phases of World War II, the Royal Navy provided critical, if depressing cover during British evacuations from Dunkirk and Crete. In the latter operation, Admiral Cunningham ran great risks to extract the Army, but saved many men to fight another day. It suffered a massive blow however, when the battlecruiser HMS Hood was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck. The Bismarck was also sunk a few days later, though public pride in the Royal Navy was severely damaged as a result of the loss of Hood.

The Royal Navy 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 was vital to the amphibious operations carried out, such as the invasions of Northwest Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. By the end of the war however, it was clear that aircraft carriers were the new dominant weapon of naval warfare, and that Britain's former naval superiority in terms of battleships had been rendered null.

The Cold War

After World War II, the growing power of the United States and the decline of the British Empire, reduced the role of the Royal Navy. However, the threat of the Soviet Union and British commitments throughout the world created a new role for the Navy. In the 1960s, the Royal Navy received its first nuclear weapons and was later to become responsible for the maintenance of the UK's nuclear deterrent. In the latter stages of the Cold War, the Royal Navy was reconfigured with three anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft carriers and a force of small frigates and destroyers. Its purpose was to search for and destroy Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic.

Recent operations

The most important post-war operation conducted predominantly by the Royal Navy was the defeat in 1982 of Argentina in the Falkland Islands War. Despite losing four naval ships and other civilian and RFA ships the Royal Navy proved it was still able to fight a battle 8,000 miles (12,800 km) from Great Britain. HMS Conqueror is the only nuclear-powered submarine to have engaged an enemy ship with torpedoes, sinking the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano. The war also underlined the importance of aircraft carriers and submarines and exposed the service's late 20th century dependence on chartered merchant vessels.

The Royal Navy also participated 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. Also during that war, HM submarines Splendid and Turbulent launched a number of Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Iraq.

In August 2005 the Royal Navy rescued seven Russians stranded in a submarine off the Kamchatka peninsula. Using its Scorpio 45, a remote-controlled mini-sub, the submarine was freed from the fishing nets and cables that had held the Russian submarine for three days.

The Royal Navy has deployed a number of Naval Task Groups to the Far East including "NTG 03" in 2003, HM ships Exeter, Echo, RFAs Diligence and Grey Rover in 2004 and HMS Liverpool and RFA Grey Rover in 2005.

The Royal Navy today

HMS Invincible the former flagship of the Royal Navy
HMS Invincible the former flagship of the Royal Navy

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Royal Navy was a force designed for the Cold War with a focus on blue water ASW, its purpose was to search for and destroy Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic, complemented by the nuclear deterrent submarine force. However, the Falklands War proved a need for the Royal Navy to regain an expeditionary and littoral capability which, with its resources and structure at the time, would prove difficult. With the UK government developing its Foreign Policy following the end of the Cold War this has been demonstrated by a number of operations which have required an aircraft carrier to be deployed globally such as the Adriatic, Peace Support Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the Persian Gulf. Destroyers and Frigates have also been similarly deployed conducting anti-piracy in the Malacca Straits or Horn of Africa. So, over the course of the 1990s, the navy began a series of projects to refresh the fleet, with a view to bringing its capabilities into the 21st century and allow it to turn from a North Atlantic-based anti-submarine force into an expeditionary force.

Current Deployments

The Royal Navy is currently deployed in many areas of the world, including a number of standing Royal Navy deployments.

North Atlantic Tasks

Fleet Ready Escort HMS Northumberland
Mine Countermeasures Force (Group 1) HMS Middleton
Fishery Protection Squadron River class patrol vessel and rotation of Hunt class MCMV

Mediterranean Tasks

Standing NRF Maritime (Group 2) HMS York
Mine Countermeasures Force (Group 2) HMS Hurworth

Caribbean Tasks

Atlantic Patrol Task (North) HMS Iron Duke, RFA Wave Ruler

South Atlantic Tasks

Atlantic Patrol Task (South) HMS Chatham, RFA Gold Rover
Falkland Islands Patrol Vessel HMS Dumbarton Castle
Ice Patrol Ship HMS Endurance

East-of-Suez Tasks

Armilla Patrol HMS Sutherland, RFA Diligence, HMS Echo
Far-East/Pacific Tasking HMS Westminster

Custom and tradition


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 stem, and can only be flown under way either to signal a court-martial is in progress or to indicate the presence of an Admiral of the Fleet on-board (including the Lord High Admiral, the Monarch.).

Fleet reviews

 HMS Endurance carries the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, HM Queen Elizabeth II, as part of the Trafalgar bi-centennial Fleet Review, 28 June 2005
HMS Endurance carries the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, HM Queen Elizabeth II, as part of the Trafalgar bi-centennial Fleet Review, 28 June 2005

The Fleet Review is an irregular tradition of assembling the fleet before the monarch. For example, at the most recent on 28 June 2005 to mark the bi-centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar; 167 ships of the RN, and 30 other nations, were present.

Service nicknames

Nicknames for the service include "The Andrew" (of uncertain origin, possibly after a zealous press ganger) and "The Senior Service". It has also been referred to as the "Grey Funnel Line".

Naval salute

Traditionally, subordinates would uncover, remove their head dress, to a superior. In a book called New Art of War, printed in 1740, it is stated that;

When the King or Captain General is being saluted each Officer is to time his salute so as to pull off his hat when the person he salutes is almost opposite him.

Queen Victoria instituted the hand salute in the Navy to replace uncovering; The occasion being when she sent for certain Officers and men to Osborne House to thank them for rendering help to a distressed German ship, and did not like to see men in uniform standing uncovered.

The personal salute with the hand is borrowed from the military salute of the Army, and there are various theories concerning its origin. There is the traditional theory that it has been the custom from time immemorial for a junior to uncover to a superior, and even to-day men on Captains Defaulters remove their hats. In this theory, the naval salute is merely the first motion of removing one's head dress. It was officially introduced into the Navy in 1890, but during the First World War a large number of old retired officers were in the habit of doffing their head gear instead of saluting, this, of course, being the method to which they were accustomed.

Another theory holds that in the age of sail, hemp ropes were preserved in tar, causing the sailor's hands to become stained. It would have been a discourtesy to show the dirty palm to one's superior, therefore the naval salute differs from the military salute in that it has the palm turned down, rather than outwards . The Royal Marines, with their military origin, use the military rather than the naval salute.


Ships will engage in a number of affiliations with cities, e.g. HMS Newcastle with Newcastle upon Tyne, elements of the other forces, e.g. HMS Illustrious with 30 Signal Regiment, schools, cadet units and charities.

Naval slang

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", which is an allusion to either the former requirement to tar long hair or the tar-stained hands of sailors. Nicknames for a British sailor, applied by others, include "Matelot" (pronounced matlow), derived from French or "Limey". Royal Marines are fondly known as "Bootnecks" or often just as "Royals".

Uckers and Ucker

Uckers is a four player board game similar to Ludo that is traditionally played in the Royal Navy. It is fiercely competitive and rules differ between ships and stations (and between other services). Ucker, pronounced you-ker, is a card game also played on board ships and in naval establishments. It is similar to Trumps, is highly competitive and extremely difficult to learn.

The Royal Navy in Fiction

The Napoleonic campaigns of the navy have been the subject of many novels including Patrick O'Brian's series featuring Jack Aubrey, C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, and Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho. Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series though primarily involving the Peninsular War of the time, includes several novels involving Richard Sharpe at sea with the Navy. Alexander Kent is a pen name of Douglas Reeman who, under his birth name, has written many novels featuring the Royal Navy in the two World Wars. Other well known novels include Alistair MacLean's HMS Ulysses and Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea, both set during World War II.

Royal Navy timeline and battles

  • 1588 The Spanish Armada
  • 1589 The English Armada
  • 1652 Battle of Dungeness
  • 1690 Battle of Beachy Head
  • 1692 Battle of La Hougue
  • 1692 Battle of Plaisance (Placentia)
  • 1759 Battle of Quiberon Bay and Battle of Lagos
  • 1762 Battle of Signal Hill
  • 1780 Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1780)
  • 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake and Battle of Dogger Bank (1781)
  • 1782 Battle of St. Kitts and Battle of the Saintes
  • 1794 The Glorious First of June
  • 1797 Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797)
  • 1798 Battle of the Nile
  • 1801 Battle of Copenhagen
  • 1805 Battle of Trafalgar
  • 1808–1814 Peninsular war
  • 1812–1814 War of 1812
  • 1821 First steam paddle ships for auxiliary use (tugs etc.)
  • 1839-1842 Opium War First Anglo-Chinese war.
  • 1840 First screw driven Steamship, Rattler
  • 1860 First Iron-hulled armoured battleship, Warrior
  • 1902 First Royal Navy submarine, Holland 1
  • 1905 First Steam turbine and all big-gun battleship, Dreadnought
  • 1914–1918 First Battle of the Atlantic
  • 1914 Battle of Heligoland Bight, Battle of Coronel, Battle of the Falkland Islands
  • 1915 Battle of Dogger Bank (1915) and Dardanelles Campaign
  • 1916 Battle of Jutland
  • 1919 Russian Civil War
  • 1931 Invergordon Mutiny
  • 1939–1945 Second Battle of the Atlantic
  • 1939 Battle of the River Plate
  • 1940 Operation Dynamo (Dunkirk)
  • 1941 Battle of Cape Matapan
  • 1941 Sinking of HMS Hood and the German battleship Bismarck
  • 1943 Battle of North Cape
  • 1944 Operation Tungsten
  • 1944 Operation Neptune (Normandy)
  • 1946 Mining of Saumarez and Volage in the Corfu Channel Incident
  • 1949 Amethyst incident on the Yangtze River
  • 1950 Korean War begins
  • 1956 Suez campaign
  • 1962 Indonesian Konfrontasi begins in Borneo
  • 1963 First British nuclear submarine, Dreadnought
  • 1965 Beira Patrol against Rhodesia begins
  • 1980 Armilla Patrol in the Persian Gulf begins
  • 1982 Falklands War
  • 1991 Gulf War
  • 1999 Kosovo conflict
  • 2000 Operation Palliser
  • 2001 Afghanistan Campaign
  • 2003 Iraq War

Famous sailors of the Royal Navy

In approximate chronological order.
  • Sir Humphrey Gilbert
  • Sir Martin Frobisher
  • Sir Francis Drake
  • Robert Blake
  • George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle
  • James, Duke of York
  • William Penn
  • Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich
  • George Anson, 1st Baron Anson
  • Edward Hawke, 1st Baron Hawke
  • John Benbow
  • Edward Boscawen
  • George Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney
  • Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe
  • Samuel Barrington
  • Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood
  • Richard Kempenfelt
  • John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent
  • James Cook
  • James Saumarez, 1st Baron de Saumarez
  • Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth
  • Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
  • Admiral Sir James Stirling
  • Sir Sidney Smith
  • Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald
  • Sir James Vashon
  • George Vancouver
  • William Bligh
  • Sir John Franklin
  • Charles Robert Malden
  • Jackie Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher
  • Robert Falcon Scott
  • John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe
  • David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty
  • William Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork
  • Andrew Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope
  • James Somerville
  • Bertram Ramsay
  • Max Horton
  • Philip Vian
  • Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
  • Frederic John Walker
  • Sir John "Sandy" Woodward
  • Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
  • Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
  • Prince Andrew, Duke of York

Famous ships of the Royal Navy

For a full list, see List of Royal Navy ship names

  • Mary Rose — sank in 1545 off Portsmouth
  • Golden Hind — flagship of Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation and raid on Spanish shipping.
  • Ark Royal — flagship of English Fleet against the Spanish Armada. As of 2005, the current Ark Royal is an Invincible-class aircraft carrier that saw action in the 2003 Iraq conflict
  • Revenge — actively engaged Spanish Armada; later became the subject of a poem by Lord Tennyson detailing her heroic fight against a large Spanish force in 1591.
  • Bounty — scene of the famous mutiny.
  • VictoryNelson's flagship. This ship is still officially in service and is the world's oldest commissioned warship and the flagship of the Second Sea Lord
  • Beagle — carried Charles Darwin on his voyage.
  • Warrior — Britain's first iron hulled, armoured battleship
  • Dreadnought — first "all big-gun" battleship
  • Warspite — fought at Jutland and through the Second World War
  • Hood battlecruiser destroyed by the Bismarck
  • Vanguard — last battleship built for the Royal Navy & also ran aground in Portsmouth Harbour
  • Dreadnought — first British nuclear-powered submarine
  • Resolution — first British strategic ballistic missile submarine
  • Invincible — light aircraft carrier
  • Conqueror — The first, and so far only, nuclear powered submarine to sink an enemy ship.

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