For the Love of the Navy: A Celebration of the British Armed Forces

For the Love of the Navy: A Celebration of the British Armed Forces

by Ray Hamilton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786850645
Publisher: Summersdale
Publication date: 01/01/2018
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.05(h) x (d)

About the Author

Ray Hamilton is a freelance writer and editor, whose lifelong passions are history, languages and travel. This is his tenth book and he has also edited over 80 books on a wide range of subjects, including fiction, politics, history, travel, BBC Radio 4 and classical music. He previously pursued a varied career in government, the highlights of which included multilateral government negotiations in Paris and a number of forays into sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Navy is very old and very wise.


Although there was no permanent standing navy of any great significance anywhere in Britain until Henry VIII got England's seafaring act together in the sixteenth century, English and Scottish kings had been dabbling in naval warfare for up to a thousand years before that. We will start with a potted history of those early days before considering the might of the Tudor Navy and the way in which the Navy moved up a gear during the period of the Commonwealth that followed the English Civil War.


Seventh century: The fact that an Anglo-Saxon warrior king was buried inside a ship at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia suggests that naval warfare was already happening around the coastline of Britain at that time.

851: King Athelstan of Wessex won a victory against the Vikings at Sandwich, Kent, capturing nine Viking ships in the process.

896: King Alfred had nine longships built and with them he inflicted a further defeat on the Vikings when he trapped six of their ships off the south coast of England.

1008: King Ethelred the Unready ordered the construction of a national fleet but couldn't command the loyalty of his commanders and failed with a raid against Norway.

1016: King Canute had a standing navy of sixteen ships built but Edward the Confessor stood it back down in 1050.

1054: Earl Siward of Northumbria sailed north on behalf of Edward the Confessor to defeat the Scottish ruler Macbeth, thereby earning himself a mention in Shakespeare's 'Scottish play' over half a century later.

1155: With a regular need for secure cross-Channel travel between his lands in Britain and France, Henry II raised a naval force by commissioning the Cinque Ports of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich to provide him with the ships he needed.

1217: An English fleet secured an important victory over French invaders at the Battle of Sandwich, cutting off supplies and reinforcements to Louis VIII and forcing him to abandon his occupation of London, thereby leaving the nine-year-old King Henry III to get on with the business of ruling England under the guidance of his self-appointed advisers.

1315–18: After Robert the Bruce had secured Scottish independence from England following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, he built the Royal Scots Navy, which he used to bring the Lords of the Isles into line and unsuccessfully invade Ireland.

1337–1453: During the Hundred Years' War with France, the English Navy initially consisted of commandeered merchant vessels, which were increasingly withdrawn by the merchants after successive kings refused to honour payments to them and even taxed them for using the 'King's ships' for reasons of commerce in between naval engagements. Henry V finally got the message and built his own fleet between 1413 and 1418. Notwithstanding this inconsistent approach to funding the Navy, the English won some significant naval battles during the war.



Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, sailed into the inlet between West Flanders and Zeeland and obliterated the larger navy of Philip IV of France. The French ships had no answer to the efficient longbows of the English archers or the men-at-arms who subsequently boarded their vessels once the arrows had finally stopped raining down on them.


Also known as the Battle of les Espagnols sur Mer ('Spaniards on the Sea'), this was the first major battle to be fought by an English fleet in the open sea, just off the south-east coast of England. Once more, Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, upset the odds by defeating a joint Castilian and Genoese pirate force that had much larger and higher ships. Archery was again the order of the day, with English longbows pitched against the crossbows of the enemy, following which grappling irons were used to draw in and board enemy ships for the inevitable and gruesome hand-to-hand fighting that always brought an end to sea battles at that time.

1418: Towards the end of Henry V's shipbuilding programme, which had increased the size of the Navy from six to thirty-nine ships over a five-year period, he launched his impressive-looking flagship Grace Dieu, but her service to the Navy was to prove somewhat ignominious.

THE TUDOR NAVY (1485–1603)

As ships began to have cannons mounted for the first time, Henry VII embarked on his own shipbuilding programme and had a dry dock built in Portsmouth for that purpose. Much of the funding for Henry VIII's subsequent expansion of the fleet came from his plundering of the monasteries following his break with the Catholic Church. The Elizabethan Navy of Henry VIII's daughter, Elizabeth I, made its own place in naval history by defeating the Spanish Armada.

1512: Henry VIII's flagship Henri Grace à Dieu, aka Great Harry, was built to outdo the largest warship in Europe at the time, the Great Michael, which had been launched by the Royal Scots Navy the year before.

1545: The French arrived with 200 ships and 30,000 fighting men to invade England, but were so utterly incompetent that the eighty ships and 12,000 men of the English Navy easily saw them off at the two-day Battle of the Solent, today remembered mostly for the sinking of the Mary Rose.

1546: The Anthony Roll, a beautifully illustrated inventory of the fifty-eight ships of the Tudor Navy at the time, was presented to Henry VIII. It was named after its creator, Anthony Anthony, who produced his magnum opus on three rolls of vellum which survive to this day. In 1680 the first and third rolls were given by Charles II to Samuel Pepys, who had them cut up and reproduced as a single-volume book, which now resides in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College in Cambridge. The second roll was sold to the British Museum by a daughter of William IV in 1858 and is now owned by the British Library.

1578: John Hawkins, already an experienced mariner as a privateer and slave trader licensed by Elizabeth I, was appointed Treasurer of the Navy, a position he used to make a great many improvements to the Elizabethan Navy over the next decade.

1580: After three years on board the Golden Hind, Francis Drake became the first Englishman to have captained a circumnavigation of the globe. He also found time to plunder some Spanish treasure off the west coast of the Americas while he was about it.

1588: The 130 ships of the Spanish Armada set off with the primary objective of picking up soldiers stationed in the Spanish Netherlands and transporting them across the English Channel to invade England. Only then could they overthrow the English queen, put a stop to what they saw as the vile disease of Protestantism and prevent the likes of Francis Drake and John Hawkins from plundering their ships and colonies around the world.


On the morning of 8 August 1588, the Spanish Armada found itself at a disadvantage off Gravelines on the coast of the Spanish Netherlands, in spite of having fifty per cent greater firepower than the English fleet. Some bad weather on the way across the Bay of Biscay – along with a certain amount of indecision, poor communication and inferior tactics once they had reached the English Channel – had left their ships vulnerable, on top of which they had been scattered by Drake's fireship attack the night before.

Thanks to the technical improvements that had been brought about by John Hawkins over the previous ten years, the English ships were also faster and more manoeuvrable, allowing their superior cannons to fire broadsides from an upwind position while maintaining sufficient distance to avoid the prospect of being boarded. Within eight hours, five of the Spanish ships had been lost and the rest were in disarray, all hope of invading England now gone. Their only hope of escape was to travel northwards around Scotland and then to the west of Ireland, but ferocious Atlantic storms battered them on to rocks or forced them aground, resulting in around 5,000 men being drowned, lost to starvation or slaughtered.


When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, the Navy sided with the Parliamentarians, although some of the fleet later mutinied to join the Royalists. The Parliamentarians made themselves rather unpopular abroad after executing Charles I in 1649 (it probably made a lot of other kings and queens nervous), and the Navy had to be expanded to cope with England's growing number of actual and potential enemies. The Commonwealth regime of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s created the most powerful and effective navy the country had yet seen, and the man largely responsible was Robert Blake.



Tell the surgeon to make haste and get his instruments. I know I must lose my right arm, so the sooner it is off the better.


Once General George Monck had decided in 1660 that an unstable parliament was even worse than an unstable monarchy, he arranged for Charles II to return from exile so that the monarchy could be restored. Parliament agreed, subject to certain conditions that included the need for the Navy to be a national institution renewable each year only through an Act of Parliament, as opposed to remaining a crown possession (although, ironically, nobody seemed to mind it having the word 'royal' in its new title). The 'Royal Navy' was born and, after some initial reversals, it would go from strength to strength during the Georgian era, until it emerged triumphant and all-powerful from the Napoleonic Wars just over 150 years later.


The battle for worldwide naval supremacy was fought by Britain, France, Portugal and the Netherlands through many wars in Europe and beyond in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Naval design, firepower and tactics remained as important as ever, but gaining the ascendancy now depended on a more sophisticated game plan, requiring increasingly cohesive organisation, allegiances, financing, logistics, medical care, hygiene, training and dockyard facilities. In other words, it was time to get professional.

1660: Samuel Pepys was appointed to the Navy Board in the same year he started writing his famous diaries. His writings are best known for their coverage of the Great Plague (1665–66) and the Great Fire of London (1666), but he also wrote extensively about the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–67) from a naval perspective, something that would stand him in good stead when he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Admiralty in 1673.

1664: The Marines were formed in 1664 as the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot (their name being changed to the Royal Marines by George III in 1802).

1667: The Raid on the Medway off Chatham Dockyard was one of the worst naval reversals in British history. The Dutch attacked and destroyed eleven ships, including some of the Navy's largest warships, while they were mothballed awaiting funding. The humiliation became overwhelming when the Dutch captured and towed away as prizes HMS Unity and the flagship of the English fleet, HMS Royal Charles, but lessons would be learned from this setback.

1688–97: Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which the Catholic James II was overthrown by a combination of English Parliamentarians and the Protestant William III of Orange (who was already married to Mary, the daughter of James II), an Anglo-Dutch alliance was formed to contest the ensuing Nine Years' War against France. After a worrying French victory at the Battle of Beachy Head (1690), the combined Anglo-Dutch fleet rallied to win convincingly at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue in 1692, ending France's brief period of naval dominance and averting the latest planned invasion of England.

1704: The Anglo-Dutch fleet captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was during this action and the long siege that followed that the Marines first made a name for themselves as an elite fighting force. The territory was ceded to Britain in perpetuity at the end of the war in 1714 and the Navy still maintains a squadron there today.

1707: The Acts of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the Royal Navy and Royal Scots Navy were accordingly merged.


This war is remembered mostly for the manner in which it came about. At a time when the British and the Spanish really weren't getting on very well with one another, a Spanish commander boarded the British merchant brig Rebecca off the coast of Florida and sliced off the ear of her captain, Robert Jenkins, on the grounds that he was smuggling. When Jenkins ultimately reported this to Parliament, it was taken as the latest in a long line of Spanish insults, and war was accordingly declared on Spain.

The war itself was also fought in the Americas, with neither side gaining much advantage, although one British success at Portobelo in Panama was so popular back home that the poem 'Rule Britannia' was set to music and sung in public for the first time at a dinner to honour Edward Vernon, the vice admiral responsible for the victory. London's Portobello Road and the Edinburgh suburb of Portobello were both named after the battle.


At the start of the Seven Years' War, the French Navy had still not fully recovered from the War of the Austrian Succession (Rear-Admiral Edward Hawke had taken up where George Anson had left off by inflicting another heavy defeat on the French at the Second Battle of Finisterre in 1747). The war, however, got off to a bad start for Britain when Admiral Byng failed to put an end to the French Siege of Minorca. Following his court martial and execution by firing squad for not having tried hard enough, largely due to Anson's revised Articles of War, it became a standing joke in France that the British sometimes killed their own admirals pour encourager les autres (to encourage the others).

The rest of the war went better, with the French soundly defeated at the Battle of Quiberon Bay and the Spanish relieved of Havana and Manila (which Britain later swapped for Florida), primarily due to better support for the fleet as the war wore on. It may also have helped that the remaining admirals knew only too well that feedback from the Admiralty on their performance might not always have been as constructive as they would have liked, with little opportunity offered to learn from past mistakes.

GREAT SEA BATTLES The Battle of Quiberon Bay (1759)

The Battle of Quiberon Bay off the coast of Brittany was one of the most decisive victories in British naval history, with the twenty-three ships of the line of Admiral Edward Hawke outsailing and outfighting the French fleet in violent weather. The twenty-one French ships were either destroyed, blockaded or only able to make their escape over the shallows after jettisoning their cannons. Not only was Britain once more saved from possible invasion but the French were once more left in a weakened state, barely able to fight on in Europe and unable to send adequate supplies and reinforcements to their overseas territories, which would soon lose them a number of their colonies, including Canada.


John Harrison was an English clockmaker who, in the 1760s, invented the first practical marine chronometer, the H4, to solve the problem of identifying longitude at sea. Ocean-going ships lucky enough to have one on board (the early versions cost a third as much as the ships they were used on) were less likely to miss their destination or flounder on uncharted rocks. It was the most important advance in marine navigation since early sailors had figured out how to navigate approximately by means of celestial observation alone, and it would remain the mainstay of marine navigation throughout the age of sail. James Cook used a copy of the H4 to calculate his longitude during his second circumnavigation, and in due course affordable versions of the timepiece would be used across the Navy.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 5

Foreword 6

Introduction 8

Part 1 A Brief History of the Navy 11

The Early History of the Navy (up to 1660) 13

The Rise of the Royal Navy and the Napoleonic Wars (1660-1815) 25

Maintaining Naval Supremacy into the Age of Steel and Steam (1815-1914) 46

World War One (1914-18) 56

World War Two (1939-45) 72

Into the Age of NATO and Nuclear Power 102

Part 2 The Organisation and Roles of the Modern Navy 117

Overview 119

The Surface Fleet 134

The Submarine Service 156

The Royal Marines 164

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) 181

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) 196

Other Navy Services and Reserves 201

Part 3 The People, Culture and Traditions of the Navy 213

Life at Sea 215

Women in the Navy 228

Navy Traditions 237

The Navy in Popular Culture 255

Naval Museums and War Memorials 261

Naval Service Charities and Associations 269

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