Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
An aerial photograph of Portsmouth Dockyard, which was taken as part of a photographic exercise from 2,000 feet.
|Controlled by||Royal Navy|
|In use||15th century–present|
|Commodore Jeremy Rigby (since October 2012).|
Her Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth (HMNB Portsmouth) is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the British Royal Navy, (the others being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Devonport). Portsmouth Naval Base is part of the city of Portsmouth; it is located on the eastern shore of Portsmouth Harbour, north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
The base is home to one of the oldest dry docks in the world (the oldest and second-oldest are in Greenock on the River Clyde), as well as being the headquarters for two-thirds of the Royal Navy's surface fleet. The base is also home to a number of commercial shore activities, including shipbuilding and ship repair (operated by BAE Systems Maritime); naval logistics, accommodation and messing; and personnel support functions (e.g. medical and dental; education; pastoral and welfare) provided by Defence Equipment and Support.
The base is the oldest in the Royal Navy and it has been an important part of the Senior Service's history and the defence of the British Isles for centuries. At one time it was the largest industrial site in the world. Around the year 2000, the designation HMS Nelson (which until then had been specific to Portsmouth's Naval Barracks in Queen Street) was extended to cover the entire base.
The base commander since October 2012 is Commodore Jeremy Rigby.
The harbour is under the control of the Queen's Harbour Master (QHM), currently Commander Nigel Hare, who is the regulatory authority of the Dockyard Port of Portsmouth, an area of approximately 50 square miles (130 km2) that encompasses Portsmouth Harbour and the Eastern Solent. QHM Harbour Control is based in the Semaphore Tower building. Shipping movements are handled by a team of admiralty pilots headed by the Chief Admiralty Pilot, Anthony Bannister.
Portsmouth naval base is home to two-thirds of the Royal Navy's surface ships, and employs up to 17,200 people. In addition, Portsmouth is building part of, and will be the home port of the two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers ordered in 2008, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales; they will require the harbour to be dredged. This project has secured the base's future for the next forty years and will revitalise shipbuilding in the city. However due to budget cuts in 2013 shipbuilding in Portsmouth was closed in favour of BAE keeping open its yards in Glasgow. It has been speculated this was to help retain Scotland in the union and it has been suggested by the BAE chairman that shipbuilding could return to the city if Scotland voted for independence.
- 1 Functioning base
- 2 Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
- 3 History
- 4 Naval Establishments in the Portsmouth area
- 5 Portsmouth Flotilla
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The base plays host to a large part of the surface fleet of the Royal Navy including the Type 45 destroyers, the majority of the Type 23 frigates, the River class fishery protection vessels and a squadron of mine counter-measures vessels (minesweepers and minehunters). The new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will eventually be based in Portsmouth, requiring that dredging be carried out to accommodate their considerable draft. Most of the vessels based in Portsmouth form part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, under the Fleet First reorganisation which saw the three (Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane) port flotillas replace the frigate and destroyer squadrons and other groupings.
In total some 17,300 people work in the base. Until 2012 the Second Sea Lord as Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command flew his flag from HMS Victory, which is the oldest commissioned warship in the world (although she was originally built at Chatham Dockyard). Since then, the post of Commander-in-Chief (and with it the use of Victory as flagship) has reverted to the First Sea Lord. (The Second Sea Lord is now at Henry Leach Building on Whale Island, which is also the headquarters of the Fleet Commander.)
|Ships around HMNB Portsmouth|
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
"Portsmouth Historic Dockyard" is name given to the portion of the base which is open to the public; it plays host to:
- The raised wreck of the Tudor carrack Mary Rose viewable from 2013 in a new Mary Rose Museum building
- HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, which (whilst still being in commission) is also open to the public
- HMS Warrior (1860), the first ocean-going Ironclad (built at Blackwall on the River Thames in 1860 and now moored in the dockyard).
- HMS M33, a World War I monitor (opening to the public in August 2015)
- The National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth, one of the world's leading maritime museums. Exhibits include the Trafalgar Sail (the foretop sail of Victory used at the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805)
- Action Stations, a centre containing interactive exhibits demonstrating various aspects of naval science as well as a number of simulators
- Portsmouth Harbour Tours
- Boathouse 4 (opening August 2015): Boatbuilding and Heritage Skills Centre
- The Historic Boat Workshop: houses a collection of historic small boats
|Portsmouth Historic Dockyard|
The first recorded dry dock in the world was built in Portsmouth by Henry VII in 1495. The first warship built here was the Sweepstake of 1497; of more significance were the carracks Mary Rose of 1509 and Peter Pomegranate of 1510—both were rebuilt here in 1536. The wreck of the Mary Rose (which capsized in 1545, but was raised in 1982), is on display in a purpose built museum. A fourth Tudor warship was the galleass Jennett, built in 1539 and enlarged as a galleon in 1558. Following the establishment of Chatham Dockyard in the mid-1500s, no new naval vessels were built here until 1648, but ships from Portsmouth were a key part of the fleet that drove off the Spanish Armada in 1588. There are no on-site remains of the Tudor Dock and Yard.
Naval shipbuilding at Portsmouth recommenced under the English Commonwealth, the first ship being the eponymous Fourth-rate frigate Portsmouth launched in 1650. A new double dry dock (i.e. double the standard length so as to accommodate two ships at once) was built by the Commonwealth government in 1656.
As France began to pose more of a military threat to England, the strategic importance of Portsmouth grew. In 1689, Parliament ordered one new dry dock and two new wet docks (or non-tidal basins) to be built there; work began in 1691. (A building slip was also constructed, where the Mary Rose is now in No. 3 dock.)
The dry dock (or "Great Stone Dock" as it was called) was entered via what is now known as No. 1 Basin (then called the "Lower Wet Dock"). It was built to new designs developed by the naval engineer Edmund Dummer, surveyor to the Navy Board. He substituted brick and stone for wood and increased the number of altars or steps. The stepped sides allowed shorter timbers to be used for shoring and made it much easier for shipwrights to reach the underside of vessels needing repair. Extensively rebuilt in 1769, the Great Stone Dock is now known as No.5 dock.
As with all extensions, the new works were built on reclaimed land and the civil engineering involved was on an unprecedented scale. To empty the dry dock of water, Dummer designed a unique system which used water from the Upper Wet Dock to drive a water-wheel on the ebb tide, which in turn powered a set of pumps. (At high tide, an auxiliary set of pumps was used, powered by a horse gin.)
The second ("Upper") Wet Dock was entered by way of a channel. In 1699 Dummer adapted the channel, enabling it to be closed off at each end by a set of gates, thus forming a second dry dock (the "North Stone Dock"), which was rebuilt in 1737 and is known today as No 6 dock. The Upper Wet Dock itself became a reservoir into which water from various nearby dry docks could be drained; vaulted and covered over at the end of the eighteenth century, it still exists today underground.
The second half of the eighteenth century was a key period in the development of Portsmouth (and indeed of the other Royal Dockyards). A substantial programme of expansion and modernisation was undertaken from 1760 onwards, driven (as would be future periods of expansion) by increases both in the size of individual ships and in the overall size of the fleet. Several of Portsmouth Dockyard's most notable historic buildings date from this period, including the three great storehouses (built 1764-1785).
In the 1760s the Wet Dock (No 1 Basin) was deepened, the Great Stone Dock was rebuilt and a new dry dock (known today as No 4 dock) was built alongside it. Further key engineering works were begun in the 1790s, overseen by Samuel Bentham. He further expanded the Basin, building over the old double dock in the process, and added three further docks built entirely of stone. (These, Nos 1, 2 and 3 docks, are still in place today, accommodating HMS M33, HMS Victory and the Mary Rose respectively.) He also made pioneering use of a "ship caisson" to close off the entrance to the basin. In 1799 a steam engine was installed (the first in a Royal Naval Yard); it not only powered pumps to drain the dry docks, but also drove machinery for woodworking.
|18th-century buildings and structures in the Dockyard|
In 1800, the Royal Navy had 684 ships and the Dockyard was the largest industrial complex in the world. The Industrial Revolution saw the world’s first steam powered factory, Portsmouth Block Mills, open in Portsmouth in 1802 to mass-produce ship pulley blocks. Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famously designed the machinery.
Horatio Nelson, embarking on HMS Victory, left Britain from Portsmouth for the time before his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Victorian and Edwardian dockyard expansion
The adoption of steam propulsion for warships led to large-scale changes in the Royal Dockyards, which had been built in the age of sail. The Navy's first 'steam factory' was built at Woolwich in 1839; but it soon became clear that the site was far too small to cope with this revolutionary change in ship building and maintenance. Therefore, in 1843, work began on reclaiming land immediately to the north of the then Dockyard to create a new 7-acre basin (known today as No 2 Basin) with a sizeable steam factory alongside. Three new dry docks were constructed over the next 20 years, opening off the new basin, and another was built on reclaimed land west of the basin alongside a row of five new shipbuilding slips. Further developments in shipbuilding technology, however, meant that several of these new amenities had to be rebuilt and expanded almost as soon as they were finished.
Technological change affected not only ships' means of propulsion, but the materials from which they were built. By 1860 wooden warships, vulnerable as they were to modern armaments, had been rendered largely obsolescent. The changeover to metal hulls not only required new building techniques, but also heralded a dramatic and ongoing increase in the potential size of new vessels. The Dockyards found themselves having to expand in kind. At Portsmouth, plans were drawn up in the late 1850s for further land reclamation north and east of the new Steam Basin, and from 1867 work was begun on a complex of three new interconnected basins, each of 14-22 acres. Each basin served a different purpose: ships would proceed from the repairing basin, to the rigging basin, to the fitting-out basin, and exit from there into a new tidal basin, ready to take on fuel alongside the sizeable coaling wharf there. Three dry docks were also constructed as part of the plan, as well as parallel pair of sizeable locks for entry into the basin complex. This "Great Extension" of Portsmouth Dockyard was largely completed by 1881.
Before the end of the century, however, it was recognised that there would have to be still further expansion across all the Royal Dockyards in order to keep pace with the increasing likely size of future naval vessels. At Portsmouth two more dry docks, Nos 14 & 15, were built alongside the Repairing Basin in 1896; within ten years these, together with the adjacent docks 12 & 13, had to be extended, and by the start of World War I Dock No 14 was over 720 ft in length. The largest Naval ships were now too large for the interlocking basins, so to guarantee access to the new dry docks the intervening walls between the basins were removed to create a single large non-tidal body of water (No 3 Basin), with a pair of 850 ft entrance locks being built at the same time. These (C & D locks) were operational from 1914, and they, together with the enlarged basin and docks, have remained in use, largely unaltered, ever since.
Early 20th century shipbuilding
In 1900 the Third class cruiser HMS Pandora was launched, followed by the armoured cruisers Kent in 1901 and Suffolk in 1903. Two battleships of the pre-Dreadnought King Edward VII Class were launched in 1904—Britannia and New Zealand. The first modern battleship Dreadnought, was built in 1905–06, taking one day more than a year. Further dreadnoughts followed—Bellerophon in 1907, St. Vincent in 1908, Orion in 1910, King George V in 1911, Iron Duke in 1912 and Queen Elizabeth in 1913.
First World War
The largest vessel launched at Portsmouth during WWI was the 27,500-ton battleship Royal Sovereign in 1915. The only other launchings during the war were the submarines J1 and J2 in 1915, and K1, K2 and K5 in 1916. The Belfast-built M33, a monitor, has been on display at Portsmouth since 1999 after being refurbished at Hartlepool.
The majority of warships launched at Portsmouth following the end of the War were cruisers—Effingham in 1921, Suffolk in 1926, London in 1927, Dorsetshire in 1929, Neptune in 1933, and Amphion and Aurora in 1934. There were also four destroyers—Comet and her sister Crusader in 1931, and the flotilla leaders Duncan in 1932 and Exmouth in 1934. The only other vessels launched between the wars were the mining tenders Nightingale in 1931 and Skylark in 1932.
Second World War
The destroyer flotillas (the capital ships having been evacuated to Scapa Flow), were essential to the defence of the English Channel, particularly during Operation Dynamo (the Dunkirk evacuation) and against any potential German Invasion. The base itself served a major refit and repair role. The Germans realised this importance and the city and base in particular was heavily bombed.
Portsmouth and the Naval Base itself were the headquarters and main departure point for the military and naval units destined for Sword Beach on the Normandy coast as a part of Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. Troops destined for each of the landing beaches left from Portsmouth aboard vessels such as the armed merchant cruisers HMCS Prince Henry and HMCS Prince David, escorted by the Canadian destroyers HMCS Algonquin and Sioux. The majority of the naval support for the operation left from Portsmouth, including the Mulberry Harbours.
Post Second World War
Falklands Task Force
In 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. In response a task force of British military and merchant ships was dispatched from Portsmouth Naval Base to the islands in the South Atlantic to reclaim them for the United Kingdom.
The task force consisted of the following ships:
- Two aircraft carriers
- Two landing ship docks
- Eight destroyers
- 15 frigates
- Three patrol ships
- Five submarines
- Three survey vessels
- Five minesweepers
- 10 fleet tankers
- Six logistic landing ships
- Five supply ships
- One helicopter supply ship
- 18 merchant ships including troop/cruise ships such as RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 and SS Canberra
Following some losses, the majority of these ships returned to Portsmouth later that year.
In the summer of 2005 Portsmouth Naval Base and the Solent played host to two special events organised as part of the Trafalgar 200 commemorations recognising the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. These were the International Fleet Review and the International Festival of the Sea.
- HMS Nelson: HM Naval Base Portsmouth. Today the name encompasses the entire base, including both the dockyard and the Naval Personnel Centre on Queen Street. Previously it had signified only the latter (opened as Portsmouth Naval Barracks in 1903, later named HMS Victory after the Commander-in-Chief's flagship, renamed Nelson in 1974 to avoid confusion). The barrack blocks were mostly demolished and rebuilt in the latter half of the 20th century, but a number of other original buildings remain including the canteen, the drill shed and the Wardroom across the street. One barrack block does remain from an earlier (Army) barracks (Anglesey Barracks) which formerly stood on the site.
- HMS Excellent: Whale Island, Portsmouth (includes Navy Command Headquarters together with a front-line Naval Training establishment operated by Babcock International (with all catering, front of house, cleaning and hotel services sub-contracted to Compass Group plc)). The name was formerly attached to the barracks and other facilities of the RN Gunnery Establishment (based on the island from 1891-1985); these now form part of the training base.
- HMS Temeraire: Burnaby Road, Portsmouth. Training of Naval Physical Training Instructors and sports grounds and facilities for Portsmouth based personnel. RN School of Physical Training has been known as Temeraire since 1971, and moved to its current site in 1988.
- HMS Collingwood: Fareham. Naval training provided mainly under contract to Babcock International (catering and cleaning services are sub-contracted to Sodexo). Commissioned in 1940 as a training establishment for 'new entry' seamen, it later housed the RN School of Electrical Engineering, but serves today as headquarters of the Maritime Warfare School.
- HMS Sultan: Gosport. Naval (and tri-service) training, home of the centre of excellence for mechanical and electrical engineering. Naval training provided mainly under contract to Babcock International (catering and cleaning services are sub-contracted to Sodexo); opened on this site in 1956.
- HMS Dryad: Now MOD Southwick Park—Tri-Service Defence Police College
- HMS Dolphin diesel electric submarine base—Now MOD Fort Blockhouse
- HMS Vernon—Now in civilian use as Gunwharf Quays
- HMS Daedalus Fleet Air Arm base
- Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar
- Eastney Barracks (Royal Marine Artillery)—Now the Royal Marines Museum
- Forton Barracks (Royal Marine Light Infantry)—Now in civilian use as St Vincent College
- Royal Clarence Victualling Yard
- RNAD Gosport (including Priddy's Hard-Now Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower)
- Haslar Gunboat Yard (opened 1859, closed 1973)
- HMS Mercury: RN Signals School 1941-1993, Leydene House, East Meon, near Portsmouth
- HMS Phoenix: Fire fighting training establishment 1946-1993, now part of HMS Excellent
Ship of the Line
Type 45 Destroyers
Type 23 Frigates
Hunt class mine countermeasures vessels
- HMS Ledbury
- HMS Cattistock
- HMS Brocklesby
- HMS Middleton
- HMS Chiddingfold
- HMS Atherstone
- HMS Hurworth
- HMS Quorn
River class patrol vessels
Antarctic Patrol Ships
- HMS Endurance— replaced in 2011 by MV Polarbjorn, renamed as HMS Protector (A173)
- HMS Protector (ex-MV Polarbjorn) - will be moved to HMNB Devonport in 2015
Archer class patrol vessels
- Abroad again in Britain, BBC
- "Drilling rig starts Portsmouth aircraft carriers work". BBC News. 13 February 2012.
- Portsmouth News, 6 July 2007.
- "Shipbuilding could return to Portsmouth, says BAE Systems chairman". 8 July 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- "History 1690–1840". www.portsmouthdockyard.org.uk. Retrieved 7 October 2009.
- Coad, Jonathan (2013). Support for the Fleet: architecture and engineering of the Royal Navy's bases, 1700-1914. Swindon: English Heritage.
- "Grade I listing for Docks 1-6 together with Basin, Mast Pond, etc".
- "Listing text".
- "RN website: history of HMS Excellent".
- "RN website: history of HMS Temeraire".
- "RN Website: HMS Collingwood".
- "RN website: history of HMS Sultan".
- Stephen Courtney, Brian Patterson, Home of the Fleet: A Century of Portsmouth Royal Dockyard in Photographs (Sutton Publishing, 2005) ISBN 0-7509-2285-0.
- James Goss, Portsmouth-built warships 1497–1967 (Published by Kenneth Mason, 1984)
- C. I. Hamilton, Portsmouth Dockyard Papers, 1852–1869: From Wood to Steel, a calendar (Winchester, 2005).
- R.J.B. Knight, Portsmouth Dockyard Papers, 1774–1783: the American War: a calendar (Winchester, 1987)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to HMNB Portsmouth.|
- HMNB Portsmouth web page
- Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust website
- Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website
- Portsmouth D-Day Museum
- Queen's Harbour Master, Portsmouth