HMS Neptune leading the Home Fleet before the First World War
|Active||1902–1904, 1907–1914, 1932–1967|
|John Tovey, Bruce Fraser|
The Home Fleet was a fleet of the Royal Navy that operated in the United Kingdom's territorial waters from 1902 with intervals until 1967. Before the First World War, it consisted of the four Port Guard ships.[which?] During the First World War, it comprised some of the older ships of the Royal Navy. And during the Second World War, it was the Royal Navy's main battle force in European waters.
Pre-First World War
On 1 October 1902, the Admiral Superintendent Naval Reserves, then Vice-Admiral Gerard Noel, was given the additional appointment of Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, and allotted a rear-admiral to serve under him as commander of the Home Squadron. "... the nucleus of the Home Fleet would consist of the four Port Guard ships, which would be withdrawn from their various scattered dockyards and turned into a unified and permanent sea-going command – the Home Squadron – based on Portland. Also under the direction of the commander-in-chief of the Home Fleet would be the Coast Guard ships, which would continue to be berthed for the most part in their respective district harbours in order to carry out their local duties, but would join the Home Squadron for sea work at least three times per year, at which point the assembled force – the Home Squadron and the Coast Guard vessels – would be known collectively as the Home Fleet." Rear-Admiral George Atkinson-Willes was Second-in-Command of the Home Fleet, with his flag in the battleship HMS Empress of India, at this time. In May 1903 Noel was succeeded as Commander-in-Chief by Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson.
On 14 December 1904, the Channel Fleet was re-styled the Atlantic Fleet and the Home Fleet became the Channel Fleet. In 1907, the Home Fleet was reformed with Vice-Admiral Francis Bridgeman in command, succeeded by Admiral Sir William May in 1909. Bridgeman took command again in 1911, and in the same year was succeeded by Admiral Sir George Callaghan. On 4 August 1914, as the First World War was breaking out, John Jellicoe was ordered to take command of the Fleet, which by his appointment order was renamed the Grand Fleet.
Commanders in-Chief during the pre-war period were:
- Note: There was no Home Fleet between 1904 and 1907
- Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman (1907–1909)
- Vice-Admiral Sir William May (1909–1911)
- Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman (March 1911–November 1911)
- Vice-Admiral Sir George Callaghan (1911–1914)
When the Grand Fleet was disbanded in April 1919, the more powerful ships were reformed into the Atlantic Fleet and the older ships were reformed into the "Home Fleet"; this arrangement lasted until Autumn 1919, when the ships of the Home Fleet became the Reserve Fleet.
The name "Home Fleet" was resurrected in March 1932, as the new name for the Atlantic Fleet, following the Invergordon Mutiny. The Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet in 1933 was Admiral Sir John Kelly. The Home Fleet comprised the flagship Nelson leading a force that included the 2nd Battle Squadron (five more battleships), the Battlecruiser Squadron (Hood and Renown), the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Vice-Admiral Edward Astley-Rushton), CB, CMG aboard Dorsetshire (three cruisers), three destroyer flotillas (27), a submarine flotilla (six), two aircraft carriers and associated vessels.
Commanders in-Chief during the inter-war period were:
- Admiral Sir John Kelly (1932–1933)
- Admiral Sir William Boyle (1933–1935)
- Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse (1935–1938)
Second World War
The Home Fleet was the Royal Navy's main battle force in European waters during the Second World War. On 3 September 1939, under Admiral Forbes flying his flag in Nelson at Scapa Flow, it consisted of the 2nd Battle Squadron, the Battle Cruiser Squadron, 18th Cruiser Squadron, Rear-Admiral, Destroyers, Rear-Admiral, Submarines (2nd Submarine Flotilla, Dundee, 6th Submarine Flotilla, Blyth, Northumberland), Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers (Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, with Ark Royal, Furious, and Pegasus), and the Orkney and Shetlands force. Its chief responsibility was to keep Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine from breaking out of the North Sea. For this purpose, the First World War base at Scapa Flow was reactivated as it was well placed for interceptions of ships trying to run the blockade.
The two most surprising losses of the Home Fleet during the early part of the war were the sinking of the old battleship Royal Oak by the German submarine U-47 while supposedly safe in Scapa Flow, and the loss of the pride of the Navy, the battlecruiser Hood, to the German battleship Bismarck.
The operational areas of the Home Fleet were not circumscribed, and units were detached to other zones quite freely. However, the southern parts of the North Sea and the English Channel were made separate commands for light forces, and the growing intensity of the Battle of the Atlantic led to the creation of Western Approaches Command. Only with the destruction of the German battleship Tirpitz in 1944 did the Home Fleet assume a lower priority, and most of its heavy units were withdrawn to be sent to the Far East.
Commanders-in-Chief during the Second World War were:
- Admiral Sir Charles Forbes (1939–1940)
- Admiral Sir John Tovey (1940–1942)
- Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser (1942–1944)
- Admiral Sir Henry Moore (14 June 1944 – 24 November 1945)
Post-Second World War
After the Second World War, the Home Fleet took back all of its peacetime responsibilities for the Royal Navy forces in home waters and also in the North and South Atlantic. With the Cold War, greater emphasis was placed on protecting the North Atlantic from the Soviet Union in concert with other countries as part of NATO. Admiral Sir Rhoderick McGrigor supervised combined Western Union exercises involving ships from the British, French, and Dutch navies in June–July 1949. Admiral McGrigor flew his flag from the aircraft carrier Implacable. Also taking part in the exercises were Victorious and Anson, along with cruisers and destroyers. During the exercise, the combined force paid a visit to Mount's Bay in Cornwall from 30 June-4 July 1949.
The Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, gained an additional NATO responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Atlantic, as part of SACLANT, when the NATO military command structure was established in 1953 at the Northwood Headquarters in northwest London. The Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet still flew his flag however in Tyne at Portsmouth. During Exercise Mainbrace in 1952, NATO naval forces came together for the first time to practice the defence of northern Europe; Denmark and Norway. The resulting McMahon Act difficulties caused by potential British control of the United States Navy's attack carriers armed with nuclear weapons led to the creation of a separate Striking Fleet Atlantic, directly responsible to the commander of the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet, in his NATO position as SACLANT, by the end of 1952.
The submarine tender Maidstone was the fleet's flagship in 1956. In 1960, C-in-C Home Fleet moved to Northwood, and in 1966 the NATO Channel Command (a post also held by C-in-C Home Fleet) moved to Northwood from Portsmouth.
In April 1963, the naval unit at the Northwood Headquarters was commissioned as HMS Warrior under the command of the then Captain of the Fleet. The Home Fleet was amalgamated with the Mediterranean Fleet in 1967. With its area of responsibility greatly increased and no longer being just responsible for the defence of home waters of the UK, the name of the fleet was changed to the Western Fleet, consigning the famous, historic name of the Home Fleet to history.
Commanders-in-Chief after the Second World War were:
- Admiral Sir Edward Syfret (1945–1948)
- Admiral Sir Rhoderick McGrigor (1948–1950)
- Admiral Sir Philip Vian (1950–1952)
- Admiral Sir George Creasy (1952–1954)
- Admiral Sir Michael Denny (1954–1955)
- Admiral Sir John Eccles (1955–1958)
- Admiral Sir William Davis (1958–1960)
- Admiral Sir Wilfrid Woods (1960–1963)
- Admiral Sir Charles Madden (1963–1965)
- Admiral Sir John Frewen (1965–1967)
- Matthew S. Seligmann, A prelude to the reforms of Admiral Sir John Fisher: the creation of the Home Fleet, 1902–3, Historical Research, 2009
- Seligmann 2009, drawing upon T.N.A.: P.R.O., ADM 1/7606, docket Coast Guard, 24 March 1902, proposal by Sir Gerard Noel, 14 May 1902, and memorandum by Lord Walter Kerr, 17 May 1902.
- Seligmann 2009
- Heathcote, p. 195
- National Archives record searches
- Home Fleet listing for 1933
- Leo Niehorster, Home Fleet, 3 September 1939, accessed January 2009
- Whitaker's Almanacks 1939 - 1945
- Unit Histories, accessed July 2009
- Visit of the Combined Western Union Fleet to Mount’s Bay 30 June to 4 July
- Biography: Philip Vian Archived 15 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Royal Naval Museum, accessed November 2009
- Naval-history.net, HMS Theseus, accessed October 2011
- Sean Maloney, Securing Command of the Sea, Masters' thesis, University of New Brunswick, 1992, p.234-247
- Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom), Northwood Headquarters, accessed July 2009
- Whitaker's Almanacks 1945–1963
- Heathcote, Tony (2002). The British Admirals of the Fleet 1734 – 1995. Pen & Sword Ltd. ISBN 0-85052-835-6.
- The Dreadnought Project: Home Fleet