Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
An aerial photograph of Portsmouth Dockyard, viewed from the west, 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. Until the early 1970s it was officially known as Portsmouth Royal Dockyard (or HM Dockyard, Portsmouth); the shipbuilding, repair and maintenance element of the base was privatized in the late-1990s/early-2000s.
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
- 3.1 Tudors
- 3.2 Seventeenth century
- 3.3 Eighteenth century
- 3.4 Nineteenth century
- 3.5 Twentieth century
- 3.6 Twenty-first century
- 4 Associated establishments in the Portsmouth area
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 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.)
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
Archer-class patrol vessels
- HMS Smiter - University Royal Naval Unit
- HMS Blazer - University Royal Naval Unit
- HMS Ranger - University Royal Naval Unit
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
- 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
- The Dockyard Apprentice exhibition in Boathouse No. 7, telling the story of the Dockyard itself and working life within it.
- Portsmouth Harbour Tours
- Boathouse 4 (opening October 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.
The appointment of one Thomas Jermyn as Keeper of the Dock at Portsmouth is recorded in 1526, with a Clerk of the Stores being appointed from 1542.
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.
Between 1704-1712 a wall was built around the Dockyard, following the line of the town's 17th-century fortifications; together with a contemporary (though altered) gate and lodge, much of the wall still stands, serving its original purpose. In 1733 a Royal Naval Academy for officer cadets was established within the Dockyard, the Navy's first shore-based training facility and a forerunner of Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.
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 (Nos 9, 10 & 11, built 1764-1785). The Double Ropery, over 1,000ft in length dates from the same period; it is, however, the sixth ropehouse (since 1665) to have stood on the site. Both its immediate predecessors were destroyed by fire (in 1760 and 1770) and the current building was itself gutted by fire in 1776 as the result of an arson attack. It is called a 'double' ropery because the spinning and laying stages take place in the same building (on different floors) rather than on two separate sites.
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. It was built alongside the 1799 steam engine house, over the newly roofed-over reservoir (the former Upper Wet Dock). Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famously designed the machines, which manufactured the blocks through a total of fifteen separate stages of production.
Horatio Nelson left Britain for the last time before his death at the Battle of Trafalgar when he embarked from Portsmouth on HMS Victory.
From 1815 the system of Dockyard apprenticeship was supplemented by the establishment of a School of Naval Architecture in Portsmouth (for training potential Master Shipwrights), initially housed in the building which faces Admiralty House on South Terrace. Taking on students from the age of 14, this was the forerunner of Portsmouth Dockyard School (later Technical College) which continued to provide specialist training until 1970.
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 in Portsmouth 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; new Brass and Iron Foundries were also built soon afterwards. Furthermore, 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; the contemporary pumping station which stands nearby not only served to drain these docks and locks, but also delivered compressed air to power cranes, caissons and capstans. 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.
Alongside the new Basins new buildings were erected, on a huge scale, to accommodate new manufacturing and construction processes. These included a gun-mounting workshop (1881, producing gun turrets), torpedo workshop (1886), and the very large New Factory of 1905, to the east of No 13 dock, which was soon put to the task of fitting out Dreadnoughts. Electrification came to the Yard with the opening of a 9,800kW power station in 1906.
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. Some 1,200 vessels, however, underwent a refit at Portsmouth during the course of the War, and over the same period 1,658 ships were either hauled up the slipways or placed in dry-dock for repairs.
The period after the war was inevitably a time of contraction at the Dockyard, and there were many redundancies. In accordance with the Government's Ten Year Rule the Dockyard worked over the next decade and a half with a presumption of enduring peace rather than future conflict.
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.
New Dockyard facilities included a Steel Foundry, built in 1926. The "Semaphore Tower" was built in 1930, a facsimile of its namesake which had been destroyed in a fire in 1913. The arch beneath incorporates the Lion Gate, once part of the 18th-century fortifications.
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.
Associated establishments in the Portsmouth area
The presence of the Dockyard and Fleet led to the establishment of a variety of other naval and military installations in and around Portsmouth over the years, some of which are listed below.
- 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
- HM Gun Wharf, later HMS Vernon torpedo and mines establishment — Now in civilian use as Gunwharf Quays
- HMS Daedalus Fleet Air Arm base
- Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar
- Eastney Barracks (Royal Marine Artillery barracks 1867-1923, Royal Marines barracks 1923-1995) — converted into housing, except for the old Officers' Mess, which currently houses the Royal Marines Museum
- Forton Barracks (Royal Marine Light Infantry barracks 1848-1923, then HMS St Vincent boys' training establishment until 1968) — Now in civilian use as St Vincent College
- Royal Clarence Victualling Yard, Gosport
- RNAD Gosport: a composite site which included:
- RNAD Priddy's Hard (1776) gunpowder storage and shell-filling facility. Closed 1988 — now Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower
- RNAD Bedenham (1908) gunpowder stores were moved here from Priddy's Hard (judged to be dangerously close to the Dockyard).
- RNAD Elson (now part of DM Gosport)
- RNAD Frater (now part of DM Gosport)
- RNAD Marchwood (1811) closed 1961 - Converted for housing and use by Marchwood Yacht Club
- 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
The Fortifications of Portsmouth were developed over several centuries to protect the fleet and dockyard from attacks either by land or by sea. From 1665 Bernard de Gomme oversaw construction of defensive Lines around both Portsmouth (the Dockyard and the old town) and Gosport (on the opposite side of Portsmouth Harbour). These defences were extended in the 18th century, before being superseded in the 19th by the Palmerston forts which encircle Portsmouth on and off-shore.
These fortifications required substantial numbers of personnel to man them and, from the mid-18th century onwards, they (together with other troops who were either stationed in the garrison or preparing to embark overseas) were accommodated in a variety of barracks in and around the City. By 1900 these included:
- Cambridge Barracks, High Street (Infantry) - established in 1825 in a set of late-18th century warehouses; went on to serve as a transit barracks for troops passing through Portsmouth (the 1856 officers' quarters have been occupied by Portsmouth Grammar School since 1927).
- Clarence barracks (Royal Garrison Artillery) - established in 1760 as Fourhouse Barracks on land between St Nicholas Street and the fortifications (alongside an earlier Royal Marine Barracks); renamed in 1827; rebuilt around 1881, expanding across the old defensive lines into the field beyond; demolished c.1967.
- Colewort Barracks, St George's Road (Army Service Corps) - built as a garrison hospital, converted to barracks 1694, demolished to make way for expansion of nearby power station in the 1920s.
- Hilsea Barracks (Royal Field Artillery) - built 1854, Royal Army Ordnance Corps from 1921; closed 1962, site redeveloped for housing (the surviving 18th-century Gatcombe House served as the Officers' Mess).
- Milldam Barracks (Royal Engineers) - built late 18th century onwards, housed the Engineers responsible for upkeep of the fortifications; sold in 1969 and now occupied by the University of Portsmouth and Portsmouth Register Office.
- Point Barracks (Artillery) - built alongside the medieval Round Tower in 1846-50; sold to Portsmouth City Council in the early 1960s following disbandment of the UK's Coastal Artillery network. Part of the brick structure was demolished, but is marked by stones in the ground alongside the surviving casemates.
- St George's Barracks, Gosport (Infantry) - built 1856-59 as a transit barracks for troops, continuing in military use until 1991; several buildings remain, since converted to new uses.
- Victoria Barracks (Infantry) - built in 1888 alongside New Clarence Barracks; demolished 1967.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to HMNB Portsmouth.|
- HMNB Portsmouth web page
- Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust website
- Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website
- Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust
- Portsmouth D-Day Museum
- Queen's Harbour Master, Portsmouth