Royal Navy

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Royal Navy
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
White Ensign of the Royal Navy
Activeas the Navy Royal
as the Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy
as the Royal Navy
AllegianceUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchHM Naval Service
Part ofAdmiralty Office
Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office
Admiralty Commission (1649-1660)
Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office
Department of Admiralty
Navy Department
Navy Command
Ministry of Defence
Garrison/HQPortsmouth, England
First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff
Ceremonial chiefLord High Admiral of the United Kingdom
Lord Admiral, Charles Howard, Lord Effingham

The Royal Navy is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. It is the oldest part of the British Armed Forces and is known as the "Senior Service". It is one of the five branches of HM Naval Service from the 18th century until World War Two, it was the largest and most powerful navy in the world. The Royal Navy was very important in making Britain the superpower of that time. The Royal Navy currently has 43,280 personnel (people) including part-time reserve sailors, airmen and marines, The surface fleet consists of 75 commissioned ships, 11 fleet auxiliary ships and 178 aircraft as of November 2018.

The titular head of the Royal Navy is the Lord High Admiral HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. It's operational commander is the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff: Admiral Anthony Radakin is based at Ministry of Defence HQ, he directs the navy through Navy Command HQ in Portsmouth, England.

From 1546 until 1690 the Royal Navy and subsequently HM Naval Service was controlled by the Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office. From 1690 until 1964 it was controlled by the Department of Admiralty a government department of state under the direction of a cabinet minister the First Lord of the Admiralty was merged along with the Air Ministry and War Office into the Ministry of Defence where it became the Navy Department.


No navy or fleet existed in any shape or form in England until the reign of King Alfred (871-901). His first seaborne engagement was in 882 against four Danish ships in the Stour estuary, and in 895-7 Alfred built longships to his own design and defeated the Danes off Essex and in the Thames estuary. It is for this reason that King Alfred is often claimed to be the founder of the British navy. During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1004-1066), the maritime institution of the Cinque Ports was established. This was composed of five ports, Dover, Hastings, Romney, Hythe and Sandwich, later Rye and Winchelsea wereadded. Its purpose was for the prompt mobilisation of merchant vessels into a navy to fight against pirates and enemy attacks.[1]

In 1190 Richard I introduced the Laws of Oleron into England. These were a code of maritime law originally enacted by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. The laws dealt with the rights and responsibilities of ships’ captains in relation to discipline, mutiny, pay, cargoes, sickness on board, pilotage and the like. In 1340 the Battle of Sluys was the first naval battle fought in ships, although the fleet was made up of mainly commandeered merchant vessels. This is deemed to be the first time a naval dispatch had been sent, when the King wrote to his son, the Prince of Wales. The English fleet being commanded by Edward III. Edward III became known as the ‘king of the seas’. In 1360 John de Beauchamp, Bart. was appointed as the first High Admiral of England and Admiral of the Fleet.[2]

In 1414 Henry V abolished the final regional command the Northern and Western Admiralty and centralized all naval affairs into a single Admiralty Office. In 1415, the Henry V’s English invasion force was carried across the channel by 1500 ships and boats, to fight in Agincourt. Henry V built the Jesus, the first ship of 1000 tons, followed by the Grace Dieu of 1400 tons. The Tudor period was the great age of discovery and the beginning of world expansion. In 1495 Henry VII built the first dry dock at Portsmouth. Henry VIII inherited seven warships from his father, which he increased to twenty-four in the early part of his reign.[3]

In 1509 Henry VIII had ships built which had improved sea-worthiness and armaments, and in 1514 the Henry Grace a Dieu the largest warship in the world was launched. It was the first ship with heavy guns, and this led to an end of archers firing on ships and hand to hand fighting, and so developed a new technique of sea warfare. In the same year Trinity House was inaugurated to develop navigational aids such as lighthouses, buoys and beacons, the latter being used to signal the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. In 1540 Henry built the first naval dock in Britain at Portsmouth.[4]

in 1546 he established the Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office, and the Navy Board to administer the Navy Office which remained almost unchanged for 300 years, and set up the administrative machinery for the control of the fleet. For his achievements Henry VIII was known as the father of the English navy. From the Tudor period, England produced many eminent naval officers. In 1625 Flag Officer ranks were officially recognized.and in 1628 the Board of Admiralty was established.

In 1649 the Navy Royal was seized by the Parliament of England at the end of the English Civil War modern historians today refer to it during this period as the Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy.[5] The Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy became the Royal Navy after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660. In 1661 Sir William Penn and Samuel Pepys established the Naval Discipline Act which included the articles of war and founded.[6]

The Royal Navy by statue. In 1664 the Royal Marines were set up. Charles II founded the Royal Society of London to encourage scientific knowledge of astronomy, biology, geographical exploration, navigation and seamanship. In 1675 the Royal Observatory, Greenwich was founded. During the eighteenth century, in 1714 the Board of Longitude was created and offered a prize for solution to discovering longitude at sea. The problem was solved by John Harrison’s chronometers in the latter part of the century.[7]

In 1751 warships began to be rated by being divided into six divisions depending on the number of their guns e.g. a first rate having over 100 guns and sixth rate having under 32 guns. In 1782 signalling with twenty-eight flags using a numbered code was introduced by Admirals Howe, Kempenfelt and Knowles. This was further developed in 1796 by the introduction of semaphore by Sir Home Popham and Rev. Lord George Murray. Fifteen semaphore stations were installed from London to Deal, and its success led to a further ten stations being set up between London and Portsmouth. 1795 saw the compulsory introduction of lemon juice to prevent scurvy on board ships. In the same year the Admiralty’s Hydrographic Office was established and the first Admiralty chart was issued by Alexander Dalrymple in 1801.[8]

From 1819, the Admiralty was given permission to sell its charts to the Merchant Marine and since then the world has been navigated almost entirely on British Admiralty charts. The nineteenth century saw the beginning of Arctic exploration. In 1822, the first steam vessels, HMSs Comet and Monkey, were brought into use for towing ships of the line out of harbour when the wind was unfavourable. The Department of Admiralty became the single organisation responsible for every aspect of the navy in 1832 when the Navy Board was merged into it. In 1853, continuous service in the navy was introduced under which seamen could make service in the navy a career and earn a pension at the end of it. This meant the end of impressment as a means of recruitment. HMS Warrior, the first ironclad warship, was built in 1860.[9]

At the turn of the twentieth century the submarine was developed. By World War I 74 had been built. In 1906, the first all big-gun battleship HMS Dreadnought was built, becoming the most powerful ship in the world at the time and making all other ships obsolete. In 1912, the Royal Naval Air Service was formed, and in 1918, HMS Argus was the first ship built to enable aircraft to take off and land with an unobstructed deck over the whole length of the ship. In 1923, HMS Hermes was the first purpose built aircraft carrier and the Fleet Air Arm came into existence a year later. The latter part of the century has seen the development of nuclear submarines and missiles. Today the Royal Navy is the third strongest maritime time force in the world after the USA and Russia.[10]

The Royal Navy today remains one of the largest blue water navies in the world in terms of gross tonnage (weight and size of all their ships). The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary have 98 ships including aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, nuclear ballistic and attack submarines, minesweepers and patrol vessels as well as the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. All ships in the Royal Navy are called "Her Majesty's ships" (Or HMS for short), because by constitution the Queen owns them and has command over them. Ships in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are called "Royal Fleet Auxiliaries" (Or RFA for short) and are also technically owned by the Queen. In times of a male monarch the "Her" is replaced with "His". In previous history the Royal Navy was additionally supported by the Merchant Navy.

Current Organisation and Structure

The ceremonial head of the Royal Navy is the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom who's office dates from (1385). Operationally each of the armed services has its own board the royal navy has the Admiralty Board which is responsible for the administration of the HM Naval Service. It meets formally only once a year, and the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy is conducted by the Navy Board, which does not include any ministers and their offices are in at Ministry of Defence HQ, London. Based at MOD HQ is the The professional head of the is the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff 1SL/CNS) who is full Admiral of four star rank. He is a member of the Ministry of Defence, Defence Council and its sub-committee the Defence Board. The Royal Navy is directed through Navy Command which is shore based command who's facilities are presided over by the Second Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (2SL/DCNS) who is a Vice-Admiral three star rank he is responsible for the administrative, logistical, personnel, recruitment and training and support functions of the navy, he reports to the First Sea Lord. Operational command of the fleet is the job of the Fleet Commander (FLEETCOMM), who is also a Vice-Admiral who reports to the First Sea Lord. The purpose of fleet commander is to provide ships, submarines and commando forces for military and diplomatic jobs as needed by the Government. The fleet commander is also based at Navy Command HQ which is in Portsmouth; whilst the fleet's operational headquarters are at Northwood HQ, Middlesex. This is the Permanent Joint Headquarters and a NATO Regional Command. In addition Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy) who is a Rear-Admiral of two star rank is responsible for the direction and development of strategic policy and strategy for the Royal Navy and the Finance Director (Navy) is a civilian officer of the MOD responsible for Management and decision support relating to the Royal Navy's delegated budget.

Office of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom

Office of the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (MOD London)

The Royal Navy's professional head responsible to Secretary of State for the fighting effectiveness, efficiency and morale of the Naval Service; a member of the Defence Council supporting Secretary of State in the management of the Armed Forces.

Navy Command HQ (Portsmouth)

Office of the Second Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff

Second Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff is the Principal Personnel Officer (PPO) for the Naval Service with direct responsibility to the First Sea Lord as the personnel champion for all Naval Service.

Office of the Fleet Commander

The Fleet Commander has full command of all deployable Fleet units including the Royal Marines. He is responsible for providing ships, submarines, aircraft and Royal Marine units ready in all respects for any operations that the UK Government requires.

Office of the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy)

Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy) is responsible for the direction and development of strategic policy and strategy for the Royal Navy.

Office of the Finance Director (Navy)

The Finance Director works directly to First Sea Lord and supports the Fleet Commander, Second Sea Lord and colleagues in the delivery of their responsibilities. As Navy Command's Senior Finance Officer, Civilian Workforce Advisor, and Senior Policy Advisor.


The Royal Navy is made up of six services.

  1. Surface Fleet
  2. Fleet Air Arm
  3. Submarine Service
  4. Royal Marines
  5. Royal Fleet Auxiliary
  6. Maritime Reserves


The Royal Navy itself a Military Branch of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom from ratings to officers, In terms of careers and service within it is currently consists of seven of the nine specialist branches that encompass HM Naval Service:

  1. Aviation Branch
  2. Chaplaincy Branch
  3. Engineering Branch
  4. Intelligence Branch
  5. Medical Branch
  6. Naval Historical Branch
  7. Logistics Branch
  8. Reserve Branch
  9. Warfare Branch

Former Services

  1. Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
  2. Women's Royal Naval Service

Former Branches

  1. Accountant Branch
  2. Air Branch
  3. Civil Branch
  4. Construction Branch
  5. Dental Branch
  6. Military Branch (command and leadership also called the Executive Branch)
  7. Naval Instructor Branch
  8. Navigating Branch
  9. Ordnance Branch


  1. "A Brief History of the Royal Navy" (PDF). National Museum of the Royal Navy. 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  2. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  3. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  4. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  5. Tedder, Arthur W. (2019). The Navy of the Restoration. Cambridge: CUP Archive. p. 197.
  6. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  7. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  8. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  9. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).
  10. National Museum of the Royal Navy. (2014).