Mediterranean Fleet

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Mediterranean Fleet
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
ActiveOrigin 1658 Formal 1708-1967
CountryUnited Kingdom
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
TypeFleet
Part ofMediterranean Station
Garrison/HQGibraltar, (1704-1708)
Port Mahon, Minorca, (1708-1791)
Gibraltar and Malta (1791-1812)
Malta (1812-1939)
Alexandria, Egypt (1940-1943)
Algiers and Taranto (1943-1944)
Malta (1945-1967)
Commanders
Current
commander
Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Station

The Mediterranean Fleet also known as the Mediterranean Squadron, was a naval formation of constituent ships assigned to the Mediterranean Station that was established as a temporary expeditionary force in September 1654. The Fleet was one of the most prestigious commands in the navy for the majority of its history, defending the vital sea link between the United Kingdom and the majority of the British Empire in the Eastern Hemisphere. The first Commander-in-Chief for the Mediterranean Fleet was the appointment of General at Sea Robert Blake (styled as Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet). The Fleet was in existence until 1967.

History

The Royal Navy gained a foothold in the Mediterranean Sea when Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession, and formally allocated to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Though the British had maintained a naval presence in the Mediterranean before, the capture of Gibraltar allowed the British to establish their first naval base there.

The British seized Port Mahon, on the island of Menorca, Spain in 1708, and developed a Port Mahon Dockyard as a naval base.[1] It was from this point on that a permanent Mediterranean Squadron was formally established.[2] However, British control there was only temporary; Menorca changed hands numerous times, and was permanently ceded to Spain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens. In 1800, the British took Malta, which was to be handed over to the Knights of Malta under the Treaty of Amiens. When the Napoleonic Wars resumed in 1803, the British kept Malta Dockyard for use as a naval base. Following Napoleon's defeat, the British continued their presence in Malta, and turned it into the main base for the Mediterranean Fleet. Between the 1860s and 1900s, the British undertook a number of projects to improve the harbours and dockyard facilities, and Malta's harbours were sufficient to allow the entire fleet to be safely moored there.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Mediterranean Fleet was the largest single fleet of the Royal Navy, with ten first-class battleships—double the number in the Channel Squadron—and a large number of smaller warships.

On 22 June 1893, the bulk of the fleet, eight battleships and three large cruisers, were conducting their annual summer exercises off Tripoli, Lebanon, when the fleet's flagship, the battleship HMS Victoria , collided with the battleship HMS Camperdown . Victoria sank within fifteen minutes, taking 358 crew with her. Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, was among the dead.

Of the three original Invincible Class battlecruisers which entered service in the first half of 1908, two HMS Inflexible and HMS Indomitable joined the Mediterranean Fleet in 1914. They and HMS Indefatigable formed the nucleus of the fleet at the start of the First World War when British forces pursued the German ships Goeben and Breslau.

A recently modernised HMS Warspite became the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief and Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Fleet in 1926. Malta, as part of the British Empire from 1814, was a shipping station and was the headquarters for the Mediterranean Fleet. Due to the perceived threat of air-attack from the Italian mainland, the fleet was moved to Alexandria, Egypt, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Sir Andrew Cunningham took command of the fleet from HMS Warspite on 3 September 1939, and under him the major formations of the Fleet were the 1st Battle Squadron, 3rd Cruiser Squadron. Rear Admiral John Tovey, with the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Destroyer Flotillas, and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious .

In 1940, the Mediterranean Fleet carried out a successful aircraft carrier attack on the Italian Fleet at Battle of Taranto. Other major actions included the Battle of Cape Matapan and the Battle of Crete. The Fleet had to block Italian and later German reinforcements and supplies for the North African Campaign.

In October 1946, HMS Saumarez hit a mine in the Corfu Channel, starting a series of events known as the Corfu Channel Incident. The channel was cleared in "Operation Recoil" the next month, involving 11 minesweepers under the guidance of HMS Ocean, two cruisers, three destroyers, and three frigates.

In May 1948, Sir Arthur Power took over as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, and in his first act arranged a show of force to discourage the crossing of Jewish refugees into Palestine. When later that year Britain pulled out of the British Mandate of Palestine, Ocean, four destroyers, and two frigates escorted the departing High Commissioner, aboard the cruiser HMS Euryalus. The force stayed to cover the evacuation of British troops into the Haifa enclave and south via Gaza.

From 1952 to 1967, the post of Commander in Chief Mediterranean Fleet was given a dual-hatted role as NATO Commander in Chief of Allied Forces Mediterranean in charge of all forces assigned to NATO in the Mediterranean Area. The British made strong representations within NATO in discussions regarding the development of the Mediterranean NATO command structure, wishing to retain their direction of NATO naval command in the Mediterranean to protect their sea lines of communication running through the Mediterranean to the Middle East and Far East. When a NATO naval commander, Admiral Robert B. Carney, C-in-C Allied Forces Southern Europe, was appointed, relations with the incumbent British C-in-C, Admiral Sir John Edelsten, were frosty. Edlesten, on making an apparently friendly offer of the use of communications facilities to Carney, who initially lacked secure communications facilities, was met with "I'm not about to play Faust to your Mephistopheles through the medium of communications.

In 1956, ships of the fleet, together with the French Navy, took part in the Suez War against Egypt. From 1957 to 1959, Rear Admiral Charles Madden held the post of Flag Officer, Malta, with responsibilities for three squadrons of minesweepers, an amphibious warfare squadron, and a flotilla of submarines stationed at the bases around Valletta Harbour. In this capacity, he had to employ considerable diplomatic skill to maintain good relations with Dom Mintoff, the nationalistic prime minister of Malta.

In the 1960s, as the importance of maintaining the link between the United Kingdom and British territories and commitments East of Suez decreased as the Empire was dismantled, and the focus of Cold War naval responsibilities moved to the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean Fleet was gradually drawn down, finally disbanding in June 1967. The Fleet's assets and area of responsibility were absorbed into the new Western Fleet. As a result of this change, the UK relinquished the NATO post of Commander in Chief, Allied Forces Mediterranean, which was abolished.

References

  1. Hattendorf, John B. (2000). Naval Policy and Strategy in the Mediterranean: Past, Present, and Future. London: Taylor & Francis. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-7146-8054-5.
  2. Hattendorf. p.36.