Rosyth Dockyard

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HM Dockyard, Rosyth
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
HMS Cochrane
Part of Coast of Scotland Station
(1915-1916, 1920-1938)
Rosyth Command
(1916-1919, 1939-1948)
Scotland and Northern Ireland Command
Scotland Command
Scotland and Northern Ireland Command
Rosyth in Scotland
HM Naval Base, Rosyth and Dockyard in 1916..jpg
HM Naval Base, Rosyth and Dockyard in 1916
TypeNaval Dockyard
Site information
OperatorRoyal Navy
Site history
In use1915-1986

Rosyth Dockyard is a large naval dockyard on the Firth of Forth at Rosyth, Fife, Scotland, Originally established as a Royal Naval Dockyard in 1916 it was in operation until 1986 when it was management of the yard passed to a private company called Babcock International it continued to manage the yard until 1995 when HM Naval Base, Rosyth was closed down at which point Babcock become the owner of the facility and a sub-contractor of the Ministry of Defence.

The dockyard was controlled and directed by the Admiral-Superintendent, Rosyth Dockyard from 1915 to 1971, then the Port Admiral, Rosyth from 1971 until 1983.


Plan of HM Naval Establishment Rosyth still undergoing construction including the dockyard in 1909

In the early years of the 20th century, it was clear that war with Germany was imminent, and that the North Sea would be one of the combat arenas. Britain began building a new kind of warship to counter the threat. The battleships were named 'dreadnoughts' after the launch of HMS Dreadnought at Portsmouth in 1906 — the sixth ship in the Royal Navy so named. A suitable base was needed on the east coast. However, the naval dockyard at Chatham in Kent was too shallow, and Portsmouth and Plymouth too distant.

In 1903, the Admiralty (now part of the Ministry of Defence) bought some 479ha of land and 115ha of foreshore from the first Marquis of Linlithgow, John Hope (1860-1908). Its location on the north bank of the Firth of Forth provides easy access to the deeper waters of the estuary, leading to the North Sea. A supply branch line to the railway between Dunfermline and Queensferry was built in 1905-7, starting near Jamestown and ending west of Rosyth Castle. Construction began at the dockyard site in March 1909 and the pace of work accelerated in 1912 as World War I (1914-18) approached. The contract was scheduled to be completed within seven years.

The original scheme consisted of a large deep-water basin entered via a lock, with two dry docks and provision for a third, plus an emergency entrance for use in case of damage to the lock. Outside was a tidal basin for submarines and smaller craft. Cranes, a power station, a pumping station, workshops, offices and storehouses were required. The dockyard site covers some 485ha, including 19ha of land reclaimed from salt marsh, and has 4km of waterfront. The deep-water inner basin is 512m long and 457.2m wide and encloses water 11.8m deep. It has 2.2km of wharfage and an emergency exit 33.5m wide to the north of the entrance lock. There is a boat slip 61m long and 39.6m wide at its north west corner. The tidal outer basin to the east has three jetties where vessels can moor. It is 183m long and 143.3m wide and has a depth of 4.6m at low water spring tides.

The entrance lock crosses the site of Dhu Craig rocks at the south east of the inner basin — a channel had to be blasted through the dolerite rock. The arisings were used as aggregate in the mass concrete dock walls. The lock, which can also be used as a dock by sealing its ends with floating caissons, is 259m long and 33.5m wide at the entrances, with 11m of water over its sills at low water spring tides. An approach channel 320m wide for access to the lock was dredged to 11.6m below low water spring tides.

The first dry dock was built midway along the inner basin’s north wall. It was 228.7m long and 30.5m wide at its entrance, with 11m of water over its sill, and could be partitioned into two separate docks. In July 1910 it was decided that No.1 Dock would be enlarged to 259.1m long and 33.5m wide, and deepened by a further 600mm at the sill. A second dry dock of the same size was completed east of the first in 1914, and a third followed in 1916. The docks are founded on bedrock and have 7m thick concrete floors.

The contractor, Easton Gibb & Son Ltd, had two famous engineers among its staff — Alexander Gibb (managing director, knighted in 1918) and Guy Maunsell, who was with the company until 1914. They disagreed with the Admiralty over its specified construction methods and proposed more practical alternatives. These were eventually accepted, though valuable time was lost.

In particular, the seawalls bounding the inner non-tidal basin were constructed by sinking 120 hollow concrete monoliths, generally 13.1m square and 27.4m high, through the soft sea bed sediments and onto the firm boulder clay beneath. The Admiralty wanted these foundations constructed at sea, while Gibb urged that a cofferdam would enable work to proceed in dry conditions. After three years, the seawalls were still not complete and the Admiralty allowed the contractor to build a cofferdam.

When war broke out on 28th July 1914, the dockyard was still under construction. Warship repairs were carried out at berths in the outer basin. Construction of the workshops began in 1915 and the fuel oil depot was built 1914-19. On 10th October 1915, the entrance lock was tested as an emergency graving (dry) dock. During pumping out, a part of the concrete floor was dislodged by water coming through fissures in the bedrock. Gibb had warned the Admiralty that their floor design was too thin, and now a more substantial replacement had to be constructed. This was completed on 16th February 1916.

The first warship to enter the main basin was HMS Zealandia (launched 1904), sailing through the emergency exit and berthing at No.1 Dock in March 1916 to mark the beginning of the dockyard fully-operational life. The entrance lock was used first in June 1916 by the battleship HMS Warspite (launched 1913), when she came in for repairs after critical damage sustained during the Battle of Jutland and on her way to Rosyth. Though the dockyard complex was completed in seven years, it was not until 1922 that the contractor and the Admiralty reached a final settlement of the contract price.

At its peak, the dockyard had a workforce of 6,000 men. The town of Rosyth was built as a Garden City in 1915-8 to house those employed there. Workers were formerly housed in a settlement on Admiralty land known as 'tin town'. After World War I, trade at the dockyard dwindled and short-time working began in 1921. It closed in 1925 and was placed under a care and maintenance order the following year.

Rosyth Dockyard re-opened in 1938, as war was again imminent. After World War II (1939-45) it was redeveloped to refit conventional and nuclear submarines, frigates, minesweepers and offshore protection vessels. Britain’s first nuclear-powered submarine, another HMS Dreadnought, began her service here in 1963 and the third Polaris-armed submarine HMS Renown was refitted here in 1971-3. The Syncrolift, which lifts vessels out of the water for refitting or maintenance under cover, opened in 1980. Babcock International has managed the dockyard since April 1987, and became its owner in 1997 after the government closed the naval base in 1995.


Rosyth Dockyard was mainly a repair and refitting yard, and not a centre for warship construction.

Administration of the dockyard

Rosyth Dockyard in 2020

The Admiral-Superintendent was the Royal Navy officer in command of a larger Naval Dockyard. The appointment of admiral-superintendents (or their junior equivalents) dates from 1832 when the Board of Admiralty took charge of the Royal Naval Dockyards. Prior to this larger dockyards were overseen by a Resident Commissioner of the Navy who represented the Navy Board.

Admiral-Superintendent, Rosyth Dockyard (1915-1971)

Captain of the Dockyard, Rosyth (1915-1969)

The Captain of the Dockyard was a senior Royal Navy appointment first created in 1903 replacing the earlier post of Staff Captain (Dockyard). The officer, usually with the rank of Captain, responsible for the day-to-day running of a Royal Naval Dockyard under the authority of the Admiral-Superintendent. He usually also held the position of Queen's Harbourmaster or King's Harbourmaster and was directly responsible for the captain's department. The post existed until 1969 when it was renamed Captain of the Port the following post holders included:[1]

  1. Captain William F. Slayter: January 1915-October 1917
  2. Rear-Admiral Charles F. Henderson: October 1917-April 1919
  3. Captain Harry M. K. Betty: April 1919-April 1921
  4. Captain William M. Kerr: April 1921-October 1923
  5. Captain Archibald Cochrane: October 1923-?
  6. Captain Philip H. E. Welby-Everard: November 1953-November 1954
  7. Captain Peter N. Buckley: November 1954-February 1957
  8. Captain William W. Stewart-Fitzroy: February 1957-February 1959
  9. Captain Arfor R.E. Bishop: February 1959-February 1961
  10. Captain A. John R. White: February 1961-February 1963
  11. Captain Peter B. Marriott: February 1963-October 1964
  12. Captain George H. Evans: October 1964-May 1966
  13. Captain James S. Launders: May 1966-September 1967
  14. Captain Ernest J.D. Turner: September 1967-June 1968
  15. Captain Michael R. Collins: June 1968-1969

Port Admiral, Rosyth (1971-1983)

In the Royal Naval Dockyards, admiral-superintendents ceased to be appointed after 15 September 1971, and existing post-holders were renamed port admirals.[2]

Note: These officers reported to the Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Captain of the Port, Rosyth (1969-1988)


  1. Captain Michael R. Collins: 1969-July 1970
  2. Captain Thomas G. Briggs: July 1970-February 1973
  3. Captain David J. Bent: February 1973-September 1974
  4. Captain Peter K.C. Harris: September 1974-April 1976
  5. Captain Frederick N. Buckler: April 1976-May 1978
  6. Captain Robert O. Tordoff: May 1978-January 1981
  7. Captain Harry Mucklow: January 1981-October 1982
  8. Captain William H.H. McLeod: October 1982-October 1985
  9. Captain Anthony H.F. Wilks: October 1985-March 1988


  1. Mackie, Colin. "Royal Navy Appointments from 1865" (PDF). Colin Mackie, p.113-114, January 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  2. "House of Commons 27 July 1971". Hansard.
  3. Mackie. pp.113-114.