Royal Naval Reserve

From Naval History Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search
Royal Naval Reserve
Royal Navy Reserves logo.png
Active1859-1958, 1958-present
CountryUnited Kingdom
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
TypeReserve Force
Part ofRoyal Navy
Garrison/HQEngland London
Ernest Rice.
Michael Anthony William Bath.

The present Royal Naval Reserve was formed in 1958 merging the original Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) founded under the Naval Reserve Act in 1859 as a reserve of professional seamen from the merchant service and fishing fleets and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), a reserve of civilian volunteers founded later in 1903. [1]


Tthe original Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) founded under the Naval Reserve Act in 1859 as a reserve of professional seamen from the merchant service and fishing fleets. The RNR was originally a reserve of seamen only but in 1862 this was extended to include recruitment and training of officers. From its creation, RNR officers wore a unique, distinctive lace consisting of stripes of interwoven chain.[2] A number of drillships were established at the main seaports around the coast of Britain and Ireland and seamen left their vessels in the base ports to undertake gunnery training in a drillship for a period of one month annually. After initial shore training officers embarked in larger ships of the fleet (usually battleships or battle cruisers) for a one-year period to familiarise themselves with gunnery and naval practice.[3]

Although under the operational authority of the Admiral Commanding, Reserves, the RNR was administered jointly by the Admiralty and the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen in the Board of Trade throughout its separate existence. In 1910, the RNR (Trawler Section) was formed to actively recruit and train fishermen for wartime service in minesweepers and minor war vessels.[4] Officers and men of the RNR soon gained the respect of their naval counterparts with their professional skills in navigation and seamanship and served with distinction in a number of conflicts including the Boer War and Boxer Rebellion. Prior to the First World War, 100 RNR officers were transferred to permanent careers in the regular navy - forever after referred to as ’the hungry hundred’.[5]

On mobilisation in 1914, the RNR consisted of 30,000 officers and men. Officers of the permanent RNR on general service quickly took up seagoing appointments in the fleet, many in command, in destroyers, submarines, auxiliary cruisers and Q ships. Others served in larger units of the battle fleet including a large number with the West Indies Squadron who became casualties at the Battle of Coronel and later Jutland. Fishermen of the RNR(T) section served with distinction onboard trawlers fitted out as minesweepers for mine clearance operations at home and abroad throughout the war where they suffered heavy casualties and losses.[6]

A number of RNR officers qualified as pilots and flew aircraft and airships with the RNAS whilst many RNR ratings served ashore alongside the RN and RNVR contingents in the trenches of the Somme and at Gallipoli with the Royal Naval Division. Merchant service officers and men serving in armed merchant cruisers, hospital ships, fleet auxiliaries and transports were entered in the RNR for the duration of the war on special agreements.[7]

Although considerably smaller than both the RN and the RNVR (three times the size of the RNR at the end of the First World War) the RNR had an exceptional war record being awarded 12 Victoria Crosses. On commencement of hostilities in the Second World War, the RNR from the outset to help them shoulder the initial burden until sufficient manpower could be trained for the RNVR and ’hostilities only’ ratings. Again, RNR officers found themselves in command of destroyers, frigates, sloops, landing craft and submarines, or as specialist navigation officers in cruisers and aircraft carriers. In convoy work, the convoy commodore or escort commander was often an RNR officer. As in the First World War, the RNR acquitted itself well, winning 4 VCs.[8]

The British naval reserve forces were amalgamated in 1958, and the RNR was absorbed into the much larger RNVR organisation. After 100 years of proud service the RNR as a distinct and seperate professional naval service ceased to exist. Defence reviews over the last 50 years have been inconsistent. Successive reviews have seen reserve forces cut then enlarged, allocated new roles, then withdrawn, then re-imposed. Options for Change in 1990 reduced the RNR by 1,200 and closed many training centres, including HMS Calpe (Gibraltar), HMS Wessex(Southampton) and HMS Graham (Glasgow). The Strategic Defence Review in 1998 continued this by removing the RNR cold war mine warfare role, but promised to increase the RNR by 350 posts.[9]

This left the mine-warfare, seaman and diving specialists in "limbo" until the second Gulf War, when the Royal Navy realised it had a pool of reservists with no real sea post. Echoing the Royal Naval Division in World War I, the Above Water Force Protection branch was formed "from RN reservists with no draft appointment at the outbreak of war." Because of a lack of full-time personnel, mine-warfare and diving has recently returned (in part) to the RNR. Officers and ratings currently serve on active service in Full Time Reserve Service billets throughout the RN, as well as in mobilised posts in Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Balkans and the UK.

As of 1 July 2007, due to increasing involvement in RN operations and deployments, officers and ratings of the RNR are able to cease wearing differentiation marks on uniform, i.e. officers do not have to wear the RNR "R" in the curls of their cuff/epaulette rank insignia and other ranks no longer have to wear RNR epaulettes or RNR shoulder flashes.[10]

Following the disbandment of the associated Royal Naval Auxiliary Service (RNXS) in 1994, the Maritime Volunteer Service was formed as a national maritime training organisation with charitable status. It has taken over and expanded many RNXS roles.[11]

In Command

Flag Officer, Reserves

Maritime Reserve


All RNR personnel, regardless of rank, are assigned to a branch of service. Most branches are open to both ratings and officers with the exception of fleet protection (ratings only) and a small number which recruit exclusively from the officer ranks. Listed below is a breakdown of branches and the sub-specialisations which are aligned to each branch.

Warfare General Service Branch

  • Maritime Trade Operations
  • Diving (Under Water Force Protection)
  • Mine Warfare
  • Information Systems
  • Information Operations
  • Amphibious Warfare
  • Submarine Operations
  • Above Water Force Protection
  • Communications
  • Media Operations

Intelligence Branch

  • Defence Intelligence
  • Operational Intelligence
  • Human Intelligence

Logistics Branch

  • Logistics

Medical Branch

Chaplains Branch

Air Branch

  • Flying Operations
  • Operational Support
  • Air Engineering

New Entry Branch

  • New Entry Ratings
  • Ab Initio Officer Cadets


  1. "Records of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve". Kew, London: National Archives UK. 1862–1964. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  2. National Archives UK.
  3. National Archives UK.
  4. National Archives UK.
  5. National Archives UK.
  6. National Archives UK.
  7. National Archives UK.
  8. National Archives UK.
  9. National Archives UK.
  10. National Archives UK.
  11. National Archives UK.