West Indies

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West Indies Command
HMS Malabar,(1956-76)
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
CountryFlag of Bermuda.png Bermuda
AllegianceFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif United Kingdom
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
TypeNaval Station
Part ofRoyal Navy
Garrison/HQBermuda Naval Base
FirstCommodore George E. Hunt
LastCommodore Bryan J. Straker

The West Indies was a naval command area and base of operations of the Royal Navy from from 1956 to 1976 .

Command was vested in the Senior Naval Officer, West Indies who was infomally known as Commodore, West Indies.


In 1823 the Jamaica Station was renamed as the West Indies Station. In 1830 the station merged with the North America Station and Newfoundland Station to form the North America and West Indies Station in 1830. Although this first establishment of the station in name was abolished in 1830 Jamaica continued as a subordinate command of the North America and West Indies Station, however the Commodore at Jamaica was given wider responsibilities in relation to the former West Indies Station, when it was revived again between 1838 and 1865, but under a Senior Officer, West Indies. Jamaica then continued as a single command for the West Indies until 1905.

Following the withdrawal of the Admiralty of the Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station in 1956 after the closure of the Bermuda Dockyard, and the disposal of most Admiralty land holdings in Bermuda, a small part of the base, which included the wharf of the south yard, was maintained as Bermuda Naval Base for the North America and West Indies Squadron of the West Indies Station (but, with Bermuda no longer equipped to serve as a dockyard, ships needing major repairs or refit were obliged to travel to Britain) named HMS Malabar.

The station was controlled and directed by the Senior Naval Officer West Indies (SNOWI) also imnformally known as the Commodore, West Indies he was based Bermuda Naval Base until the role was abolished in 1976. SNOWI served as Island Commander Bermuda in the NATO chain of command, reporting to Commander-in-Chief, Western Atlantic as part of Allied Command Atlantic.[1]

After 1962, the same officer also occupied the office of Commander British Forces Caribbean Area (CBFCA), with overall command of all British naval and military forces in the Caribbean. This office lapsed in 1969.[2]

Among other difficulties that had beset SNOWI in the role of CBFCA, Bermuda, being over 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) North of the Virgin Islands, had been found to be too remote from the West Indies to be a useful command centre for handling any contingency situation that arose there. However, after 1969, SNOWI retained responsibility for providing general military advice to Governors, Heads of Missions, and Administrators in the West Indies, with the exception of British Honduras.[1]

By the 1990s, other than HMS Malabar, the Royal Naval presence in the North-Western Atlantic and Caribbean had been reduced to the West Indies Guard Ship (now called Atlantic Patrol Task (North)), a role which was rotated among the frigates of the fleet, which took turns operating extended patrols of the West Indies.

The ships normally stop at Bermuda on the way to and from taking up their station in the West Indies, and usually provide the Royal Naval detachment which takes the senior position in Bermuda's parade each Remembrance Day (a practice that began before the closure of HMS Malabar). In 1995 Bermuda Naval Base was closed down the closure of HMS Malabar marked the end of 200 years of a permanent Royal naval shore establishment in Bermuda.

Area of Responsibility

The geographical area of responsibility comprises the sea area and the British dependent territories, associated state and independent countries within the Commonwealth that lie within the following boundaries: Latitude 40° N – Longitude 40°W – The Equator – Longitude 120°W - British Honduras is excluded; but this country is likely to be added when the UK garrison there is withdrawn.[3]

Naval HQ

Senior Naval Officer, West Indies


  1. 1.0 1.1 UK Chiefs of Staff Committee, Command in the Caribbean, DEFE 5/188/4, January 1971, via The National Archives
  2. The Andrew And The Onions: The Story Of The Royal Navy In Bermuda, 1795–1975, Lt. Commander Ian Strannack, The Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, The Bermuda Maritime Museum, P.O. Box MA 133, Mangrove Bay, Bermuda MA BX. ISBN 0-921560-03-6
  3. The National Archives of the UK: Public Record Office DEFE 5/188/4 © Crown Copyright 1971.