Her Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth (HMNB Portsmouth) is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the British Royal Navy (the others being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Devonport). Portsmouth Naval Base is part of the city of Portsmouth; it is located on the eastern shore of Portsmouth Harbour, north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Until the early 1970s it was officially known as Portsmouth Royal Dockyard (or HM Dockyard, Portsmouth); the shipbuilding, repair and maintenance element of the base was privatized in the late-1990s/early-2000s.
The base is home to one of the oldest dry docks in the world, as well as being the headquarters for two-thirds of the Royal Navy's surface fleet. The base is also home to a number of commercial shore activities (including a ship repair facility operated by BAE Systems Maritime); naval logistics, accommodation and messing; and personnel support functions (e.g. medical and dental; education; pastoral and welfare) provided by Defence Equipment and Support.
The base is the oldest in the Royal Navy and it has been an important part of the Senior Service's history and the defence of the British Isles for centuries. At one time it was the largest industrial site in the world. Around the year 2000, the designation HMS Nelson (which until then had been specific to Portsmouth's Naval Barracks in Queen Street) was extended to cover the entire base.
The harbour is under the control of the Queen's Harbour Master (QHM), currently Commander Nigel Hare, who is the regulatory authority of the Dockyard Port of Portsmouth, an area of approximately 50 square miles (130 km2) that encompasses Portsmouth Harbour and the Eastern Solent. QHM Harbour Control is based in the Semaphore Tower building. Shipping movements are handled by a team of admiralty pilots headed by the Chief Admiralty Pilot, Anthony Bannister.
Portsmouth naval base is home to two-thirds of the Royal Navy's surface ships, and employs up to 17,200 people. In addition, Portsmouth built sections of, and will be the home port of the two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers ordered in 2008, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales; they have required the harbour to be dredged to allow safe entry and exit. It was claimed that this project had secured the base's future for the next forty years and would revitalise shipbuilding in the city; however, due to budget cuts in 2013 shipbuilding in Portsmouth was closed in favour of BAE keeping open its yards in Glasgow. (It has been speculated this was to help retain Scotland in the union during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and it has been suggested by the BAE chairman that shipbuilding could return to the city if Scotland voted for independence.)
In 1985 a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and Portsmouth City Council created the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust to manage part of the historic south-west corner of the Naval Base, under a 99-year lease, as a heritage area: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. It allows members of the public to visit important maritime attractions such as Mary Rose, HMS Victory and HMS Warrior.
The base plays host to a large part of the surface fleet of the Royal Navy including the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the Type 45 destroyers, six Type 23 frigates, the River class fishery protection vessels and a squadron of mine counter-measures vessels (minesweepers and minehunters). Most of the vessels based in Portsmouth form part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, under the Fleet First reorganisation which saw the three (Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane) port flotillas replace the frigate and destroyer squadrons and other groupings.
In total some 17,300 people work in the base. Until 2012 the Second Sea Lord as Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command flew his flag from HMS Victory, which is the oldest commissioned warship in the world (although she was originally built at Chatham Dockyard). Since then, the post of Commander-in-Chief (and with it the use of Victory as flagship) has reverted to the First Sea Lord. (The Second Sea Lord is now at Henry Leach Building on Whale Island, which is also the headquarters of the Fleet Commander.)
. The flotilla is a component unit of the Royal Navy Surface Fleet.
In changes to base porting arrangements announced in November 2017, HM Ships Richmond, Westminster, Kent and St Albans will move to the Devonport Flotilla by 2023; HM Ships Argyll, Monmouth and Montrose will move in the opposite direction.
The fourteen Archer class (P2000) patrol vessels assigned to the First Patrol Boat Squadron supporting the University Royal Naval Units are formally part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, albeit many are permanently based elsewhere around the United Kingdom.
The Royal Marines Museum is due to relocate to the Historic Dockyard from Eastney, scheduled to reopen in 2019 in Boathouse 6. Boathouse 5 is being refurbished as a new 'orientation and ticketing facility'. The Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust is seeking to extend the area of the Historic Dockyard to cover Dry Docks 4 and 5 and the historic Block Mills building among others. An architectural design competition for the project was won by Latz+Partner; however the Ministry of Defence has now indicated that property to the north of the Mary Rose will not be ceded for several years at least, due to the site's proximity to the proposed berth of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
|Portsmouth Historic Dockyard|
The first recorded dry dock in the world was built in Portsmouth by Henry VII in 1495. The first warship built here was the Sweepstake of 1497; of more significance were the carracks Mary Rose of 1509 and Peter Pomegranate of 1510—both were rebuilt here in 1536. The wreck of the Mary Rose (which capsized in 1545, but was raised in 1982), is on display in a purpose built museum. A fourth Tudor warship was the galleass Jennett, built in 1539 and enlarged as a galleon in 1558.
The appointment of one Thomas Jermyn as Keeper of the Dock at Portsmouth is recorded in 1526, with a Clerk of the Stores being appointed from 1542.
Following the establishment of Chatham Dockyard in the mid-1500s, no new naval vessels were built here until 1648, but ships from Portsmouth were a key part of the fleet that drove off the Spanish Armada in 1588. There are no on-site remains of the Tudor Dock and Yard.
Naval shipbuilding at Portsmouth recommenced under the English Commonwealth, the first ship being the eponymous Fourth-rate frigate Portsmouth launched in 1650. A new double dry dock (i.e. double the standard length so as to accommodate two ships at once) was built by the Commonwealth government in 1656.
As France began to pose more of a military threat to England, the strategic importance of Portsmouth grew. In 1689, Parliament ordered one new dry dock and two new wet docks (or non-tidal basins) to be built there; work began in 1691. (A building slip was also constructed, where the Mary Rose is now in No. 3 dock.)
The dry dock (or "Great Stone Dock" as it was called) was entered via what is now known as No. 1 Basin (then called the "Lower Wet Dock"). It was built to new designs developed by the naval engineer Edmund Dummer, surveyor to the Navy Board. He substituted brick and stone for wood and increased the number of altars or steps. The stepped sides allowed shorter timbers to be used for shoring and made it much easier for shipwrights to reach the underside of vessels needing repair. Extensively rebuilt in 1769, the Great Stone Dock is now known as No.5 dock.
As with all extensions, the new works were built on reclaimed land and the civil engineering involved was on an unprecedented scale. To empty the dry dock of water, Dummer designed a unique system which used water from another basin (the "Upper Wet Dock") to drive a water-wheel on the ebb tide, which in turn powered a set of pumps. (At high tide, an auxiliary set of pumps was used, powered by a horse gin.)
The second ("Upper") Wet Dock was entered by way of a channel. In 1699 Dummer adapted the channel, enabling it to be closed off at each end by a set of gates, thus forming a second dry dock (the "North Stone Dock"), which was rebuilt in 1737 and is known today as No 6 dock. The Upper Wet Dock itself became a reservoir into which water from various nearby dry docks could be drained; vaulted and covered over at the end of the eighteenth century, it still exists today underground.
Between 1704-1712 a wall was built around the Dockyard, following the line of the town's 17th-century fortifications; together with a contemporary (though altered) gate and lodge, much of the wall still stands, serving its original purpose. In 1733 a Royal Naval Academy for officer cadets was established within the Dockyard, the Navy's first shore-based training facility and a forerunner of Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.
The second half of the eighteenth century was a key period in the development of Portsmouth (and indeed of the other Royal Dockyards). A substantial programme of expansion and modernisation was undertaken from 1760 onwards, driven (as would be future periods of expansion) by increases both in the size of individual ships and in the overall size of the fleet. Several of Portsmouth Dockyard's most notable historic buildings date from this period, including the three great storehouses (Nos 9, 10 & 11, built 1764-1785). The Double Ropery, over 1,000 ft in length dates from the same period; it is, however, the sixth ropehouse (since 1665) to have stood on the site. Both its immediate predecessors were destroyed by fire (in 1760 and 1770) and the current building was itself gutted by fire in 1776 as the result of an arson attack. It is called a 'double' ropery because the spinning and laying stages take place in the same building (on different floors) rather than on two separate sites.
In the 1760s the Wet Dock (No 1 Basin) was deepened, the Great Stone Dock was rebuilt and a new dry dock (known today as No 4 dock) was built alongside it. Further key engineering works were begun in the 1790s, overseen by Samuel Bentham. He further expanded the Basin, building over the old double dock in the process, and added three further docks built entirely of stone. (These, Nos 1, 2 and 3 docks, are still in place today, accommodating HMS M33, HMS Victory and the Mary Rose respectively.) He also made pioneering use of a "ship caisson" to close off the entrance to the basin. In 1799 a steam engine was installed (the first in a Royal Naval Yard); it not only powered pumps to drain the dry docks, but also drove machinery for woodworking.
|18th-century buildings and structures in the Dockyard|
In 1800, the Royal Navy had 684 ships and the Dockyard was the largest industrial complex in the world.
The Industrial Revolution saw the world’s first steam powered factory, Portsmouth Block Mills, open in Portsmouth in 1802 to mass-produce ship pulley blocks. It was built alongside the 1799 steam engine house, over the newly roofed-over reservoir (the former Upper Wet Dock). Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famously designed the machines, which manufactured the blocks through a total of fifteen separate stages of production.
Horatio Nelson left Britain for the last time before his death at the Battle of Trafalgar when he embarked from Portsmouth on HMS Victory.
From 1815 the system of Dockyard apprenticeship was supplemented by the establishment of a School of Naval Architecture in Portsmouth (for training potential Master Shipwrights), initially housed in the building which faces Admiralty House on South Terrace. Taking on students from the age of 14, this was the forerunner of Portsmouth Dockyard School (later Technical College) which continued to provide specialist training until 1970.
The adoption of steam propulsion for warships led to large-scale changes in the Royal Dockyards, which had been built in the age of sail. The Navy's first 'steam factory' was built at Woolwich in 1839; but it soon became clear that the site was far too small to cope with this revolutionary change in ship building and maintenance. Therefore, in 1843, work began in Portsmouth on reclaiming land immediately to the north of the then Dockyard to create a new 7-acre basin (known today as No 2 Basin) with a sizeable steam factory alongside; new Brass and Iron Foundries were also built soon afterwards. Furthermore, three new dry docks were constructed over the next 20 years, opening off the new basin, and another was built on reclaimed land west of the basin alongside a row of five new shipbuilding slips. Further developments in shipbuilding technology, however, meant that several of these new amenities had to be rebuilt and expanded almost as soon as they were finished.
Technological change affected not only ships' means of propulsion, but the materials from which they were built. By 1860 wooden warships, vulnerable as they were to modern armaments, had been rendered largely obsolescent. The changeover to metal hulls not only required new building techniques, but also heralded a dramatic and ongoing increase in the potential size of new vessels. The Dockyards found themselves having to expand in kind. At Portsmouth, plans were drawn up in the late 1850s for further land reclamation north and east of the new Steam Basin, and from 1867 work was begun on a complex of three new interconnected basins, each of 14-22 acres. Each basin served a different purpose: ships would proceed from the repairing basin, to the rigging basin, to the fitting-out basin, and exit from there into a new tidal basin, ready to take on fuel alongside the sizeable coaling wharf there. Three dry docks were also constructed as part of the plan, as well as parallel pair of sizeable locks for entry into the basin complex; the contemporary pumping station which stands nearby not only served to drain these docks and locks, but also delivered compressed air to power cranes, caissons and capstans. This "Great Extension" of Portsmouth Dockyard was largely completed by 1881.
Before the end of the century, however, it was recognised that there would have to be still further expansion across all the Royal Dockyards in order to keep pace with the increasing likely size of future naval vessels. At Portsmouth two more dry docks, Nos 14 & 15, were built alongside the Repairing Basin in 1896; within ten years these, together with the adjacent docks 12 & 13, had to be extended, and by the start of World War I Dock No 14 was over 720 ft in length. The largest Naval ships were now too large for the interlocking basins, so to guarantee access to the new dry docks the intervening walls between the basins were removed to create a single large non-tidal body of water (No 3 Basin), with a pair of 850 ft entrance locks being built at the same time. These (C & D locks) were operational from 1914, and they, together with the enlarged basin and docks, have remained in use, largely unaltered, ever since.
Alongside the new Basins new buildings were erected, on a huge scale, to accommodate new manufacturing and construction processes. These included a gun-mounting workshop (1881, producing gun turrets), torpedo workshop (1886), and the very large New Factory of 1905, to the east of No 13 dock, which was soon put to the task of fitting out Dreadnoughts. Electrification came to the Yard with the opening of a 9,800 kW power station in 1906.
In 1843 construction began on a railway system within the dockyard. In 1846 this was connected to Portsmouth Town railway station via what became known as the Admiralty Line. By 1952 there was over 27 miles of track within the dockyard. Its use declined in the 1970s: the link to the mainline was closed in 1977 and locomotives ceased operating within the yard the following year.
In 1876 a railway station was built on what became known as South Railway Jetty on Watering Island (west of the Semaphore Tower). It was served by a separate branch line which crossed the South Camber by way of a swing bridge and continued on a viaduct over the foreshore, joining the main line just east of Portsmouth Harbour railway station. A small railway station and ornamental cast-iron shelter served in particular the needs of Queen Victoria and her family, who would often transfer from yacht to train at this location; this line soon became the main arrival/departure route for personnel. The swing bridge and viaduct were damaged in the wartime blitz and subsequently dismantled in 1946. The Royal Naval Railway Shelter has recently been moved to the other side of the island and restored.
In 1900 the Third class cruiser HMS Pandora was launched, followed by the armoured cruisers Kent in 1901 and Suffolk in 1903. Two battleships of the pre-Dreadnought King Edward VII Class were launched in 1904—Britannia and New Zealand. The first modern battleship, Dreadnought, was built in 1905–06, taking one day more than a year. Further dreadnoughts followed—Bellerophon in 1907, St. Vincent in 1908, Orion in 1910, King George V in 1911, Iron Duke in 1912 and Queen Elizabeth in 1913.
On 8 April 1913, Portsmouth Dockyard opened the first of two new large 850 ft long drydock locks directly connecting Portsmouth Harbour to No.3 Basin, the first named 'C' Lock. A year later, 'D' Lock was opened in April 1914.
The largest vessel launched at Portsmouth during World War I was the 27,500-ton battleship Royal Sovereign in 1915. The only other launchings during the war were the submarines J1 and J2 in 1915, and K1, K2 and K5 in 1916. Some 1,200 vessels, however, underwent a refit at Portsmouth during the course of the War, and over the same period 1,658 ships were either hauled up the slipways or placed in dry-dock for repairs.
The period after the war was inevitably a time of contraction at the Dockyard, and there were many redundancies. In accordance with the Government's Ten Year Rule the Dockyard worked over the next decade and a half with a presumption of enduring peace rather than future conflict.
The majority of warships launched at Portsmouth following the end of the War were cruisers—Effingham in 1921, Suffolk in 1926, London in 1927, Dorsetshire in 1929, Neptune in 1933, and Amphion and Aurora in 1934. There were also four destroyers—Comet and her sister Crusader in 1931, and the flotilla leaders Duncan in 1932 and Exmouth in 1934. The only other vessels launched between the wars were the mining tenders Nightingale in 1931 and Skylark in 1932.
New Dockyard facilities included a Steel Foundry, built in 1926. The "Semaphore Tower" was opened in 1930, a facsimile of its namesake (1810–24) which had been destroyed in a fire in 1913. The arch beneath incorporates the Lion Gate, once part of the 18th-century fortifications. The original Semaphore Tower nestled between a sizeable pair of buildings: the Rigging Store and Sail Loft (both of 1784) which perished in the same fire; in the end only one of the pair was rebuilt, as a five-storey office block.
The destroyer flotillas (the capital ships having been evacuated to Scapa Flow), were essential to the defence of the English Channel, particularly during Operation Dynamo (the Dunkirk evacuation) and against any potential German Invasion. The base itself served a major refit and repair role. The Germans realised this importance and the city and base in particular was heavily bombed.
Portsmouth and the Naval Base itself were the headquarters and main departure point for the military and naval units destined for Sword Beach on the Normandy coast as a part of Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. Troops destined for each of the landing beaches left from Portsmouth aboard vessels such as the armed merchant cruisers HMCS Prince Henry and HMCS Prince David, escorted by the Canadian destroyers HMCS Algonquin and Sioux. The majority of the naval support for the operation left from Portsmouth, including the Mulberry Harbours. Boathouse 4 (built around the start of hostilities) contributed to the construction of landing craft and support vessels as well as more specialised craft such as midget submarines.
There was much rebuilding, demolition and consolidation of bomb-damaged buildings in the aftermath of the Second World War.
In June 1981 the government announced that shipbuilding would cease at Portsmouth, that the workforce would be reduced from just under 7,000 to 1,225 and that the erstwhile Royal Dockyard would become a Fleet Maintenance & Repair Organisation (FMRO) with a minor support and repair role (Devonport and Rosyth would take over major refits and ship modernisation work). The run-down of the Dockyard was put on hold, however, at the start of the Falklands Conflict, with all available hands being put to the task of preparing the Falklands Task Force.
In 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. In response a task force of British military and merchant ships was dispatched from Portsmouth Naval Base to the islands in the South Atlantic to reclaim them for the United Kingdom.
The task force consisted of the following ships:
Following some losses, the majority of these ships returned to Portsmouth later that year.
Thereafter, some of the cuts that had been proposed in the 1981 Defence White Paper were reversed. The retention of a larger fleet meant that a larger workforce was retained at Portsmouth than had been envisaged (around 2,800); however the run-down of the old Dockyard went ahead, with dry docks 1-7 being closed, just under half the dockside cranes demolished and ten out of the nineteen major workshops on the site taken out of service. The dockyard's 'Edwardian piece de résistance', the Great Factory of 1905, ceased manufacturing in 1986 and was converted to serve as a warehouse.
In the older parts of the dockyard several buildings, ranging from storehouses to foundries, were converted for office use; this trend continued in later years. Similarly, the Great Steam Smithery (1852) adjoining the Steam Factory (aka No 2 Ship Shop) underwent conversion in 1993 to provide squash courts, offices, messrooms and a self-service laundry. In the same year, Victory Building, a new neo-Georgian office block, was opened on a prominent site facing the historic No 1 basin (just one of several new office blocks built across the dockyard site in each decade of the second half of the century); it accommodated staff of he Second Sea Lord, relocated there from London.
Shipbuilding recommenced on the site in 2003 following the construction of a facility by VT Group on the site of No. 13 dry dock (having relocated there from the old Thornycroft Yard in Woolston, Southampton). Modular construction of warships took place in an interlinked complex of large buildings: the Steelwork Production Hall, the Unit Construction Hall and the Ship Assembly Hall. Construction of modules for the Type 45 destroyers and Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers took place here, latterly under BAE Systems Maritime – Naval Ships; but in 2013 it was announced that shipbuilding in Portsmouth would cease; as of 2016 the former shipbuilding complex is being used for repairing minehunters and other small craft.
BAE Systems, having subsumed Fleet Support Ltd, continues to manage ship repair and maintenance facilities around No. 3 Basin at Portsmouth.
In the summer of 2005 Portsmouth Naval Base and the Solent played host to two special events organised as part of the Trafalgar 200 commemorations recognising the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. These were the International Fleet Review and the International Festival of the Sea.
From 1546 until 1832 prime responsibility for administering H.M. Royal Navy Dockyards lay with the Navy Board, and resident commissioners who were naval officers though civilian employees of the Navy Board, not sea officers  in charge of the day-to-day operational running of the dockyard and superintendence of its staff, following the abolition of that board its functions were merged within the Admiralty and a new post styled Admiral-superintendent was established the admiral-superintendent usually held the rank of rear-admiral though sometimes vice-admiral. His immediate subordinate was an officer known as the captain of the dockyard (or captain of the port from 1969). This followed the appointment of a (civilian) Chief Executive of the Royal Dockyards in September 1969 and the creation of a centralised Royal Dockyards Management Board. Admiral-superintendents ceased to be appointed in the royal navy after 15 September 1971, and existing post-holders were renamed port admirals. In May 1971 the post was renamed Flag Officer, Portsmouth and Admiral Superintendent until July 1971 when it was renamed Flag Officer, Spithead and Port Admiral until August 1975, the post name was changed again to Flag Officer, Portsmouth and Port Admiral until October 1996 when it ceased to exist as a separate command that was then absorbed into the First Flotilla Command later renamed Portsmouth Flotilla.
The presence of the Dockyard and Fleet led to the establishment of a variety of other naval and military installations in and around Portsmouth over the years, some of which are listed below.
The Fortifications of Portsmouth were developed over several centuries to protect the fleet and dockyard from attacks either by land or by sea. From 1665 Bernard de Gomme oversaw construction of defensive Lines around both Portsmouth (the Dockyard and the old town) and Gosport (on the opposite side of Portsmouth Harbour). These defences were extended in the 18th century, before being superseded in the 19th by the Palmerston forts which encircle Portsmouth on and off-shore.
These fortifications required substantial numbers of personnel to man them and, from the mid-18th century onwards, they (together with other troops who were either stationed in the garrison or preparing to embark overseas) were accommodated in a variety of barracks in and around the City. By 1900 these included:
This article contains some copied content from this article Admiral-superintendent, Portsmouth.
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