The Royal Navy When Size Mattered!

Take for example this Times Newspaper cutting from 1st January 1896 which tells one of the deaths in 1895 of naval officers.

There are no fewer than 24 admirals who had passed on, and that tells one just how big, nay vast, our navy was in 1895  and in the previous years.

At any one period the navy was described as being either Pax Britannica [meaning British Peace - if it suits, the proverbial policeman but ready for a fight] or still in Latin mode,  it could so easily have been called Bellum Britannica - but wasn't! - [meaning British War - actually fighting Britain's enemies and not FOREVER just exercising]. The year covering these many senior naval officers deaths was part of Britain's Imperial Century [1815-1914] often associated with the 19th century in which there were no big wars  [after 1815] so was destined to become a period of Pax Britannica.  That of course is a paradox,  for the Second Boer War, which raged for nigh on two and a half years [1898-1901] was the most costly and humiliating  imperial adventure in the 100 years from Waterloo to 1914 ever.  It was also bloody with British losses of 22,000, Boer losses of 25,000 and the hapless Africans caught up in the conflict 12,000. At a cost of over 200M it temporarily bankrupted Britain and set us back from maintaining our role as a world power. Fortunately it was the only such draining war from Waterloo until Queen Victoria's death in 1901.

This century was also recorded in history books as being Britain's Global  Hegemonic Naval Period.  Hegemonic is defined as a 'Ruling or dominant political power'.

During our Imperial Century and extended period of Pax Britannica, Britain  saw six monarchs on the throne starting with George III, thence George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII and George V.

Also during this period, around 10,000,000 square miles of territory and roughly 400 million people were added to the British Empire. Victory over Napoleonic France left the British without any serious international rival, other than perhaps Russia in central Asia. When Russia tried expanding its influence in the Balkans, the British and French defeated them in the Crimean War (18541856),

and of course we established the Industrial Revolution which rocketed Britain to the world's leading country and trader becoming  rich beyond belief.

Apart from the Second Boer War, our Imperial Century was extremely busy trying to enforce peace, often difficult and with lots of naval actions in additions to military expeditions. The navy was used against shore installations, such as those in the Baltic and Black Sea in 1854 and 1855, to fight pirates; to hunt down slave ships; and to assist the army when sailors and marines were landed as naval brigades, as on many occasions between the siege of Sebastopol and the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. With a fleet larger than any two major rivals combined, the British nation could take security for granted, but at all times the national leaders and public opinion supported a powerful navy, and service was of high prestige.

The admirals mentioned in the death notice for 1895 above would have cut their teeth on all or any of the wars from the 1812 against the USA onwards including the transportation of Napoleon to his various imprisonment geographical areas, but of course missing out on the Boer War, the Opium War, and the Royal Naval Battleship era 1895-1919. They would no doubt have turned in their graves in 1916 when the battle worthiness of the Navy was effectively challenged and humiliated at Jutland which brought its omnipotence to a crashing halt, although equally, they would have been impressed by the navy's ability to contain the German High Seas Fleet [the Kaiserliche Marine] rendering it totally impotent resulting in an ignominious surrender to the Royal Navy in 1918.

Today in the 21st century we have a much reduced navy when compared with my joining date in 1953 and only two VIP admirals in the MOD, but still too many commodores through to vice admirals to service our small number of vessels, terra firma establishments and shore training. I have absolutely no doubts that the men and women power of today is any less robust gutsy and as committed as an officer or rating in times past, and to that we sincerely salute you all, but many of us old hands of times gone by do worry that your life of travel and geographical appointments is none existent and that you live and work in a restrictive environment with too few truly exciting jobs with too many restrictions. We all hope that soon those limitations will be lifted in order that like we did, you will be able to spread your wings, so to speak.

We wish you God speed, all the luck possible, job fulfillment and bucket loads of happiness, but less work and  more travel and excitement. You might not readily agree, but living under the cloud of the axiom that "all work and no 'real play' makes one a dull person"  is not what the navy should be offering.

Sincerely and Yours aye.