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HMNB Devonport
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Plymouth, Devon in England
UK Defence Imagery Naval Bases image 14.jpg
An aerial photograph of the core of HMNB Devonport in 2005 with several ships alongside.
Coordinates 50°22′58.8″N 04°10′58.8″W / 50.383000°N 4.183000°W / 50.383000; -4.183000Coordinates: 50°22′58.8″N 04°10′58.8″W / 50.383000°N 4.183000°W / 50.383000; -4.183000
Type Naval base
Area 263 hectares (650 acres)
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence (Defence Equipment and Support)
Operator Royal Navy
Controlled by Naval Base Commander, Devonport
Condition Operational
Site history
Built 1691 (1691)
In use 1691 – present
Events Plymouth Blitz (1941)
Garrison information
Garrison Devonport Flotilla

Her Majesty's Naval Base, Devonport (HMNB Devonport) is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy (the others being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Portsmouth) and is the sole nuclear repair and refuelling facility for the Royal Navy. The largest naval base in Western Europe, HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth, England.

The base began as Royal Navy Dockyard in the late 17th century, but shipbuilding ceased at Devonport in the early 1970s, although ship maintenance work has continued. The now privatised maintenance facilities are operated by Babcock Marine, a division of Babcock International Group, who took over the previous owner Devonport Management Limited (DML) in 2007. DML had been running the Dockyard since privatisation in 1987.

From 1934 until the early 21st century the naval barracks on the site was named HMS Drake (it had previously been known as HMS Vivid after the base ship of the same name). The name HMS Drake and its command structure has been extended to cover the entire base. The barracks buildings are now named the Fleet Accommodation Centre. In the early 1970s the newly styled 'Fleet Maintenance Base' was itself commissioned as HMS Defiance; it remained so until 1994, when it was amalgamated into HMS Drake.

HM Naval Base Devonport is the home port of the Devonport Flotilla which includes the Trafalgar-class submarines. In 2009 the Ministry of Defence announced the conclusion of a long-running review of the long-term role of three naval bases. Devonport would no longer be used as a base for attack submarines after these moved to Faslane by 2017, and the Type 45 destroyers are based at Portsmouth. However, Devonport retains a long-term role as the dedicated home of the amphibious fleet, survey vessels and half the frigate fleet.

History

Drake House, HMS Drake - geograph.org.uk - 1708601
Drake House (the Commodore's residence), HMS Drake.

In 1588, the ships of the English Navy set sail for the Spanish Armada through the mouth of the River Plym, thereby establishing the military presence in Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake is now an enduring legacy in Devonport, as the naval base has been named HMS Drake.

Origins

Plymouth Dockyard RMG BHC1914f
Plymouth Dockyard in 1798, by Nicholas Pocock. Centre front is Dummer's 1690s stone basin and dock: to its left, one double and two single dry docks; to its right, the 1761 double quadrangle storehouse. Behind the docks: pedimented workshops and the 1691 officers' terrace. On the right of the picture: building slips on the foreshore, with the smithery, timber stores, mast and boat houses beyond; then the long 1760s roperies and Mount Wise in the distance.

In 1689 Prince William of Orange became William III and almost immediately he required the building of a new Royal Dockyard west of Portsmouth. Edmund Dummer, Surveyor of the Navy, travelled the West Country searching for an area where a dockyard could be built; he sent in two estimates for sites, one in Plymouth, Cattewater and one further along the coast, on the Hamoaze, a section of the River Tamar, in the parish of Stoke Damerel. Having dismissed the Plymouth site as inadequate, he settled on the Hamoaze area which soon became known as Plymouth Dock, later renamed Devonport. On 30 December 1690, a contract was let for a dockyard to be built: the start of Plymouth (later Devonport) Royal Dockyard. Having selected the location, Dummer was given responsibility for designing and building the new yard.

At the heart of his new dockyard, Dummer placed a stone-lined basin, giving access to what proved to be the first successful stepped stone dry dock in Europe. Previously the Navy Board had relied upon timber as the major building material for dry docks, which resulted in high maintenance costs and was also a fire risk. The docks Dummer designed were stronger with more secure foundations and stepped sides that made it easier for men to work beneath the hull of a docked vessel. These innovations also allowed rapid erection of staging and greater workforce mobility. He discarded the earlier three-sectioned hinged gate, which was labour-intensive in operation, and replaced it with the simpler and more mobile two-sectioned gate. A further, double-dock (i.e. long enough to accommodate two ships of the line, end to end) was added, just north of the basin, in the 1720s.

Dummer wished to ensure that naval dockyards were efficient working units that maximised available space, as evidenced by the simplicity of his design layout at Plymouth Dock. He introduced a centralised storage area (the quadrangular Great Storehouse) alongside the basin, and a logical positioning of other buildings around the yard. The southern boundary of his yard was formed by a 'double' rope-house (combining the previously separate tasks of spinning and laying within a single building); the upper floor was used for the repair of sails and a separate rigging house stood nearby. The smithery with its fire and forge was positioned to the north, safely separate from the other buildings. On high ground overlooking the rest of the yard he built a grand terrace of thirteen three-storey houses for the senior dockyard officers (the first known example in the country of a palace-front terrace); the commissioner was accommodated in the centre, and at each end of the terrace was a two-storey block of offices (one for the commissioner, the other for the Clerk of the Cheque). A chapel was built in 1700, alongside the Porter's Lodge at the main gate (it was destroyed by a fire in 1799).

Most of these buildings and structures were rebuilt over ensuing years, including Dummer's original basin and dry dock (today known as No. 1 Basin and No. 1 Dock). The terrace survived into the 20th century, but was largely destroyed in the Blitz along with several others of Devonport's historic buildings. Just one end section of the terrace survives; dating from 1692 to 1696, it is the earliest surviving building in any royal dockyard.

Devonport Flotilla

Ships based at the port are known as the Devonport Flotilla. This includes the Navy's assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. It also serves as home port to most of the hydrographic surveying fleet of the Royal Navy and seven Type 23 frigates. In 2018 the Defence Secretary announced that the proposed new Type 26 frigates would all be based at Devonport.

Amphibious assault ships

HMS Ocean and Albion in Weston Mill lake, cropped
Ocean (decommissioned) berthed ahead of Albion in Devonport Dockyard
  • HMS Albion landing platform dock;
  • HMS Bulwark landing platform dock (Regeneration refit 2020).

Type 23 frigates

HMS Portland
HMS Portland moored by the Quadrangle building
  • HMS Argyll
  • HMS Monmouth
  • HMS Montrose (Currently forward deployed to Bahrain for 3 years from 2019)
  • HMS Northumberland
  • HMS Richmond
  • HMS Portland
  • HMS Somerset (Currently in LIFEX refit)
  • HMS Sutherland (Currently in LIFEX refit)
  • HMS St Albans (Currently in LIFEX refit)

In changes to base porting arrangements announced in November 2017, HM Ships Argyll, Monmouth and Montrose will join the Portsmouth Flotilla; HM Ships Westminster, Richmond, Kent and St Albans will move in the opposite direction. Richmond becomes a Devonport ship on completion of her refit. St Albans moved to Devonport in July 2019 in preparation for her major refit.

Trafalgar-class submarines

HMS Talent (S92) at Devonport 2008
HMS Talent at the Fleet Maintenance Base
  • HMS Trenchant
  • HMS Triumph

Surveying squadron

HMS Scott at Devonport
HMS Scott at Devonport
  • HMS Echo
  • HMS Enterprise
  • HMS Magpie
  • HMS Scott

Antarctic patrol ship

  • HMS Protector

Other units based at Devonport

  • Flag Officer Sea Training
  • Hydrographic, Meteorological & Oceanographic Training Group
  • HQ Amphibious Task Group
  • HMS Vivid RNR
  • RM Tamar/47 Commando Royal Marines
    • 10 Landing Craft Training Squadron
    • 4 Assault Squadron
    • 6 Assault Squadron
    • 9 Assault Squadron
    • 539 Assault Squadron
  • Hasler NSRC (Naval Service Recovery Centre) & Hasler Company Royal Marines
  • Southern Diving Group RN
  • Defence Estates South West
  • HQ Western Division Ministry of Defence Police
  • CID Devonport MOD Police
  • DSG Devonport MOD Police

Nuclear submarine decommissioning

Thirteen out of service nuclear submarines were stored at Devonport in 2018.

  • HMS Conqueror
  • HMS Warspite
  • HMS Courageous (defuelled and preserved in North Yard as a museum ship)
  • HMS Valiant
  • HMS Splendid
  • HMS Sovereign
  • HMS Spartan
  • HMS Superb
  • HMS Trafalgar
  • HMS Sceptre
  • HMS Turbulent
  • HMS Tireless
  • HMS Torbay

In 2018, the UK Parliament's Public Accounts Committee criticised the slow rate of decommissioning of these submarines, with the Ministry of Defence admitting that it had put off decommissioning due to the cost. The National Audit Office in 2019 stated that the costs of laid up storage of all nuclear submarines had reached £500 million, and they represent a liability of £7.5 billion.

Nickname

USS Philippine Sea in Plymouth Sound
USS Philippine Sea visiting Devonport

The Naval base at Devonport is still nicknamed "Guzz" (or, sometimes, "Guz") by sailors and marines. One suggestion is that this originates from the word guzzle (to eat or drink greedily), which is likely to refer to the eating of cream teas, a West Country delicacy and, therefore, one with strong connections to the area around Plymouth. Another explanation advanced is that "GUZZ" was the radio call sign for the nearby Admiralty wireless station (which was GZX) at Devil's Point, though this is disputed and has recently been disproved by reference to actual wireless telegraphy callsigns in existence over the past century.

Another explanation is that the name came from the Hindi word for a yard (36 inches), "guz", (also spelled "guzz", at the time) which entered the Oxford English Dictionary, and Royal Navy usage, in the late 19th century, as sailors used to regularly abbreviate "The Dockyard" to simply "The Yard", leading to the slang use of the Hindi word for the unit of measurement of the same name. The Plymouth Herald newspaper attempted to summarise the differing theories, but no firm conclusion was reached. Charles Causley referred to Guz in one of his poems, "Song of the Dying Gunner A.A.1", published in 1951.

A "tiddy oggy" is naval slang for a Cornish Pasty and which was once the nickname for a sailor born and bred in Devonport. The traditional shout of "Oggy Oggy Oggy" was used to cheer on the Devonport team in the Navy's field gun competition.

Nuclear waste leaks

Devonport has been the site of a number of leaks of nuclear waste associated with the nuclear submarines based there.

  • November 2002: "Ten litres of radioactive coolant leaked from HMS Vanguard"
  • October 2005: "Previous reported radioactive spills at the dockyard include one in October 2005, when it was confirmed 10 litres of water leaked out as the main reactor circuit of HMS Victorious was being cleaned to reduce radiation."
  • November 2008: "The Royal Navy has confirmed up to 280 litres of water, likely to have been contaminated with tritium, poured from a burst hose as it was being pumped from the submarine in the early hours of Friday."
  • March 2009: "On 25 March radioactive water escaped from HMS Turbulent while the reactor's discharge system was being flushed at the Devonport naval dockyard"

Administration

Commissioners of the Navy

Up until 1832 the Plymouth Royal Dockyard, was administered by a Commissioner of the Navy on behalf of the Navy Board in London included:

Resident Commissioners Plymouth

  • Captain Henry Greenhill, appointed 25 December 1691
  • Captain George St Lo, appointed 26 March 1695
  • Captain William Wright, appointed 1 May 1703
  • Captain Henry Greenhill, appointed February 1704
  • Captain William Wright, appointed 1 July 1708
  • Captain Richard Edwards, appointed 19 June 1711
  • Captain Sir William Jumper Kt., appointed 12 November 1714
  • Captain Thomas Swanton, appointed 30 March 1715
  • Captain Francis Dove, appointed 23 July 1716
  • Captain Sir Nicholas Trevanion, appointed 22 April 1726
  • Captain Matthew Morris, appointed 9 December 1737
  • Captain Philip Vanbrugh, appointed 8 January 1738
  • Captain Sir Frederick Rogers, Bart., appointed 3 October 1753
  • Captain Paul Henry Ourry, appointed 30 January 1775
  • Mr Edward Le Cras, appointed December 1782
  • Captain Sir John Laforey, Bart., appointed 6 May 1784
  • Captain Robert Fanshawe, appointed 13 November 1789
  • Captain William Shield, appointed 12 December 1815 – 1822

Resident Commissioners Devonport

  • Captain William Shield, 1823–1828
  • Captain Charles B H Ross, appointed 13 March 1829.

By An Order in Council dated 27 June 1832 the role of the commissioner was replaced by an admiral-superintendent.

Admiral Superintendents of the yard

In 1832 the Navy Board was abolished, everything except the gun wharves were brought under the direct control of the Admiralty. A serving Royal Navy officer, usually of rear-admiral rank, was appointed as admiral-superintendent of the dockyard; however, the post was sometimes held by a commodore-superintendent or even a vice-admiral. They were responsible for all the civilian support services operated by the dockyard departments.

Included:
  • Rear-Admiral Sir John Louis, Bart., appointed 16 December 1846
  • Commodore Lord John Hay CB appointed 9 February 1850;
  • Commodore Michael Seymour, appointed 8 September 1851
  • Rear-Admiral Hon. Montagu Stopford, appointed 21 March 1854
  • Rear-Admiral Henry Eden, appointed 4 August 1854
  • Rear-Admiral Michael Seymour, appointed 12 December 1854
  • Rear-Admiral Sir James Hanway Plumridge KCB, appointed 19 February 1855
  • Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Sabine Pasley Bart, appointed 4 December 1857
  • Rear-Admiral Thomas Matthew Charles Symonds CB, appointed 1 December 1862
  • Vice-Admiral Hon. James Robert Drummond CB, appointed 24 April 1866
  • Rear-Admiral William Houston Stewart GCB, appointed 5 June 1870
  • Vice-Admiral Sir William King-Hall KCB, appointed 20 November 1871
  • Rear-Admiral William Charles Chamberlain, appointed 5 August 1875
  • Rear-Admiral George Ommanney Willes GCB, appointed 1 May 1876
  • Rear-Admiral Charles Webley Hope, appointed 1 February 1879
  • Rear-Admiral Charles Thomas Curme, appointed 20 February 1880
  • Rear-Admiral John Crawford Wilson, appointed 23 February 1885
  • Vice-Admiral Henry Duncan Grant CB, appointed 10 July 1885
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Walter James Hunt-Grubbe KCB, appointed 1 August 1888
  • Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Henry More Molyneux KCB, appointed 4 August 1891
  • Rear-Admiral Edmund John Church, appointed 7 August 1894
  • Rear-Admiral Henry John Carr, appointed 3 November 1896
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Sturges Jackson, appointed 7 July 1899
  • Rear-Admiral William Hanam Henderson, appointed 11 July 1902 (made Vice-Admiral while in post, 1904)
  • Vice-Admiral Charles James Barlow DSO, appointed 31 March 1906
  • Vice-Admiral Charles Henry Cross, appointed 31 March 1908
  • Vice-Admiral Robert Henry Simpson Stokes, appointed 4 October 1910
  • Rear-Admiral Godfrey Harry Brydges Mundy MVO, appointed 11 December 1913
  • Rear-Admiral Sir Arthur Henniker-Hughan Bart, appointed 18 December 1916
  • Rear-Admiral Edwin Veale Underhill CB, appointed 1 September 1919
  • Rear-Admiral Hugh Lindsay Patrick Heard CB DSO, appointed 20 September 1922
  • Vice-Admiral Louis Charles Stirling Woollcombe CB MVO, appointed 1 November 1926
  • Vice-Admiral Oliver Backhouse CB (retired), 1 March 1927 and re-appointed 10 October 1929
  • Vice-Admiral Harold Owen Reinold CB CVO, appointed 2 March 1931
  • Vice-Admiral Arthur Lionel Snagge CB, appointed 1935
  • Vice-Admiral Arthur Ninian Dowding CB, appointed 27 September 1938
  • Vice-Admiral Randolph Stewart Gresham Nicholson CB DSO DSC, appointed 18 December 1945
  • Admiral Philip King Enright CB CBE, appointed 6 February 1950
  • Vice-Admiral Leslie Newton Brownfield CB CBE, appointed 31 March 1954
  • Vice-Admiral Lancelot Arthur Babington Peile CB DSO MVO, appointed November 1957
  • Vice-Admiral George David Archibald Gregory, CB DSO, appointed 29 September 1960
  • Rear-Admiral A J Cawthra CB, appointed 2 April 1964
  • Rear-Admiral Denis Bryan Harvey "Dick" Wildish, appointed 26 October 1966 until May 1970

On 30 December 1970, Vice-Admiral J R McKaig CBE was appointed as Port Admiral, Her Majesty's Naval Base, Devonport, and Flag Officer, Plymouth. On 5 September 1971, all Flag Officers of the Royal Navy holding positions of Admiral Superintendents at Royal Dockyards were restyled as Port Admirals.

Port Admiral Devonport and Flag Officer Plymouth

Post holders included:

  • Vice-Admiral Sir Rae McKaig, appointed December 1970 – March 1973
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Power, appointed March 1973 – February 1975
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Gordon Tait, appointed February 1975 – January 1977
  • Vice-Admiral Sir John Forbes, appointed January 1977 – January 1979
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Berger, appointed January 1979 – February 1981
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Simon Cassels, appointed February 1981 – September 1982
  • Vice-Admiral Sir David Brown, appointed September 1982 – 1985
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Gerken, appointed September 1985 – March 1987
  • Vice-Admiral Sir John Webster, appointed March 1987 – April 1990
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Grose, appointed April 1990 – September 1992
  • Vice-Admiral Sir Roy Newman, appointed September 1992 – 1996

Associated establishments nearby

Several establishments were set up in the vicinity of Devonport and Plymouth in direct relationship either to the Royal Dockyard or to Plymouth's use as a base for the Fleet, including:

  • Royal Citadel, Plymouth (1665), built to defend the harbour and anchorage, currently the base of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery.
  • Dockyard defences, including Devonport Lines (1758) and the later Palmerston Forts, Plymouth
  • Royal Naval Hospital, Stonehouse (1760, closed 1995)
  • Stonehouse Barracks (1779), headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines.
  • Admiralty House, Mount Wise (1789), former headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth (together with the Second World War Combined Military Headquarters (later Plymouth Maritime Headquarters) it was decommissioned in 2004).
  • Plymouth Breakwater (1812)
  • Royal William Victualling Yard (1835) built by the Victualling Commissioners in nearby Stonehouse for supplying the Royal Navy (closed 1992 and converted into housing).
  • HMS Raleigh, RN basic training establishment, across the Hamoaze at Torpoint, Cornwall.
  • RM Turnchapel, a former Royal Marines military installation (decommissioned 2014).
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