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Monthly Archives: August 2016


    This article was originally posted on the ‘Save The Royal Navy’ Website for more details of their work see:


    The tradition of Navy Days dates back to the 1920s when the Royal Dockyards were open to the public for “Navy Week”. Under various names and formats these events were held every year (except during WWII) until the Royal Navy finally gave up on them with the Meet your Navy event at Portsmouth in 2010.

    Memorable occasions:     Besides a wide variety of ships open to visitors, Navy Days in the 1970s until the 2000s typically included flying displays, river and basin displays, parachute jumps, the Royal Marine band, static displays and stalls and much more. There was something for all the family. It is difficult to see any downside to staging these events. The public, particularly in the naval towns got to see and understand what the navy does and had a great day out. The local tourism benefited from an increase of visitors. Above all it was a powerful public relations exercise for the Navy while a large share of the monies raised went to supporting the work of naval charities.

    The Navy maybe small but it can be done:             The SDSR of 2010 was a body blow to the RN and its is understandable that a service down to a bare minimum of ships and personnel felt that Navy Days was a commitment that could be dispensed with. The RN remains very much under that same pressure but in 2016 there has been a significant change to the operating patterns of the last few years. Much of the RN surface fleet is alongside or in UK waters this summer. This is to allow ship’s companies a good leave period in an effort to retain personnel and build bridges after too many broken promises in the past. There is also a Russian threat that demands ships be kept closer to home and there is the regular autumn Cougar deployment to prepare for. However, with most of the surface fleet in our naval bases for August, and presumably for the next few summers to come, it is harder to argue there are no ships available for display for just two or three days.

    Navy Days duty was never particularly popular amongst sailors but they only require a small number to man the ship when open to visitors. With sensible management it would have only minor impact on summer leave and duty rosters. There is still an obvious shortage of RN ships available when compared to the past, however it is quite possible to ‘pad out’ what is on display by inviting vessels from foreign navies and other maritime organisations. In the past many foreign warships have participated, historic ships, vessels from the Army, Trinity House, the British Antarctic Survey, the Sea Cadets, and others have all been part of the show.

    Security concerns have sometimes been cited as a reason not to hold Navy Days. In the 1980s there was a sharp rise in IRA attacks on mainland Britain but the RN did not flinch. Security was increased, strict bag searches were introduced and below decks access to ships was reduced. Naval bases are inherently secure and can monitor and control who enters with much more ease than many of the other venues currently used for armed forces events.

    The much smaller Royal Netherlands Navy manages to stage thriving Den Helder Navy Days events most years. It is also interesting to note that despite having fought a war sustaining considerable loses and damage, as well as supporting continuing commitments in the South Atlantic, the RN still managed to stage Plymouth Navy Days in August 1982.

     The battle for hearts and minds:        While canceling Navy Days may have made sense at the time, it has been to the detriment of the RN in the long-term. Navy Days had a big impact on the public perception of the service and is also just one of the many unhelpful ingredients of a growing sea blindness in the UK. One does not tend to forget the warships you have actually stood on and the sailors you met on board, people then follow the activities of the ship with a more personal interest. At a time when the RN needs political and public support to ensure it is funded properly, abandoning the biggest opportunity for the public to have access to its navy is counter-productive. The recruitment aspects are also significant. A single Navy Days is unlikely to have a big impact, but over several years many children are denied seeing the navy first hand and are less likely to consider the RN as a career.

    Individual ships are open to visitors in ports round the UK quite frequently and they often over-subscribed but this is no substitute for the thousands that would attend Navy Days. The best effort in the last few years has been a a sideshow at the Bournemouth Air Festival. Up to 4 ships are anchored off the beach and a few lucky members of the public can visit by pre-booked boat trips. The RNAS Yeovilton and Culdrose Air Days are excellent events to that promote naval aviation but fundamentally the navy is about ships. While the RN is increasingly out of sight and out of mind, the RAF is in attendance at around 45 airshows every summer. 26 of them are can be considered major airshows with the RAF hosting several and providing aircraft including the Red Arrows & Typhoons, plus ground displays. Of course with hundreds of aircraft that can fly all over the country for flypasts and air displays the RAF has the advantage in maintaining a high public profile. It is therefore even more important the RN does not shoot itself in the foot by not opening up a naval base once a year. Ironically while naval enthusiasts have virtually nothing to attend, aviation enthusiasts are up in arms because, out of more than 40 airshows on offer, a handful have been cancelled (due to tighter regulations and higher costs resulting from the Shoreham Air Show disaster in 2015).

    Looking ahead:               By the time the two aircraft carriers are complete, every person in Britain will have contributed an average of £110 through their taxes to the cost. Perhaps it is only fair a few taxpayers get the opportunity to really appreciate them close up. With the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth there is an obvious centrepiece for a Portsmouth Navy Days 2017 that would be a huge public attraction. The largest vessel ever built for the RN has the capacity to cope with crowds and to some extent mitigate for the inevitably small number of other RN vessels on show.

    There would be significant work to be done behind the scenes but with a little imagination the RN, renowned for its organisational and presentational ability can make this happen. It could be done without a big impact on operational priorities while having a huge benefit to the profile, understanding and support for the service. Let’s bring back this much loved institution, alternating between Devonport and Portsmouth every year.

    This article was inspired by a comment on Twitter by the excellent Gabriele Molinelli.

    Following the many comments on NavyBooks’ most recent blog about the possibility of the Royal Navy being tasked to patrol our shoreline alongside, or instead of, the UK Border Force. A flotilla of Royal Navy patrol boats and cutters, small enough to berth alongside in almost every harbour in Britain, would also do much to raise the profile of the Royal Navy.



  • Another task for the Royal Navy?

    An already stretched and under resourced Royal Navy has been asked to deploy vessels from its ever shrinking Fleet to patrol the UK maritime border.

    The Home Affairs select committee has proposed that the Royal Navy be deployed in the English Channel to protect the UK against migrant people-smugglers and the heightened terror threat.  Extra patrols around the border are needed because the UK’s fleet of Border Protection cutters is depleted and not sufficient to protect against the threat to the country from the refugee crisis.

    It emerged that just three Border Force cutter vessels were being used to patrol the UK's 7,000 miles of coastal borders. The English Channel has in recent months become the key front in the battle to protect Britain’s borders. Last week a court heard how smugglers were making up to £100,000 per journey ferrying boat loads of desperate migrants into tiny ports around UK’s porous coastline.

    Demonstrating a misunderstanding of the current capacity of the Royal Navy the MPs warn that Royal Navy ships “must be used in our sea war against the traffickers” amid fears terrorists are exploiting the migrant crisis to gain access to European countries.

    Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, said: “Criminal gangs continue to exploit weaknesses in security at small ports in Britain to illegally transport migrants from the continent. “Despite maritime security being critical to an island nation, Border Force is operating worryingly low numbers of vessels to protect our borders. Royal Navy vessels must be used in our sea war against the traffickers. “The attacks in Paris demonstrated that terrorists are exploiting this crisis by using this human tragedy as a cloak to re-enter Europe.

    What do you think? Is this an appropriate task for the Royal Navy? Do we have enough ships and personnel to carry out the task effectively? What tasks should be sidelined to enable the RN to take on this role?

    NavyBooks' view is that while controlling our national maritime border is a vital part of national security it is not a role or commitment that the Royal Navy is currently properly equipped or resourced to carry out. Such a role might usefully be added to the tasks of the Fishery Protection Squadron - but the current squadron of four River Class ships would be insufficient and, in any case, are now routinely deployed 'out of area' to the Caribbean and other parts of the world - to cover for shortfalls in operational warship numbers.

    If the task were to be properly resourced then there would be much benefit to the Royal Navy in taking over the UK Border Agency tasks, creating an RN Borders Patrol Squadron of a dozen, or so, cutters and patrol boats that would operate alongside the police, HMRC and security agencies and become an element of the existing Fishery Protection Squadron - which, in past times, frequently took on a security role, particularly during the 'Trouble' in Northern Ireland interdicting IRA, UDA and other terrorist traffic and smuggling operations.

    Operating many more small ships than is currently the case would benefit recruitment and training at all levels. Service in small ships is a great way to test the calibre of personnel - giving everyone, ratings and officers alike, real autonomy and responsibility with consequential positive impact of the effectiveness of the Royal Navy personnel and their subsequent careers.

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