Naval and Maritime Military Heritage
Dockyards and naval shore facilities
The effectiveness of the Royal Navy at sea is directly related to a complex of shore facilities. The historic dockyards at Deptford on the Thames, Chatham and Sheerness in Kent, Portsmouth, Hampshire, and Plymouth, Devon, were all important ship buildings centres. As such they are also some of the earliest large industrial sites in the country.
In the early nineteenth century block mill at Portsmouth mass production techniques were applied for the first time. You can find information on the English naval dockyards in a thematic survey and a similar study discusses naval armament depots. You can also read more about the dockyards in a book discussing their history Support for the Fleet 1700-1914.
The dockyards today
Today, the Royal Navy activity is concentrated at Portsmouth and Plymouth Dockyards. Constant change and evolution has been a feature of the dockyards as they have been adapted for new vessels and technologies. This change continues today and you can learn how the dockyards evolved during the 20th century from a recent study by the Naval Dockyards Society.
A characterisation project is also being carried out to understand how Portsmouth Dockyard related to its hinterland. Gosport’s defence played a crucial role in guarding Portsmouth Dockyard and is home to an important armaments depot. You can how the military’s presence has shaped the town in a recent characterisation study.
At Sheerness another project studied the relationship between the dockyard, its fortifications and the local town.
Some recent warships have been protected as Designated Historic Wrecks under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 such as the early aircraft carrier HMS Campania and the submarines Holland 5 and HMS A1. Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has powers to protect vessels that were in military service when they were wrecked under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, while the Sunken Military Craft Act 2004 applies to all United States warships and aircraft.
In 2002, the MoD designated eleven military maritime graves as ‘controlled sites' including HMS Dasher, HMS Exmouth and HMS Formidable. A study of the East Coast war channels has emphasised the close link between terrestrial facilities and the war at sea.
Historic England has begun a project to identify and assess the wrecks of First World War submarines- many of them German U-boats- in English waters. You can find out more about the progress of this submarines research project on our First World War pages.
More surprising remains of military heritage that lie offshore include numerous military vehicles many of which are associated with preparations for the 1944 D-Day landings.
The remains of seven Vickers Valentine Tanks lie on the seabed in Poole Bay. These tanks were fitted with pneumatically powered canvas screens as an experiment in making them seaworthy and were trialled off Dorset from 1942.
In addition, the remains of individual DUKW's, six-wheeled amphibious landing craft, have been periodically recorded on the seabed in the English Channel. Elsewhere, are lost landing craft and bulldozers.
The English Channel and the North Sea were the focus of a significant proportion of air activities during the last war and accordingly, the remains of aircraft have been identified on the seabed. All aircraft that have crashed in military service are automatically protected as ‘controlled sites' under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
Also of interest...
At the outbreak of the First World War Great Britain was the world’s greatest naval power. It was a supremacy supported by a huge heavy engineering industry, but one challenged by the ambitions of imperial Germany and her rapidly expanding navy.
As part of the 2014-2018 Centenary, Historic England commissioned Cotswold Archaeology to assess WW1 submarine losses in England's territorial waters.