Death of the British Navy


Britain’s Royal Navy, once a pillar of Britain’s global power and the most formidable fleet in the world, is being gutted, with almost half of its warships slated to be mothballed.

Early in January, London revealed that 13 of the fleet’s 44 warships are already in a state of reduced readiness. A further six vessels will possibly be cut, leaving just 25 warships. The Navy is expected to lose one of its three aircraft carriers, and furthermore, there is concern among naval officers that two new carriers, promised almost a decade ago, might never be built. In addition, the Telegraph reports that one of Britain’s three major ports is under threat of closure.

“What this means is that we are now no better than a coastal defense force or a fleet of dug-out canoes,” a senior officer currently serving with the British Fleet in Portsmouth said. “The Dutch now have a better navy than us.”

The Telegraph commented: “Our status in the world, as well as the security of these islands, depends chiefly on sea power. For the better part of 500 years … foreign vessels had to dip their colors when passing our ships, in acknowledgement of our sovereignty of the seas. That chapter is to be closed” (January 5).

In London’s Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens wrote: “My father served in the Navy when it was our pride and power—and the envy of the world. So why have we thrown it all away?” He reflected: “Almost without a fuss, the great traditions of centuries are quietly coming to an end. A service that once took British power to all the corners of the Earth is now shrunk to a pathetic remnant, largely stuck in harbor for lack of fuel and money. Go to what was once the world’s premier naval station to see for yourself. … My old Edwardian encyclopedia describes Portsmouth as the most strongly fortified city in the Kingdom, and the home to a great fleet of warships unmatched in the world. Look at it now, denuded and empty. In the muddy creek at the top of the harbor you can make out the hulks of mothballed destroyers and frigates” (January 14).

The Telegraph reports, “Defense sources said it would be unlikely that the Navy could now launch an armada of the kind that retook the Falkland Islands in 1982” (op. cit.).

Ironically, the diminution of Britain’s navy proceeds apace even as the world is getting increasingly dangerous, with terrorism and piracy on the seas becoming a greater threat, and other nations (e.g., China) strengthening their navies. This is not only a sad reminder of the slide from global relevance that Great Britain is experiencing, but also a demonstration of the great global power transfer under way.