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World War 1 at Sea


TRIBUTE to BRITISH SHIPBUILDING and REPAIR INDUSTRIES 1914-18, including Royal Naval Dockyards and Research Establishments

Part 3 of 3

HMS Collingwood, dreadnought, built prewar in Devonport  Dockyard, at anchor off Plymouth in 1914 (Maritime Quest, click to enlarge)

back to Part 1, British Shipbuilding in Outline





Part 3




Brief History of The Royal Dockyards of the British Isles

Notes on Admiralty Research Establishments

Royal and Naval Dockyards in 1914 – Home and Abroad







The Royal Navy's Role in Warship Research, Building, Repair & Maintenance World-wide






(from north to south, west to east; in operation in World War 1 in bold; capital ships in italics launched pre-war)






1. Rosyth Royal Dockyard, on Firth of Forth (N), Fifeshire - not a building yard, still in operation




2. Haulbowline Royal Dockyard, in Cork Harbour, Queenstown, Co Cork - not a building yard, transferred to Irish Free State Government 1921


Wales & SW England


3. Pembroke Royal Dockyard, in Milford Haven (S), Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, SW Wales - Milford Royal Dockyard founded 1794, moved to Pembroke Dock 1814, closed 1926


Pembroke Dockyard
ships built during the war, larger vessels with launch date


C-type light cruisers Cambrian (3.3.16), Cordelia (23.2.14), Curacoa (5.5.17)

Submarines H.51 (15.11.18), H.52 (31.3.19), J.3 (4.12.15), J.4 (2.2.16)


4. Devonport Royal Dockyard (from 1824), on River Tamar (E), Devonport, South Devon - founded as Plymouth Dockyard 1690's, still in operation


Devonport Dockyard


Dreadnoughts Temeraire (Bellerophon-class,  24.8.07) Collingwood (St Vincent-class,  7.11.08), Centurion (King George V-class, 18.11.11), Marlborough (Iron Duke-class, 24.10.12), Warspite (Queen Elizabeth-class,  26.11.13), Royal Oak, (Revenge-class, 17.11.14)

Battlecruisers Indefatigable (Indefatigable-class, 28.10.09), Lion (Lion-class, 6.8.10)

Cavendish-class cruiser Frobisher (20.3.20)

Submarines J.5 (9.9.15), J.6 (9.9.15), J.7 (21.2.17), K.6 (31.5.16), K.7 (31.5.16)


S & SE England


5. Harwich Royal Dockyard, in Harwich Harbour, Harwich, Essex - founded 1650, closed 1714


6. Sheerness Royal Dockyard, on River Medway (E), Sheerness, Kent - founded 1667, not a building yard by WW1, closed 1960


7. Chatham Royal Dockyard, on River Medway (S), Chatham, Kent - founded 16th cen, submarines etc in WW1, closed 1984


Chatham Dockyard


C-type light cruiser Calliope (17.12.14)

Cavendish-class cruiser Hawkins (1.10.17)

Submarines E.12 (5.9.14), E.13 (22.9.14), F.1 (31.3.15), G.1 (14.8.15), G.2 (23.12.15), G.3 (22.1.16), G.4 (23.10.15), G.5 (23.11.15), R.1 (25.4.18), R.2 (25.4.18), R.3 (8.6.18), R.4 (8.6.18)


8. Deptford Royal Dockyard, on River Thames (S), Greenwich (opposite Isle of Dogs), London - founded 16th Cen, finally closed 1869


9. Woolwich Royal Dockyard, on River Thames (S), Woolwich, Kent - founded 16th cen, closed 1869


10. Portsmouth Royal Dockyard, in Portsmouth Harbour (S), Portsmouth, Hampshire - founded 16th cen, still in operation


Portsmouth Dockyard


Dreadnoughts Dreadnought (10.2.06), Bellerophon, (Bellerophon-class, 27.7.07), St Vincent, (St Vincent-class, 10.9.08), Neptune (30.9.09), Orion (Orion-class, 20.8.10), King George V (King George V-class, 9.10.11), Iron Duke (Iron Duke-class, 12.10.12), Queen Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth-class, 16.10.13), Royal Sovereign (Revenge-class, 29.4.15)

Cavendish-class cruiser Effingham (8.6.21)

Submarines J.1 (6.11.15), J.2 (6.11.15), K.1 (14.11.16), K.2 (14.10.16), K.5 (16.12.16)







Most of the following information is taken (with many thanks) from the National Archives research guide for Royal Naval Research and Development (Military Records Information 38). The full list, which can be found on the National Archives site, includes references to all the archives held.

Admiralty Records

"Historically, naval research and development has taken the form of a partnership between the Admiralty and private industry, the former providing the patronage necessary for the implementation of new ideas. With the accelerating pace of technological advance in the nineteenth century, individual departments of the Royal Navy, in particular those of the Engineer-in Chief and of the Director of Naval Construction, worked together with private firms and individuals to develop new inventions, such as the Parsons marine turbine and the Whitworth self-propelling torpedo.

There was also an Admiralty Awards Council which recommended awards to inventors."



Naval Ordnance

"The development of naval ordnance was the responsibility of the Board of Ordnance, until its abolition in 1855.

In 1855, the War Office took over control of ordnance and the Admiralty did not establish its own Naval Ordnance Department until 1891.

Ordnance Board's work included Naval Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Committee (1919-1921) and Naval Cordite Committee (1925-1927)."


1914-1918 War - The Board of Invention and Research

"Although the Admiralty had established an Experimental Works of its own in the 1870s, the Navy possessed no central research establishment. However the outbreak of the First World War gave a powerful stimulus to naval research and development, with the realisation that technological superiority in mechanical and chemical science was essential to success. Particularly important was the threat to British naval supremacy posed by the new technology of the submarine and the urgent need for a submarine detection device.

In July 1915, the Admiralty established the Board of Invention and Research "for the purpose of securing for the Admiralty, during the continuance of the war, expert assistance in organising and encouraging scientific effort in relation to the requirements of the Naval Service". It consisted of a central committee under Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Fisher, and including Sir Charles Parsons; a consulting panel of scientific experts, including Sir Ernest Rutherford, and a secretariat. Its role was to assess invention proposals made by the general public and transmit those of use to the war effort to the Admiralty technical departments, which did not have the manpower to do this. Senior naval officers were invited to submit any "problems connected with the scientific side of the Navy". Numerous sub-committees were established, ranging from Airships to Internal Combustion Engines and Oil Fuel.


For experimentation, it drew on the resources of private industry; the National Physical Laboratory and a number of Admiralty establishments.


Work (was) carried out by the National Physical Laboratory on behalf of the Admiralty, during and after the war."



Directorate of Scientific Research and Experiment

"The Board was dissolved in January 1918 and a Director of Experiments and Research was appointed for co-ordination of the various experimental stations, run by the technical Departments of the Admiralty, that had proliferated during the war. On the Admiralty Board, the Third Sea Lord (Controller) was responsible for naval research and development in general. The Directorate of Scientific Research and Experiment ran the Admiralty Research Laboratory and subsequently the Royal Navy Physiological Laboratory and the Services Electronics Research Laboratory. It also looked after the administration of scientific finance, contracts, patents and technical records.

The technical departments of the Navy retained responsibility for research, development and production within their own fields. The directorate of Naval Construction ran the Admiralty Experiment Works and the Naval Construction Research Establishment and ..... include(d) research testing. The Engineer-in-Chief ran the Admiralty Fuel Experiment Station and the Admiralty Engineering Laboratory. The Director of Underwater Weapons was responsible for the Torpedo Experiment Establishment; the Admiralty Mining Establishment; the Underwater Detection Establishment and the Underwater Launching Establishment (presumably post-World War 1 and into World War 2).

Royal Naval Scientific Service

"In 1946, the Department of Scientific Research was re-organised to form the Royal Naval Scientific Service  ........"



Naval Research Establishments and Organisations


Only those which appear to encompass World War 1 work are included.  Establishments identified as existing in WW1 are in bold

"Admiralty Chemical Department - an Admiralty Chemist was first appointed in 1870 and subsequently an Admiralty Chemical Department developed at Portsmouth. In 1965, it was amalgamated with the Central Metallurgical Laboratory to form the Central Dockyard Laboratory .......

Admiralty Compass Observatory - in 1842, the Admiralty Compass Branch was established, in association with the Hydrographic Department. Its observatory moved to Slough in 1917 and became part of the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment in 1971.

Admiralty Engineering Laboratory - established in 1917, at the City and Guilds College, South Kensington to develop diesel engines for submarines, it moved to West Drayton in 1920 where it was joined by the laboratory for electrical experiments that had been set up in 1919. They remained as a separate Mechanical Engineering Department and Electrical Engineering Department, testing commercial engines and equipment for naval use, with limited research functions. In 1977, the laboratory was absorbed by the National Gas Turbine Establishment.

Admiralty Experiment Works - In 1870, the Admiralty granted 2,000 to William Froude to build the world's first model experiment ship tank at Torquay and run it for 2 years. Experiments into the stability and propulsion of ships began in 1872 and when the site proved too small, it moved to Haslar, Gosport in 1886. Its work expanded to cover all types of naval vessel, including the submarine, and the testing of oils and oil fuel.

Admiralty Fuel Experimental Station - established in 1902, at Haslar, to research into the naval use of oil fuel in boilers, it was subsequently absorbed into the Admiralty Marine Engineering Establishments.

Admiralty Gunnery Establishment - originally the Fire Control Group within the Admiralty Research Laboratory, it functioned as a separate establishment 1943-1959.

Admiralty Hydrographic Department - ..... at Taunton.

Admiralty Mining Department - see Underwater Countermeasures Establishment."

Admiralty Research Laboratory - During the First World War, the Anti-Submarine Division of the Admiralty had established experimental stations at Hawkcraig (Aberdour) and Parkeston Quay, Harwich, with out-stations at Dartmouth and Wemyss Bay, to work on submarine detection methods. The Admiralty also established an experimental station at Shandon, Dumbartonshire, working with the Lancashire Anti-Submarine Committee and the Clyde Anti-Submarine Committee, which subsequently moved to Teddington in 1921, becoming the Admiralty Research Laboratory. Its main fields of research expanded to include oceanography; electromagnetics; underwater ballistics; visual aids; acoustics; infra-red radiation; photography and assessment techniques.

Note: The ARL was based at Teddington, Middlesex, so that it could benefit from the expertise of the National Physical Laboratory, founded in 1900 by the government under the auspices of the Royal Society, and opened in 1902 to promote links between science and industry. No 1 Ship Tank was completed in 1910, and was also known as the Yarrow Tank.

Admiralty Signals and Radar Establishments - see below.

Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment - research into radio communications began at Portsmouth before the First World War and, based at the Signals School there from 1917, expanded into the development of radar. In 1959, the Signals and Radar Establishments was amalgamated with the Gunnery Establishment to become the Surface Weapons Establishment for research into new weapons systems and their evaluation for procurement.

Aircraft Torpedo Development Unit - During the First World War, experiments on dropping torpedoes from aircraft were carried out by the Fleet Air Arm at Gosport. The experimental section came under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1941 .....

Anti-Submarine Experimental Establishment - see Underwater Detection Establishment.

Central Metallurgical Laboratory - established at Portsmouth c.1936 to investigate naval metallurgical problems, it acquired a number of outstation laboratories.....

Naval Ordnance Inspection Department - established in 1922 to test guns and ammunition and subsequently torpedoes and mines.

Royal Greenwich Observatory - although established in 1695, it did not become the responsibility of the Hydrographer of the Navy until 1820, taking over the role of the Board of Longtitude. It passed out of naval control in 1965 .....

Torpedo and Anti-Submarine School - HMS Vernon, fitted out as a Torpedo Instruction School in 1876, subsequently came to house the Admiralty Signals School and a diving school. ..... experiments (included) torpedoes, mines, depth-charges, anti-submarine measures and chemical warfare.

Torpedo Experimental Establishment - Tests for protection against torpedoes had been carried out as early as 1886 by Sir William White and during the First World War a large barge, known as the Chatham Float, was used for experiments with energy absorbing devices. However, a research establishment was not set up until in 1943, at the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory at Greenock.

Underwater Countermeasures and Weapons Establishment - established in 1951, inheriting the role of the Admiralty Mining Department that had been established at HMS Vernon, Portsmouth in 1915, it was closed in 1959.

Underwater Detection Establishment - an ASDIC Research and Development unit was established at HMS Osprey (Portland Naval Base) in 1927, moving to Fairlie as the Anti-Submarine Experimental Establishment in 1940 .....

Underwater Weapons Launching Establishment - design and production of torpedo and mine launching equipment was based at Portsmouth Dockyard from the First World War. In 1947, design was made the responsibility of the Underwater Weapons Launching Establishment,....."

Further Reading

D K Brown, A Century of Naval Construction 1883-1983 (Conway Maritime Press, 1983)
M M Postan, D Hay, & J P Scott Design and Development of Weapons (HMSO, 1964)
B Ranft (ed.), Technical Change and British Naval Policy 1860-1939 (1977)






Information and charts from 1914 Jane's Fighting Ships, plus wartime additions from later editions.

Click to enlarge



The really excellent Charts are copyright Stanford's Geographical Establishment, who no longer appear to be in existence. It has not been possible to locate the present copyright holder

Notes on Dockyards:


(1) To provide a sheltered, non-tidal mooring place: where there is not enough depth of water at all states of the tide to accommodate ships e.g. non-tidal quays


(2) Basin, with entrance lock to allow ships to enter and leave and retain depth of water


(3) To repair and maintain the submerged part of a ship's hull, including propellers and rudders


(4) Graving & dry-docks - words used interchangeably, permanent, excavated installations, require emptying by pumping & filling, also dock gates to keep out water/let in ship


(5) Floating docks - often built in towable sections, flexible, location can be changed, need pumping up and flooding-down







Royal Dockyards






At Devonport - two big building slips, three small. Dry docks: No. 3, could just take Duncan class, size 430x93ft, and three others, of which one (Long Dock) can take a second class cruiser; other two suitable for small craft only.


At Keyham - No building slips. New basin, 35 acres, depth, 32ft. Tidal basin, 10 acres, depth, 32ft.


Dry Docks in New Extension:-

Entrance lock     730x95ft), all can take Dreadnought and Inflexible

No. 9 (double)     745x95ft)

No. 10 (double)   741x95ft)

No. 8                 659x95ft)


In the old part of the yard there are three docks, of which one (Queen's) can take a second class cruiser; the others small craft only. Total employees for the two yards, about 6000.


Admiralty Chart No.1267. Rise of Spring Tide 15 1/2 feet (Dockyard)





One slip for building battleships or cruisers up to 750 feet.


Three large and one small basins.


Floating dock, 680x113ft (33,000 tons).


Dry docks:-

No. 15          563x94ft.

      14          565x82ft, enlarging to 700x100ft (later to 770ft)

      13          560x82ft

      12          485x80ft

Deep Lock,   461x82ft

North Lock,   466x89ft

South Lock,  466x82ft

and ten smaller docks.


Total employees, about 8000 normally, probably 16,000 by 1918.


Admiralty Chart No.2631-2045. Rise of Spring Tide 13 1/2 feet (Dockyard)


Aircraft base at Calshot, Southampton before the war. By the end of 1913, 17 oil reservoirs were built.


By 1918, the Deep, North and South Lock dry docks were no longer listed. Instead they were identified as Lock A (461x80ft), Lock B (461x81ft), Lock C (850x110ft) and Lock D (850x110ft). Presumably one was lengthened and a fourth built




Three building slips. Three large closed basins.


Dry docks:-

No. 9          800x100x33 feet.

      8          456x82ft

      7          456x82ft

      6          456x80ft

      5          460x80ft

There are four other docks suitable only for small. craft (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4).


Total employees, about 6000 (12,000, by 1918)


Admiralty Chart No.1834-1607-1185. Rise of Spring Tide 18 1/4 feet


Also floating docks by 1918


4. SHEERNESS (see chart above)

No building slips.

One small basin.

Dry docks:- Five, all small, and able to take small craft only

Destroyer base.

Floating dock, 680x113ft (33,000 tons).


Admiralty Chart No.1833. Rise of Spring Tide 16 feet


By 1918, 2,500 employees. Flying school and aircraft base at Isle of Grain before the war.



British Naval Ports and Harbours


ROSYTH (constructing).


Two docks 850x110ft.

Entrance locks 850x110ft


Aircraft base at Carlinghouse before war


1918 - plus PORT EDGAR. Rosyth - third dock of 850x110x36ft completed, also floating docks.





No slips.

Dry docks:

(a) Entrance, size 720x94ft.

(b) No 1 , 608x94ft (lengthened 1911)

Employees, 1000, more by 1918




Building yard.

Two large building slips.

Dry docks:-One, 404x75ft

About 2,500 employees by 1918




1500 acres of enclosed harbour; minimum depth, 30 feet.

Coaling station. N. and E. entrances 700 feet wide.

Strongly fortified


Floating dock suitable for destroyers by 1918




New harbour, 610 acres; E. entrance, 1 cable; W. entrance, 800 feet.

Coaling station.

Well fortified.

Submarine base.

Moorings for 16 battleships, 5 large cruisers, 7 Counties, 4 small cruisers, and for destroyers

(The tide at entrance is very strong making ingress difficult).


Floating dock for destroyers added by 1918



Other Naval Harbours and Anchorages Used by Fleets

(from north to south, west to east)




SHETLANDS, by 1918


SCAPA FLOW (chart following)



LOCH EWE, by 1918


SHANDON, on Gareloch, by 1918 - Anti-Submarine Station for experiments and training


LAMLASH, by 1918


CAMPBELTOWN, by 1918 - submarine training station


CROMARTY FIRTH (Scotland, E Coast), Cromarty is being fortified. (chart right. By 1918, Fleet Anchorage. Also East Sutor known as North Sutor, and West Sutor as South Sutor)


INVERGORDON, by 1918 - dockyard, three floating docks - Number One, 680x113x36ft for 33,000 ton dreadnoughts, Number Two, also for dreadnoughts, Number Three, for light cruisers, TBD's, submarines (also right)


MORAY FIRTH, by 1918




LOUGH SWILLY and BUNCRANA. Very moderately fortified. Good anchorage.


KINGSTOWN (Dublin), the only one with any forts


BEREHAVEN. Good anchorage.




IMMINGHAM, by 1918 - for repairs


HARWICH, by 1918 - base for torpedo craft, submarines etc (chart right)


OSEA ISLAND, River Blackwater, by 1918 - CMB base






SCILLY. Anchorage is moderately good. The entrance is very narrow, difficult and dangerous. Fortifications were being erected, but work now stopped.




Private Dry/Graving Docks at Home able to take Dreadnoughts.




complete in 1916




New Graving




Canada Graving



Brocklebank Graving




No. 6



No. 7












No. 5



No. 6

860x90x33 ft















West Harbour

No building slips.

Dry docks:-

No.1 (Prince of Wales), 850x90ft

No.2 (Queen Alexandra), 550x90ft

No.3 (King Edward), 450x90ft

There is another dock (No. 4) for torpedo craft.

Area of harbour, 450 acres. Well fortified - guns mounted 1000 feet above water.


Proposed East Harbour (not yet built). (Projected). No. 1 dry dock, able to take any warship, size 850x90ft. Area of harbour, 400 acres. (Note: Never built)






One small building slip.

Dry docks:

Nos.2 & 1 combined 536x73ft      (No.1 (double) by 1918)

No.3 (Somerset) 468x80ft            (No.3, no change)

No.4 (Hamilton), size, 520x94ft    (No.2 (Hamilton) by 1918)

Nos.5-6 (double) 770x95ft            (No.4 (double) by 1918)

No.7 (single) 550x95ft                 (No.5 (single) by 1918)


Area of war harbour, about 100 acres. New mole in progress. New works completed 1908. Well fortified. Good anchorage. Base for Mediterranean Fleet.


By 1918, 4,000 or more employees




By 1918, Private Docks:


PORT SAID, floating dock, 295x61ft


ALEXANDRIA, Naval and Military base during war

Dry dock, 553x64ft




SUEZ CANAL, 90 miles long, 31ft deep, 108ft wide at bottom







ESQUIMAULT (British Columbia). Formerly dockyard.

Dry dock: 450x65ft. (Taken over by the Canadian Navy, together with all Canadian docks by 1918.)


ST. JOHN'S (Newfoundland).

There is a private dock here, 569x85ft (dreadnought if lightened)


HALIFAX (Nova Scotia). Formerly Dockyard. Coaling station.

Dry dock:

572x89ft (Dreadnought).


BERMUDA. Fortified.

Large floating dock, 545x100ft (Dreadnought, 17,500 tons)

Naval dockyard by 1918


BRIDGETOWN (Barbados). Coaling. Open roadstead.

There is a small dock here, able to take vessels drawing up to 14 feet.


TRINIDAD, by 1918, 4,000t floating dock, 365x65ft


Map of Royal Navy Stations and Bases worldwide






SIERRA LEONE (Freetown, West Africa). Fortified coaling station.


CAPE COAST CASTLE (British Gold Coast, West Africa). Fortified coaling station. Anchorage average 28ft.


PORT STANLEY (Falkland Is.) Good deep harbour. Fortified coaling station.


ST. HELENA. Fortified coaling station.


SIMON'S BAY (or Simonstown, Cape of Good Hope).

New dock, to take any warship, 750x95ft (by 1918, known as Selbourne Dock, could take dreadnoughts). Tidal basin, 28 acres. Fortified moderately

There is a dock at Capetown, 500x66ft, and a floating one at Durban, 425x70ft.





ADEN. Well fortified. Coaling. Harbour 8x4 miles. (Chart right)


MAURITIUS (Port Louis). Good harbour, with awkward entrance. Coaling station. Fortified.

One dry dock: 384x60ft, and one smaller.


KARACHI, by 1918, under Royal Indian Marine


BOMBAY. Harbour 14x5 miles.

Dry docks:- (Bombay Trust) 500x65ft.

Under Royal Indian Marine by 1918


CALCUTTA, by 1918, under Royal Indian Marine


COLOMBO (Ceylon). Fortified coaling station. Excellent and deep harbour, sheltered by breakwaters.

Dry dock: 708x85ft, able to take any warship, including dreadnoughts. (Chart right)





PENANG (Straits Settlements). Good deep harbour. Coaling.

Dry dock: 343x46ft


SINGAPORE (chart right). Coaling station. Good roads. Average anchorage, 10 fathoms.

Tanjong Pagar Docks: (1) Victoria, 467x65ft; (2) Albert, 478x60ft.

Keppel Harbour: (1) 400x47ft; (2) 450x52ft; (3) Building, to be complete by January, 1913, 846x100ft, to take any warship, including dreadnoughts.








HONG KONG (chart right). Repairing yard. No building slips.

Dry docks:-

Admiralty No. 1, 555x95ft.

New dock: Quarry Bay, (Butterfield & Swire) 750x88ft.

The following are the property of the Hongkong & Whampoa Dock Co., Ltd:

At Kau-Lung (see map): No. 1, 700x86x30 feet (lengthened).

Hope Dock, 432x84ft

Cosmopolitan, 466x85ft

Also three smaller, able to take torpedo craft, etc.

Area of basin (tidal), 941. acres (bldg.)


WEI-HAl-WEI (China). Anchorage. Unfortified base. Coaling station.





KING GEORGE SOUND (Western Australia). Coaling station. Fortified.


ADELAIDE (South Australia). Commercial harbour, 7 miles from the town. Dry dock: 500x60ft, projected.


BRISBANE (Queensland). 25 miles up river. Navigable for ships drawing 20 feet. Coaling station. Dry dock: 431x55ft


SYDNEY (New South Wales). Fortified coaling station and base. Harbour excellent. Dry docks: (Sutherland) 638x84ft (Dreadnought), (Fitzroy) 477x59ft, Woolwich dock (private), 675x83ft, and four smaller.


MELBOURNE (Victoria). Commercial harbour. One dry dock: 470x80ft, and three smaller. Port Phillip has an area of 800 square miles.


HOBART (Tasmania). Coaling station.


AUCKLAND (New Zealand). Coaling station. Excellent harbour. Dry dock (Calliope): 521x80ft (Cressy). Also one smaller, able to take torpedo craft.




British Private Dry/Graving Docks Abroad able to take Dreadnoughts








Dry dock





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