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HMNB Devonport

HMNB Devonport


Plymouth, Devon, England
An aerial photograph of the core of HMNB Devonport with several ships alongside, which was taken as part of a photographic exercise from 2,000 feet by a Lynx MK3 from 815 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton. The buildings in the lower half of the picture are the Fleet Accommodation Centre (ex-HMS Drake).
Type Military base - Naval Base
Site information
Controlled by Royal Navy
Site history
In use Since 16th Century
Garrison information
Commodore Graeme Little[1]
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). HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth in Devon, England. It is the largest naval base in Western Europe[2] and is the sole nuclear repair and refuelling facility for the Royal Navy. The co-located Royal Dockyard is owned and operated by the Marine division of Babcock International Group (BM), who took over the previous owner Devonport Management Limited (DML) in 2007. The BM operation is commonly called Devonport Royal Dockyard. 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). Recently, the name HMS Drake was extended to cover the entire Base; the barracks buildings are now termed the Fleet Accommodation Centre.[3]

In 2009 the Ministry of Defence announced the conclusion of a long-running review of the long-term role of three naval bases. Devonport will no longer be used as a base for attack submarines after these move to Faslane by 2017, and the next generation of frigates will be based at Portsmouth. However, Devonport retains a long-term role as the dedicated home of the amphibious fleet and survey vessels.

HM Naval Base Devonport is the home port of the Devonport Flotilla which includes the largest ship in the Royal Navy HMS Ocean and the Trafalgar-class submarines.


  • History 1
    • Origins of the Dockyard 1.1
    • Development of the Dockyard 1.2
      • South Yard 1.2.1
      • Morice Yard (New Gun Wharf) 1.2.2
      • Keyham (the North Yard) 1.2.3
    • The Naval Barracks (HMS Drake) 1.3
  • Today 2
  • Nickname 3
  • Nuclear waste leaks 4
  • Devonport Flotilla 5
    • Amphibious assault ships 5.1
    • Type 23 frigates 5.2
    • Trafalgar-class submarines 5.3
    • Surveying squadron 5.4
    • Antarctic Patrol Ships 5.5
  • Other ships based at Devonport 6
  • Other units based at Devonport 7
  • Navy Days 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Devonport Dockyard in 1909, courtesy WW1 Archive.

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.[4]

Origins of the Dockyard

In 1689 Prince William of Orange became William III and almost immediately he required the building of a new dockyard. The town of Plymouth he dismissed as inadequate. Edmund Dummer a Naval Officer 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. On 30 December 1690, a contract was let for a dockyard to be built in the Hamoaze area, which was the start of the Devonport Royal Dockyards.[5]

At Devonport, Dummer was the designer of the first successful stepped stone dry dock in Europe.[6] Previously the Navy Board had relied upon timber as the major building material, 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. He wished to ensure that naval dockyards were efficient working units that maximised available space, as evidenced by the simplicity of his design layout for Devonport (which then was known as Plymouth Dock, not to be confused with the nearby town of Plymouth). He introduced a centralised storage area and a logical positioning of buildings, and his double rope-house combined the previously separate tasks of spinning and laying while allowing the upper floor to be used for the repair of sails.[7]

Development of the Dockyard

The Dockyard was established on the southern tip of the present-day site; it then expanded northwards, in stages, over the next two-and-a-half centuries. The town that grew around the Dockyard was called Plymouth Dock up to 1823, when the townspeople petitioned for it to be renamed Devonport. The Dockyard followed suit twenty years later, becoming Devonport Royal Dockyard. In just under three centuries over 300 vessels were built at Devonport, the last being HMS Scylla in 1971.[8]

South Yard

Aerial view: South Yard (in the foreground) dates from 1690; the Dockyard expanded northwards over ensuing centuries.

The Dockyard began in what is now known as the South Yard area of Devonport. It was here that Dummer built his groundbreaking stone dry dock (completely rebuilt in the 1840s). He also oversaw construction of the early Dockyard buildings in the 1690s, including a large quadrangular Storehouse, and a grand Terrace providing accommodation for the dockyard officers (both these buildings were destroyed in the Blitz). In the 1760s a period of expansion began, leading to a configuration which (despite subsequent rebuildings) can still be seen today : five slipways, four dry docks and a wet basin. One slipway (1774) survives unaltered from this period (Slip No. 1): a rare survival; it is covered with a timber superstructure of 1814, a similarly rare and early survival of its type. Slipways were used for shipbuilding, but the main business of the eighteenth-century yard was the repair, maintenance and equipping of the Fleet, for which the dry docks and basin were used.[9]

From the beginning, the docks and slips would have been interspersed with workshops specializing in large-scale woodwork (mast houses, shipwrights' sheds etc). As part of the expansion of the yard in the second half of the 18th century, a new ropemaking complex was built (and survives in part, albeit rebuilt following a fire in 1812, alongside the perimeter wall). At around the same time, a Smithery was built (1776, the earliest such building in any Royal Dockyard). Initially used for the manufacture of anchors and smaller metal items, it would later be expanded to fashion the iron braces with which wooden hulls and decks began to be strengthened; as such, it provided a hint of the huge change in manufacturing technology that would sweep the Dockyards in the nineteenth century as sail began to make way for steam, and wood for iron and steel.[9]

Morice Yard (New Gun Wharf)

Provision of ships' armaments was not the responsibility of the Navy but of the independent Board of Ordnance, which already had a wharf and storage facility in the Mount Wise area of Plymouth. This, however, began to prove insufficient and in 1719 the Board established a new Gun Wharf on land leased from one Sir Nicholas Morice, immediately to the north of the established Dockyard. The Morice Yard was a self-contained establishment with its own complex of workshops, workers, officers, offices and storehouses. Gunpowder was stored on site, which began to be a cause for concern among local residents (as was the older store in the Citadel, also still in use). In time new gunpowder magazines were built further north, first at Keyham (1770s), but later (having to make way for further Dockyard expansion) relocating to Bull Point (1850).[10]

In contrast to South Yard, which fared badly in the Blitz, most of the original building survive at Morice Yard, enclosed behind their contemporary boundary wall. On higher ground behind the wharf itself is a contemporary terrace of houses for officers (1720), built from stone rubble excavated during the Yard's construction.[9]

Morice Ordnance Yard remained independent from the Dockyard until 1941, at which point it was integrated into the larger complex.

Keyham (the North Yard)

Ship alongside the wharf in front of the Quadrangle building (left) and a covered dry dock (right).

In the mid-nineteenth century, all Royal Dockyards faced the challenge of responding to the advent first of steam power and then metal hulls. Those unable to expand were closed; the rest underwent a transformation through growth and mechanisation. At Devonport, in 1864, a separate, purpose-built Steam Yard was opened on a self-contained site at Keyham, just to the north of Morice Yard (and a subterranean tunnel was built linking the new Yard with the old). A pair of Basins (8-9 acres each) were constructed: No. 2 Basin gave access to three large dry-docks, while No. 3 Basin was the frontispiece to a huge integrated manufacturing complex. This became known as the Quadrangle: it housed foundries, forges, pattern shops, boilermakers and all manner of specialized workshops. Two stationary steam engines drove line shafts and heavy machinery, and the multiple flues were drawn by a pair of prominent chimneys. The building still stands, and is Grade I listed; architectural detailing was by Sir Charles Barry. English Heritage calls it 'one of the most remarkable engineering buildings in the country'.[9]

In 1895 the decision was taken to expand the North Yard to accommodate the increasing size of modern warships. By 1907 it had more than doubled in size with the addition of No. 4 and No. 5 Basins (of 10 and 35 acres respectively), linked by a very large lock-cum-dock, 730ft in length, alongside three more dry-docks of a similar size, able to 'accommodate ships larger than any war-vessel yet constructed'.[11]

The Naval Barracks (HMS Drake)

Clock tower, HMS Drake

Until the late nineteenth century, sailors whose ships were being repaired or refitted, or who were awaiting allocation to a vessel, were accommodated in floating hulks. Construction of an onshore barracks, just north-east of the North Yard, was completed in 1889 with accommodation for 2,500; sailors and officers moved in in June of that year. In 1894 a contingent of sixty RN homing pigeons was accommodated on the site. The prominent clock tower was built in 1896, containing a clock and bell by Gillett & Johnston; it initially functioned as a semaphore tower. 1898 saw the barracks expand to accommodate a further 1,000 men. The Wardroom block dates from this period. More buildings were added in the early years of the twentieth century, including St Nicholas's Church.[12]


Devonport Dockyard and the Hamoaze from the Rame Peninsula, Cornwall.

The Royal Navy Dockyard consists of 14 dry docks (Docks Numbered 1 to 15, but there is no 13 Dock),[2] four miles (6 km) of waterfront, 25 tidal berths, five basins and an area of 650 acres (2.6 km²). It is the base for the Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered hunter killer submarines and the main refitting base for all Royal Navy nuclear submarines. Work was completed by Carillion in 2002 to build a refitting dock to support the Vanguard-class Trident missile nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

Locals and tourists have long been able to visit the Dockyard during "Navy Days", a two-day event where visitors can tour the facility, go aboard active naval ships and watch various displays of naval prowess. Among the most popular attractions is the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Courageous, used in the Falklands War.

USS Philippine Sea visiting Devonport

Devonport serves as headquarters for the Flag Officer Sea Training, which is responsible for the training of all the ships of the Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, along with many from foreign naval services.

The Devonport Naval Heritage Centre is a maritime museum in Devonport Historic South Yard.[13]

The historic South Yard is no longer used by the Ministry of Defence, though it is still a closed site and subject to security restrictions. The deep-water access it offers has made the site desirable for manufacturers of 'superyachts'. In 2012 Princess Yachts acquired the freehold to 20 acres with a view to building a construction facility.[14] In 2014 it was announced, as part of a 'City Deal' regeneration agreement, that the South Yard would be 'unlocked' with a view to it becoming a 'marine industries hub'.[15]


The Naval base at Devonport is nicknamed "Guz" by naval ratings. 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.[16] Another explanation advanced is that "GUZZ" was the call sign for the nearby Royal Navy wireless station,(which was GZX), at Devil's Point,[17] though this has been disputed.[18]

Charles Causley referred to Guz in one of his poems, "Song of the Dying Gunner A.A.1", published in 1951.[19]

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."[20]
  • 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."[21]
  • 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."[21]
  • 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"[22]

Devonport Flotilla

Ships based at the port are known as the Devonport Flotilla. This includes the Navy's assault ships HMS Ocean, 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. The previous Commodore of the Devonport Flotilla was Commodore Peter Walpole ADC who assumed command in September 2005.[23] As of February 2011, it is commanded by Commodore JS Chick. Important Royal Navy Staff such as Commodore JML Kingwell, Commander UK (Response Force) Task Group, are based there.[24]

Amphibious assault ships

Ocean moored with Albion in Devonport dockyard.

Type 23 frigates

Trafalgar-class submarines

Surveying squadron

Antarctic Patrol Ships

Other ships based at Devonport

Other units based at Devonport

Navy Days

Navy Days happens once every two years when for two days at the end of the summer a large part of Devonport Dockyard is open to the general public. There is an opportunity to view the facilities at the naval base as well as a number of Royal Navy and allied naval vessels present. There are a large number of stands and displays present which provide of information on some of the less well known aspects of the Royal Navy, for example the Royal Navy submarine rescue service.

See also


  1. ^ "HNMB Devonport". Royal Navy. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ Devonport Naval Base Handbook, 2010
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Wessom, William (24 September 2007). "The Devonport Royal dockyard". Retrieved 4 October 2009. 
  6. ^ Fox, Celina (2007). "The Ingenious Mr Dummer: Rationalizing the Royal Navy in Late Seventeenth-Century England" (PDF). Electronic British Library Journal. p. 26. Retrieved 6 October 2009. 
  7. ^ MacDougall, Philip (September 2004). "Edmund Dummer".  
  8. ^ BBC Devon
  9. ^ a b c d English Heritage: Thematic Survey of Naval Dockyards in England
  10. ^ English Heritage: Thematic History of Ordnance Yards and Magazine Depots
  11. ^ 'A pictorial and descriptive guide to Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport with excursions by river, road and sea'. Published 1914 by Ward Lock & Co Ltd. London.
  12. ^ A history of HMS Drake
  13. ^ "Website Disabled". Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Plymouth Herald
  15. ^ Plymouth Herald
  16. ^ "Pompey, Chats and Guz: the Origins of Naval Town Nicknames | Online Information Bank | Research Collections | Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard". Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  17. ^ which was GZX Moseley, Brian. "Plymouth, Royal Navy Establishments – Royal Naval Barracks (HMS Vivid / HMS Drake)". Plymouth Data. Retrieved 20 August 2011.  (citing Brimacombe, Peter, "The History of HMS Drake", Rodney Brimacombe, Mor Marketing, Plymouth, July 1992.)
  18. ^ See, for example: Dykes, Godfrey. "THE_PLYMOUTH_COMMAND". Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  19. ^ Neil Philip, Michael McCurdy. "War and the pity of war". p. 57. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  20. ^ "Radioactive leak at Devonport". BBC News. 28 November 2002. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  21. ^ a b Enforcer, The (11 November 2008). "Radioactive leak at Devonport". This is Plymouth. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  22. ^ Edwards, Rob (18 May 2009). "Ministry of Defence admits to further radioactive leaks from submarines". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  23. ^ [3]
  24. ^ [4]
  25. ^ "Defence Ministers tour the South West". Ministry of Defence news.  

External links

  • HMNB Devonport web page
  • Babcock International Group plc., the owner of the dockyard
  • Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

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