Historic Dockyards

While in Southsea last week, a friend and I went to the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth. If you’re ever in Portsmouth, it’s well worth a visit. The ticket gives you access for a year to most of the site (the exceptions being the harbour tour and HMS Victory), so is particularly good value if you are likely to be in the area again.

Although I’d expected HMS Victory and the modern ships in the harbour to be the highlights, I found HMS Warrior more interesting than Victory. Visiting Victory was a very interesting experience, but Warrior was stunning.

HMS Warrior - gun deck
HMS Warrior’s gun deck

HMS Warrior was commissioned in 1860, and was the first iron-hulled, armoured warship powered by steam as well as sail. Her huge size (standing at one end of the gun deck, looking to the other end, was awe-inspiring) and the combination of new and old was fascinating. It was originally intended that all her guns would be breech loaders, but there weren’t enough ready when she was built, so she was commissioned with many old-fashioned muzzle loading cannon. The steam funnels could be retracted when she was under sail, so that they did not block the sails. The whole ship exudes an air of aggressive confidence – my friend and I theorised that her motto was “Come over here if you think you’re hard enough“. Apparently her armour was tested by firing the most powerful weapons of the day at it from point-blank range: none of them penetrated. She’s a fascinating ship, and well worth a visit.

HMS Daring
HMS Daring

The harbour tour was also very interesting, particularly as Ark Royal (no longer HMS Ark Royal, since she’s been decommissioned) was in the harbour. There was also HMS Daring, a new Type 45 destroyer. I’m assured that the new Type 45s are very capable ships, but they are certainly ugly. Apparently the modern Royal Navy considers things like a small radar signature to be more important than aesthetics.