River Pageants and Fleet Reviews

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with Admiral Si...

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with Admiral Sir Alan West on board HMS Endurance at the Trafalgar Fleet Review in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did find it quite amusing watching the coverage of the Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant. A lot was made of how we haven’t had one since the times of Charles II. Presumably, we are led to believe that such an event is incredibly rare and fitting for such an occasion. The reality is, that for virtually every coronation or Jubilee in recent centuries, we have held a Fleet Review, normally at Spithead in the Solent.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was marked by a fleet review, as was the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. George V’s coronation was marked in a similar fashion in 1911, as was his Silver Jubilee in 1935. A Coronation Review followed in 1937 for George VI. A Coronation Review was held for our current Queen in June 1953 (plan of the fleet at anchor), and then another for her Silver Jubilee in 1977 (plan of the fleet at anchor). The first major Royal event for over a century to not be marked by a fleet review was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 – ostensibly on the grounds of cost, but one suspects because we haven’t got anywhere near enough ships to make a decent review. A Fleet Review was held in 2005 to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (list of ships present), and one suspects that this event was given primacy because international navies were probably more likely to attend a fleet review for this than one for a Golden Jubilee.

Much has been made of the fact that the Royal Navy has shrunk so much in intervening years that we do not have enough ships to form a large fleet review. In the opinion of this historian, it’s just a sign of the changing of times. Britain no longer has an Empire, and thus no need for a navy the size of that that it had in the late Victorian period. I’m sure none of us would like the tax bills – and no doubt the bankruptcy – that would come from maintaining a massive fleet of warships without the finances to do it. Also, a cursory glance down the Royal Navy’s Fleet Bridge Card shows that most ships are either on operations, about to go on operations, have just returned, or are in refit. There isn’t much time for spit and polish in the modern, threadbare operational tempo.

But, as a Portsmouth person, it is a shame that the Solent cannot play its traditional part in marking such a major royal event. For all the wonderful post-modernist rhetoric about the Thames River Pageant, it is a face-saving event, make no mistake about it. Whatever the rights or wrongs about it, it is a sign of change.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “River Pageants and Fleet Reviews

  1. John Erickson

    It’s a pity that the RN couldn’t get some WW2 ships going to commemorate the Queen’s service during the war. (HMS Belfast under steam would’ve been nice, but at least she can still shoot, more than most of our museum ships can manage.) Isn’t there an MTB that was recently refurbished, or am I just hallucinating again? :D
    By the by, something I’ve been meaning to toss out for comment. Here in the States, we used to only name ships for people after the person was dead, though we’ve pitched that standard concerning carrier names. Didn’t the RN follow that same concept, and if so, how come King George V got not one, but TWO battleships named after him (one posthumously, of course)? Just curious.

    • James Daly

      There were some WW1 vintage MTBs/Motor Launches on the Thames on Sunday, and also a flotilla of the Dunkirk Little Boats. The RN involvement was confined to two P2000 class Patrol Boats, a launch from HMY Britannia, RM patrol craft, HMS Hurworth tied up at HMS President, and of course Belfast fired a few blanks.

      I’m not sure what the conventions are about ship namings, I know that the RN Historical Branch are asked, and of course the politicians and top brass throw their two penneth in. I can’t think of many cases where living people have had warships named after them, I think it’s more of an unwritten rule than anything. In some cases even naming ships after dead people is fraught with politics – they wanted to name two of the KGV Battleships after Jellicoe and Beatty, but even Churchill knew the controversy surrounding both of those names and WW1. Churchill also wanted to name a warship Cromwell, which quite understandably the Royal Family weren’t keen on.

  2. I don’t think anybody expects the Navy to ever get back to the numbers of it’s glory days.But enough ships to honour it’s commitments now would be nice though.We’re well past the point were the shortage of hulls is starting to show the cuts have gone to far.

    The amount of borrowing just to pay the bills means we’ve been effectively bankrupt for many years.The trouble is that moneys gone into the welfare state and civil service,neither of which produce wealth.Theres to many people who’s main objective is just to keep themselves in work no matter how much grief they cause in the process.The armed forces supported thousands of highly skilled manufacturing jobs which we’ve largely lost.

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