20th May 1937. ‘The Fleet’s Lit-Up’.
Naval reviews have been a pageant since 1415 when Henry V surveyed the fleet gathered for the invasion of France.
Today a Thursday in 1937 saw the Coronation Fleet Review with five carriers present along with HMS Victoria and Albert III.
It was memorable for the inebriated Tommy Woodrooffe’s incoherent BBC Radio commentary when he constantly repeated, ‘The Fleet’s lit -up’.(1)
Back in the height of Empire, the Review celebrating Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee, 21 battleships and 44 cruisers were mustered.
In the 20thc reviews have marked coronations of George V in 1912, the mobilisation of the fleet in 1914, coronation of George VI in 1937, and of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
It was on June 15th that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh boarded the frigate HMS Surprise to review the armada off Spithead. Air-craft Carriers were in abundance mainly the result of WWII expansion, including Eagle, Indomitable, Illustrious, Theseus, and Perseus, others were away on duty.
In all there were 300 ships including cruisers, destroyers, frigates and minesweepers, all overflown by 300 aircraft of Fleet Air Arm.
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 was celebrated by a Royal Navy-still third largest-for on parade were 2 aircraft carriers including Ark Royal, two cruisers, one assault ship, 17 destroyers, 18 frigates, 14 submarines and a host of minor vessels and auxiliaries.
The bicentenary of Trafalgar in 2005 saw more than a 100 ships, but nearly a half were foreign.
In 2016 the Royal Navy had 77 vessels, including six destroyers, 13 frigates, 42 minor boats and 13 auxiliaries.
We had three big ships, Albion and Bulwark of the Amphibious Class, and the Amphibious Assault Vessel, Ocean (with helicopter deck). But importantly 11 nuclear submarines.(2)
However we did have 28 full, vice and rear admirals!
Tory Prime-Minister Cameron did away with carrier Ark Royal and the Jump-Jet Harriers, along with nine new RAF Nimrods about to be introduced into service, thus effectively removing the Fleet’s ‘eyes and ears’ for long range aerial surveillance and anti-submarine protection.
(1) ‘Lit-up’ can mean being intoxicated. He was celebrating on board his old ship HMS Nelson.
(2) Ocean was Fleet Flag Ship 2015.
Ref: the telegraph.co.uk. Neil Tweedie, Thomas Harding: ‘The Queen no longer rules the waves’. Sat. 2.6.2012.
Ref: royalnavy.modern.uk/Pics of Ocean and Bulwark.
Ref: Illustrated London News 22.5.1937./Pics of 1937.