Channel Fleet

Channel Fleet
British ironclad HMS Minotaur as Channel Fleet flagship, c. 1875-1887.
Active 1858-1909, 1914-1915
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
Type Fleet
Garrison/HQ Torbay, Falmouth and Plymouth.

The Channel Fleet and originally known as the Channel Squadron was the Royal Navy formation of warships that defended the waters of the English Channel from 1858 to 1909 and 1914 to 1915.


Throughout the course of Royal Navy's history there had been different squadrons stationed in home waters one of the earliest known naval formations to be based at Plymouth was called the Western Squadron [1][2][3] which was the forerunner of the Channel Squadron that was later known as the Channel Fleet.[4] In 1650 Captain William Penn, Commander-in-Chief, was charged with guarding the Channel from Beachy Head to Lands End with six ships. This system continued following the Restoration. It was the start of what was to become a Western Squadron [5]. In 1690 the squadron operated out of Plymouth Dockyard during wartime periods which was for most of the 18th century and early 19th century.[6][7] In 1858 The Channel Squadron and sometimes known as the Particular Service Squadron was established.[8]

During the 19th century, as the French developed Cherbourg as a base for steam-powered ships, the Royal Navy developed Portland Harbour as a base for the fleet.[9] The harbour was built between 1849 and 1872 when the Royal Navy created a breakwater made of blocks from local quarries on the Isle of Portland.[10] The Channel Squadron only became a permanent formation in 1858.[11]

With the amelioration of Anglo-French relations, and the rise of German militarism towards 1900, the need for a Channel Formation diminished and the main European naval arena shifted to the North Sea. Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson was officially "Senior Officer in Command of the Channel Squadron" from 1901 to 1903. His subordinate flag officer in that squadron was the Second-in-Command, who commanded a division of battleships. For the period 1858 to 1903 the Channel squadron was often incorrectly referred to as the Channel Fleet.[12]

On 17 April 1903 The Right Hon. Lord Charles Beresford was appointed Vice-Admiral Commanding, Channel Squadron.[13] On 6 May 1903 Admiral Beresford was informed by the Admiralty "that for the future the Channel Squadron shall be known as the Channel Fleet."[14] On 14 December 1904 the Channel Fleet was re-styled the 'Atlantic Fleet' and the Home Fleet became the 'Channel Fleet'.[15]

On 24 March 1909, under a fleet re-organisation, the Channel Fleet became the 2nd Division of the Home Fleet.[16]

Admirals commanding[]

Post holders have included:[17][18]

Vice-Admiral Commanding, Channel Squadron
Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet

Note Channel Fleet is re-named Atlantic Fleet 1909-1914

Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet


Post holders included:[19]

Second-in-Command, Channel Squadron

In literature[]

The Channel Fleet features in several historical novels about the Royal Navy, notably Hornblower and the Hotspur by C. S. Forester, in which Forester's fictional hero becomes a favourite of the real Channel Fleet commander, Admiral William Cornwallis. The fleet also features in several of the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian.

The novel Billy Budd by Herman Melville is set on board ships of the Channel Fleet, in the immediate aftermath of the Spithead and Nore mutinies of 1797.

In the novel The War of the Worlds, the Channel Fleet protects the huge mass of refugee shipping escaping from the Essex coast in the face of the Martian onslaught. The initial heroic fight of HMS Thunder Child and the subsequent general engagement, is detailed in the chapter entitled "The Thunderchild".


  1. ^ Weigley, Russell F. (2004). The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo. Indiana University Press. p. 331. ISBN 0253217075. 
  2. ^ Ranft, Bryan (1995). The Oxford illustrated history of the Royal Navy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 144. ISBN 9780198605270. 
  3. ^ "THE ROYAL NAVY AND THE FRENCH WARS: THE LONG-TERM BACKGROUND: by Jeremy Black, University of Exeter" (PDF). The Napoleonic Society, 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2017. 
  4. ^ Mackesy, Piers (1964). The War for America: 1775-1783. Lincoln, Nebraska, USA: U of Nebraska Press. p. 192. ISBN 0803281927. 
  5. ^ Saunders, Andrew (1997). Book of Channel defences. London: Batsford [u.a.] p. 32. ISBN 9780713475944. 
  6. ^ Annal, David; Collins, Audrey (2012). Birth, Marriage and Death Records: A Guide for Family Historians. Casemate Publishers. p. 24. ISBN 9781848845725. 
  7. ^ "Royal Navy Dockyards: Plymouth". Royal Museums Greenwich, 2017. Retrieved 27 December 2017. 
  8. ^ Harley, Simon; Lovell, Tony. "Channel Squadron (Royal Navy) - The Dreadnought Project". Harley & Lovell, 26 November 2017. Retrieved 27 December 2017. 
  9. ^ Channel Fleet The Heritage Coast
  10. ^ Portland Harbour Authority: History Archived December 31, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ William Loney RN: Channel Fleet
  12. ^ Davis, Peter. "The Times newspaper on the Channel Squadron, 1858-1862". Peter Davis. Retrieved 27 December 2017. 
  13. ^ Harley & Lovell, 2017
  14. ^ Harley & Lovell, 2017
  15. ^ National Archives records
  16. ^ HMS Bulwark Archived August 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Mackie, Colin. "Royal Navy Senior Appointments from 1865" (PDF). Colin Mackie, December 2017. Retrieved 27 December 2017. 
  18. ^ Whitaker's Almanacks 1900 - 1909
  19. ^ Harley & Lovell, 2017


Further reading[]