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Channel Fleet

Channel Fleet
British ironclad HMS Minotaur as Channel Fleet flagship, after 1875.
Active 1690-1909
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Type Fleet
Garrison/HQ Torbay, Falmouth and Plymouth.

The Channel Fleet was the Royal Navy formation of warships that defended the waters of the English Channel from 1690 to 1909.


  • History 1
  • Channel Fleet in literature 2
  • Commanding officers 3
  • References 4


The Channel Fleet dates back at least to 1690 when its role was to defend England against the French threat under the leadership of Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford who was then the Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet.[1] By 1801 its main role was still to stop French ships from the French naval bases at Brest, Le Havre and elsewhere in the Bay of Biscay from entering the English Channel.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] The Channel Squadron only became a permanent formation in 1858.[5]

With the amelioration of Anglo-French relations, and the rise of German militarism towards 1900, the need for the Channel Fleet 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. On 14 December 1904 the Channel Fleet was re-styled the 'Atlantic Fleet' and the Home Fleet became the 'Channel Fleet'.[6]

On 24 March 1909, under a fleet re-organisation, the Channel Fleet became the 2nd Division of the Home Fleet.[7]

Channel Fleet 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".

Commanding officers

Commanders-in-Chief have included:[8][9]

  • Vice Admiral Lord Anson (1746–1747)


  1. ^ "Admiral Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford". The Peerage. 26 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Channel Fleet in 1801 at the Nelson Society
  3. ^ Channel Fleet The Heritage Coast
  4. ^ Portland Harbour Authority: History
  5. ^ William Loney RN: Channel Fleet
  6. ^ National Archives records
  7. ^ HMS Bulwark
  8. ^ William Loney RN
  9. ^ Whitaker's Almanacks 1900 - 1909
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