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Alpha Tester
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Britannia ruled the waves when Queen Victoria came to the throne. Wooden sailing ships were on the decline, making way for new maritime innovations like the paddle steamer, Great Western and the iron-hulled, screw driven SS Great Britain.

The Admiralty had, however, grown complacent about Britain's command of the seas.

Steam engines had been installed in some wooden ships of the line, and smaller vessels had been constructed with the new types of propulsion or iron hulls, but it was a shock when in 1858 the French started building La Gloire, the first armoured wooden-hulled ship. La Gloire was launched in 1859.

The original intention of the French was to replace their whole fleet with iron hulls, but French industrial capacity proved incapable of delivering enough iron.

Instead, almost all ships had wooden hulls clad with iron up to 5 inches thick above the waterline. Emperor Napoleon lll was certain his projected new-look Navy could out-manoeuvre and out gun the British.

News of the construction of La Gloire and naval expansion across the Channel caused an explosion of anti-French feeling in Britain. The Press stirred fears of an invasion.

Admiral Baldwin Walker, the Surveyor of the Navy, was not convinced that ironclad warships would ever completely replace wooden ones but he recognised that the safety of the country depended on bettering the French threat as soon as possible.

The simple solution first suggested was to clad existing ships in iron. However Sir John Pakington, the First Lord of the Admiralty, supported the building of iron-hulled ships and, in November 1858, he commissioned a design.

The new ironclad was to be called Warrior after a distinguished third rate ship-of-the-line which had recently been broken up.

Warrior and her sister ship Black Prince were the fastest, largest, strongest and most powerfully- armed warships in the world, and confirmed Britain's place as the ruler of the waves.

It was a time of transition from sail to steam and Warrior would prove to be one of the fastest ships of her day.

"I often wondered how I mustered sufficient courage to order such a novel vessel" Sir John Pakington, First Lord of the Admiralty.




Warrior was first commissioned into the Royal Navy on 1st August 1861 whilst still being fitted out on the River Thames. The Honourable Arthur Cochrane, the third son of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, tenth Earl of Dundonald, was her Captain.

As she was a new and innovative ship the next few months were spent establishing her performance in trials. This led to some minor modifications and, in June 1862, Warrior was ready for active service in the Channel Squadron, patrolling coastal waters and making voyages to Lisbon and Gibraltar.

Warrior was the focus of attention wherever she went and when she toured the British ports in 1863 as many as six thousand people a day came to marvel at this symbol of British Naval power.

No wonder, as she was the largest, fastest and most heavily armoured and most heavily armed warship in the world. Not for nothing was she described as "The Black Snake amongst the rabbits in the Channel".

Although not the first iron ship, nor the first to use both sail and steam, Warrior combined these and other technological developments together and presented the greatest advance in ship design for centuries. She kept the peace by deterring the enemy. All other warships were obsolete the day Warrior was launched.

Warrior was obsolete within a decade. She was relegated to the reserve Fleet ranks and in 1883, withdrawn from sea service. She was now little more than a floating hulk, although still officially classed an armoured cruiser.

Her masts and guns were stripped when she was used as a depot ship for two years. Her name became Vernon III, the Navy's torpedo training school. Her role was supplying steam and electricity to neighbouring hulks. A year later, another armoured cruiser called Warrior was launched.

Nobody wanted the old battleship when she went up for sale in 1924. Five years on, she inherited the name Oil Fuel Hulk C77 when starting life as a ship keeper's home and floating oil jetty at Pembroke Dock in Wales.

Some 5,000 ships refuelled alongside her in her 50 years at Pembroke. However, the Royal Navy kept her in reasonable condition with occasional maintenance trips into dry dock keeping her hull intact. Warrior was the only example of the 45 iron hulls built between 1861 and 1877 to survive.


In 1883 Warrior had been superseded by newer, better armed and protected ships. On May 14th she entered Portsmouth for the last time under her own steam. In her 22 years of service, six of them in full commission and eight as a first line reserve, Warrior had sailed some 90,000 sea miles without ever seeing an enemy ship or firing a shot in anger. She had now been withdrawn from sea service - her engines, boilers and guns stripped out and, for several years she languished in 'Rotten Row', a remote corner of Portsmouth Harbour. Now little more than a floating hulk, although still officially classed an armoured cruiser Warrior was progressively forgotten.




In 1902, Warrior took on a new lease of life as she was fitted out to become mother ship to the Portsmouth flotilla of small torpedo boats. But this role was only a brief one. In 1904 she became part of the Royal Navy's Torpedo Training School at Portsmouth and was renamed Vernon III. It was hardly a return to glory as she was used to supply steam and electricity to other hulks moored alongside. A new armoured cruiser, launched in 1905, took Warrior's name.



In 1923 Vernon moved ashore and once more Warrior was paid off. But again she survived at a time when her sister ship Black Prince and many others went to the scrapyard. She was offered for sale - but there were no takers. Finally because the hull was still in excellent condition, Warrior was converted and in 1929 towed to Milford Haven for use as a floating oil jetty.


Nobody wanted the old battleship when she went up for sale in 1924. But 1929 saw another change and another name. Rescued from possible destruction - a fate suffered by her sister ship Black Prince - she was towed to Pembroke Dock in Milford Haven to begin a new life and served for 50 years as an oil jetty under the name of Oil Fuel Hulk C77. Warrior acted as home to a shipkeeper and his family.

Some 5,000 ships refuelled alongside Warrior and her armoured hull showed little sign of deterioration. She was kept in reasonable condition by the Royal Navy who dry docked her regularly. As a result Warrior was the only example of the 45 ironclads built between 1861 and 1877 to survive.

When in 1960, HMS Vanguard submitted to the cutting torch, Warrior remained as Britain's last surviving battleship - a fact not lost on several influential people




As a pivotal Royal Naval ship, Warrior had not been forgotten. In 1967 people first started to talk about restoring Warrior. Prominent in this campaign was John Smith, at the time MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, who had formed the Manifold Trust five years earlier to restore threatened items of our national heritage

Even the House of Commons heard of Warrior'sfate. MPs were told that Warrior could serve as "a potent source of education and inspiration for our children...."

Smith's drive and persistence led to a committee, chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh, meeting in 1968 to discuss Warrior's future. From this emerged the Maritime Trust, formed to raise money for the preservation of our naval heritage. Following the announcement that the oil depot would close in 1978, and that Warrior would no longer be needed, Sir John Smith agreed that the Manifold Trust would underwrite the cost of restoration, estimated between £4-8 million, and the ship was handed over to the Maritime Trust in 1979.

Warrior was towed 800 miles to Hartlepool where the world's largest maritime project ever undertaken then began.

In 1983 ownership was transferred to the Ship's Preservation Trust, which became the Warrior Preservation Trust in 1985.




In the afternoon of Friday 12th June 1987, Warrior was pulled by tugs from her moorings and she began the four day journey back to Portsmouth. Tankers, ferries and trawlers turned out all along the east coast to salute her. In the English Channel, she had a memorable encounter with HMS London, the Royal Navy's newest vessel. London signalled the message "The Navy's newest ironclad is in company with the oldest... I hope we look as good as you at your age"

On June 16th 1987, 58 years after she left Portsmouth in a terrible state, Warrior made her triumphant return. As she came slowly towards the narrow entrance to Portsmouth Harbour an armada of small boats greeted her, guns fired, klaxons sounded, crowds cheered, fireworks exploded, and thousands of red, white and blue balloons filled the air.

It could have been when, as the pride of the fleet, she had first stirred the country's imagination.

After an hour of careful manoeuvring, she entered her berth. At 5:45pm the tow rope was dropped and Warrior was home to stay - taking her place within Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.




Edited by Entombet
  • Cool 6

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Alpha Tester
229 posts
104 battles

I nearly had a tear in my eye .... What a great story!


Have you written this yourself? It would be awesome if you added some references to it. Great work though!

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