HMS Victory 104 gun first rate ship of the line
Displacement- 3,500 tonnes
Length- 227 ft 6 inches
Propulsion- 6,510sq yards of Sail
Max speed- 11 knots (20km/h)
Current Status- Active
In 1758 the British Government placed an order for 12 new ships. This ship’s keel was laid on the 23rd July 1759 in Chatham in what is now known as No. 2 dock or Victory dock. In 1760 the ship is christened HMS Victory.
Once the ship’s hull was complete the normal process was to allow the wood to “season” or dry out for several months, this period lasted 3 years for the Victory as there was no rush to get her into active service.
Work restarted in 1763 and when the ship was launched on the 7th May 1765 a large crowd gathered including members of Parliament and the then Prime Minister William Pitt. HMS Victory cost £63,176.3s.0d in 1765. In today’s market that is around £7 million. Around 6000 trees were used in the construction of the ship, 90% of these were oak. 31 miles of rope were also required.
The start of her career wasn’t very colourful. Victory was ordered during the Seven Years war between The British and French empires and their focus was North America. By the time the ship was launched the war was going in Britain’s favor, so after initial sea trials the ship was now no longer required and was laid up on her moorings on the river Medway for 13 years.
In March 1778, after being laid up, she was finally commissioned into the active fleet under the command of Capt John Lindsay until May 1778 when Admiral Augustus Keppel made her his flagship.
Victory first put to sea in July 1778 and faced her first taste of battle at the First Battle of Ushant and then again in 1780 at the Second Battle of Ushant. In March 1780 Victory had her hull cladded in 3,923 copper sheets, new technology designed to cut down on the amount of sea life that can grow on the hull of ships and affect their speed.
In October 1782 Victory was part of an escort flotilla, tasked with protecting convoys to and from Gibraltar under the command of Admiral Richard Howe. Gibraltar was being blockaded by the French and Spanish navies. A small action took place when the fleet came to leave Gibraltar but Victory didn’t fire a shot.
In 1796, Victory flying the flag of Admiral Sir John Jervis, took part in the battle of Cape St. Vincent.
In 1797 Victory was stationed back in England at the place she was launched, the Royal Dock Yards at Chatham under the command of Lieutenant Rickman. In late 1797 she was declared unfit for active service and plans were drawn up for have her converted into either a hospital ship or a prison hulk for French POWs. Luck would be on HMS Victorys side though, in October 1799 the 98 gun second rate ship of the line HMS Impregnable was wrecked off the southern coast of England. With the fleet now being short by one ship of the line the Lordships at the Admiralty rescinded the plans for Victory in favour of reconditioning her back into service. The original cost of this was around £23,500 but with an ever growing list of repairs and replacement parts needed for the ship this refit cost around £71,000.
The 1799 refit saw the number guns carried by Victory increased to 104 from 100 and improvements such as a copper lining to her powered magazine. Her hull was also painted from her original red to black and yellow.
18th May 1803, Vice Admiral Nelson hoisted his flag aboard Victory, however the ship wasn’t fit for sea so Nelson had to transfer to a Frigate; HMS Amphion.
On 28 May after Victory finally set sail in search of Admiral Nelson and under the command of Capt Sutton she captured the 32 gun French ship Ambuscade. On 31st July Victory rejoined the fleet off Toulon, southern France, at which point Nelson again raised his flag on board and command was exchanged with Capt Hardy of the Amphion. For the rest of that year the fleet patrolled the Mediterranean looking for the French and after chasing them across the Atlantic and back again the French fleet made for the Spanish port of Cadiz.
On the morning of 21st October 1805 the combined fleets of the French and Spanish were engaged in the Battle of Trafalgar. At 0600hrs Nelson ordered his fleet into two columns which were used to break the french and Spanish column. At 1315 hrs Nelson was fatally shot by a sharpshooter while on the upper deck of Victory. Nelson died shortly after hearing that his fleet had been victorious.
After the battle Victory was very badly damaged and had been demasted during the engagement and was unable to move under her own power and had to be towed by HMS Neptune to Gibraltar for repairs. After undergoing repairs she returned to England carrying the body of Admiral Nelson, who was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral on 9th January 1806.
After undergoing a refit and repairs following the battle, Victory returned to the fleet and served until November 1812 when she was finally moored in Portsmouth and used as a depot ship.
In 1831 Victory’s former Captain and now First Sea Lord Thomas Hardy signed the order for the ship to be broken up, but the story has it that upon returning home and informing his wife of this she became upset and told him to go back to the Admiralty and destroy the order. Even though this is a story the duty log of 1831 which should contain the order has the page for the day in question torn out.
After this she was largely forgotten about until 1889 when the ship was refitted as a signal school training signallers for the fleet. She carried this role until 1904 when the school was moved ashore to the Naval Barracks.
Over the years the ship was laid up at her moorings in Portsmouth, her condition deteriorated, in 1903 the hulk of HMS Neptune was being towed out of Portsmouth harbor when her tow line broke. This hulk was blown by the wind and tides and stuck Victory causing her damage below the water line. Emergency repairs were carried out which prevented her from sinking, but this looked like the final straw for the Admiralty and it was only after HRH King Edward VII intervened and stopped the plans to scrap her.
The public again found interest in the ship due to the celebrations of the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905, Electric lights were used to decorate the ship, powered by a submarine moored alongside to illuminate her during the evening celebrations. Finally in 1910 the first moves were made to save the ship for future generations, the Society of Nautical Research was created.
In 1911 a book titled “The Book of British Ships” described Victory’s condition as “nothing short of an insult”. In 1921 the “Save The Victory Campaign” began and in 1922 she was moved to No 2 dock in Portsmouth which was the oldest dry dock still in use in the world. This was done due to the ship not being able to stay afloat safely due to her condition. Work on the ship continued from 1922 until 1929 to restore parts of the ship with King George visiting her in 1928.
Restoration work was halted on Victory during WW2 and in 1941 She was damaged by bombing by the Luftwaffe which destroyed some of the structure around the ship and damaged her masts. At one point German propaganda claimed to have destroyed the ship but these claims were denied by the Admiralty.
In 1920 the decision was taken to restore the ship to her configuration (as recommended by the Society of Nautical Research) as at the Battle of Trafalgar but this work wasn’t completed until 2005 just in time for the Trafalgar 200 celebrations. The long time was required to secure the ship in a sustainable manner which included removing bulkheads during the 1950s to allow for the fumigation against deathwatch beetles which were damaging the ship’s wooden hull.
Since October 2012 Victory has been the official flagship of the First Sea Lord and prior to 2012 has been the flagship for the Second Sea Lord. HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and the current commanding officer Lt Commander Brian Smith is her 101st Captain. On paper HMS Victory still has a large number of officers and men stationed aboard, this is due to all members of the Royal Navy having to be listed onboard a ship or shore establishment. Members of the service posted to places such as the Ministry Of Defence will be recorded on paper as crew on board the ship.
The Ship is currently undergoing the most extensive refit since Trafalgar and since 2012 ownership of the ship was transferred from the MoD to the HMS Victory Preservation Trust, a part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.