The cornerstone of the British military and most prominent service for centuries has been the Royal Navy. The fact that the United Kingdom is an island nation, separated from the rest of Europe and the world, necessitated the creation of a first-class navy to ensure security, facilitate trade, and dominate its once global empire. Stretching from the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to taskforce secured victory in the Falklands War, the Royal Navy played a vital role in shaping British military successes. Despite this long tradition of domination of the seas, today’s Royal Navy is a shadow of its former self.
The height of British seapower was reached during the Second World War. In 1945 the Royal Navy included 280 fighters and destroyers, 66 submarines, 29 cruisers, and 12 carriers. As of April 2020, the Royal Navy had a fleet of 70 total vessels. Another staggering comparison is the number of enlisted personnel in the Royal Navy. At the end of World War II, 861,000 service members were enlisted; by 1955, the number was 128,000. In 1991 the Royal Navy was made up of 62,000 personnel; in 2017, the total is 29,280.
An incident in January 2018 illustrates the current state of the Royal Navy. Three Russian naval vessels going through the English Channel were intercepted by a British minehunter rather than a frigate. The minehunter was deployed due to a shortage of vessels and personnel. Stories such as this one depict the decline of the power of British naval forces, which once were the envy of the world.
The drastic decrease in vessels and personnel in the Royal Navy over the past several decades can be explained in various ways. Since World War II, the method of fighting a war has changed dramatically and has the United Kingdom’s standing in the world. Following World War II, the British Empire was disbanded as countries gained their independence, meaning the UK treasury suffered. The decrease in Naval spending was also not a partisan issue since the decline continued through Conservative and Labour governments with very different philosophies. The overriding theme of this observation is that as countries and ways of fighting change, so can the sentimental parts of military forces.