The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the oldest of HM Armed Forces (and is therefore known as the Senior Service). From the beginning of the 18th century until well into the 20th century, it was the most powerful navy in the world, playing a key part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power from 1815 until the early 1940s. In World War II, the Royal Navy operated almost 900 ships. During the Cold War, it was transformed into a primarily anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines, mostly active in the GIUK gap. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, its role for the 21st century has returned to focus on global expeditionary operations.
Britain was engaged in a life and death struggle with Nazi Germany when the Japanese entered World War II. Completely unprepared in the Far East, the Royal Navy lost the Repulse and the Prince of Wales to an air attack, forcing the Royal Navy all the way back to Ceylon.
In 1868, four years after the Confederate States won the Second American Revolution, the United States launched a war with Great Britain and invaded the Canadas, bringing the Royal Navy into action against them.
Despite all the experience the United States Navy had gained during the Second American Revolution and its increase in size during that conflict, the Royal Navy was still able to soundly defeat their US counterpart in battle everywhere but on the Great Lakes, and bombard the New York and Boston harbors, setting off huge fires there in retaliation for the loss of Ottawa. Royal Marines landed in San Francisco, sacked the Federal mint there and set fire to the city, and then returned to the Royal Navy vessels they had arrived on before U.S. forces could do anything about it.
Later, as the war turned against the British, the Royal Navy was able to blockade the United States' eastern seaboard, much more heavily than the US had done to the Confederacy, reducing the US merchant fleet to desperate straits. Despite this victory, the war on land was lost, and it was doubtful that England would ever get the Canadas back.
In 1588, the Royal Navy was defeated by the Spanish Armada. The Armada was thus able to proceed to the Netherlands where it rendezvoused with the Spanish army, and the army was able to land unopposed and conquer England. However, ten years later, the Royal Navy redeemed itself by destroying several Spanish ships during Robert Cecil's rebellion to restore Queen Elizabeth.
The 19th Century
During the 19th century, the Royal Navy was the world's premier navy. In 1862, it helped bring about an end to the War of Secession by threatening to break the US Naval blockade of the South with the help of the French Navy.
In 1881 during the Second Mexican War, the Royal Navy was the major Naval Force in North America. It launched the first strike of the war at sea when a small fleet based in Toronto attacked the Great Lakes cities of Rochester, Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo. As the war dragged on, the Royal Navy attacked the major US port cities of New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco. After these attacks, the US Navy was decimated and confined to ports for the remainder of the war.
The Great War
By the early 20th Century its reputation began to suffer. At the beginning of the Great War the U.S. Navy easily took the Sandwich Islands from it, and held its own against the combined might of British and Japanese naval forces throughout the remainder of the war. Their only victory in the Pacific was up in Vancouver, where with help from the Canadians and the Japanese, they bottled up the Seattle Squadron of the US Pacific Fleet. The Royal Navy managed, with great difficulty, to contain the German High Seas Fleet, And the US Atlantic Fleet, but was defeated in the South Atlantic by a joint Central Powers force of American, Chilean, and Brazilian ships. This allowed the Central Powers to cut British supply lines to Argentina, thus forcing Britain out of the war.
Though no longer the world's premier naval power, the Royal Navy remained a major naval force throughout it's empire. As the 1920s began, the Japanese began to increase it's power in the Pacific by acquiring the colonies of the Dutch East Indies and Indochina. Although no longer strong enough to contest these acquisitions, the Royal Navy was still powerful enough to prevent the Japanese from taking theirs. In Ireland, the Royal Navy also smuggled weapons across to the rebels in the northern part of the country, much to the frustration of the Irish.
After Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in the early 1930s, the Royal Navy began a rearmament program, building its own airplane carriers. Although the resurgence of power came at a cost, by a reduction of its strength in the Pacific.
The Second Great War
When the Second Great War began in 1941, the Royal Navy's prime opponent was the German High Seas Fleet, but they still had occasional clashes with the US Atlantic Fleet, as they smuggled weapons into Canada. The War for the Royal Navy got off to a promising start against the US, when they took Bermuda away from the United States in a daring feint using the carrier, HMS Ark Royal.
This helped contain the US Atlantic Fleet and allowed the RN to concentrate on the Germans in the Baltic. In early 1943, they finally won a major victory over the German fleet. However, by then, the war in North America was turning in favor of the US, and so was the Naval war in the Pacific. After their defeat at Midway, the Japanese abandoned their war with the US, and attacked the Royal Navy's Pacific Fleet, defeating them and taking Malaya.
Faced with defeat in the Pacific, and a resurgent threat from the US Atlantic Fleet, the Royal Navy was forced to try for a decisive fleet engagement against the US Navy and was decisively defeated in the North Atlantic. This lose allowed the US to retake Bermuda and the Caribbean. The Royal Navy also failed to keep US warships from smuggling weapons into Ireland to support the Irish resistance movement, while their own efforts in Canada were closed off.
As 1943 drew to a close and 1944 began, the German Navy started turning up their submarine war against the British Merchant Fleet. German superbombs dealt the killing blow, and Britain was forced to ask for an armistice. The Royal Navy emerged from the war battered but largely still intact.
By 1995, the Royal Navy was one of the mightiest military forces in the world. It performed its duties in a world in which three mighty empires- Britain, the Holy Alliance, and Russia- held sway over most of the world's land and peoples. Consequently, despite its tremendous size, the Royal Navy had not fought in a war in some time. Nonetheless, discipline held firm and its ships and sailors maintained a high state of readiness.
Possessing numerous steam-powered, steel-armored warships, the Royal Navy patrolled the world's oceans and seas and made certain that neither the Franco-Spanish Holy Alliance nor the Russian Empire, Britain's two primary rivals, tried anything at sea without meeting with swift retaliation. The Royal North American Navy, modeled closely off the senior service, assisted the Royal Navy in performing its duties and stood ready to fight beside it in the event of war.
The Royal Navy's first big challenge was during the Invasion of Norway. Although they were able to protect their troop transports, from the Germans, they proved unable to prevent the Germans from landing their own troops. As the campaign raged, it became clear that the RN was simply better than the Kriegsmarine, sinking nearly a dozen German destroyers, and a couple of cruisers, losing only a few destroyers and a carrier. In spite of these losses, the Royal Navy did not lose control of the North Sea and contained the Kriegsmarine, but their Naval air arm wasn't on par with the Luftwaffe, and they were unable to provide proper air support for the infantry.
After the 'Big Switch' in mid 1940, the Royal Navy teamed up with the Kriegsmarine against the Soviet Navy. The Royal Navy concentrated on the Barents sea while the Kriegsmarine concentrated on the Baltic Sea. However, they were unable to break through and get at the Soviet Fleet, due to sea mines and aircraft.
The Royal Navy had been waging the Battle of the Atlantic, engaging both the German, Italian, and the Japanese Navies when the Race invaded in mid 1942. Like many other navies, the Royal Navy was forced into the background, and was mainly used to ferry VIPs around the globe by submarine.
- American Front, pgs. 6-7, HC.