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Channel Fleet
Active 1690-1914
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Edward Hawke, Richard Howe, Lord St Vincent

The Channel Fleet was the Royal Navy formation of warships that defended the waters of the English Channel from 1690 to 1914.

Various fleets of Royal Navy ships have operated in the channel since the 16th century to fight (for example) the Spanish Armada in 1588 or the Dutch invasion fleet that brought William of Orange to England in 1688.

A Channel Fleet as a permanent establishment was first set up during the 18th century in order to defend England against the threat from the French naval bases at Brest, Le Havre and elsewhere in the Bay of Biscay. It was based variously at Torbay, Falmouth, and Plymouth. During the long Napoleonic Wars, many of the ships stayed at sea for months on-end being replenished with specially-built supply vessels able to bring fresh water in tanks as well as fresh food.

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. The gravel and sand dredging that the construction of a deep sea harbour required extended to gravel banks as far round the coast as Start Bay whose removal was responsible for much damaging coastal erosion.

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. On 14 December 1904 the Channel Fleet was re-styled the 'Atlantic Fleet' and the Home Fleet became the 'Channel Fleet'. (National Archives records) At some point afterwards during the leadup to the First World War, the Eighth Battle Squadron was operating with the Fleet. The Channel Fleet was absorbed into the Home Fleet after the end of the Great War.

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 favorite 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.

Commanding Officers

References

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