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HMS Victory

HMS Victory - Mast and Rigging
HMS Victory, 100 is the oldest ship still in commission, rivaled only by USS Constitution, three decades younger and still afloat and seaworthy. Victory is permanently drydocked.

Her keel was laid down in Chatham on July 23, 1759, and she was launched on May 7, 1765. She weathered at the dock for 13 years until she was commissioned in 1778 under the command of Rear Admiral John Campbell (1st Captain) and Captain Jonathan Faulknor (2nd Captain), with the flag of Admiral the Honorable Augustus Keppel.

Keppel put to sea from Spithead on July 9, 1778, with a force of 30 ships of the line and, on July 23rd, sighted a French fleet of 29 sail 100 miles west of Ushant. The French Admiral, the Comte d'Orvilliers, who had orders to avoid battle, was cut off from Brest but retained the weather gage. Two of his ships to windward escaped into port leaving him with 27. The two fleets manoeuvered during shifting winds and a heavy rain squall until a battle became inevitable with the British more or less in column and the French in some confusion. However, the French managed to pass along the British line to windward with their most advanced ships. At about a quarter to twelve Victory opened fire on Bretagne, 110, followed by Ville de Paris, 90. The British van escaped with little loss but Sir Hugh Palliser's rear division suffered considerably. Keppel made the signal to wear and follow the French but Palliser did not conform and the action was not resumed. Keppel was court-martialled and cleared and Palliser criticised by an enqiry before the affair turned into a party political squabble.

On December 2, 1781, Victory, now commanded by Captain Henry Cromwell and bearing the flag of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, sailed with 11 other ships of the line, a 50 and five frigates, to intercept a convoy which sailed from Brest on December 10. Ignorant of the fact that the French Comte de Guichen had twenty-one ships of the line, Kempenfelt ordered a chase when they were sighted on December 12 and began the Battle of Ushant. When he noted the French superiority he contented himself with capturing 15 sail of the convoy. The French were dispersed in a gale and forced to return home.

In 1796 Captain Robert Calder (First Captain) and Captain George Grey (Second Captain) commanded Victory under Admiral Sir John Jervis's flag. Sir John sailed from from the Tagus on January 18, 1797, and after being reinforced on February 6 by five ships from England, his fleet consisted of 15 sail of the line and six frigates. On February 14, the Portuguese frigate Carlotta, commanded by a Scotsman named Campbell with a Portuguese commission, brought news that a Spanish fleet was close. Jervis maneuvered to intercept, and the Battle of Cape St. Vincent was joined. Principe de Asturias, leading the Spanish lee division, tried to break through the British line ahead or astern of Victory but that ship poured such a tremendous fire into her, followed by several raking broadsides, that the whole Spanish division wore round and bore up. Horatio Nelson, in HMS Captain (primarily), also played a decisive role in this action.

In February 1798, Victory was stationed as a prison ship at Chatham under the command of Lieutenant J. Rickman. In 1799, Rickeman was relieved by Lieutenant J. Busbridge. In 1801, Victory was rebuilt.

Lord Nelson hoisted his flag in Victory in May 1803 with Samuel Sutton as his flag captain. His Lordship sailed to assume command in the Mediterranean on May 20 but removed into the frigate Amphion. On May 28th Captain Sutton captured the French Embuscade, 32, bound for Rochefort from San Domingo. Victory rejoined Lord Nelson off Toulon on July 30 when Captain Sutton exchanged with Captain Thomas Hardy into Amphion.

Victory was passing the island of Toro on April 4, 1805, when Phoebe brought the news that the French fleet under Pierre-Charles Villeneuve had escaped from Toulon. While Nelson made for Sicily to see if the French were heading for Egypt, Villeneuve was entering Cadiz to link up with the Spanish fleet. On May 7 Nelson reached Gibraltar and received his first definite news. The British fleet completed their stores in Lagos Bay, Portugal, on May 10 and two days later sailed westward with ten ships and three frigates in pursuit of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet of 17 ships. They arrived in the West Indies to find that the enemy was sailing back to Europe where Napoleon Bonaparte was waiting for them with his invasion forces at Boulogne.

The combined fleet were involved in an indecisive action in fog off Ferrol with Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron on July 22 before taking refuge in Vigo and Ferrol to land wounded and abandon three damaged ships. Calder on August 14 and Nelson on August 15 joined Admiral Cornwallis's Channel Fleet off Ushant. Nelson continued to England in Victory leaving his Mediterranean fleet with Cornwallis who detached 20 of his 33 ships of the line and sent them under Calder to find the combined fleet at Ferrol. On August 19 came the worrying news that the enemy had sailed from there, followed by relief when they arrived in Cadiz two days later. On the evening of Saturday, September 28, Lord Nelson joined Lord Collingwood's fleet off Cadiz, quietly, so that his presence would not be known.

When Admiral Villeneuve learned that he was to be removed from command he took his ships to sea on the morning of October 19, first sailing south towards the Mediterranean but then turning north towards the British fleet, beginning the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson had already made his plans: to break the enemy line some two or three ships ahead of their Commander in Chief in the centre and achieve victory before the van could come to their aid. In the event fitful winds made it a slow business. For five hours after Nelson's last manoeuvering signal the two columns of British ships slowly approached the French line before Royal Sovereign, leading the lee column, was able to open fire on Fougueux. Twenty-five minutes later Victory broke the line between Bucentaure and Redoubtable firing a double-shotted broadside into the stern of the former from a range of a few yards. At 25 minutes past one Nelson was shot, the fatal ball entering his left shoulder and lodging in his spine. He died at half past four. Such killing had taken place on Victory's quarter-deck that Redoubtable attempted to board her, but the marines and small arms men repelled them. Nelson's last order was for the fleet to anchor but this was rejected by Vice Admiral Collingwood. Victory lost 57 killed and 102 wounded.

Victory took Nelson's body to England where, after lying in state at Greenwich, the burial took place in St. Paul's Cathedral on January 6, 1806.

Victory bore many Admiral's flags after Trafalgar, and sailed on numerous expeditions, including two Baltic campaigns under Admiral Sir James Saumarez. Her active career ended on November 7, 1812, when she was moored in Portsmouth Harbour off Gosport.

Over the next century, Victory slowly deteriorated at her moorings. A campaign to save her started in 1921 and in 1922 the fragile hull was moved into the oldest drydock in the world: No.2 dock at Portsmouth. Restoration continued and in 1928 King George V was able to unveil a tablet celebrating the completion of the work, which still continues.

HMS Victory is still in commission as the flagship of the Second Sea Lord in his role as admiral in command of the Royal Navy's Home Command.

Originally from, with the author's permission.

Admirals who have hoisted flags in Victory

Admiral The Honorable Augustus Keppel May 16, 1778 October 28, 1778
Admiral Sir Charles Hardy March 19, 1779 May 14, 1780
Admiral Geary May 24, 1780 August 28, 1780
Rear Admiral Francis W Drake September 26, 1780 December 29, 1780
Vice Admiral Sir Hyde Parker March 20, 1781 May 31, 1781
Commodore John Elliot June 1781 August 1781
Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt September 10, 1781 March 11, 1782
Admiral Lord Howe April 20, 1782 November 14, 1782
Admiral Lord Howe July 1790 August 1790
Admiral Lord Hood August 1790 August 1791
Rear Admiral Sir Hyde Parker February 6, 1793 May 1793
Admiral Lord Hood May 6, 1793 December 15, 1794
Rear Admiral John Man July 8, 1795 September 27, 1795
Vice Admiral Robert Linzee October 1795 November 1795
Admiral Sir John Jervis December 3, 1795 March 30, 1797
Vice Admiral Lord Nelson May 8, 1803 October 21, 1805
Admiral Sir James Saumarez March 18, 1808 December 9, 1808
Admiral Sir John Moore December 1808 January 23, 1809
Admiral Sir James Saumarez April 8, 1809 December 1809
Admiral Sir James Saumarez March 11, 1810 December 3, 1810
Rear Admiral Sir Joseph Yorke December 1810 March 1811
Admiral Sir James Saumarez April 2, 1811 December 25, 1811,
Admiral Sir James Saumarez April 14, 1812 October 15, 1812
In Ordinary December 18, 1812 January 31, 1824
Commissioner Sir Michael Seymour 1824
Paid off April 30, 1827 October 21, 1831
became Flagship of Port Admiral
Rear Admiral Sir F L Maitland 1832
Rear Admiral D Pleydell Bouverie 1837
Rear Admiral Hyde Parker 1842
Rear Admiral W H Shiffeff 1847
Admiral Sir C. Ogle March 20, 1848 December 19, 1848
Admiral Sir T B. Capel December 20, 1848 December 19, 1851
Admiral Sir Thomas Briggs December 20, 1851 March 19, 1853
Vice Admiral Sir Thomas J. Cochrane March 20, 1854 March 19, 1856
Vice Admiral Sir George F. Seymour March 20, 1856 March 19, 1859
Admiral William Bowles March 20, 1859 March 19, 1860
Vice Admiral Henry Bruce March 20, 1860 December 19, 1864
Vice Admiral Sir Michael Seymour December 20, 1864 March 19, 1866
Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley March 20, 1866 March 20, 1869
Tender to HMS Duke of Wellington December 20, 1869 September 1, 1891
Admiral The Hon Earl of Clanwilliam August 1, 1891 September 17, 1894
Admiral Sir Nowell Salmon VC September 18, 1894 August 31, 1897
Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour September 1, 1897 November 17, 1900
Admiral Sir Charles F Hotham November 18, 1900 September 30, 1903
Admiral Sir John A. Fisher October 1, 1903 March 18, 1904
The Port Admiral's flag moved to Hercules and on February 1, 1905, to Firequeen
Admiral Sir Archibald L Douglas March 18, 1905 March 1, 1907
Admiral Sir Day H Bosanquet March 2, 1907 March 17, 1908
Admiral Sir Arthur D. Fanshawe March 18, 1908 April 30, 1910
Admiral Sir Assheton Gore Gurzon-Howe May 1, 1910 March 17, 1911
Admiral Sir Arthur W. Moore March 18, 1911 July 31, 1912
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Hedworth Meux August 1, 1912 February 17, 1916
Admiral The Hon Sir Stanley Colvill February 18, 1916 April 17, 1919
Admiral Sir Cecil Burney April 18, 1919 June 17, 1920
Admiral Hon Sir Arthur Gough-Calthorpe June 18, 1920 May 31, 1923
Admiral Sir Sidney Robert Fremantle June 1, 1923 April 1, 1926
Admiral Sir Osmond de Beauvior Brock May 18, 1926 April 30, 1929
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes May 1, 1929 June 17, 1931
Admiral Sir Arthur Waistell June 18, 1931 February 17, 1934
Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Kelly February 18, 1931 August 31, 1936
Admiral of the Fleet The Earl of Cork and Orrery August 18, 1937 June 30, 1939
Admiral Sir William M. James July 1, 1939 September 30, 1942
Admiral Sir Charles Little October 1, 1942 September 28, 1945
Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton September 29, 1945 June 29, 1947
Admiral Lord Fraser of North Cape June 30, 1947 April 18, 1949
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Algernon Willis April 19, 1949 October 17, 1950
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur J. Power October 18, 1950 October 17, 1952
Admiral Sir John Edelsten October 18, 1952 October 17, 1954
Admiral of the Fleet Sir George E Creasy October 18, 1954 July 17, 1957
Admiral Sir Guy Grantham July 18, 1957 July 17, 1959
Admiral Sir Manley L Power July 18, 1959 January 17, 1962
Admiral Sir Alexander N C Bingley January 18, 1962 January 17, 1963
Admiral Sir Wilfrid J. W. Woods January 18, 1963 September 9, 1965
Admiral Sir Varyl C. Begg September 10, 1965 June 9, 1966
Admiral Sir Frank E. Hopkins June 10, 1966 October 30, 1967
Admiral Sir John B. Frewen October 31, 1967 February 27, 1970
Admiral Sir Horace R. Law February 28, 1970 February 28, 1972
Admiral Sir Andrew Lewis February 29, 1972 June 29, 1974
Admiral Sir Derek Empson June 30, 1974 October 30, 1975
Admiral Sir Terence Lewin October 31, 1975 October 30, 1976
Admiral Sir David Williams October 31, 1976 October 30, 1978
Admiral Sir Richard Clayton October 31, 1978 June 30, 1981
Admiral Sir James Eberle July 1, 1981 December 31, 1983
Admiral Sir Desmond Cassidi January 1, 1983 October 30, 1984
Admiral Sir Peter Stanford October 31, 1984 October 30, 1987
Admiral Sir John Woodward October 31, 1987 October 30, 1989
Admiral Sir Jeremy Black October 31, 1989 March 30, 1991
Admiral Sir John Kerr March 31, 1991 March 30, 1993
Admiral Sir Michael Layard March 31, 1993 March 30, 1994
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce March 31, 1994 March 30, 1997
Admiral Sir John Brigstocke March 31, 1997 January 18, 2000
Vice Admiral Sir Peter Spencer January 19, 2000 present

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