Having travelled north to take a look at the RAF Museum at Cosford, the next part of the tour was a trip back down to the south coast to Portsmouth to take a look around the Historic Dockyard area.
One of the main attractions of the area for us was HMS Victory — the flagship of Nelson’s British fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and so as soon as we arrived we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed down to see the ship. Having been built in the middle of the 18th Century, Victory is now over 250 years old and is one of the oldest wooden ships still in existence. Being able to have a good look around the ship both inside and out, and to get a feel for what the living, working and fighting conditions on one of these huge ships of the line was like was fascinating. It’s certainly well worth a visit if you’re in southern England.
The following day we spent quite a bit of time looking around a number of the other exhibits in the Historic Dockyard area. First up was HMS M.33, a coastal bombardment vessel that served at Gallipoli in 1915 – it’s a striking little ship in her geometric ‘dazzle’ camouflage, and a good reminder that many military sailors spent much of their working lives on small vessels rather than the larger naval warships.
A trip across the harbour on the Water Bus for a look around the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at Gosport is also worthwhile, and that was our next port of call. Be aware that the ferry only crosses once per hour, and that it’s limited to 74 passengers, so if you’re keen to check out the subs, make sure you get in the queue early, or you’ll need to wait much longer (I can tell you that from hard earned experience!). Once you’re there you can check out HMS Alliance from both the inside and out, and again it’s fascinating to see the conditions that the submariners lived and worked in on this submarine during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60s. Also at the museum is the Holland 1 (the Royal Navy’s first submarine) and a WW2 midget submarine both exhibits are do well and give you a chance to see what the interior of each vessel is like.
Once we were back across the harbour to the Historic Dockyard, the next ship to wander around and through was HMS Warrior. This ship built in 1860 was the first iron clad warship of the Royal Navy, and it’s a fantastic exhibit and well worth looking around. Powered by both steam and sail, and heavily armoured and armed (for a frigate class ship) at the time there was nothing else like it afloat. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the Warrior with the Victory. There are many similarities between the two ships which were built over 100 years apart, but there re many evolutionary changes in the Warrior, such as the armoured platting, the breech loading guns, and the steam powered engines that make it a great ship to visit in its own right — don’t miss it if you’re in Portsmouth.
Unfortunately our stay in Portsmouth was all too short, and we didn’t have a chance to look around the Mary Rose, the flagship of Henry the VIII’s fleet that sank in the Solent (the straits north of the Isle of Wight) while leading an attack on the galleys of a French invasion fleet in 1545. However one of the great features of a number of English museums is that the tickets you purchase are valid for 12 months — given that I’m gong to be back in the UK during the 2015 summer I’ll certainly be making a point of heading to Portsmouth again to have another good look around the Historic Dockyard.