The Official History of HM Yacht Britannia was written with the unprecedented support of HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. This book presents the first comprehensive account of the Royal Yacht from her origins in the brief reign of King Edward VIII in 1936 to her preservation in Leith. Drawing on official records and an extensive series of interviews, the author provides a unique insight into life in one of the UK’s most famous ships and the first four decades of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

As part of his research, Richard interviewed a representative selection of those involved in Britannia’s rich heritage from members of the Royal Family through to junior Royal Yachtsmen, as well as, those involved in her construction and preservation. Richard also interviewed a number of former Government Ministers, former members of the Royal Household, business leaders and all of her surviving Commanding Officers. In addition to directly contributing to the book, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh KG KT, graciously agreed to write the foreword in which he paid tribute to the Yacht’s remarkable achievements and the people who made them possible.

The lowering of the White Ensign onboard HM Yacht Britannia in Portsmouth Dockyard on 11th December 1997 signalled the end of an unbroken succession of Royal Yachts dating back to the reign of King Charles II. As the latest in this long line of Royal Yachts the commissioning of Britannia in 1954 marked a significant step change from her predecessors. For the first time a British Sovereign had a Royal Yacht that was genuinely capable of sailing around the world. This capability was used to good effect with Britannia supporting the work of members of the Royal Family in locations as diverse as the Antarctic, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Africa, Russia and the Americas. In home waters Britannia became the focus of major State and Naval occasions including Fleet Reviews and The Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. In addition to these official duties, Britannia’s annual programme usually incorporated a visit to Cowes Week and a Western Isles cruise.

Although Britannia played an important role in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the project that resulted in her construction was initiated in 1936. However, the combination of King Edward VIII’s abdication, followed by the outbreak of WWII and the austerity of the early post war years delayed the placing of an order for her construction until 4 February 1952. Sadly, this event was quickly overshadowed by King George VI’s death, thereby leading to the personal involvement of The Queen and Prince Philip in the creation of what was to become one of their homes. This represented a unique opportunity for the Royal couple because their other residences had all been built by previous Monarchs.

The Admiralty appointed Patrick McBride to design the Royal Apartments. He had designed the interiors of the Cunard liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. His initial drawings followed their grand style and did not meet with the Royal couple’s approval, so Prince Philip invited Sir Hugh Casson to inject some fresh ideas. This led to a more modest interior with the feel of a country house rather than a grand palace at sea which gave visitors the impression that they were coming to the Royal couple’s home rather than an official residence.

During nearly 44 years of active service Britannia steamed 1,087,623 nautical miles conducting 696 Royal visits overseas and 272 in home waters. Britannia’s sweeping lines and immaculate appearance combined to produce a simple yet effective formula that never failed to generate an air of glamour and excitement among the people she visited. On these occasions Britannia projected the very best of Britain and enhanced the prestige of the nation abroad. Those who were privileged to see round her Engine and Boiler Rooms could hardly believe that these mundane places could sparkle and gleam with quite such brilliance. However, none of this would have been possible without Britannia’s dedicated officers and ratings of the Royal Yacht Service. Their attention to detail and sheer hard work helped to establish Britannia’s reputation for smartness and efficient seamanship.

Britannia’s original secondary role as a casualty evacuation ship was put to the test in January 1986, while on passage to New Zealand and Australia for The Queen’s visits. The Yacht was diverted to Aden to assist in the evacuation of British nationals who had been trapped by the fighting in South Yemen’s erupting civil war. Britannia’s large open spaces in the Royal Apartments, coupled with the high number of boats that she carried and civilian appearence, made her ideally suited for this mission. During Operation Balsac a total of 1,068 men, women and children of 55 different nationalities were taken to safety by Britannia. On completion of the evacuation, the Yacht resumed her voyage to New Zealand and was only one day late when she berthed in Auckland on 23 February! In later years, Britannia was used with increasing success, in-between her Royal duties, to promote British industry abroad through the hosting of sea days.

Britannia’s replacement and ultimate fate became a controversial issue during the 1997 General Election due to the failure of John Major’s Government to consult with the opposition before announcing its decision to build a new Royal Yacht on 22 January 1997. Having opposed this decision during the General Election, the recently elected Labour Government announced in October 1997 that Britannia would be decommissioned without replacement.

However, Britannia’s ultimate fate remained unresolved until April 1998 when the Government announced that she would be preserved in Leith. Within a month, Britannia had arrived in the Scottish port for conversion into a museum ship prior to being opened to the public on 19 October 1998.

In September 2001, Britannia was towed across the basin in Leith to her permanent moorings at the recently completed £120 million Ocean Terminal. The move enabled The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust to open up more areas. Early research showed that visitors wanted to see more of Britannia especially where the Yachtsmen had lived. Thus, the forward part of the main deck was opened to enable people to visit the Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officer’s messes, the Marine Barracks, the Junior Rates mess area, the Sick Bay, the Laundry, the Post Office and the NAAFI.

These changes, coupled with further developments, such as the opening of the Royal Deck Tea Room and the Trust’s acquisition of the former racing Royal Yacht Bloodhound, have helped establish Britannia as one of Scotland’s most important tourist attractions – a fact underlined by the Scottish Tourist Board’s award of its prestigious 5 star rating.

There is no doubt that the nation lost a tremendous diplomatic and business asset when Britannia paid off without replacement, although her preservation in Leith serves as a lasting memorial to the proud traditions of the Royal Yacht Service.

The two editions of this Official History were published in 2003 to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the launch of HM Yacht Britannia. These books were illustrated with over 250 photographs and artworks, many of which were published for the first time.

Product Details

Title: The Royal Yacht Britannia – The Official History

Foreword by: HRH The Duke of Edinburgh KG KT

Edition: 1st

Publisher: Conway Maritime Press

Format: Hard Back

Publication Date: May 2003

ISBN 0-85177-937-9

Number of Pages: 310

Number of Images:

RRP: £25

Remarks: This edition has been out of print since 2009

Edition: Signed Limited Edition

Publisher: Conway Maritime Press

Format: Hard Back

Publication Date: May 2003

ISBN 0-85177-965-4

Number of Published Pages: 310

Number of Images:

RRP: £50

Remarks: This edition has been out of print since 2009

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