Portsmouth Dockyard played a key role in both World
Wars, keeping both naval and merchant vessels at sea.
When World War One began in 1914, production of the
Grand Fleet battleships was in full flow. The demands
of war put tremendous pressure on the yard and its workforce.
A manpower shortage in 1915 was caused by the increased
workload and skilled men joining up.
The yard started employing women for the first time.
They came from all walks of life and were called "Triangle
Girls" because of the distinctive badges on their
By 1918, 23,000 people were working around the clock
at the yard. During the four years of conflict, Portsmouth
Royal Dockyard refitted 1,200 vessels. These included
40 battleships, 25 cruisers, over 400 destroyers, 150
torpedo boats, 140 trawlers and 20 submarines. Two battleships
and five submarines were constructed. The yard was a
principal target for the Germans and it was bombed by
a Zeppelin in 1916.
As World War Two loomed in 1939, a much reduced workforce
sprang into action, fitting anti-aircraft guns on hundreds
of trawlers and merchant ships. The battleship Queen
Elizabeth was being rebuilt and numerous other vessels
were in for refit. Those workers who had left to join
up were recalled. Soon, the workforce rocketed to 25,000.
Within a year, ships were packed sardine-fashion into
the yard, many of them from occupied countries. This
put enormous pressure on the workers, who took dual
roles as Home Guard or Auxiliary Fire Service members,
air raid wardens or fire watchers. Enemy bombing raids
left a wake of death and mass destruction in Portsmouth,
so large ships were sent north to safer dockyards.
Portsmouth's greatest hour was as the assembly point
for the invasion of Normandy. Tens of thousands of soldiers
and sailors collected in the city as engineers finished
the Mulberry harbours and PLUTO, the fuel pipeline under
When war ended, yard workers had repaired or refitted
Localised conflicts in Korea, Suez, Borneo and Aden
followed. The yard continued fitting out the fleet but
this time with nuclear age technology. Defence cuts
became the new threat.
Yard workers showed their skills during the Falklands
War in 1982. Although some had been made redundant,
they carried on around the clock, loading thousands
of tons of stores, fuel and ammunition, fitting helicopter
pads and guns to merchant ships.
This was an extremely high profile operation for Portsmouth
and the yard as it was the first time television had
covered a task force going to war.
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