Dockyard at War

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 overalls.

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 the sea.

When war ended, yard workers had repaired or refitted 2,548 vessels.

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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Inside HMS Victory

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HMS Victory

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