Royal Naval Reserve

"RNR" redirects here. For other uses, see RNR (disambiguation).
"Wavy Navy" redirects here. For video game, see Wavy Navy (video game).
Royal Naval Reserve
Active 1859–Present
Country United Kingdom
Allegiance Queen Elizabeth II
Branch Royal Navy
Role Volunteer Reserve
Website Royal Naval Reserve
Commodore-in-Chief HRH Prince Michael of Kent, GCVO
White Ensign
Naval Jack

The Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) is the volunteer reserve force of the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom. The present RNR was formed by merging the original Royal Naval Reserve, created in 1859, and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), created 1903. The Royal Naval Reserve has seen action in World War I, World War II and the Iraq War.


The Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) has its origins in the Register of Seamen, established in 1835 to identify men for naval service in the event of war, but just 400 volunteered for duty in the Crimean War in 1854 out of 250,000 on the Register.[1] This led to a Royal Commission on Manning the Navy in 1858, which in turn led to the Naval Reserve Act of 1859. This established the RNR as a reserve of professional seamen from the British Merchant Navy and fishing fleets, who could be called upon during times of war to serve in the regular Royal Navy. The RNR was originally a reserve of seamen only, but in 1862 this was extended to include the recruitment and training of reserve officers. From its creation, RNR officers wore on their uniforms a unique and distinctive lace consisting of stripes of interwoven chain.

A number of drill-ships were established at the main seaports around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, and seamen left their vessels to undertake gunnery training in a drill-ship for one month every year. After initial shore training, officers embarked in larger ships of the Royal Navy's fleet (usually battleships or battle cruisers) for one year, to familiarise themselves with gunnery and naval practice. Although under the operational authority of the Admiral Commanding Reserves, the RNR was administered jointly by the Admiralty and the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen at the Board of Trade throughout its separate existence. In 1910, the RNR (Trawler Section) was formed to recruit and train fishermen for wartime service in minesweepers and other small warships.

Members of the Royal Naval Reserve training at Tramore, County Waterford, c.1905

Officers and men of the RNR soon gained the respect of their naval counterparts with their professional skills in navigation and seamanship and served with distinction in a number of conflicts, including the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. Prior to the First World War, one hundred RNR officers were transferred to permanent careers in the regular navy—forever after referred to as "the hungry hundred". In their professional careers, many RNR officers went on to command the largest passenger liners of the day and some also held senior positions in the shipping industry and the government.

On mobilisation in 1914, the RNR consisted of 30,000 officers and men. Officers of the permanent RNR on general service quickly took up seagoing appointments in the fleet, many in command, in destroyers, submarines, auxiliary cruisers and Q-ships. Others served in larger units of the battle fleet including a large number with the West Indies Squadron who became casualties at the Battle of Coronel and later at Jutland. Fishermen of the RNR(T) section served with distinction onboard trawlers fitted out as minesweepers for mine clearance operations at home and abroad throughout the war where they suffered heavy casualties and losses. One such casualty was HM Armed Naval drifter Frons Olivae, which hit a mine off Ramsgate on 12 October 1915 in an explosion that killed at least five other seamen. One casualty, a Newfoundlander serving with the Royal Naval Reserve, was subsequently buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery, Deal, Kent.[2]

A number of RNR officers qualified as pilots and flew aircraft and airships with the Royal Naval Air Service whilst many RNR ratings served ashore alongside the RN and RNVR contingents in the trenches of the Somme and at Gallipoli with the Royal Naval Division. Merchant service officers and men serving in armed merchant cruisers, hospital ships, fleet auxiliaries and transports were entered in the RNR for the duration of the war on special agreements.

Although considerably smaller than both the RN and the RNVR (which was three times the size of the RNR at the end of the First World War), the RNR had an exceptional war record, members being awarded twelve Victoria Crosses.

Blue Ensign of the United Kingdom - worn since 1865 by British-registered merchant vessels commanded by active or retired officers of the RNR, when authorised by Admiralty warrant. The flag dates from 1801; this usage dates from 1865.

On commencement of hostilities in the Second World War, the RN once again called upon the experience and professionalism of the RNR from the outset to help it to shoulder the initial burden until sufficient manpower could be trained for the RNVR and 'hostilities only' ratings. Again, RNR officers found themselves in command of destroyers, frigates, sloops, landing craft and submarines, or as specialist navigation officers in cruisers and aircraft carriers. In convoy work, the convoy commodore or escort commander was often an RNR officer. As in the First World War, the RNR acquitted itself well, winning four VCs.

During the Second World War, no more ratings were accepted into the RNVR, which then became the main route for wartime officer entry. The service was colloquially called the "Wavy Navy", after the 3/8-inch wavy sleeve 'rings' that RNVR officers wore to differentiate them from RN/RNR officers. By Command of King George VI in 1952, these were replaced by the straight rank lacing used in the full-time RN, with the addition of a small 'R' in the centre of the executive curl on cuff and epaulette insignia. From 30 November 2007, mainly due to increasing involvement of the RNR in RN operations and deployments, the wearing of the distinctive 'R' was discontinued for all other than honorary officers. Similarly, RNR ratings no longer wear RNR shoulder flashes.

Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) nurses at work in the operating theatre.

As "nominal" members of the RNR, officers of the Sea Cadet Corps and the RN CCF Combined Cadet Force retain the use of the former RNVR 'wavy navy' lace, and are 'appointed' within their respective Corps, rather than commissioned (unless they also hold a commission as officers within the 'mainstream' RNR).

From 1938 until 1957, the RNVR provided aircrew personnel in the form of their own Air Branch. In 1947, their contribution was cut to anti-submarine and fighter squadrons only. By 1957, it was considered by the UK government that the training required to operate modern equipment was beyond that expected of reservists and the Air Branch squadrons were disbanded. The US government took a different view, and the US Navy and Marine reserve squadrons today still operate front-line types alongside the regular units. The Air Branch was reformed at RNAS Yeovilton in 1980.

The British naval reserve forces were amalgamated in 1958, and the RNR was absorbed into the much larger RNVR organisation. After 100 years of proud service, the RNR as a separate professional naval service ceased to exist. Today the majority of Merchant Navy Officers who would have joined the original RNR are now encouraged to join the modern RNR’s Amphibious Warfare (AW) Branch. The centenary of the formation of the RNVR (formed in 1903) was commemorated by the RNR in London in 2003 with a parade on Horse Guards, at which HRH Prince Charles took the salute. The Merchant Navy officers within today's RNR commemorated RNR 150 in 2009.

The officers of HMS Forward on parade in Birmingham on 11 November 2010.

Defence reviews over the last 50 years have been inconsistent. Successive reviews have seen reserve forces cut then enlarged, allocated new roles, then withdrawn, then re-imposed. Options for Change in 1990 reduced the RNR by 1,200 and closed many training centres, including HMS Calpe (Gibraltar), HMS Wessex (Southampton) and HMS Graham (Glasgow). The Strategic Defence Review in 1998 continued this by removing the RNR Cold War mine warfare role, but promised to increase the RNR by 350 posts. The restructured RNR was designed to "provide an expanded pool of personnel to provide additional reinforcements for the Fleet”, mainly in the roles of logistics and communications.

This left the mine-warfare, seaman and diving specialists in "limbo" until the second Gulf War, when the Royal Navy realised it had a pool of reservists with no real sea post. Echoing the Royal Naval Division in the First World War, the Above Water Force Protection branch was formed "from RN reservists with no draft appointment at the outbreak of war." Because of a lack of full-time personnel, mine-warfare and diving has recently returned (in part) to the RNR. Officers and ratings currently serve on active service in Full Time Reserve Service billets throughout the RN, as well as in mobilised posts in Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Balkans and the UK.

Following the disbandment of the associated Royal Naval Auxiliary Service (RNXS) in 1994, the Maritime Volunteer Service (MVS) was formed as a national maritime training organisation with charitable status. It has taken over and expanded many RNXS roles.

Trades and specialisations in the RNR

All RNR personnel, regardless of rank, are assigned to a branch of service. Most branches are open to both ratings and officers with the exception of fleet protection (ratings only) and a small number which recruit exclusively from the officer ranks. Listed below is a breakdown of branches and the sub=specialisations which are aligned to each branch.

A member of the RNR Diving Branch from HMS Dalriada' conducting continuation training at the Defence Diving School, Horsea Island, Portsmouth.

Warfare General Service Branch

  • Maritime Trade Operations
  • Diving (Under Water Force Protection)
  • Mine Warfare
  • Information Systems
  • Information Operations
  • Amphibious Warfare
  • Submarine Operations
  • Above Water Force Protection
  • Communications
  • Media Operations

Intelligence Branch

  • Defence Intelligence
  • Operational Intelligence
  • Human Intelligence

Logistics Branch

  • Logistics

Medical Branch

Chaplains Branch

Air Branch

  • Flying Operations
  • Operational Support
  • Air Engineering

New Entry Branch

  • New entry ratings
  • Ab Initio Officer Cadets

RNR units

HMS President
HMS Scotia
HMS Cambria
HMS Dalriada
HMS Flying Fox
HMS Calliope
HMS Eaglet
HMS Vivid
HMS Sherwood
HMS King Alfred
HMS Forward
HMS Hibernia
HMS Wildfire
HMS Ferret
HMS Ceres
Medway Division
Tawe Division
Tay Division
RNR unit locations in the United Kingdom

The modern RNR has fifteen Royal Naval Reserve Units (with three satellite units). These are:[3]

Personnel in the Royal Naval Reserve Air Branch are not attached to a single RNR Unit, but complete their training on regular Fleet Air Arm Units; and are administered through Staff Offices at RNAS Yeovilton and Culdrose.

The University Royal Naval Units, although under the jurisdiction of BRNC Dartmouth, are also a part of the Royal Naval Reserve. Students hold the honorary ranks of Officer Cadet (in their first year of enrolment) and Midshipman RNR (from the second year onward) provided they have completed the issued 'Taskbooks' to the satisfaction of the Commanding Officer of each unit.

Notable members of the RNR

The RNR had an exceptional war record, as evidenced by the dozen Victoria Crosses awarded in WWI; and demonstrations of exceptional merit continued in peacetime.

This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by expanding it with reliably sourced entries.

Selected men of the RNVR

Lieutenant D. M. N. Davidson (right) of the RNVR enjoying beer with members of Z Special Unit in Brisbane after the completion of Operation Jaywick

Fictitious characters

This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by expanding it with reliably sourced entries.

Colonial Reserves

A number of RNR formed before World War II:

Commonwealth Naval Reserve Forces

There are also naval reserve forces operated by other Commonwealth of Nations navies, including the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR), the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNZNVR), and the reserve force of the Royal Canadian Navy. Previously there were also colonial RNVR units, such as the Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR), Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR), Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (HKRNVR) and the South African Division of the RNVR.

See also


  1. Sondhaus, Lawrence (2004). Navies in Modern World History. Reaktion Books. p. 27. ISBN 9781861892027.
  2. "Casualty Details – Victor Joseph Benoit". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2010-03-13.
  3. e3. "The Royal Navy Reserves - Royal Navy". Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  4. The London Gazette,, 27 October 2015
  5. Foldi, N.S. (1978). Poole, Daniel (1882 – 1959)'. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, Melbourne University Press, p. 255. Retrieved on 9 August 2009.
  6. "Captain S. Robinson of the 'Empress of Asia' (1913) (G10732)". National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Retrieved 2010-03-13.
  7. "Obituary: Captain Ronald Neil Stuart", The Times (London). February 9, 1954.
  8. The Examiner. "The Navy's Woman Doctor". Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  9. Who Was Who. OUP.
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