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The issue with docks/dry docks has been a constant issue in the UK for the Royal Navy. Admiral von Tirpitz once commented I think it was to Jellicoe in the early 20th century that he found the UK government strange, they build ships to fit docks, whereas in Germany they build docks to take the ships that he needs.
It appears that 100 years later we still have the same problem.


Not doubting that was thought of and said. But I find that strange considering RN ships were generally bigger, and we did have large dry docks at Liverpool, Gibraltar, a number of big floating docks and the Porthsmouth locks (the 925′ by 110′ dimensions) could take the I3 battlecruiser (fast battleship) design which actually gain some board approval but meant for a later date.


What about the large dry dock at Gibralter? The battleship Vanguard was dry docked there.

Joe Simmons

Yes. Well donw

Kevin Martinez

We would love to dry dock the carriers in Gibraltar. The government here would be willing, I think, to invest in our capabilities here, as should the MOD.


Kevin is the dry dock large enough to take the carriers?


Unfortunately the large dry dock at Gibraltar is only 272m long!


Thanks Ian


What would happen if there was an issue in the Far East, can the King George VI dock in Singapore support the carriers?


Captain Cook Dock in Sydney 345m long and 45m wide and has docked many famous RN carriers in the past.


Judging by the appalling lack of escorts for these ships and their laughably small ‘air wings’, sounds like the ‘issue’ would likely end up as Force Z v. 2.0.

Unless the USN could spare some hulls/subs/etc.


It wouldn’t be Nells and Bettys this time.
On a serious note, I will not be surprised to see American assets as part of a QE/PW task force in the future, especially since QE’s maiden deployment will have a Marine F-35 squadron on board.


There’s no choice, there’s no way that they can survive against any serious opposition without American help.Its doubtful if the American carriers could survive either.


I want the RN to succeed. I really do…but I fear that carrier advocates in the USN/RN of today are going down the same path as the ‘battleship admirals’ of the 1920s-30s. And I say this as a former sailor and huge fan of carrier aviation. What admiral in his right mind is going to hazard a $20 billion dollar ‘Ford’-class ship against the missile threats that even some ‘pissant’ navies and air forces have?

We’d be far better off building standoff missile-heavy ‘arsenal’ semi-submersibles that would combine the best of ships and subs…and investing other $$ in cyber-warfare and ECM.

JMHO of course….


If the RN is serious about crew retention then it needs to prioritise building a dock in Portsmouth. Time crew spend with a ship dry docked away from home base as to either come out of sea time or home time allowance. If we as a nation want the carriers to be a sea representing the country it needs to pay for a dry dock at home base.


Very good point, but it’s another one of those common sense vs political “sense”.

Common sense dictates exactly what you said, concentrating all of the infrastructure in a single location for efficiency and to the benefit of the crews. Logic like this would’ve also saved Portsmouth’s shipbuilders, or lead to a sustainable construction plan being implemented years ago.

Political sense spreads everything around the country to benefit as many different constituencies (and therefore voters) as possible. Long term gains and strategic benefits are ignored in the name of short term budgets and opinion polls.


The Harland and Wolff dock shown is the building dock, which couldn’t take the QEC as the depth is 8.4m. You need a picture of the Belfast dock, which doesn’t have the gantry cranes.


KGV Dock in Southampton could be a RN asset.
Currently its chiefly used for docking ships exporting scrap. Its long enough. It needs moving the pumphouse and a new gate.


I’d rule out the KGV dock as unsuitable and unsustainable. It would need more infrastructure investment, as well as massive security upgrades, and after all of that it’s still in a very busy civilian port with no military role.


…and I doubt if KGV Southampton has sufficient beam to accommodate our new carriers.


It is wide enough except the pump house is in the way of the carrier’s sponsons. There is enough power about and I agree you would need some workshops. Security is very tight for the cruise liners that dock in Southampton.
It is economic because its very close to Portsmouth, was built with Government funds, and is purpose built. As it stands its a wasted asset, which can of course be said for other options and its not in a development area but the same can be said for anywhere on the south coast. It will be down to politics because locationwise its the best option excepting Portsmouth itself.


KGV Dock is 366m long by 41m wide and certainly deep enough. Meaning it seems to be long and wide enough for Gerald Ford and Nimitz class carriers. For 30 years the largest dry dock in the world bar none. Only in the UK could we waste such an asset so effectively.


There’s a world of difference between the security for a cruise liner and the security required for military vessels. Being close to Portsmouth doesn’t make it economical, and being in a busy civilian port doesn’t even make it particularly convenient. There’s also the issue that both the dock and the pump house are listed buildings, complicating matters immensely.

Aside from all of the investment it needs to make it suitable, how would it be sustainable? The current owners clearly don’t intend to utilise it for ship repair work, so it would have no use outside of carrier refits every few years. That isn’t enough to warrant the investment over better existing sites who can keep the necessary workforce busy.

Portsmouth has to be the best case scenario, with investment in Rosyth to make it more convenient probably the next best option.


I just dont buy into the theory that security would be a huge issue for KGV dock. Marchwood until closed was just across the water and there were no issues with that. Neither do I buy into the listed status of the dock being an insurmountable problem.


Temporarily ignoring the security and listed status then, you’ve still not suggested any way in which the dock would be sustainable. It’s all well and good having a dry dock big enough, but there’s no industry there to keep the facilities busy in the ~4 year gaps between QEC refits. The owners aren’t interested in making that investment, so the government takes on all of the costs of another shipyard, which is economic suicide.

I’ll say it again, Portsmouth is the best bet, with dredging and widening Rosyth’s entrance coming in second. The only argument AGAINST Rosyth is the potential for Scottish independence, and the best way to thwart independence is to maintain Scotland as an integral part of the UK.


As it stands the Drydock is in effect derelict. No Gate and with the pumps unmaintained. There is a capital cost in a new gate, security and pumps and moving the pump house. However that said IMHO we need a large D/Dock close to Portsmouth and even better if its in the Solent (England).
I can see that the RN might not want to own another Dockyard outright but if they gave the operators work every other year on the two carriers a financial case can be made. Its location and relatively low cost that would be its appeal.


All things being equal, the government would be better off going back to running its own docks rather than relying on BAE Systems.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that these carriers are unlikely be see many refits because the UK cannot afford them or enough aircraft for them to operate effectively. At some point within the next 10 years, a government is likely to finally admit this and bite the bullet by selling them. There will simply be little else to cut amongst the Navy and other defence capabilities to pay their continued operation (especially considering cost of Trident replacement). What F35s the Navy has already purchased would likely go the air force.


Cutting the spendthrift international aid budget alone would give the all our armed forces, not just the Navy, the funds they need. No government is going to commit the political suicide that would come from selling/ scrapping the carriers. Dream on Davidovich!


Unfortunately, we can’t just cut the aid budget, as it’s partially set by the UN and scrapping it would likely have some pretty serious implications for our international standing.

Spending it in a more efficient way, however, is certainly plausible. The proposed hospital ships are a great example, with the added benefit of reducing the pressure on the armed forces.


in the discussion…Indeed, providing we build them in The UK and support a stronger naval shipbuilding capability


The 0.7% target of GDP is simply a target set by the UN in 1970. Last I heard only 5 or 6 countries have bothered to match it, including the UK. Scrapping it or rolling it back to a far smaller figure would simply require an act of Parliament.
What it would signify internationally is that we were no-longer going to be told by others what we should or shouldn’t spend our money on.


What it would signify internationally is that we’re withdrawing from international commitments. The UK is the world LEADER in soft power, carrying massive diplomatic weight: do you really think it would be wise to damage that standing by failing to meet the standards we impose on others?


No it would simply show that we’re agreeing with the 99% of countries that have decided not to make the 0.7% commitment to international aid. We don’t impose standards on others, the 0.7% is optional. We’d only be ‘damaged’ in the eyes of the corrupt bureaucrats in those countries who receive the aid who trouser as much of it as possible.
Trade will improve the lot of the people of poor nations, not throwing wads of cash at them.


I’d double check the clearance at Inchgreen. Seems harsh to say access is excellent compared to Rosyth when my understanding is Inchgreen max draft is less than that of QEC.

David Graham

Ref access you are correct. The channel in the Clyde leading to Glasgow commences at the container port/liner terminal at Greenock, well to the west of Inchgreen. A vessel going into the dock requires to make a right turn into the dock just east of the Great Harbour. All well and good but for the fact that the prevailing [often strong] wind is west or west-southwest, blowing directly against the vessel when facing roughly south on entering. I left the Great Harbour in HMS Blake [as converted with large hangar aft] in the mid 70s in fair condition which nevertheless required 5 tugs in attendance. Lithgows [the yard was east of Inchgreen] built VLCCs in two halves, which were joined in the Great Harbour and fitted out there, and great care was needed to choose a suitable weather window when they were manoeuvred out via the Inchgreen entrance to go on trials, so going into and exiting from Inchgreen Dry Dock is not as easy as it seems. Having been brought up in Greenock, I watch the progress or other wise of the former Firth of Clyde Dry Dock with some interest.


Loads of viable options, lots of plan Bs – looks like it’s gonna be ok. Banish the thought of investing in new/modified docks – best spend the money elsewhere eg. Forces housing.


If only we hadn’t built them so big……

Meirion X

You know the score on this issue by now!


Building 40,000 ton carriers would have been a even bigger mistake than building 70,000 ton carriers without cats and traps.
But the decision to use the F35B has been made and now the RAF and Navy have to make it work.

But I do find it amusing than when they decided to base them at Portsmouth they failed to enlarge the dry docks when they upgraded the shore facilities another bean counting exercise which will cost us more in the long term.


Why would 40,000 tonne carriers have been more of a mistake? These carriers are never likely deploy more than a handful of aircraft, so their size is a complete waste – unnecessarily bleeding resources from other parts of the navy (cost of ships, maintenance and personnel on deployments). Based on the tiny number of aircraft that are likely to be deployed, actually a 20,000 tonne carrier would more than likely have sufficed.


Because 40,000 ton carriers would have a significant reduction in sortie rate and would have cost nearly as much as the 70,000 ton carriers.
Steel is cheap but it would have cost just as much to equip a 40,000 ton carrier and the running costs are only 2% cheaper as they require more RFA support .
The French navy openly admit that there nuclear carrier is 30,000 tons to small and we made the same mistake with the invincible class through deck cruisers so the decision was made to build 70,000 ton carriers .
The arguments are all detailed in Hansard .

It took 20 years to make the decision to build them .


Perhaps, although the argument is academic anyway, because there will not be enough aircraft to generate a sortie-rate above what a small aircraft carrier could support. French aircraft are also much less maintenance-intensive and complex compared to F35b and are able to generate a much higher sortie rate. A 70,000 tonne aircraft carrier is going to cost much more to build than a 20,000 tonne carrier, period and these are costs that come from some other area of defence capability.


Some things cost the same for a smaller ship,radar for example,some things cost a lot less, the propulsion system for example.The ships will need less RFA support, as they use less fuel and the support required for the aircraft will be the same, as we can’t fill the hangers anyway.
This is getting away from the subject, there would be plenty of docks available with a smaller ship. Also operations would have been much simpler with a lot more harbours available and all sorts costs would have been avoided, such as building facilities, dredging and port facilities. The all important manpower number would only have reduced slightly for similar reasons to the radar argument, but the RN has been proven to have lied through its teeth about the number required.


To give an example of the likely sortie rate of the carriers, the F35 is known to currently require between 41.75 and 50.1 maintenance hours per flight hour (may actually be slightly higher for a B version operating at sea with more maintenance difficulties).

Based on this, if the carrier is expected to carry 12 F35s, it is reasonable to assume that each plane will be able to fly less than once per week – once per fortnight is more likely. This would equate to less than two take offs/landings per day. Seeing planes operating from these carriers will indeed be a rarity.


I think that they mean man hours, I hope so.


We could have built 4 for 8.5 billion, BAe actually pitched the offer to the MoD .


Of course the main problem with those drydocks are the cranes. They mostly sit on the edge of the drydocks and so would collide with the sponsons if you tried to dock a carrier. So if the cranes have been removed at Inchgreen, then I suggest that that and Hartlepool are the only viable alternatives to Rosyth currently. If Inchgreen did bid for the docking period then I imagine that they would be the best bet for an emergency docking.


And Belfast


This is a very good illustration of the problem with shipbuilding “strategies”, you need a steady flow of work to keep the yards in business – but if there is a steady stream of work then you can’t fit something in for emergency work when it’s needed at short notice. Probably what lead to the Royal Docks being built all those centuries ago.

It is what it is though. For what it’s worth my suggestion would be that if a new dock/major reconstruction needs to be done to then make sure it fits more than just the QEC, build it big enough to get a Nimitz/Ford (and double check to make sure the CdG can fit as well), you never know you might even get a little bit of money from someone else to help build (and importantly maintain it) that way, or at least docking fees if USS Very Big Ship has an accident in the English channel and needs a new rudder in a hurry or something.


The outer seals for the caissons give the dry docks at Portsmouth 925′ lenght and 110′ width. You need to have a dry dock not just 284 meters in lenght and around 130′ width but much larger to workk on these ships, and of course, I feel these ships with their massive breadth to lenght ratio’s, in the future could be stretched, possibly so a far large dry dock in lenght and width is needed.


Put them on dockwise


Could Newport News Shipbuilding be another option on the US East Coast? They appear to have 3 dry docks suitable for the work, if available for use.


That would please the SNP , sending the carriers to the USA for a refit .
Sturgeon would have a field day, we all know the MoD favours English shipyards over the Scottish yards not!!

Phillip Johnson

Why is this discussion even occurring after the ships have been built?
Another indication of 2 decades running on a shoe string…………. Or a total unwillingness to match budgets to wants.


Oddly its a case of history repeating itself – if not exactly – Fisher refused to spend money on drydoscks, preferring to spend the money on hulls. It caused problems then as well.

Phillip Johnson

Yes, British dreadnaughts were notably more vulnerable


That was mainly down to poor ammunition handling techniques, the propping open of flash doors with cordite charges , the rn emphasis on rate of fire leading to excessive storage of cordite charges in the turret all played a major part in the lose of the battle crusiers at jutland as did Beatty’s decision to close the range when his guns had the greater range .

4th watch

The Cordite, the propellant we used was inherently more unstable than the German and US equivalents. That was not known until 1945 when the USN conducted tests. Somehow we never did this ourselves or if we did it was hushed up.
The list is shockingly awful, yet nothing was done:

Queen Mary


Led to our ships having a narrower beam than German ships as our docks where narrower.

Michael Galley

It was the French carrier Clemenceau that was dismantled at Able UK, not the Foch.


I had a chance to visit the Clemenceau on a Bastille day fleet open day , all I can say is the French navy must have been staffed by midgets, the bulkhead doors where very low.

Jassy Spik

The most logical and strategic investment should be a dock in Portsmouth. And it’s my belief this will happen. it’s ridiculous to contemplate that the carriers home port couldn’t do the work if investment can be made and the space is available to fit theses ships in a dry dock. So let’s all agree that Portsmouth is the best option and lets get on with finding the funding and get on with it..

Peter J/

A bit out of the way, but the Kishorn facility might be an option in a pinch. Al least it’s in the UK. For now.


Pity one of Dominic Cummings’ mates doesn’t own a dry dock, they’d give him some money to develop it. We probably still wouldn’t get one though.


If Scotland gains independence from the UK then having our Royal Navy vessels refitted or repaired at Rosyths is out of the question they will be refitted or repaired in the remaining parts of the UK. Sturgeon can get stuffed something the people of Scotland need to think about before voting for independence

David Hoskin

Surely dry dock facilities are considered when or even before building these ships, if not a lot people are in the wrong job.,especially taking into account the. ‘Scottish independence problem ‘

David Deakin.

Oh how painfully obvious! How can these carriers be considered operationally effective without any consideration having been given to their essential Planned Maintenance? This oversight, coupled with the need for extensive dredging of the Portsmouth approach and the extension of South Railway alongside berths defies the imagination!
The whole large carrier concept, with the last minute abolition of the Cats & Traps in favour of the limited application of a single Ski Jump for the sole operation of a handful of F35s which we cannot afford is a planning farce. We cannot afford to carry on in this expensive, unprofessional manner. Along with the debacle of the designated air defence Type 45 destroyer escorts, we have become the laughing stock of the Worlds’ ship designers.

geoffrey perry

the r/navy was petioned by me last year over the destruction of the cassion and the removal of the dock blocks in the king george v dry dock when all the ferries wereblocked and the channel tunnel,when wel had left brexit to much control ny ab ports and the admiralty are asleep over our defensess