ROYAL NAVAL ELECTRICAL TRAINING BEFORE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ELECTRICAL BRANCH IN 1947 AND SPECIFICALLY DURING WORLD WAR TWO

Training officers and men in the electrical branches before world war two was conducted in the Torpedo Schools.  Although there were other smaller schools, the main training schools were in HMS Vernon [Portsmouth] and HMS Defiance [Plymouth].  Fearing for the safety of both these areas/establishments at the onset of war in 1939, electrical training was diversified and many areas of the UK were used as temporary schools. This list shows the geography of those schools and what/who they taught.

The Main Training Establishments in 1945

HMS Marlborough (Eastbourne)

Electrical instruction for Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers, Artificers and Ratings of the Portsmouth and Chatham divisions. Air electrical instruction to FAA Air Artificers and Air Fitters.

HMS Vernon, (Portsmouth)

Electrical instruction for Sub Lieutenants and Ratings.

HMS Defiance (Devonport). 

Commencing in 1933, the Torpedo School of the hulks afloat was transferred ashore to the Cornish town of Saltash.  This move is covered by the National Archive file ADM 116/3549, c.1933-1938

Electrical instruction for Warrant Officers, Torpedo Ratings and Electrical Artificers of Devonport Division.

HM Torpedo School (Chatham)

Electrical instruction for Chatham Ratings, including Mine Warfare Ratings.

RN Artificer Training Establishments (Rosyth and Torpoint)

Workshop practice and technical instruction for Artificer Apprentices.

HMS Collingwood (Fareham)

Radar instruction for Officers and maintenance Ratings.

HM Signal School (Leydene)

W/T maintenance instruction for Officers and Ratings.

HMS Scotia

W/T instruction for Radio Mechanics.

Sherbrooke House (Glasgow)

Radar instruction for Radio Mechanics.

HMS Valkyrie (Isle of Man)

Radar instruction for Ratings.

RAF Training Establishment (Melksham)

Electrical instruction for Air Mechanics (L).

HMS Kestrel (Worthy Down)

Electrical instruction for PO Air Mechanics and Ratings.

RN Artificer Training Establishment (Arbroath)

Workshop and electrical for Air Artificer Apprentices (L) and (L/O).

HMS Ariel (Warrington)

Radar and W/T instruction for FAA Officers and Ratings.

Various Technical Colleges.

Radar and W/T theory for all Air Radio Mechanics.

HMS Osprey (Dunoon)

Electrical instruction (A/S) for all Officers and Ratings

Today, and for many years since 1947, we automatically think of HMS Collingwood as being THE Establishment for all things electrical, but during world war two its primary role was that of training HO's for active service. It also did electrical training as can be seen in the list above.  For many years now we have had one navy, centrally drafted, controlled and administrated from one point namely HMS Centurion [it too now gone], but it wasn't that long ago when the navy was fragmented into commands or divisions, there being four of them namely Portsmouth, Chatham, Devonport and FAA.  Each one was self sufficient and had its own men [quota] the whole being known as The Depot.  Taking just two of those Depots for my story line, Portsmouth and Chatham, each with its own Depot Barracks HMS Victory and HMS Pembroke respectively, and its own dockyard, we know that the Torpedo School at Chatham taught electrical subjects to ratings, but for officers and warrant officers [and professional qualifying courses for senior rates] of the Chatham Depot, personnel were trained in Portsmouth in HMS Vernon. We could therefore think of HMS Vernon as being the alma mater for two thirds of the navy not counting the FAA, and certainly as the pre war equivalent to HMS Collingwood where pure electrical training is considered.

The war brought about many changes the biggest being the number of men who were required to prosecute the war.  Many of these men were to be trained as torpedo specialists and without shedding training tasks, HMS Vernon could not possibly cope with the demand.  It therefore was relieved of its task of training electrical subjects to all officers and men of the Portsmouth and Chatham divisions, keeping torpedo and mine warfare as bread-and-butter subjects.

A new home was required, and if the alternative was man enough for the job, it didn't really matter where it was geographically. Whilst the Signal School had left Portsmouth for a 'safer' area away from German bombs, the Navigation, Gunnery and Torpedo schools inter alia remained. Thus the new electrical school could be in or out of harms way, taking its chance with many others.

To the east, in East Sussex in EASTBOURNE there was a splendid College, called the 'Eastbourne College' which in 1940, was directly below the skies where the RAF had despatched the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.  The college, a boarding school, had been full of boys at that time and they had been evacuated to pastures new for their own safety.  The college was therefore empty and by 1941, the Admiralty had plans for it.  This interest was not welcomed by the College Authorities who were pushing to have the boys reinstated, the Battle of Britain considered to be the end of the German air offensive. 

The first thoughts for the Admiralty were that of an alternative to HMS Vernon/HMS Defiance should either be put out of action by enemy action but by the 15th June 1942, officers were arriving to prepare the empty college for use as the Portsmouth and Chatham Electrical School.  On the 24th September 1942 the college was commissioned as HMS MARLBOROUGH under the command of Acting Captain G.E.A. Jackson Royal Navy.

The school trained many thousands of officers and ratings in electrical matters, but throughout its occupancy, the College Authorities never gave up their demand to be let back in to continue teaching boys.  After long and protracted discussion, they were allowed to return, but in two quite separate stages. Approximately half the buildings would be given up by September 1945 {some time after VE day and just after VJ day} and the rest, by June 1946. However, the high power and low power plant practical training rooms couldn't be moved until parts of HMS Vernon were rebuilt to accommodate them and so the navy continued training at the college, but accommodated naval trainees away from the college premises. As history was to show, the Electrical Branch was formed and these equipments were accommodated in HMS Collingwood and not in HMS Vernon culminating in a final move-out by the navy in mid 1947. HMS Vernon assumed its duties for post war training of Torpedo [or, as they called it at that time, Whitehead] and Mining for the Portsmouth and Chatham Depots whilst HMS Collingwood took on the role of electrical training for the whole of the navy.

I have managed to find the details/photographs of HMS Marlborough which are shown in the following photograph album. It is a little known of place, but as the immediate predecessor of HMS Collingwood it is an import part of our history. Enjoy.

HMS MARLBOROUGH