Three ships, 300 years of Royal Navy history (pictures)

From sails and cannon to generators and torpedoes, these three ships represent British naval technology from over three centuries. Follow our photo tour of all three vessels.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Our tour of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, England, begins with the HMS Victory.

Thanks to centuries of tireless maintenance and restoration, the stunning ship looks brand new. Even today work is done to keep the 237-year-old Victory ship-shape, no easy feat considering the "moist" English air and the fact the ship is made of wood.

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Given its age, its size is impressive, as is the fact it's bristling with gunports.

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Beat to quarters

Entrance is through a small hatch cut into the side of the hull, onto the top gundeck.

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During its fighting days the Victory sported 104 cannon across five decks.

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Imagine the noise

Unlike what you might have seen in movies, the cannons didn't recoil far into the ship. Instead, the ropes you can see let them pull back just far enough so they could reload.

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Captain's quarters

Unlike the rest of the accommodations on the ship, the captain's quarters were quite civilized.

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Quarter and poop (decks)

In a nice touch (for the poor sailor steering), the wheel is sheltered under the poop deck.

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Shot in the shoulder. He died down below.

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Big guns

The Victory also sported two 68-pounder carronades, which had a fairly short range, but packed a punch.

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Private rooms

Like most older military vessels, the crew slept wherever there was space. Some 850 men served aboard the Victory, and having walked around on it, I can't even imagine what it must have been like.

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Bowels of the ship

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but it was really dark down here. This is the ship's hold, where they stored water, food and various other supplies.

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No smoking

The ship's magazine -- in other words, lots of explosive black powder for the cannon -- was protected and buried as deep as possible on a ship made entirely of wood.

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Coils and coils

Though rope was used for many things on board the ship, these heavy lengths were attached to the anchor.

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The doctor is in

Vice Admiral Nelson died here, while the ship's doctor tried to save him. Looking at the tools available, I'm not sure he wouldn't have been better off with happy thoughts and a whiskey.

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Step forward 100 years and we get to the HMS Warrior. Visually, it seems just a larger version of the Victory. But underneath it hides several advancements in ship design that made all other ships of the era obsolete. It combined the steam engine technology of passenger ships of the era with wrought-iron armor plating. It made her fast and incredibly hard to damage.

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Note the stacks

The Warrior was capable of nearly the same speed by sail or steam.

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Broad decks

The Warrior is big enough that it feels like a modern vessel. The Victory feels cramped from every angle, but you can move around a bit on the 19th century ship.

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Really big guns

Just as the decks, stairs and cabins on the Warrior are bigger than its much older predecessor, the guns too are upsized. There are 28 68-pound cannons, nearly three times the size of the main guns on the Victory. There were even 10 110-pound breechloading guns.

None were ever fired in anger. The Warrior came into being during one of the longest stretches of peace in Britain's history, the second half of the 19th century.

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Full kitchen

In the center of the gundeck sits a proper stove and oven, practically luxurious on such a ship.

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Wheels galore

Duplicate wheels connected by ropes gave a level of backup...and made for a gorgeous deck.

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Damn noisy roommates

The Master of the Boat had a pet in his room. It was loud.

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Rifles everywhere

Racks and racks of rifles throughout this deck. It was clear once the cannon and guns stopped, everyone on board would have a rifle to use. All were 1853 muzzle-loading Enfield replicas.

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How posh

This is the officers' mess. Most modern navy ships don't look this nice. Notice the gold highlights on the wall panels.

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Captain's quarters

The multi-room suite that is the captain's quarters is so lavish and spacious it's now used for weddings.

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Steampunk awesomeness

Deep down in the ship rows of boilers sit quietly. It's kept dark (hence the need for a flash in the photo). These create the steam that drives the engine...

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Steam engine

It's weird seeing a piston the size of a car move. There's no steam, but they've rigged them up to move through their cycle, which is impressive to watch. It's like being miniturized and dropped inside a car engine.

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Order up!

Not quite a takeout window, but the menu on the right did detail what each day's special would be.

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After a short water taxi ride, and stepping 100 more years into the future, the HMS Alliance is next. It was designed and laid down during WWII, but didn't see service until after the war was over.

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Bow torpedos

Four torpedo tubes take up the bow. Like most subs, much of the space in this room not taken up by torpedoes was used for food storage.

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Now that's a home theater projector

Movie nights were apparently common. Common enough to justify a projector, anyway. What do you think, 50 lumens?

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Movies on the "big" screen

For a diesel sub, there were quite a few "large" rooms like this one where the crew could relax. Certainly not as big as the nuclear boomers, but better than a lot of WWII subs.

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All things considered, not a bad bunk room. Most of the 63 crew members had to sleep in the hall.

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Where's the speedometer?

Learn your dials, as there are no windows on a military submarine. This was one of several stations used on the bridge to get the sub where it was needed.

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Learning to drive

Another one of the museums stewards talking about how to drive the sub, how to maintain depth and so on. Cool and fascinating stuff.

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Old tech, new tech

I've been in a lot of subs of different eras, and they all seem to have this same gear. Not "similar" but seemingly the exact same piece of equipment. One manufacturer perhaps?

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Captain's quarters

This photo is a bit weird, but the best angle I could get. This is looking straight up into the conning tower. The sliver of wood you see is the door to the captain's cabin, said to be not much bigger than a single bunk. Location, location, location though, it was right above the bridge.

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Phone home

The roaming charges must have been fierce. Nothing like some old communications equipment to make you thankful for the "phone" in your pocket.

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In era

They did a good job reminding you of the era the ship served, from the awesome fabrics to the newspapers scattered about.

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Some more equal

Like most subs, most of the crew ate at their bunks. There was no "main mess" like there is on larger boats.

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Where does this ladder go?

It goes up. Specifically to an external escape hatch.

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Haute cuisine

It is said that navy food is good, but submarine food was better. To hear the tour guide tell it, their cook worked magic with cans of random vegetables and sauce that lost their labels do to the on-board humidity.

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Engine room

Almost all non-nuclear subs are diesel-electric, as in they run on batteries recharged by diesel engines. The batteries are usually removed before the boat is opened as a museum. The engines...not so much. These are in for the long term.

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Not a V but still an 8

The two 8-cylinder engines were supercharged for a total of 4,300 horsepower.

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Flippin' switches

Banks of these huge switches directed power throughout the ship, to or from the batteries, and so on.

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Flood tubes 5 and 6

And exit, not through the gift shop, but the rear torpedo room.

For the full story behind the tour, check out A tour of the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and HMS Alliance: 300 years of Royal Navy history.

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