War at Sea

When war broke out in 1939, Britain was a maritime superpower with a vast overseas empire to which it was connected by the largest merchant fleet and most powerful navy in the world. Across the oceans the Royal Navy fought to maintain this control and the Merchant Navy worked tirelessly to ensure vital supplies reached Britain and the fighting fronts.

© IWM (C 2611) The Battle of the Atlantic

Battle of the Atlantic

Within hours of the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, the first engagement took place in a battle that would rage for the next six years.

© IWM (HU 381) THE SECOND WORLD WAR 1939 - 1945: NAVAL BATTLES

Hood and Bismarck

On 21 May 1941, the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen left the safety of Bergen harbour in Norway and slipped into the stormy waters of the North Sea.

© IWM (A 6784) THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

Force Z

In late 1941, tensions with Japan were growing in the Far East and the British sent a force of powerful warships which they hoped would deter further Japanese aggression.

ARCTIC CONVOY. ON BOARD HMS INGLEFIELD , 14 FEBRUARY TO 13 MARCH 1943, DURING CONVOY DUTY IN ARCTIC WATERS.

Arctic Convoys

Arctic convoys carried vital supplies of tanks, fighter planes, fuel and ammunition across the seas. The route they sailed was fraught with danger.