HMS Vernon (shore establishment)

HMS "Vernon" was a shore establishment or 'stone frigate' of the Royal Navy. "Vernon" was established on 26 April 1876 as the Royal Navy's Torpedo Branch and operated until 1 April 1996, when the various elements comprising the establishment were split up and moved to different commands.

Foundation and early history

The second ship to be called HMS "Vernon" ended her career laid up in Chatham Dockyard as a floating coaling jetty. In 1872 she was moved to become a tender to HMS "Excellent" for torpedo and mining training. In 1874 she was joined by HMS "Vesuvius", an iron screw torpedo vessel. "Vesuvius" was attached as an Experimental Tender for the conduct of torpedo trials, and remained in the role until 1923.

On 26 April 1876 "Vernon" was joined by the former steam frigate HMS "Ariadne" and the lighter "Florence Nightingale". These were then commissioned as HMS "Vernon", and became the home of the Royal Navy's Torpedo Branch, independent of HMS "Excellent". "Ariadne" was used to provide accommodation. In January 1886 HMS "Donegal" replaced the original "Vernon" as a more spacious torpedo school ship. "Donegal" was renamed "Vernon", the original "Vernon" was renamed "Actaeon" and took over as the practical workshop.

On 23 April 1895 the hulks were moved to Portchester Creek. "Ariadne" was replaced as an accommodation hulk by the old HMS "Marlborough", which was renamed "Vernon II" and was connected by bridges to "Actaeon" and "Vernon", jointly named "Vernon I". In 1904 HMS "Warrior" joined the establishment as a floating workshop, power plant and wireless telegraphy school, renamed "Vernon III". Meanwhile "Actaeon" was renamed "Vernon IV". Also in 1904 "Ariadne" was detached and sent to Sheerness to be used to establish a new torpedo school. She was renamed "Actaeon" in 1905.

In wartime and onshore

On the outbreak of the First World War "Vernon" was used to carry out torpedo trials and to train new recruits for the Navy. Extensive research and development was also carried to develop new anti-submarine devices, mines and ships' electrics. On 1 October 1923 "Vernon" was moved ashore and new departments were set up to cover aspects of maritime warfare, such as mining, torpedoes and electrical equipment. The names of the original hulks that made up the floating "Vernon" were used for buildings in the base.

In the Second World War, and following on from the increasing use of mines, "Vernon" took on responsibility for mine disposal and developing mine countermeasures. The staff were able to capture a number of enemy mines and develop successful countermeasures. A number of officers working with "Vernon" were awarded Distinguished Service Orders for their successes in capturing new types of mine. Some of these were the first Royal Naval decorations of the war.

The Germans began placing booby traps in some mines to counter attempts by "Vernon's" staff to capture them. One exploded in a mining shed at "Vernon" on 6 August 1940, killing an officer and four ratings and seriously injuring a number of other personnel. To avoid a repetition of this, a nearby disused quarry, nick-named HMS "Mirtle" (short for Mine Investigation Range),was used for examining mines. Portsmouth suffered heavy air raids during the war, with "Vernon" being hit several times. One bomb demolished Dido Building and killed 100 people. Subsequently, sections of "Vernon" were dispersed to quieter areas. On 3 May 1941 most departments of "Vernon" were moved to Roedean Girls’ School at Brighton, which was known as HMS "Vernon(R)", whilst other elements were relocated elsewhere on the south coast and further away.

On 1 October 1944 responsibility for naval diving passed from the Gunnery Branch, at HMS "Excellent", to the Torpedo Branch, at "Vernon". A new diving school known as "Vernon(D)" was established at Brixham on 27 October 1944, with administrative support in Dartmouth. The Brixham base was later joined by the Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit (AEDU) and the Deep Diving Tender HMS "Tedworth". The unit remained at Brixham until 1 October 1945 when it returned to the main HMS "Vernon" at Portsmouth.

Postwar devolution and decommissioning

On 10 October 1946 the recently-formed Electrical Branch took over responsibility of Electrical Operations from "Vernon", whilst "Vernon" merged with the Anti-Submarine Branch, which had been based at HMS "Osprey" at Portland. The merger resulted in the formation of the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine (TAS) Branch, which assumed responsibility for naval diving. The TAS Branch remained at "Vernon" until mid 1974, when it was moved to become part of HMS "Dryad" prior to the formation of the Operations Branch the following year.

"Vernon" ceased to be an independent command on 31 March 1986, when it was renamed HMS "Nelson" (Vernon Site), and in 1987 it was renamed HMS "Nelson (Gunwharf)" It became the Headquarters for the Commandant General Royal Marines for a brief period, and continued to be used for training. Mine warfare training was moved to the School of Maritime Operations (SMOPS), now part of HMS "Dryad", in November 1995. The final element of the old "Vernon", the diving school, was moved onto new premises on Horsea Island and "Vernon" ceased to exist. The figurehead of the original HMS "Vernon" is preserved in Portsmouth.

ee also

*List of Royal Navy shore establishments
*Gunwharf Quays
*Admiralty Mining Establishment

References

*Colledge
* [http://www.mcdoa.org.uk/History_of_HMS_Vernon.htm History of HMS Vernon]
* [http://www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk/Vernon/Vernon_1.htm HMS Vernon at the Girls' School]
* [http://www.memorials.inportsmouth.co.uk/others/gunwharf/vernon-figurehead.htm HMS Vernon's figurehead]


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