Navy

10 Navy Ship Names That Might Raise Eyebrows

Can you guess how many ships have been called HMS Beaver?

More than 13,000 ships have served in the Royal Navy.

From HMS Vanquisher to HMS Onslaught,  many have had names that matched their glorious pursuits.

Other names might, however, raise eyebrows by today's standards.

Cultural references change over time, meanings transform and take on new connotations that can be very different from their original intentions. 

Let’s take a look at ten of our favourites.

HMS Beaver 

We truly are a nation of animal lovers. From HMS Anaconda to HMS Zebra, more than 200 animals, insects, fish and birds have inspired the names of Royal Navy ships. 

There have been 10 HMS Beavers in service to the Royal Navy, starting from a ketch in the Royalist navy which was captured by Parliamentary forces in 1656. A popular name throughout the ages, the last HMS Beaver was a 10 Type 22 missile frigate commissioned in the 80s and scrapped in 2001. 

In 1777, HMS Beaver (the third one of its name) captured a privateer from Pennsylvania that was called Oliver Cromwell. The captured ship was commissioned into the Royal Navy under the new name of HMS Beaver Prize.

 

HMS Black Joke firing on the Spanish Slaver El Almirante by Nicholas Matthews Condy 1816–1851

HMS Black Joke

This Brazilian ship went from being a slaver ship called Henrietta to a slave-chaser after she was captured by the Royal Navy in 1827. 

The Royal Navy renamed her after an English song of the same name and signed her to the West Africa Squadron. She became the most famous ship that hunted slave ships and freed all of those enchained onboard. 

Declared no longer fit for sail, she was decommissioned in 1832 because of her timber being rotten.

When the Admiralty ordered the famous slave chaser to be burned, Peter Leonard, a surgeon on HMS Dryard said of HMS Black Joke:

“[She] has done more towards putting an end to the vile traffic in slaves than all the ships of the station put together."

All that remains of the famous slave-chaser is an envelope full of her burned timbers in The National Archives. 

[HMS] Happy Entrance 

A middling ship from Tudor times before the official use of “His or Her Majesty’s ship.” 

Happy Entrance was launched in 1619 and destroyed in a fire in 1658.

Not much is known about the ship apart from her classification as a third rate ship which at that time was defined as those ships having at least 200 but not more than 300 men. 

The Tudor ship belonged to the last generation of ships that had their classification defined by the number of men and not guns. 

By the 1660s third rate ships mounted between 48 and 60 guns. By the turn of the century, the criteria had grown and third rate carried more than 60 guns, with second rates having between 90 and 98 guns, while first rates had 100 guns or more. 

Even though second and first rate ships were bigger and more powerful, third rate ships were often more successful due to being faster and easier to manoeuvre while still packing enough firepower to take down a first rater. 

 

HMS Little Belt
USS President battling HMS Little Belt

HMS Little Belt

Lillebælt was a Danish ship named after a strait that connects Denmark’s third-biggest island with the county’s continental part. 

When the Danes surrendered the ship to the Royal Navy in 1807, the British kept the name.

As was the custom at the time, captured ships often retained their original names that were either anglicised or translated to English as with the case of Lillebælt becoming Little Belt. 

In 1811, while Britain was at peace with the US, the American ship USS President fired on Little Belt, mistaking her for the French HMS Guerriere.

The shot was fired as retribution for Guerriere abducting an American sailor from USS Spitfire.

The entanglement became is known as ‘The Little Belt Affair.’

HMS Sandwich

HMS Sandwich 

Seven ships have been called Sandwich, either after the historic seaside town in Kent or one of the holders of the title of which there have been many, including John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

A cunning statesman and First Lord of the Admiralty during the American War of Independence, he is perhaps best known as the eponymous inventor of the sandwich.

HMS Wizard
HMS Wizard

HMS Wizard

Launched in 1943, HMS Wizard was a W-Class destroyer that was initially deployed to the Home Fleet before joining an escort group assigned to screen for aircraft carriers HMS Furious and HMS Searcher. Wizard saw the end of the war.

Wizard was adopted by the London borough of Wood Green as part of a national savings campaign that gave a civil community the opportunity to ‘adopt’ a Royal Navy ship.

Known as Warship weeks, their aim was to raise enough money to provide the cost of building and maintaining a particular ship. The north London borough did very well to have been able to afford a destroyer.

Cities strived to raise enough money to adopt a battleship or an aircraft carrier, while towns and villages set their aims on cruisers. 

The number of warships adopted was more than 1,200.

The commanding officer of the ship exchanged a plaque with the community that raised the funds and would continue the relationship by sending photographs. 

The adoption plaque of HMS Wizard is on display in the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

HMS Pickle 

Eight ships in the Royal Navy have been named HMS Pickle. 

The most famous one was a topsail schooner launched in 1799 that was the first ship to bring home the news of Nelson's victory in the Battle of The Trafalgar.

Although Pickle was too small to take part in the fighting herself, she saved many French lives during the battle. 

Along with Entreprenante, Prince and Swiftsure, Pickle rescued the crew of the French ship Achille, which caught fire and exploded.

Two women and around 150 men were brought on board. The number of prisoners greatly outnumbered the crew.

The ship found herself in a pickle when the prisoners began to plot to take over the ship and take her to Cadiz. The crew kept a close watch over the prisoners. A violent uprising was averted and the news of victory was delivered safely to Great Britain.

HMS Terrible

HMS Terrible 

There have been eight ships named Terrible in the service of the Royal Navy. The first one had 26 guns and was launched in 1694.

Back then the word had a different meaning than it does now. A ship that was terrible would arouse fear or terror in the eyes of the enemy.

The name hasn’t aged well. The definition still applies today but has morphed into being synonymous with anything that is awful, lousy or outright bad. 

The name was particularly popular in the 18th century. During that period three ships have had the formidable name.

That wasn’t the only thing the ships had in common, they were all third rate ships bearing 74 guns. However, only one of them initially was a French navy ship named Le Terrible that was captured by the British fleet, under Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and became HMS Terrible in 1753. 

 

HMS Monkey
HMS Monkey

HMS Monkey 

There have been five vessels bearing the name of the cheekiest animal in the jungle. The first HMS Monkey was built in Rochester in 1801 and was wrecked in Brittany in 1806. 

The second HMS Monkey followed a similar fate. Built in 1826, it was also wrecked only five years after it hit the waves. In that time, as part of the West Indies Squadron, Monkey captured three slavers' ships.

One of those ships, the 360-ton Spanish slaver ship Midas greatly outweighed the 75-ton Monkey. The British ship had one 12-pounder gun on a pivot while Midas had eight guns and double the crew. 

It took Monkey 35 minutes of single-ship action to capture the slaver ship.

The last HMS Money was a water tank vessel that served in Malta during the Second World War until it was sunk by German bombers in 1942.

HMS Dainty

HMS Dainty 

Displacing 1,397 tons, this D-Class destroyer was anything but dainty.

Costing £229,378 to manufacture, she was launched in 1932 and went on to have a career that spanned from the shores of the Mediterranean to China to West Africa. 

She was sunk by German bombers in the Lybian port of Tobruk in February 1941, a month after the allies seized the port from Italian control. 

Dainty and her classmates Defender, Duchess, Diana, Diamond, Duncan, Daring, Delight and Decoy were the last destroyers to carry guns and not missiles. 

 

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