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Britain at Sea Podcast

English, History, 1 season, 15 episodes, 3 hours, 32 minutes
Admiral Lord West’s history of the Royal Navy since 1900. Lord West tells the story of Britain and the Royal Navy in the turbulent twentieth century. Taking in political, social and technological developments, Lord West traces the many ways in which the Royal Navy was influenced by, and influenced, wider historical currents – from the place of women in society to Middle Eastern oil.
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21st Century

In the final part of his history of the Royal Navy in the twentieth century, Lord West tells the story of the Royal Navy since the end of the Cold War. The period since the end of the Cold War has seen major changes in Britain and the Royal Navy: in military, technological and social terms. In this final programme in the series, Lord West examines how those changes have affected the Navy. Visiting HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy's future aircraft carrier, Lord West shows how far the Navy has changed since the dawn of the twentieth century. He explores recent changes onboard - women being integrated into the service and gay people being welcomed. He describes rapidly changing technology, which has dramatically shrunk the number of people required to operate even very large ships. And he looks at the many actions and conflicts which the Navy has taken part in since 1991, from the extraordinary and untold story of the departure from Hong Kong in 1997, to the war in Afghanistan. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/20/201414 minutes, 6 seconds
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Lord West tells the story of the Royal Navy in the Falklands War. Lord West travels to the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, home of the Fleet Air Arm, to explain the vital importance of air power in winning the Falklands War. He visits the memorial to friends of his who died in the conflict, including when his own ship, HMS Ardent, was sunk. And for a different perspective, above the waves, he speaks to the Duke of York, who flew Sea King helicopters during the conflict. Lord West also explains the wider significance of the war. Not only did victory reverse planned cuts to the Royal Navy, it also had a much wider effect on the strategic position at the end of the Cold War. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/19/201414 minutes, 18 seconds
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North Atlantic

Lord West tells the story of how Britain and the Royal Navy came to focus heavily on the North Atlantic in the late Cold War. During his time in the Royal Navy, the focus was very largely on the North Atlantic. And Lord West returns to North Norway to see the Royal Marines training and explain how that region came to be a central focus during the late Cold War. He hears about the secret world of submarines. And he joins a patrol onboard a Fisheries Protection Vessel to tell the story of a war with a supposed ally - what one enterprising journalist at the Daily Express christened the 'Cod War'. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/18/201414 minutes, 11 seconds
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Sky, Surf and Undersea

Lord West tells the story of how the Royal Navy lost its aircraft carriers but gained the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. The 1960s were a time of intense inter-service rivalry. The RAF and the Royal Navy exchanged blows in the corridors of Whitehall - and by the end of the decade the Royal Navy had lost its replacement aircraft carriers but been given responsibility for the future of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. Onboard one of the Navy's Trident submarines, Lord West hears how the coming of nuclear propulsion and nuclear power changed the shape of the Navy. And on his first visit to Faslane Peace Camp, he hears of the major impact the coming of nuclear technology had on Scottish public life. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/17/201414 minutes, 15 seconds
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Lord West tells the story of the Royal Navy's role in Britain's withdrawal from empire. Travelling to Malta, he explains the Navy's central role in Maltese independence. Strolling through Valletta he describes life in the Royal Navy in the 1950s and 1960s, an era when hundreds of Royal Navy ships travelled the globe, journeying between dozens of overseas bases and acting very much like the world's policemen. He also recalls visiting the Gulf in the 1960s, and seeing creeks and towns barely large enough to hold a small warship but which are now enormous cities full of skyscrapers. And Lord West recalls important episodes when the Royal Navy was called to intervene overseas - disastrously in Suez in 1956, but much more successfully in Kuwait in 1961 and Tanganyika in 1964. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/16/201414 minutes, 12 seconds
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Early Cold War

Lord West describes how the Royal Navy fought a series of conflicts in East Asia during the early Cold War. From the Amethyst Incident in China in 1949 to the confrontation with Indonesia in the mid-1960s, East Asia was a key focus during the early Cold War. And the Royal Navy was at the heart of the action. In this episode Lord West speaks to veterans of the Amethyst Incident and the Korean War, and hears how in this period the Royal Marines embraced their commando role and fought successfully in Korea, Malaya and against Indonesia. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/13/201414 minutes, 6 seconds
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Whitehall Warriors

Lord West explains how Britain, and the Royal Navy, adjusted to dramatically straitened circumstances after the Second World War. He describes the dramatic social changes that began after 1945, including big pay rises, improved food and conditions of service - and even the beginning of the end for hammocks. He explores the Royal Navy's crucial role in the development of nuclear weapons, and the impact they had on defence thinking and the future of conventional forces. And he speaks to Laura Sandys MP, the daughter of former Defence Secretary Duncan Sandys, about his seminal 1957 Defence White Paper, which shaped British defence thinking for a generation. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/12/201414 minutes, 10 seconds
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Pacific Horrors

Lord West tells the story of the Royal Navy in the Pacific during the Second World War. Initially beaten, the Royal Navy fought back, and by the end of the war had deployed the most powerful battlefleet in its history. But by then the tide had turned in military power and international politics, and this was the theatre in which it became clear that the United States would soon replace the United Kingdom as global naval superpower. The lessons learned in the Pacific ensured the bonds between the two navies, and the two nations, would remain strong through the challenges which followed. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/11/201414 minutes, 15 seconds
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Mediterranean Challenges

Lord West travels to Malta to tell the story of the Royal Navy's incredibly difficult war in the Mediterranean between 1940 and 1945. The Mediterranean war was the last time an Admiral commanded an entire theatre of war from the bridge of a ship. It produced some dramatic fleet successes and saw an assault on German supply convoys which helped win the war in North Africa against Rommel. In the end, the Royal Navy prevailed, but with some of the most desperate fighting of the war, the victory came at a price. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/10/201414 minutes, 12 seconds
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Battles for Britain

Lord West tells the story of the Royal Navy during the Second World War, from early fights in Norway to the Battle of the Atlantic. And he shows how the Royal Navy saved Britain from invasion during the Second World War. In a chilly fjord in northern Norway he explains how a battle in April 1940 helped saved Britain from invasion later that summer, while in northern France he looks out from the top of a Nazi-era submarine pen and imagines how the prospects envisaged by the German U-boat aces must have changed during the course of the war. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/9/201414 minutes, 11 seconds
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Inter-War Trouble

Lord West explores the Royal Navy's three battles between the wars: with a new department in Whitehall, with communists in Russia, and with the Navy's oldest foe - the Treasury. The First World War left Britain reeling, economically devastated and with massive social dislocation and a generation scarred, both physically and psychologically, by the conflict. The country was on the back foot, and the Royal Navy was, too. The Navy's formidable new capability - its air arm - was taken away and handed to the newly-formed RAF. Constant raids by the Treasury were initially rebuffed, but eventually took their toll. And a perception grew up that the pre-war arms race had caused the war, and that the Navy had caused the arms race, and there was little outrage when the size of the navy was fixed. But alongside these battles in Whitehall, in international negotiations, and for the hearts and minds of the British public, the Navy also had a proper war to fight. For almost a year after the end of the First World War, the Navy - together with other British and allied troops - fought a war in Russia against the 'Red Army' of the nascent Soviet Union. Largely forgotten today because the exhausted troops were eventually withdrawn, the war nevertheless gave Estonia its first taste of independence. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/6/201414 minutes, 6 seconds
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The Navy Wins

Lord West looks at how the Royal Navy won the First World War. The Royal Navy's role in winning the conflict has often been overlooked - drowned out by the new and savage reality of industrial warfare on the western front, and the tragic romance of the imagery and war poetry which surrounded it. Yet the Navy's role should not be underestimated, and in this programme Lord West looks at the greatest naval battle of the war - Jutland - and its dramatic impact on the war. Jutland was a great strategic victory for the Royal Navy, but largely because of truly terrible PR afterwards, many to this day regard it as a defeat. It was part of the reason for the growing disconnect between the nation and its navy. Yet the outcome of Jutland influenced more than just public sentiment. It forced the German military to confront the reality of their situation: that the Royal Navy's blockade could not be broken by their own fleet, and would in time strangle Germany into submission. The result was unrestricted submarine warfare: Germany's only chance of victory, but itself carrying the risk of bringing the United States of America into the war on the Allied side. When the United States did join the war, troops poured into Europe, but the most significant impact was on that three year old blockade, tightening it to a point that strangled Germany and won the war for the Allies. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/5/201414 minutes, 18 seconds
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War Begins

Lord West looks at the Royal Navy's strategy for winning the First World War, and how in the early years of the war it failed to bring its might to bear. The First World War represented a major change in British strategy towards wars on the European continent. Historically Britain had stood off from continental conflicts, funding armies there but otherwise letting the Royal Navy exert its power at sea. But now with British and imperial armies fighting across Europe, the Royal Navy was reduced to transporting troops, escorting convoys and, with the exception of some small victories mopping up German commerce raiders around the world, an inglorious policy of distant blockade. While the Grand Fleet was kept in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, the only real attempt to fundamentally alter the balance of power was opposed by many in the Navy, went down in history as a catastrophic failure, and remains to this day one of the war's great 'what ifs'. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/4/201414 minutes, 11 seconds
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New Technology

Lord West looks at how a revolution in naval technology transformed ideas of warfare, contributed to the arms race and laid the foundations for victory in the First World War. During the early years of the twentieth century, one man dominated the Royal Navy. Admiral Sir 'Jacky' Fisher revitalised the Mediterranean fleet, pressed for social reform and promoted the introduction of torpedoes and submarines. And in 1904 Fisher finally achieved a lifelong ambition, becoming First Sea Lord and professional head of the Royal Navy. Now he was able to develop new technology even faster. His crowning achievement was HMS Dreadnought, a battleship so powerful that it effectively made every other warship in every other navy redundant. With Britain's navy pre-eminent, to level the playing field like this was dangerous. And it was to play a part in the pre-war arms race, but Britain's victory in that arms race would also make possible victory in the war which followed. Lord West discusses Fisher's contributions, not least to the history of world oil. For it was he who persuaded a young Winston Churchill to convert the Royal Navy to oil power - altering the arc of history in South Wales, whose coal industry went into decline; in the Middle East; and around the world. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/3/201414 minutes, 10 seconds
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New Century

Admiral Lord West tells the story of the Royal Navy during the twentieth century, when through political, social, technological and economic turmoil, the Navy's fortunes mirrored those of Britain. Lord West begins this first episode of this 15-part series on the beaches of northern France, introducing the series through the greatest amphibious assault in history - D-Day, a turning point in naval warfare. From there, he goes back in history to discuss 'navalism' at the start of the twentieth century. The Navy in the decade before the First World War was vast, a truly globalised organisation, defending British interests around the world. At home it was the bulwark against invasion and had such a powerful hold on the British imagination that images of sailors - of Jack Tar - sold everything from cigarettes to postcards. And it was a powerful political force too, with crowds following naval developments closely and, when the pace of warship production seemed to be slackening, demanding more. This was an era when political meetings were interrupted with chants of 'Dreadnought! Dreadnought! Dreadnought!' But for all its size and strength, the Royal Navy at the dawn of the twentieth century had rot at its core - social stagnation and a rules-based mentality were stifling the fighting spirit that had characterised Nelson's navy. Reform would come only with two titans of the era - Winston Churchill and, first, Admiral 'Jacky' Fisher. Producer: Giles Edwards.
6/2/201414 minutes, 17 seconds