Rosyth Dockyard

Year:1916

Duration:7 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: Rosyth, UK

What did this project achieve?

Build a naval dockyard with access to the North Sea to help defend the UK

Rosyth Dockyard, on the north side of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, was first built as a naval base for World War 1 battleships. It was also used during World War 2.

The dockyard later became home to the UK's nuclear submarines and was the first British naval dockyard to be privatised, in 1997. It's now used to build aircraft carriers.

Rosyth was originally the result of an arms race between Britain and Germany. By the early years of the 20th century it looked increasingly likely there would be a war between the 2 countries – and that the North Sea would be one of the combat areas.

Britain started to build bigger warships – called dreadnoughts – to meet the threat.

The Royal Navy decided existing bases in Portsmouth and Plymouth were too far away from the North Sea to station the new battleships.

Navy bosses bought land in the Firth of Forth for a new dockyard that would be close to the North Sea.

Construction started in 1909 and sped up as war approached. Rosyth opened in 1916.

Difference the dockyard has made

Rosyth Dockyard was a key naval base during World War 1. Providing access to the North Sea – an important battle zone – it played a large part in the success of Britain's war effort.

After World War 2 the base was redeveloped to refit and maintain conventional and nuclear submarines and became an important part of the UK's nuclear deterrent.

The dockyard has also been a major local employer – the Ministry of Defence spent £1.7bn with owners Babcock in 2016.

Recent Rosyth projects have included the assembling of aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

How the work was done

The original scheme for the dockyard had a large deep water basin that ships would enter using a lock. There were 2 dry docks and space for a third.

Rosyth was also designed to have a tidal basin – an inlet that empties or fills as the tide goes in or out.

The dockyard was set to cover about 1,200 acres with a waterfront of 2.5 miles (4km).

There were arguments between contractors Easton, Gibb & Sons and the Admiralty – the government department in charge of the Royal Navy – about how the work on the dockyard should be done.

Constructing the seawalls round the inner deep water basin was a major area of dispute. Work here involved sinking 120 hollow concrete columns 13m square and 27m high into the seabed.

The Admiralty wanted the columns constructed at sea. Project engineer Alexander Gibb wanted to build a cofferdam – a temporary watertight enclosure that allowed work below the waterline.

After 3 years and the seawalls still not finished the Admiralty gave in and let the engineers build a cofferdam.

The dockyard finally opened in March 1916 with the battleship HMS Zealandia the first to use the base.

The contracting engineers and the Admiralty argued about costs for Rosyth's construction for 6 years after the work was done. They finally reached a settlement in 1922.

"​‌

Rosyth yard has played the instrumental role of assembling the nation's two new aircraft carriers.

Spokesperson

Ministry of Defence, November 2017.

Fascinating facts

The town of Rosyth was built as a Garden City in 1915-8 to house people employed at the dockyard.

The base is now home to 7 decommissioned nuclear submarines. An upgrade of docks 1 and 2 in 1995 was designed to protect submarines against earthquakes.

A current Rosyth project – the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth – is the largest warship built in the UK. It's expected to be the Navy's flagship craft for at least 50 years.

People who made it happen

  • Client: The Admiralty (the British government)
  • Consulting engineers: Easton, Gibb & Son Ltd

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