The Company has expanded its Service links to the Royal Navy School of Marine Engineering (RNSME) and the Royal Navy Air Engineering and Survival School (RNAESS) both located within HMS Sultan, in Gosport, Hants. The two schools, each commanded by a Captain RN, provide all training for Surface, Submarine and Air Engineering engineers and technicians including instruction in gas turbine, electrical and nuclear propulsion systems, hull systems, airfames, air engines and many other related skills. The schools also train personnel from the Navies of many foreign and Commonwealth countries. On a tri-service front, RNSME trains Royal Logistic Corps marine engineers and is about to commence certain parts of REME officer training.
HMS Sultan is now the Royal Navy’s largest training establishment. It is larger than any other by a third, in terms of both people and budgets. The mission is “To deliver the required number of competent and highly motivated technicians and engineers to the Armed Forces”. Today, the establishment covers an area of 180 acres with a perimeter of over 3 miles.
History of HMS Sultan
In 1857 land was acquired by the War Office to construct four additional forts: Grange, Rowner, Brockhurst and Elson to protect Portsmouth Harbour; the cost of the first three identical forts being £169,000. Work commenced on Fort Grange on 31 March 1858. The forts took four years to build, concluding officially on
20 December 1862. Each fort accommodated 77 guns, two 40 pounders, four 13 inch mortars and seventy one 8 inch guns. The large extent of land adjacent to the forts was to be one large parade ground.
Forts Grange and Rowner flank either end of the Establishment. Due to the expansion of Sultan in 1956, to include trainees from both Devonport and Chatham it was necessary to find extra accommodation to house them. The site chosen was Fort Grange, which during HMS Siskin’s day housed RAF personnel attached to the station. This accommodation had to be renovated and, with the heating, sanitary and ablution arrangements modernized, was ready for habitation in October, 1957.
Recreation rooms and NAAFI facilities were also installed in Fort Grange but, as this was a temporary scheme of accommodation only, no cooking and dining facilities were available, and all meals were obtained in the large dining hall in the main part of the establishment.
Today neither Fort is used for accommodation, Fort Grange now houses the Voluntary Cadet Corps, the rugby club, the car club, the motor cycle club, the indoor firing range, tennis courts, the climbing club, the canoe club, the cycling club, and is used for general storage by the Theatre Club. Fort Rowner houses the Merritime Nursery, the Buffers Party HQ, the volunteer band practice room and much needed storage space.
Grange Airfield and the Start of Flying Training 1901 – 1956
Although the HMS SULTAN site has been associated with military use since the middle of the 19th century, the first recorded use as an airfield occurred in 1909, when two Naval Lieutenants from Fort Blockhouse (HMS Dolphin site Gosport) attempted to launch a powered aircraft from a ramp-like structure. Although unsuccessful, it did show the suitability of the site.
By 1910, Portsmouth Aero Club, later to become the Hampshire Aero Club, gained permission from the War Office to use Grange field for experiments in “heavier than air” flight. The driving force behind the club was a gentleman by the name of Patrick Young Alexander, who promoted aviation by sinking his whole inheritance of £50,000 into aeronautical education. There still exists a remarkable series of photographs of a glider, built at the United Services College Windsor. The glider, basically a bi-plane wing without a body, is shown being controlled by a young Naval Lieutenant as it is being pulled into the air by local volunteers.
As the threat of war loomed, extra airfields had to be found for the rapidly expanding Royal Flying Corp. Thus, shortly after the departure from Fort Grange on 6th July 1914 of the Royal Garrison Artillery, the first resident flying unit of the Royal Flying Corp, No 5 Squadron, arrived in an odd collection of aeroplanes from Netheraven. Within a month the squadron was on its way to France. Later in October 1914 Senior Lieutenant (Lt Cdr) Longmore was directed to form No 1 Squadron of the Royal Naval Service at the now vacant Gosport airfield.
It is perhaps as a training school that Gosport will best be remembered, through the pioneering system of training devised by Lt Colonel Robert Smith-Barry. By 1916 he had become the Commanding Officer of 60 Squadron. The new CO was so appalled at the low flying standards of his new pilots that he continually agitated Generals Trenchard and Salmond to allow him to try out some of his new training ideas. On arrival back in England as the CO of No 1 Reserve Squadron (Training Squadron) at Grange Airfield, Gosport, Smith-Barry was soon to put his theory into practical use.
By 1916 basic flying training had not advanced much since power flight had become a reality. Instructors were either qualified war-weary pilots or newly qualified pilots with just a few hours flying experience, neither suitable for the task. Aerobatics and the avoidance of the enemy were not instructed since early aircraft had a tendency for their wings to fall off if too high a force was exerted on them.
It was common practice for the trainee pilot to sit in the observer’s seat until his solo, when he transferred to the unfamiliar surroundings of the pilot’s position. Lastly, but by no means least, communication could only be achieved between the trainee and the trainer by a system of hand signals or by stalling the aircraft for a short period of time. With one “brush stroke” Smith-Barry revolutionised flying training.
The key to the whole enterprise consisted of a group of dedicated pilots. Smith-Barry would instruct them in his methods to become professional instructors, thus able to teach other instructors. The instructors were encouraged to fly their own aircraft to the limit to gain valuable experience. Thus a new and standard method of training was devised on the experiences of the instructors. This became known as the “Gosport Patter”. Each new pupil was assigned his own instructor, who would teach him the basic principles of flying. The pupil would sit in the pilot’s seat from the very first lesson until he went solo and finally a rudimentary speaking tube, known us the “Gosport Tube”, consisting of a hollow tube similar to a stethoscope into which the instructor could talk direct to his pupil, was invented. The tube was still in Use during the Second World War, most notably in Swordfish. All these ideas seem to be common sense now, however, in 1917 they were quite revolutionary.
Smith-Barry’s last aim was to make Gosport primarily into a school to train instructors. Within a short time the Gosport method of training showed great promise and No 1 Training Squadron was amalgamated with No 27 and 55 Squadrons and thus the School of Special Flying was born.
Soon many experienced pilots were arriving at Grange to learn the new methods. Even war veterans were amazed how little they knew about flying. Gwilym Lewis DFC, in his memoirs “Wings over the Somme” realised his own inadequacies even though he had fought over the trenches. He writes in a letter dated 10th September 1917 “Instead of flying in a slip-shod fashion that most of us taught ourselves to do, you learn exactly what you are doing, and why you do it, so that we can teach others the same sort of thing. The amusing part of the show is that many others, like myself, have found out how very badly they really fly”. Again, in the same letter “One individual considered by many the best pilot in the Corps, said that he learnt more about flying in three weeks down here (Gosport) than in the previous three years”.
With the increase in the numbers of instructors required to train the new system at other locations, the importance of the school was recognised by becoming, in April 1918, No 1 School of Special Flying and three months later the South-Western Area Flying Instructors’ School. Towards the end of 1918, teams from Gosport travelled to America, France, Argentina and Chile to teach the Gosport System; thus slowly the Gosport System became the basis of all worldwide flying training. After the war Lord Trenchard said of Smith-Barry “The great Smith-Barry, the man who taught the world to fly”. The instructors’ school was disbanded on 26th February 1919, its role taken up by the Central Flying School of the Royal Air Force.
In the inter-war years, Gosport became a Royal Air Force Fleet Air Arm base (with a second base in Scotland). Royal Air Force personnel, ground crew and pilots formed the backbone of the FAA with just a small percentage of Royal Naval personnel. During this period, Gosport became a centre of excellence for many early deck landing and aircraft catapult trials.
Although two short runways had been laid, Gosport continued to operate as a grass airfield throughout the Second World War. On 1st August 1945 the Station was transferred to the Fleet Air Arm and named HMS Woodpecker, however on 4th August a signal was received from the Admiralty stating that the name of Woodpecker had already been assigned. Thus, the establishment was renamed HMS Siskin. By the end of the Korean War, there came the inevitable reduction in Naval aviation and so it was in June 1956 that HMS Siskin closed and HMS Sultan VI started its life.
HMS Sultan 1956 – 2006
On l June 1956 HMS Sultan (the sixth to bear the name) was commissioned when the Mechanical Training and Repair Establishment took ownership the day after the airfield, HMS Siskin was closed.
In the early days much of the training was carried out on Harbour Training Ships moored in Portsmouth Harbour.
Originally built to train Mechanics the base was enhanced to absorb Artificer Apprentice training when HMS Caledonia, in Rosyth, closed in 1982.
Following Engineering Branch Development, marine electrical training migrated from HMS Collingwood to HMS Sultan in 1987.
In 1995, with the closure of the Royal Naval Engineering College Manadon, in Plymouth, post-graduate training also moved to Sultan for both Air Engineers and surface and sub surface Marine Engineers. When HMS Daedalus closed in 1996 Air Engineering training also moved to the site. This required extensive new accommodation for ratings and extensions to the Wardroom. Additionally, with the closure of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in October 1998, the Department of Nuclear Science and Technology moved in and has maintained its identity as an important academic institution ever since. Finally the site absorbed parts of the Submarine training task on the closure of HMS Dolphin.
As well as all the above training tasks the site also supports the Mobile Aircraft Support Unit (MASU) at Fleetlands and the Naval pay and pensions organisation in Centurion Building. Further lodger units include the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB) and the Central Air and Admiralty Medical Board (CAAMB).
At any time there are approximately 1300 trainees on site. A vast range of courses are run, ranging in length from one day to 3 years, from a Masters Degrees in nuclear engineering to basic metal work and painting. There are some 350 different courses with a maximum capacity of 350,000 trainee days a year. This includes training for Foreign and Commonwealth navies, civil industrial students and Railtrack apprentices.