North America and West Indies Station

North America and West Indies Station
John Christian Schetky, Boarding the Chesapeake (19th century).jpg
The capture of USS Chesapeake on 1 June 1813 as depicted by John Christian Schetky
ActiveNorth American Station (1745–1818)
North America and West Indies Station (1818–1926)
America and West Indies Station (1926–1956)
West Indies (1956–1976)
HMS Malabar (1976–1995)
Disbanded1 April 1976
CountryUnited Kingdom, Bermuda, and Canada
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
TypeRegional command
Part ofRoyal Navy
Garrison/HQRoyal Naval Dockyard, Halifax 1745–1905 &
Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda 1795–1951
Notable shipsFame, Invincible, Leopard, Resolute
EngagementsBattle of the Chesapeake, Battle of Cape Henry, Siege of Yorktown, Battle of St. Kitts (American Revolutionary War)
USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere, Capture of HMS Frolic, Capture of USS Chesapeake, Capture of HMS Boxer, Burning of Washington (Chesapeake Campaign), Battle of Baltimore (Chesapeake Campaign) (War of 1812),
pursuit of SM U-53 (1916),
Battle of the Atlantic

The North America and West Indies Station was a formation or command of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy stationed in North American waters from 1745 to 1956. The North American Station was separate from the Jamaica Station until 1830 when the two combined to form the North America and West Indies Station. It was briefly abolished in 1907 before being restored in 1915. It was renamed the America and West Indies Station in 1926. It was commanded by the Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station and subsequently by the Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station.


Admiralty House, Bermuda, at Mount Wyndham (the location from 1810 to 1816)

The squadron was formed in 1745 to counter French forces in North America, with the headquarters at the Halifax Naval Yard in Nova Scotia (now CFB Halifax).[1]

The area of command had first been designated as the North American Station in 1767, under the command of Commodore Samuel Hood, with the headquarters in Halifax from 1758 to 1794, and thereafter in Halifax and Bermuda. Land and buildings for a permanent Naval Yard were purchased by the Royal Navy in 1758 and the Yard was officially commissioned in 1759. The Yard served as the main base for the Royal Navy in North America during the Seven Years' War, the American Revolution, and the French Revolutionary Wars.[2]

Following American independence in 1783, Bermuda was the only British territory left between Nova Scotia and the West Indies (by agreement with the Spanish government, a Royal Navy base was maintained in Florida until this was ceded to the United States), and was selected as the new headquarters for the region. The establishment of a base there was delayed for a dozen years, however, due to the need to survey the encircling barrier reef to locate channels suitable for large warships. Once this had been completed, a base was established at St. George's in 1794, with the fleet anchoring at Murray's Anchorage in the northern lagoon, named for Vice Admiral Sir George Murray, who became the Commander-in-Chief of the new River St. Lawrence and Coast of America and North America and West Indies Station. The Admiralty also began purchasing land at Bermuda's West End, including Ireland Island, Spanish Point, and smaller islands in the Great Sound with the intent of building the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, and a permanent naval base there, with its anchorage on Grassy Bay. The construction of this base was to drag on through much of the Nineteenth Century.[3]

Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren was appointed Commander-in-Chief in 1812, and he and his staff seem to have spent most of their time at Bermuda during the War of 1812 (he was replaced by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Inglis Cochrane in 1813), from where the blockade of much of the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States was orchestrated, and the punitive expedition which included the Raid on Alexandria, the Battle of Bladensburg, and the Burning of Washington was launched in August, 1814.[4]

In 1813, the area of command had become the North America Station again, with the West Indies falling under the Jamaica Station, and in 1816 it was renamed the North America and Lakes of Canada Station. The headquarters was initially in Bermuda during the winter and Halifax during the summer, but Admiralty House, Bermuda, became the year-round headquarters of the Station in 1821, when the area of command became the North America and Newfoundland Station. In 1818 Halifax became the summer base for the squadron which shifted to the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, for the remainder of the year.[5]

Admiralty House, Halifax, summer headquarters of the Admiral in command of the station

In 1819, the main base of the Station was moved from Halifax to Bermuda, which was better positioned to counter threats from the United States.[2][6][5][7][8] Halifax continued to be used as the summer base for the station until 1907.[9]

At around the same time that the main base was moved the area of command was redesignated as the North America and West Indies Station, and remained so until 1907, when the North America and West Indies Station was abolished and replaced by the 4th Cruiser Squadron. These were based in England and Bermuda was redesignated from a base to a coaling station, although the dockyard remained in operation. The Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station, remained in Bermuda. The Royal Navy withdrew from Halifax in 1905, and the Halifax Naval Yard was handed over to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1910.[10][11]

The North America and West Indies Station was restored in 1915, and incorporated the 8th Cruiser Squadron from 1924–25. In 1942 the title of C-in-C America and West Indies was re-styled Senior British Naval Officer, Western Atlantic.[12][13][14] In 1945 the America and West Indies title was restored.[8]

In 1951, the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, was closed, with the Admiralty Floating Dock No. 5 towed to Britain by HM Tugs Warden and Reward, departing on 11 July. The position of Senior Naval Officer West Indies (SNOWI) was established as a Sub-Area Commander under the Commander-in-Chief of the America and West Indies station. The occupant of this position was a commodore, and was provided with a shore office on Ireland Island (which was beside the Victualling Yard until 1962), but was required to spend much of his time at sea in the West Indies. A flagship (between 1951 and April, 1956, this was successively HMS Sheffield, HMS Superb, HMS Sheffield, HMS Kenya) and other vessels of the America and West Indies Squadron continued to be based at the South Yard of the former Royal Naval Dockyard, where the Royal Navy maintained a Berthing Area under the command of a Resident Naval Officer (RNO), but were detached from the Home Fleet, and their refits and repairs were thenceforth to be carried out in Britain.[15][16][17] The RNO had his own office in one of the houses of Dockyard Terrace. Admiralty land not required for the continued naval operations was sold to the colonial government.[8] There was also an RNO in Nassau.[18]

Grassy Bay, the anchorage for the fleet in Bermuda between 1816 and 1956, with the Royal Naval Dockyard in the background

In 1952, the Commander-in-Chief, Vice Admiral Sir William Andrewes, became the initial Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic.[19]