From HMS Victory to HMS Queen Elizabeth: just how far has naval technology come in the past 252 years?

Deputy Director of Heritage at The National Museum of the Royal Navy
On 16 August 2017, the largest and most powerful ship ever built for the Royal Navy – HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers – sailed into her new home at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Her arrival capped years of work from thousands of skilled engineers working as part of the ACA, of which BAE Systems is part. It was a landmark moment for a naval programme of huge significance to the country and wider international community.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a technological and engineering marvel and was greeted by huge crowds as she arrived into Portsmouth for the first time to undertake a planned engineering period as part of her trials programme. As the nation’s future flagship, she will be delivered to the Royal Navy by the end of this year.
However, just a few hundred metres away from the incredible HMS Queen Elizabeth is Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, and the world’s oldest commissioned warship, HMS Victory.
Image of HMS VictoryHaving been berthed in this dry dock since 1922, this iconic ship, maintained by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, still attracts a huge portion of the 325,000 annual visitors to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – and will always be viewed as a significant landmark in maritime history.

To mark this year’s Trafalgar Day and the anniversary of HMS Victory’s most famous victory under Lord Nelson, we have compared some of the statistics that show just how far British naval engineering has come; from HMS Victory to HMS Queen Elizabeth, two flagships, commissioned 252 years apart. 


The vessels

  • Length – when launched on May 7, 1765, HMS Victory’s 70-metre length (or approximately 70 metres) was an incredible feat. That length however is just about equal to the width of HMS Queen Elizabeth, with the Royal Navy’s new flagship having a flight deck measuring 70m in width and 280 metres in length – enough space to fit three football pitches
  • Decks – the seven levels of HMS Victory housed a range of advanced technologies for her time, and facilities to look after its crew for months on end at sea. Comparatively, HMS Queen Elizabeth has 18 decks – housing everything from an aircraft hangar, to medical facilities, and even fitness suites and cinema
  • Construction – HMS Victory was constructed in one section in a dry dock, Chatham Dock – using some 2000 oak trees. That’s 60 acres of forest in total! HMS Queen Elizabeth is made up of steel blocks created in six UK shipyards, before being finally assembled in Britain’s largest dry dock in Rosyth, Scotland. The ACA also used the Goliath Crane – the largest purpose commissioned crane in Europe – to aid her construction, capable of lifting a Royal Navy minehunter vessel.
  • Weight – one of the largest warships of its time, HMS Victory displaced 3,500 tonnes of water, whilst HMS Queen Elizabeth displaces 65,000  tonnes – more than 18  times more
  • Awareness – HMS Queen Elizabeth uses a BAE Systems ARTISAN Radar, a long-range system capable of tracking up to 1,000 contacts in the air, and even an object the size of a tennis ball travelling at three times the speed of sound!
  • Top speed – under its sails, HMS Victory could travel at a top speed of 8-9 knots, whilst HMS Queen Elizabeth can hit up to 25 knots, its propellers capable of generating 80 megawatts of power, equal to 50 high-speed trains
Image of HMS Queen Elizabeth

Life on board

  • Crew size – HMS Victory boasts the bigger operational crew of 700 sailors and 150 marines. HMS Queen Elizabeth will host 679 sailors as part of its ship’s crew, however has the capacity to accommodate up to 1,600 including a full air crew and space for embarked personnel such as Royal Marines or refugees
  • Sleeping quarters – On board HMS Victory, the captain and officers would sleep in box-like cots, whilst other crew members hunkered down in tight rows of hammocks hung beneath the gun decks. Crew members on board HMS Queen Elizabeth each have their own bunk area with a cupboard and space for personal items
  • Galley – when it came to eating on board, sailors on the HMS Victory were fed from a firewood stove in galleys. In 2017, the galleys of HMS Queen Elizabeth have a team of 67 catering staff working around the clock, with its bakery capable of producing up to 1,000 loaves of bread per day.
  • Communications – On board HMS Victory, messages were conveyed from ship to ship using  signal flags, including the famous Battle of Trafalgar message “England expects that every man will do his duty”, while HMS Queen Elizabeth can communicate via secure satellite systems – and when not in use the crew can even contact home using emails and internet
  • Anything else? – fun fact – if you were to take all of HMS Victory’s rigging and lay it end-to-end it would cover 26 miles, or the distance of the Channel Tunnel. On the other hand, if you took all of the electrical cabling inside HMS Queen Elizabeth and did the same, you’d cover 250,000km (or almost six times around the equator)!
Image of crew onboard

The Queen Elizabeth Class programme represents a huge leap forward in naval technology and capability for Britain, and whilst it’s fascinating to see just how far we’ve come in the past 252 years, it’s even more exciting to see what the future holds.
Andrew Baines Deputy Director of Heritage at The National Museum of the Royal Navy 15 November 2017