Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 24, 2016.
Webpage updated: April 19, 2016

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After spending nineteen years in the reserve fleet at Devonport, HMS "Impregnable" became the Royal Navy's second boys' training ship at Devonport in 1862.

She had been launched at Chatham Dockyard in July 1810 as a 98-gun, three deck ship similar to HMS "Victory" and had taken part in Lord Exmouth's bombardment of Algiers in 1816 during his attempt to stamp out piracy in the Mediterranean.  In fact the ship saw very little action.  After the short commission in the Mediterranean, she was put into reserve at Devonport in 1819.  From May 1839 until October 1841 she relieved HMS "Adelaide" as the Commander-in-Chief's flagship moored at the entrance to Hamoaze, after which another visit to the Mediterranean ended in May 1843 with her once again being placed in the reserve fleet.

Unlike the Army, the Royal Navy had no problems in recruiting boys to serve on their ships and HMS "Impregnable" quickly became too small for the numbers in training.  She was joined by HMS "Circe" in 1874, which operated under her own name until 1916.

On Monday September 27th 1886 the "Impregnable" was replaced by HMS "Howe", which was duly renamed.  The "Howe" had been launched at Pembroke Dock in 1860 but made only one sea-going voyage, her own steam trials, before being laid up in reserve at Devonport for the next 25 years.  The old ship became a tender to HMS "Indus", also at Devonport, but ended her days at Queensferry, on the Firth of Forth, as the training ship HMS "Caledonia".

Even though the Naval and Military Record in February 1905 had carried the news that HMS "Impregnable" was to be closed in the August, in June 1906 it was necessary to add the former HMS "Inconstant" to the establishment as HMS "Impregnable II" and in June 1910 HMS "Emerald" became "Impregnable III".  On January 1st 1916 HMS "Circe", which had operated under her own name since 1874, was re-named "Impregnable IV".

At the end of the Great War the "Impregnable" establishment was paid off.  But not for long.  In November 1919 HMS "Powerful" was renamed HMS "Impregnable", while "Powerful II", the former "Andromeda", became "Impregnable II".  The former HMS "Emerald" remained as "Impregnable III" and she was joined by HMS "Powerful IV", the former HMS "Caroline", as "Impregnable IV".

But major changes in the way boys were to be trained for sea service were afoot.  In August 1928 the Lords of the Admiralty, looking for ways to save money, decided that HMS "Impregnable" should be 'offered on the altar of economy;, as the local press put it.  On Thursday November 22nd 1928 the final distribution of prizes took place aboard the training ship, after which the Commander, Commander G Wilson, and the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Rudolf Bentinck, said farewell to some four hundred boys assembled in the gymnasium of the Royal Naval Barracks.  The last draft of boys left the ship on Tuesday January 1st 1929 and the ships were sold on Saturday August 31st 1929 although the former HMS "Andromeda", otherwise "Impregnable II" was moved upstream to become HMS "Defiance" on Tuesday January 20th 1931 and she survived the Second World War.

In November 1936, with another war with Germany looming, the boys' training establishment was re-commissioned but this time ashore in the former Saint Budeaux Barracks at Bull Point.  During the Second World War it trained naval signalmen and at the end of the War became the RN Demobilisation Centre.  There was a proposal in May 1945 to merge it with the Royal Navy Camp at Saint Budeaux to form a new HMS "Mount Edgcumbe" but this was soon dropped.  In 1946 it returned to being a boys' training centre but it took only one new entry, starting on Wednesday May 14th 1947, amongst which the pianist Russ Conway and actor San Connery are said to have trained.

The final parade took place on Sunday May 9th 1948 and HMS "Impregnable", Devonport's most famous naval boys' training ship, was paid off for the last time on Tuesday May 25th 1948.