North America and West Indies Station
Royal Navy ships of the America and West Indies Station off Bermuda
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
Branch Royal Navy
TypeRegional command
Part ofRoyal Navy
Garrison/HQRoyal Naval Dockyard, Halifax 1745–1905 &
Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda 1795–1956;
HM Naval Base Bermuda HMS Malabar (South Yard of the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda) 1956-1976 (closing in 1995)
Notable shipsFame, Invincible, Leopard, Resolute
EngagementsBattle of Craney Island, Battle 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, with main bases at the Imperial fortresses of Bermuda and Halifax, Nova Scotia. 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 Commanders-in-Chief whose titles changed with the changing of the formation's name, eventually 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]

Royal Navy ships and vessels in the area had been designated as the North American Station in 1767, under the command of Commodore Samuel Hood. The headquarters was located 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]

The economy of Bermuda had been entirely dependent on maritime activities, including privateering, since the 17th Century.[3]

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.[4]

Admiralty House, Halifax, summer headquarters of the Admiral in command of the station
The Grassy Bay anchorage seen from HMD Bermuda in 1865
Admiralty House Bermuda, Clarence Hill (1816-1956), Pembroke Parish, Bermuda
On lookout for U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, October 1941
Grassy Bay, the anchorage for the fleet in Bermuda between 1816 and 1956, with the Royal Naval Dockyard in the background

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 and raids such as the Battle of Craney Island were orchestrated. 2,500 soldiers under Major-General Robert Ross aboard HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops and ten other vessels, was sent to Bermuda in 1814, following British victory in the Peninsular War, and joined with the naval and military forces already at, or operating from, Bermuda to carry out the Chesapeake campaign, a punitive expedition which included the Raid on Alexandria, the Battle of Bladensburg, and the Burning of Washington was launched in August, 1814.[5][6][7][8][9]

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.[10] In 1819, Bermuda, which was better positioned to counter threats from the United States, became the main base of the station year-round.[2][11][10][12][13] Halifax continued to be used as the summer base for the station until 1907.[14] Virtually impregnable to attack over the ocean, and impossible to attack over land,[15][16][17] Bermuda's importance following the war was described by Royal Naval Purser Richard Cotter in 1828:[18]

The possession of Bermuda, as the key of all our Western Colonies, is of the first importance to England, for if a foe of any maritime strength had possession of it, our trade would be exposed to much annoyance, if not total destruction.

Sir Henry Hardinge reported, in the House of Commons, on the 22 March 1839:

All who were conversant with the interests of our West Indian and North American possessions must know that Bermuda was one of our most important posts—a station where the navy could be refitted with the greatest ease, where during the last war we had about 2,000,000l. value in stores, where our ships (such was the safety of the anchorage) could at all times take refuge. This island had been fortified at very great expense; for some years 5,000 convicts had been engaged on the works, and it was most important in every point of view that this island should be maintained in a state of perfect security. For a long time even after the determination of the sympathisers in the United States to attack us had been known, the force at Bermuda was never greater than a small battalion of 480 or 500 men, perfectly inadequate to do the duties of the station. Considering that this post was one of great consequence, that immense sums had been expended upon it, and that the efficiency of the navy in those seas was chiefly to be secured by means of it, it was indispensable, that it should be in safe keeping.[19]

Commissioners House, in the Naval Yard, Halifax, 1804
Map of the cruises of the Bermuda-based HMS York on the America & West Indies Station, 1936-1939

In 1830 the station absorbed the Jamaica Station and 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 its squadron replaced by the 4th Cruiser Squadron. This was 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.[20][21] The Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard on the Pacific coast of Canada was also transferred to the dominion government in 1905.[22]

An official letter sent by the Commander-in-Chief during the Venezuelan crisis of 1902–1903 listed the following ships at the station on 1 January 1903: cruisers HMS Ariadne, HMS Charybdis, HMS Pallas, HMS Indefatigable, HMS Retribution, and HMS Tribune; sloops HMS Fantome and HMS Alert; destroyers HMS Quail and HMS Rocket; and the tender HMS Columbine.[23]

America and West Indies Station 1st Division (HMS Dragon, HMS Danae and HMS Despatch) off Admiralty House in 1931 as they depart their base at the Royal Naval Dockyard in the Imperial fortress colony of Bermuda to exercise on the open ocean

The North America and West Indies Station was restored in 1915, and incorporated the 8th Cruiser Squadron from 1924 to 1925. After the First World War, relying on the Panama Canal (completed in 1914), it absorbed the geographic area formerly belonging to the Pacific Station, as reported in the Daily Colonist newspaper on 16 July, 1919:[24][25]

Under the new dispensation of British naval power all over the world, now that the preoccupation in the North Sea is at an end, it was thought that no provision had been made for the North Pacific Ocean, but latest official information shows the Admiralty has no intention of abandoning these waters. The North America and West Indies Squadron is to have a wide area to patrol, comprising the North Atlantic, the West Indies and the North Pacific-from the Galapagos Islands to the Bering Straits. While any of the vessels of this squadron are in the Pacific their headquarters will be at Esquimalt. The squadron is to be composed of four of the most powerful light cruisers afloat, and will be in command of Vice-Admiral Sir Trevelyn Napier, who will have his headquarters at Bermuda. There will also be smaller craft attached to the squadron for police duties.

and, in 1928, South America (what had once been the South East Coast of America Station) was added to the geographic limits of the North America and West Indies Station and the station was renamed the "America and West Indies Station". In May, 1928, Dauntless was recommissioned and transferred to the Station from the Mediterranean to augment the vessels of the 8th Light Cruiser Station. South American waters had previously been patrolled by the "South American Squadron", but this had been withdrawn due to financial constraints in 1921, since when the British flag has been shown there only by special visits (such as during the world cruise of the First Cruiser Squadron in 1924 or by HMS Repulse during the March to October, 1925, tour of Africa and South America by the Prince of Wales'), or by detaching a ship from the North America and West Indies Station.[26][27] In 1942 the title of C-in-C America and West Indies was re-styled Senior British Naval Officer, Western Atlantic.[28]

In 1945 the America and West Indies title was restored.[29][30]

In 1951, the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, was reduced to a base without drydock facilities, with the Admiralty Floating Dock No. 5 towed to Britain by HM Tugs Warden and Reward (the smaller AFD 48 remained). 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.[31][32][33] 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.[13] There was also an RNO in Nassau.[34]

In 1952, the Commander-in-Chief, Vice Admiral Sir William Andrewes, became the initial Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic.[35]

Disestablishment and successor, SNOWI

On 29 October 1956, the post of Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station, was abolished, leaving the Senior Naval Officer, West Indies as his replacement.[36] SNOWI reported directly to the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, flying his flag back in the United Kingdom. SNOWI also served as Island Commander Bermuda (ISCOMBERMUDA) in the NATO chain of command, reporting to Commander-in-Chief, Western Atlantic Area, as part of SACLANT.[34] The ships of the command were reduced to two Station Frigates.[13]

All remaining Admiralty land, including Admiralty House at Clarence Hill and Ireland Island, along with War Department lands in Bermuda, were sold to the colonial government between 1957 and 1965. That part of the dockyard still required for naval operations remained under Admiralty control under a ninety-nine year lease as the South Yard Berthing Area, which was commissioned on 1 June 1965 as HMS Malabar, under the command of the RNO, with the headquarters of SNOWI and the RNO in Moresby House (originally built in the 1899s as the residence of the civilian Officer in Charge, Works).[2] In December, 1967, the position of RNO Bermuda was abolished, with its duties passing to SNOWI's secretary and SNOWI taking over command of HMS Malabar. As SNOWI was frequently in the West Indies, he was unable to effectively command HMS Malabar and a Lieutenant-Commander was consequently appointed to the roles of Commanding Officer of HMS Malabar and RNO in 1971.[34]

The former Royal Naval wireless station land at Daniels Head was leased to the Royal Canadian Navy on 1 January 1963, for the purpose of a new radio station. It became CFS Daniel's Head when the Royal Canadian Navy became part of the Canadian Forces in 1969.[37]

After the assassination of the Governor of Bermuda, Sir Richard Sharples, in February 1973, HMS Sirius provided enhanced security for Commodore Cameron Rusby, the then-SNOWI.[38] A detachment of Royal Marines (subsequently replaced by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment) was posted to the Dockyard to guard SNOWI.[39]

While Bermuda had been the ideal base of operations for the North America and West Indies Station, at a thousand miles north of the Virgin Islands, it was far too distant to serve as an effective headquarters for only the West Indies. This meant that both SNOWI and the Station Frigates spent little time in or near Bermuda. On 1 April 1976, the post of SNOWI was abolished, and the Station Frigates were withdrawn. The RNO and his staff remained, and a frigate was appointed West Indies Guardship, but seldom visited Bermuda. HMS Malabar ceased to be a base and was rated only as a supply station.[2]

By 1995, when Malabar was handed over to the Government of Bermuda,[40][41][42][43] the Royal Naval presence in the North-Western Atlantic and Caribbean had been reduced to only the West Indies Guard Ship, a role which was rotated among the fleet's escorts, which took turns operating extended patrols of the West Indies.[44]

Years after the disestablishment of the SNOWI post, the West Indies Guard Ship task was redesignated Atlantic Patrol Task (North).[45]

Sub commands

Commanders in Chief

Commanders of the station have included:[46][47]
NoN = died in post

Commander-in-Chief, North American Station

Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station

Vacant (1907–13)

Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station

Senior British Naval Officer, Western Atlantic

Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station

After the end of the Second World War the former name of the station was restored.[29]

See also


  1. ^ "Royal Naval Dockyards". Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Bermuda's Royal Navy base at Ireland Island from 1815 to the 1960s". Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  3. ^ Shorto, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Gavin (5 April 2018). "Bermuda in the Privateering Business". The Bermudian. City of Hamilton, Pembroke Parish, Bermuda: The Bermudian. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  4. ^ "Bermuda's History from 1800 to 1899". Bermuda on line. Archived from the original on 3 July 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  5. ^ Stranack, Lieutenant-Commander Ian (1990). The Andrew And The Onions: The Story Of The Royal Navy In Bermuda, 1795 – 1975. Bermuda: The Bermuda Maritime Museum Press. ISBN 9780921560036.
  6. ^ "Bermuda Online: British Army in Bermuda from 1701 to 1977; 1881 to 1883". Archived from the original on 21 August 2014. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  7. ^ Harris, Dr. Edward Cecil (21 January 2012). "Bermuda's role in the Sack of Washington". The Royal Gazette. City of Hamilton, Pembroke, Bermuda. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  8. ^ Grove, Tim (22 January 2021). "Fighting The Power". Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Annapolis: Chesapeake Bay Media, LLC. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  9. ^ Morriss 1997, p. 98
  10. ^ a b Marilyn Gurney, The Kings Yard, Maritime Command Museum, Halifax.
  11. ^ Gwyn, Julian, Frigates and Foremasts: The North American Squadron in Nova Scotia Waters, 1745–1815 Vancouver, BC: UBC Press (2004) ISBN 978-0-7748-0911-5. OCLC 144078613
  12. ^ " -".
  13. ^ a b c The Andrew and The Onions: The Story of The Royal Navy in Bermuda, 1795–1975, by Lieutenant-Commander B. Ian D. Stranack. Bermuda Maritime Museum Press
  14. ^ "Wardroom Officers' Mess". CFB Halifax. Archived from the original on 9 January 2013. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  15. ^ Kennedy, R.N., Captain W. R. (1 July 1885). "An Unknown Colony: Sport, Travel and Adventure in Newfoundland and the West Indies". Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh, Scotland, and 37 Paternoster Row, London, England. p. 111.
  16. ^ VERAX, (anonymous) (1 May 1889). "The Defense of Canada. (From Colburn's United Service Magazine)". The United Service: A Quarterly Review of Military and Naval Affairs. LR Hamersly & Co., 1510 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; subsequently LR Hamersly, 49 Wall Street, New York City, New York, USA; BF Stevens & Brown, 4 Trafalgar Square, London, England. p. 552.
  17. ^ Dawson, George M.; Sutherland, Alexander (1898). MacMillan's Geographical Series: Elementary Geography of the British Colonies. London: MacMillan and Co., Limited, London, England, UK; The MacMillan Company, New York City, New York, USA. p. 184.
  18. ^ Cotter PURSER RN, Richard (1828). SKETCHES OF BERMUDA, OR SOMERS' ISLANDS. London: Effingham Wilson. p. 66.
  19. ^ Sir Henry Hardinge, MP for Launceston (22 March 1839). "SUPPLY—ARMY ESTIMATES". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 46. Parliament of the United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 1141–1142.
  20. ^ "Naval Establishments Bill (1909)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 30 August 1909. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  21. ^ "Navy Estimates, 1905–6.". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 18 May 1905. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  22. ^ "History of CFB Esquimalt and Naden". Archived from the original on 14 January 2010. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  23. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times. No. 36981. London. 19 January 1903. p. 11.
  24. ^ "REHABILITATING ESQUIMALT". The Daily Colonist. Canada. 16 July 1919. p. 4.
  25. ^ "CRUISER ON THE COAST: Chatham Passes Through Canal from Bermuda and Is going to San Diego". The Daily Colonist. Canada. 4 December 1920. p. 22. The light cruiser Chatham, of the British North America Squadron, based on Bermuda, has passed through the Panama Canal, and on November 30 left Salina Crus en route from San Diego. It is not yet known here how far up the coast the cruiser will proceed. This is the first occasion on which a ship from the Bermuda station has come through the Canal. The Chatham is a light cruiser of the same size as the Newcastle, which was here during the war, but she is two classes later than that craft, having been built in 1910.
  26. ^ "Local Jottings (first item)". The Royal Gazette. City of Hamilton, Pembroke Parish, Bermuda. 27 March 1928. p. 5.
  27. ^ "Local Jottings (second item)". The Royal Gazette. City of Hamilton, Pembroke Parish, Bermuda. 27 March 1928. p. 5.
  28. ^ Admiralty, Great Britain (August 1942). The Navy List. London, England: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 1337.; Admiralty, Great Britain (October 1944). The Navy List. London, England: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 2260.; Admiralty, Great Britain (July 1945). The Navy List. London, England: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 2349.
  29. ^ a b Lieutenant-Commander B. Ian D. Stranack, The Andrew and The Onions: The Story of The Royal Navy in Bermuda, 1795–1975. Bermuda Maritime Museum Press; Harris, Dr Edward (3 December 2011). "Heritage Matters The Royal Gazette: Bermuda Island09". The Royal Gazette. Bermuda: The Bermuda Press. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  30. ^ "King's Birthday Celebrations: Governor To Take Salute; Sheffield Visiting City". The Royal Gazette. City of Hamilton, Bermuda. 9 June 1948. p. 1. ...H.M.S. Sheffield, flagship of the America and West Indies Squadron, will steam up the Great Sound and tie up at Number One Dock in Hamilton.
  31. ^ "Bermuda Dockyard (1950)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 25 October 1950. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  32. ^ "Dockyard Bermuda Closing (1950)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 3 May 1950. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  33. ^ "Bermuda Dockyard (1951)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Written-Answers. 14 February 1951. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  34. ^ a b c "DEFE 5/188/4". Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  35. ^ Sean M. Maloney, 'To Secure Command of the Sea: NATO Command Organization and Naval Planning for the Cold War at Sea, 1945–54,' MA thesis, University of New Brunswick, 1991, p.198 and Chapter 4 generally
  36. ^ for exact date; another clear reference can be seen here - - page 68 of that issue of the Naval Review
  37. ^ "Bermuda WT". Archived from the original on 7 February 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  38. ^ "Family Treasure Restored to Owner
  39. ^ Guarding SNOWI, by Mick Pinchen, Royal Marine
  40. ^ "Britain announces closure of Malabar". The Royal Gazette. City of Hamilton, Pembroke, Bermuda. 17 December 1993. Retrieved 5 November 2023.
  41. ^ "Defence Budget". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 11 January 1994. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  42. ^ "Hms Malabar (1993)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Written-Answers. 17 December 1993. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  43. ^ Hansard: House of Commons debate on The Dependent Territories. 9 February 1994
  44. ^ "West Indies Guard Ship (2000)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Written-Answers. 13 July 2000. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  45. ^ Atlantic Patrol Tasking North,, Retrieved 1 June 2014
  46. ^ Stout, Neil R. The Royal Navy in America, 1760-1775: A Study of Enforcement of British Colonial Policy in the Era of the American Revolution. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1973, p.199 via Gaspee Virtual Archives: Research Notes on Admiral John Montagu; "Commanders-in-chief, 1830-1899".
  47. ^ "Commanders-in-Chief 1904 – 1975". Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 15 June 2008.; "Bermuda's Royal Navy base at Ireland Island from 1815 to the 1960s". Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 15 June 2008.; "Senior Royal Navy appointments" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 March 2012.
  48. ^ "Douglas, James (1703-1787)". Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  49. ^ Women's Canadian Historical Society of Toronto, Women's Canadian Historical Society of Toronto (18 April 1905). "Women's Canadian historical society of Toronto. Transaction no. 1-10 ." Women's Canadian Historical Society of Toronto – via Internet Archive.
  50. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times. No. 36822. London. 17 July 1902. p. 9.