Bond and the Navy

The character of James Bond enjoys strong links with the Royal Navy (RN), the maritime branch of the UK's armed services. This article aims to discuss these links, both in terms of the character and the films.

For more on the Royal Navy itself, see its Official Site.

bond's naval career
In the novels Bond's naval career is detailed in his obituary in "You Only Live Twice". This reveals that when Bond joined the Ministry of Defence in 1941 he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). He was soon promoted to Commander, and at the end of the war he joined the Secret Service. As such, the Bond of the novels was a Navy reservist and never actually served at sea. It is interesting to note that Bond's wartime naval career exactly matches that of his creator; during the war, Ian Fleming served as a lieutenant and commander in the Special Branch of the RNVR.

In contrast, the Bond of the movies is definitely a serving member of the Royal Navy who is on attachment to MI6. This is confirmed in both You Only Live Twice and Tomorrow Never Dies when newspaper headlines refer to Bond's death as the murder of a British naval commander (the first is a cover story, the second is Elliot Carver optimistically writing the next day's paper before the event). This was also the approach used by John Gardner in his 1989 Bond novel "Win, Lose or Die", which features Bond returning to active service and serving on the (real) aircraft carrier HMS Invincible after gaining a promotion to Captain.

We know little about Bond's career; all that is actually mentioned on screen is that he served on board the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, since this is how he is known by Admiral Hargreaves prior to The Spy Who Loved Me. Unlike many of the vessels mentioned in the Bond films, the Ark Royal is a real ship (indeed there have been several RN aircraft carriers bearing this name over the years). However, we can attempt to make some deductions from the occasions that Bond has been in seen in uniform.

On the first two occasions, You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond has no extra insignia or emblems on his uniform. This indicates that he is not in any specialist part of the RN; for instance if he was in the Submarine Service he would be wearing a badge showing two dolphins (as can be seen on Captain Benson's uniform in The Spy Who Loved Me). In You Only Live Twice, Bond is wearing ten medal ribbons in three rows. This seems quite excessive, especially since the British Armed Forces generally only award medals for campaigns. By the time of the Roger Moore film, this was reduced to one row, consisting of just two medals. One of these is the purple and green General Service Medal (GSM), which is awarded for service in campaigns for which there are no specific decorations (for instance Northern Ireland or Borneo).

In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond's medal count had increased back to three rows. These include another appearance for the GSM, as well as the Rhodesia Medal, meaning that he was in active service during the transition to Zimbabwe in 1979-80 (presumably between those Drax and ATAC affairs!), and the Distinguished Service Cross. However, perhaps the most surprising medal is the red and white Order of the British Empire (OBE) ribbon, a major award which is also available to civillians.

In addition, Bond is wearing a set of wings on his right shoulder; these are the HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) wings, referring to the type of parachute jump that Bond makes later in the film (and so that was not for the first time). This indicates that Bond is a former member of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS).

Information on Bond's medals based on research carried out by Neil Griffiths for the Scottish Royal British Legion journal, as reported in Navy News, April 1998.

naval personnel
The most senior officer in the RN is the Chief of Naval Staff, known as the First Sea Lord (1SL). He heads the Navy Board, which is effectively the operating committee of the service. The First Sea Lord is mentioned in The Spy Who Loved Me when Captain Benson informs him by telephone of the disappearance of HMS Ranger. Two different First Sea Lords have actually appeared in the Bond films; one reported the loss of the St Georges to the Minister of Defence at the start of For Your Eyes Only (played by Graham Crowden), and then another (played by David Ashton) appears briefly in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Other senior officers are the Second Sea Lord (2SL), who has more administrative responsibilities, and a group of officers responisble for the various areas of the service, including Flag Officer Surface Flotilla (FOSF), Flag Officer Naval Aviation (FONA), Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) and Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM). During The Spy Who Loved Me the latter post was held by Admiral Hargreaves, who attended the meeting following the disappearance of HMS Ranger. This meeting is also attended by RN Captains Benson and Forsyth, whose precise roles are not made but presumably have some sort of responsibility for the Polaris fleet.

Aside from Bond, there is another naval officer who plays an important part in the films, namely the original M. He is seen wearing naval uniform in You Only Live Twice and is referred to as an admiral in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This is consistent with Fleming's M, who was named as Admiral Sir Miles Messervy. The second screen M, played by Robert Brown, is also seen wearing uniform in The Living Daylights, but it is unclear whether this is simply due to the fact the Brown is playing the same character as Bernard Lee, or Admiral Hargreaves has now assumed the post (this issue is discussed in more detail elsewhere).

The Bond movies have featured other RN personnel, including the crews of the various vessels which have appeared (see below). In addition, a vice admiral is seen working with the First Sea Lord in For Your Eyes Only. Then Tomorrow Never Dies features Admiral Roebuck, whose role is not made clear but seems to have some responsibility for the surface fleet so he may actually be FOSF.

A number of Royal Navy vessels - both real and fictional - have appeared in the Bond movies:

HMS Rothesay (Thunderball)
This real frigate (which is not named on-screen but can be identified by its penant number, F107) leads the attack on the Disco Volante. It was the first of the Type 12 Rothesay class ship.

HMS Tenby (You Only Live Twice)
The ship from which Bond is apparently buried at sea off Hong Kong at the start of the film (actually filmed off Gibraltar). It is a Type 12 (WHITBY class) frigate. The ship is not named on-screen but it can be identified by its penant number (F65). It has since been decommisioned.
See also: The HMS Tenby Association

M's Submarine (You Only Live Twice)
The name of this boat is never given and it simply acts as a covert mobile headquarters for M in the vicinity of Hong Kong and Japan. On-board, M is seen in uniform (and he is of course an admiral), as is Miss Moneypenny. The submarine has the penant number M1, but this is fictional presumably reflecting its occupant, given that all RN submarines at the time had S numbers. However, there was a real M1 earlier. This was the greatest and most powerful submarine of her time. The reason for the M pennant was that it was a "(submarine) Monitor" - a ship with a huge cannon designed to be able to sink without using expensive torpedos. However, the M1 was lost during sea trials in November 1935. Returning to the movie, the M1 featured was "played by" HMS Aeneas, a streamlined Admiralty A class diesel electric boat.

HMS Ranger (The Spy Who Loved Me)
HMS Ranger was one of the RN's nuclear submarines. While under the command of Captain Talbot it was hi-jacked by Stromberg during a routine patrol in the Norwegian Sea, along with the 16 Polaris ballistic missiles it was carrying. It was renamed Stromberg One and was deployed to launch its missiles on the world, but was ultimately destroyed in the attempt. Ranger was based at the RN base at Faslane in Scotland; Bond attends a meeting there following its disappearance.
The name of the submarine was fictional, although it fitted the style of the four RN Polaris submarines; these were RESOLUTION class and all their names started with the letter R; the actual boat used for the exterior shots both at sea and alongside was HMS Renown. There is now a real HMS Ranger, it is an Archer class P2000 patrol vessel that is based in Gibraltar.
The Polaris boats were based at Faslane (they have since been decommisioned), where filming actually took place. The Spy Who Loved Me makes a few technical simplifications concerning the appearance of the various submarines that appear in it (as well as Ranger we see the Soviet ballistic missile submarine Potempkin and the American hunter killer submarine USS Wayne commanded by Captain Carter). The submarines from all three nations appear to be virtually identical (in reality there would be substantial differences), and the British and Russian ballistic missile submarines would be much larger than the Wayne.

HMS Fearless (The Spy Who Loved Me)
This is the ship which picks up the escape pod containing Bond and Anya at the end of the film. M, Q, the Minister of Defence and General Gogol are all on board. The ship is not named on-screen but it can be identified from its penant number (L10). As shown below, it is an assault ship (a landing platform dock or LPD to use the correct designation) used for making amphibious landings. Its stern opens allowing access to a dock; this is the method it uses to collect the escape pod. Fearless was commissioned in 1965 and was taken out of service in early 2002 after an impressive life of some 37 years. There is a possibility it will be sold to a foreign navy.

HMS Fearless

St Georges (For Your Eyes Only)
The St Georges was an electronic surveillance ship which was disguised as a Maltese fishing vessel. It was accidentally sunk by a leftover WW2 mine in the Ionian Sea off the Albanian Coast. It carried the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC) system, a device uses ultra-low frequency coded transmissions in order to control the missile launching of the RN Polaris fleet (now presumably a submarine short following the loss of Ranger). Clearly, it is not possible to say whether the RN really has any vessels similar to the St Georges!

HMS Chester, HMS Devonshire and HMS Bedford (Tomorrow Never Dies)
Tomorrow Never Dies featured no less than three RN vessels (although the Royal Navy is virtually always referred to just as "the British navy"). All the ships were supposed to be Type 23 (DUKE class) frigates, as illustrated below. The exteriors of the ships were represented mainly by models, supplemented by a few shots of HMS Somerset (a real Type 23) operating off Plymouth. Further co-operation from the RN helped the filming of the interiors: another real Type 23, HMS Westminster, doubled for much of the interior of the Devonshire, whereas the scenes set in the operations rooms of the three ships used a simulator at HMS Dryad, a training facility at Fareham in Hampshire. The names of the three ships were all fictional, although they did reflect the tradition of often naming surface ships after places in Britain.

A Type 23 frigate
HMS Chester was the first of the frigates to appear. It is the only one of the ships to have a number of the side (F82, which actually belongs to a real Type 23, HMS Somerset). Chester is seen patrolling off the coast of Russia in the pre-credits sequence of the film and it is used to launch a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM, simply referred to as a cruise missile on-screen) at the arms bazaar. At the time the film was made, the RN did not actually have these TLAMs, but were in the process of purchasing some following their successful use by the US Navy during the Gulf War.
HMS Devonshire plays a more important role. While patrolling in the South China Sea under the command of one Commander Day its global positioning system (GPS), a satellite based navigation system, is disrupted so that it inadvertantly enters Chinese waters. It is then sunk by Carver's stealth ship in order to precipitate a crisis between Britain and China. Devonshire is also seen to be carrying TLAM, since one of the missiles is taken from it for use in a subsequent phase of Carver's plan. According to the film's credits, the captain of the Devonshire is named as Cdr Richard Day and its XO (Executive Officer) is Lt Cdr Peter Hume.
HMS Bedford is the flagship of the British fleet which is sent to the South China Sea in response to Devonshire's supposed sinking by China. It is unusual that a frigate would be the flagship like this, and indeed it appears to be the only ship in the British fleet! On board the Bedford is Admiral Kelly, who appears to be in command of the fleet. When the true nature of the situation is revealed Bedford is responsible for destroying the stealth ship, and then attempting to locate Bond and Wai Lin.

Unidentified warship (Die Another Day)
When Bond is recovered from North Korea he is held on a British warship in Hong Kong harbour. It has been suggested that this ship is called HMS Tenby, a reference to the warship seen in the same location in You Only Live Twice, but it is not named on-screen.

The Bond Film Informant was compiled by Matthew Newton. © Copyright MJ Newton. No part of this site may be reproduced without permission unless otherwise stated.

Main Page
The Database