The origins of HM Yacht Britannia date back to 1938 yet it was not until 5th February 1952 that the Clydeside yard John Brown & Co Ltd was awarded the building contract. She was launched by HM The Queen on 16th April 1953 and commissioned on 7th January 1954. During her 44 years of active service Britannia steamed a total of 1,087,623 nautical miles conducting 696 Royal visits overseas and 272 in home waters. Among her numerous deployments she sailed to the Antarctic in 1956/57. She was used to open the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and in January 1986 while on passage for the Queen's State Visit to New Zealand and Australia she was diverted to assist in the evacuation of refugees from Aden. At home she became the focus of national events such as the Queen's 1977 Silver Jubilee Fleet Review and in 1994 she embarked an unprecedented number of Heads of State for the 50th commemorations of the D Day landings. Britannia's final International period of Royal Duty came in 1997 when the Prince of Wales presided over the formal hand over of Hong Kong to China.
In addition to her official duties Britannia provided the Royal Family with a place to relax in particular the Royal Family's annual cruise of the Western Isles and was also increasingly used with considerable success to promote British industry abroad. She was decommissioned on 11th December 1997 and subsequently preserved in Leith. This Official History of the Royal Yacht is being prepared by Richard Johnstone-Bryden and has the full unprecedented support of Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Duke of Edinburgh. As part of his research the author has interviewed a cross section of those involved in the story of this great ship from members of the Royal Family through to the junior Royal Yachtsmen as well as those who built her and those involved in her preservation. Moreover, many of the photographs have been made available by the MOD and Royal Archives including a number of informal photographs of the Royal Family.
Richard Johnstone-Bryden is a marine photographer and author who contributes to leading yachting magazines. His previous books include HMS Ark Royal (IV) (Sutton, 1999) and the forthcoming History of the Fleet Air Arm in the Twentieth Century (Fleet Air Arm Museum).