Electrical Fitters

  • PDF
  • Print
  • E-mail

Portsmouth Dockyard had the first electrical engineer of all the Royal Dockyards. The increasing importance of electricity on ships became apparent during the construction of the Dreadnoughts. As a result of the increased workload and responsibilities the post holder was promoted to Electrical Manager equal with the shipwright's and engineer's managers. This made him eligible for a residence in the Dockyard. By the First World War the other Dockyards had fallen in line with Portsmouth.

Inside the electrical shop
Inside the electrical shop (RNM)

An electrical fitter was the name given to anybody who worked in the electrical department. A standard electrician on a ship would be responsible for the lighting, fans, lifts and anything else electrical. The electrical fitters also looked after all of the electrical motors. They also dealt with all the civilian or domestic electricity within the dockyard, like the electrical generators. They maintained the Dockyard's generating station.

The Electrical Shop
The Electrical Shop (PRDHT)

Within the electrical department there were a number of specialist sections. There was the radar section which dealt with the radars. Another specialism was the wireless or radio section, they dealt with nothing but wirelesses. This was a large department because of the numbers and types of wirelesses on a ship.

Electrician's multi-meter
Electrician's multi-meter (PRDHT)

Much of the electricians work involved testing. Faults in electrical devices were located using multi-meters. Electricians also tested how equipment would function at sea and tested guns using simulators.

Testing gun in sea conditions, on a simulator
Testing gun in sea conditions, on a simulator (BDFL)

Electricians also worked on shore establishments. They fitted and maintained cinemas and public address systems. Listen to the oral history extract below to find out how sailors broke speakers.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.


"I had a spell on cinema maintenance which was extremely interesting because it involved travelling to naval bases all round Portsmouth, just looking after the cinemas which were provided for the naval people,

Interviewer: For entertainment or for lectures?

Entertainment, well both. They used them for both. I had another spell doing the public address systems in naval bases. Went to Lee-on-Solent. One of the commonest things there was they were replacing speakers that had boots thrown at them! People doing reveille being woken up with this speaker, the nearest thing was the boot and we went round a lot of establishments doing that."