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Info on the different arms of the RN in WW2


Hi I need help on a few questions relating to WW2 and the different arms of the RN of that period.

I know RN is Royal Navy, RNR is Royal Navy Reserve and RNVR is Royal Navy Volunteers Reserve.

What was the difference between all 3 arms during the war years?

I am investigating into my father’s WW2 progress through the RN from 1940 to 1946 when he was invalided out.

He volunteered in 1940 and chose the Navy to go into (like his father did in WW1) and ended up in the RNPS

Was it because he volunteered they took him in the RN and not RNR or RNVR?

Was it if you were conscripted you went into one of the other arms?

Help on understanding this ww2 process will help me no end.


War Hero
Super Moderator
It's more or less the same now. RN are the regulars, RNR are reservists who undertake training with the RN, have a branch structure and get paid when on RNR duties, RNVR are volunteers and up until recently RNVR were Sea Cadet officers although their new title is RNR(SCC) and apart from full time Sea Cadet officers (there's not many) in the youth training scheme, they don't get paid.


Thanks for the reply but it doesn't really explain why the war panel at that time sorted the men out into the various arms - e.g. - dad volunteered at the start of the war and was placed in the regular RN, he wasn't already in the Navy and didn't join up to make it his career, so why did they put him in the RN and not the RNR?

He later became an officer and used to tell me about some of the men he commanded being men that had been conscripted or joined up in the war period being 'some regulars, some RNR and some RNVR' - I just don't understand the process of that time?


Book Reviewer
I suspect that your father volunteered for the RN which for the duration of the War which made him Hostilities Only, but because he was not serving in the RNR or RNVR He became a regular.
My father volunteered at the start of the war and was RN with HO on his papers, because of his fishing background he was assigned to the RNPS as went straight to Sparrow Nest at Lowestoft. Most of these people served on things like minesweepers, tugs and boarding vehicles and they had minimal RN training.

If you haven't already found it have a look here


War Hero
The Cruel Sea gives an idea. CO is RNR, (civilian professional mariners experienced in ships) the officers are RNVR (civilian amateur mariners experienced in messing around in boats). Hence the difference in lace.

The RNVR was also home to civilians with handy skills/experience needed ashore.


janner - you are probably right with that, as I've read somewhere where it said 'until the end of the present emergency' - but I don't remember seeing HO?
When you volunteered could you request to go to the RNR or RNVR if you wanted or were you just put were you were told?

One thing that may have a bearing on his placement is that I remember now, him saying that he would have stayed on if he had not be invalided out 1n 1946 - so I wonder if when first volunteering he intended to stay in? - would that have made a difference?

Thank you to 'All' who have replied - as it is a great help for me trying to piece together his wartime period.


Book Reviewer
He wouldn't have had a choice, I think that if he was not RNR/RNVR before joining he would have gone RN


Book Reviewer
It is my understanding that on volunteering for the RN at the outbreak of war you were making a deliberate choice to join the regular RN.
Everyone serving in the RNR and RNVR at the outbreak of war were liable to be called up to serve until hostilities ended.


Book Reviewer
Those waiting to be called up would have been HO's, and I believe paid less than the regular RN.


Thank you - that makes it all a little bit more easier to understand what took place and why. It endorses that fact that he probably wanted a career in the RN and when the war came it helped him decide that a career in the RN was what he wanted to pursue.

There are some other questions to ask that hopefully will fill gaps and give me a better understanding, but I will start a different thread to deal with those.


War Hero
Super Moderator
Do you have your Fathers service record, maybe scan it so we can see?

Personal details blacked out obviously.


I'm afraid I don't anymore - along with a lot of his naval stuff it was decided about 20 years ago to dispose of it, he had died 7 years prior to this, with his stuff being here and there it was whittled away until most of it had all gone. There were uniforms, paperwork etc, now all that I have are a few bits of letters and an odd photograph along with memory's and other peoples recollections of stories he told.
Its only in recent years finding an interest in doing the family tree that I want to progress on to dads naval history and piece it together with the few bits and the memory's I have.

Don't suppose you can keep everything but its times like this that you kick yourself!


Book Reviewer
I can appreciate how you feel nhvm. I have always been saddened that I never asked my Dad 'What did you do in the war'? Now, of course it's too late. I have his Army records but they in no way tell the full story.
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