Staff shortages meant women allowed to serve at sea

The Royal Navy was forced to allow women to serve at sea because of a drop in recruitment, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

Women in the Women’s Royal Naval Service – known as the Wrens – were allowed to go to sea in 1990 in a move that was hailed as big step forward for equal opportunities.

However, documents released after an FOI request by the Times newspaper show that the Navy’s hand was forced because there were 300 ‘gaps’ in manpower at sea and a further 2,000 ashore.

A memorandum from Second Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Brian Brown, released by the Navy said ‘shortages exist in every officer and rating category’.

The memo said the move could improve ‘the scope for the equality of opportunity and contribution’ for women but warned of the potential hazards of allowing women to serve on warships.

“There are also counter arguments: culture shock, spouses’ resistance, emotional tensions developing within crews, weakening of the male self-image…and the unpredictability of women’s availability because of pregnancy,” the memo said.

It is estimated that Wrens presently make up about 10% of Royal Navy warship crews.

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