Miniature ships at Scarborough's Peasholm Park set for battle once again

A spectacle of showmanship is to play out on the waves at Scarborough's Peasholm Park as battleships rally for a fiery cavalcade of war.

This is the smallest manned navy in the world, as miniature ships reenact battles that have raged for the best part of a century.

It takes a winter of preparations to ready the 21ft ships, which return to the lake as a major tourist attraction ahead of demonstrations from July 22.

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"They are completely unique," said Damien Rhodes, who is naval warfare coordinator for Scarborough Council and among those charged with their care.

Damien Rhodes prepares one of the boats
Damien Rhodes prepares one of the boats

"There's nothing else like it, it really does stop people in their tracks."

The battleships of Peasholm Park are replica ships that reenact famed battles from the time of the Second World War.

They were first built in 1927, as the "brainchild" of the council's then head of entertainment, a gentleman called George Horrocks.

Nobody knows what his intention had been, or if the ships had indeed done battle in that time. It is known the dreadnoughts were manpowered, propelled across the lake by pedal force alone.

Scarborough's Peasholm Park readies for the return of the Battleships

By 1929, electricity had come into play, making commanders' jobs just a little bit easier, although seven of the nine today are still manned by trained individuals.

"I can only imagine the hard work it must have been," said Mr Holmes. "It's tight in there now, so it must have been incredibly difficult.

"There's no room to move, you can just about turn your head," he added. "It's just a question of getting used to the boat, as you have to steer with pedals at your feet."

The boats, moved into storage for the duration of the Second World War, had suffered significant damage in that time and had to be rebuilt.

There are now nine in total, including drone powered boats and a submarine, with many named after ships from the Battle of the River Plate such as HMS Ajax, Achilles, and Exeter.

In the 1960s and 70s the format had been changed, modernising a little to bring in airship displays as well as a replica of the Royal Navy's flagship HMS Ark Royal.

But the premise today remains the same, in fireworks explosions and carefully timed potshots, as battleships level miniature canons in anticipation of their demise.

It takes a three-strong team to prepare for demonstration days, setting up from 6.30am to lay underwater explosives and attach drones to finely wrought pulleys.

Each manned boat has a 50 volt motor, equivalent to four car batteries in each, and takes a tractor to lift at the end of each season.

"There's quite a lot of detail that goes into planning, from what happens in battle to the gunshots and the explosions," said Mr Holmes.

"You don't have time to think about anything in the battle, you have to be so focused. When an explosion goes up, and the water comes over, there's no getting away."

The boats are so small, and so sunken in the water, it can seem inconceivable that there may be people inside. For those driving, their moment of glory comes when they 'lift the lid' in victory laps at the end of demonstrations.

"Even to this day we are asked if there's people actually in the boats, you can hear the gasps when they see you," said Mr Holmes.

"I don't think people realise, until they see it, quite what's going to happen," he added. "It's the smallest manned navy in the world, in battle, over Peasholm's lake. It's incredible."

Final preparations are now in place for the return of the Battleships of Peasholm Park. Hopes had been that demonstrations could resume from July 1, but the first display will now be on July 22, with dates planned until August.

The oriental themed park, over Scarborough’s North Bay, opened in 1912 as a venue for galas and exhibitions.