In 1831, King Leopold I created the Royal Navy in order to defend the national coast and the river Scheldt. It was also supposed to support Belgian colonial endeavours. This Royal Navy was however disbanded in 1862, due to a lack of both money and interest. Different attempts at a military navy were undertaken during the interwar period, but one nevertheless had to wait till 1946 in order to see a new Belgian Navy.
On display in the triangular courtyard, harbour of the Navy section, are the motor yacht Avila belonging to the late King Baudouin, and the river launch La Meuse. This vessel was used during the catastrophic weather conditions in the winter of 1953 to supply and evacuate the Dutch populations affected by disastrous flooding. La Meuse had a top speed of 19 knots.
During his reign, King Baudouin acquired a yacht, baptized Avila by Queen Fabiola. It was used during their holidays in Spain, where it had its port of call. After the monarch's death, the queen presented the Military Museum with the yacht.
Backdrop to the two vessels is an immense painting 10 metres high and 40 metres long. Illustrious ships seem to emerge from the past: the logistic support ship for minesweepers (A957) Kamina, the minesweeper (M903) Dufour, the schooner Louise Marie, the corvette (K193) Buttercup and the frigate (F910) Wielinge plough the Channel's wild waves.
Nowadays, the army is not limited to territorial protection. Focus is now rather on the preservation of the Atlantic alliance interests. As an active member of NATO, the Belgian Navy participates in operations defending common interests. In that way, Belgium was present in former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Somalia. Its main tasks were anti-submarine warfare, international patrolling and minesweeping.
The Navy is also active in other fields: scientific research with the Belgica, rescue at sea, protection of inshore fishing grounds or destruction of explosive devices.
The Navy Gallery at the Royal Military Museum displays collection items, documents, pictures, film footage, scale models and uniforms. The visitor can also admire a “PAP”, a “poison auto-propulsé” or “self-propelled fish”, used by Belgian minesweepers.
The objects tell the story and the evolution of the Belgian Navy since its creation in 1831. They illustrate the actions undertaken by the sea-men and draw attention to the important part they played both in Belgium and in Europe.
In March 2016 the Museum inaugurated a new section on military operations in the Antarctic.