Launched in 1944, HMS Cavalier is a CA-class destroyer. She saw service in the Arctic, Western Approaches and British Pacific Fleet before finally paying off at Chatham in 1972.
Today she is preserved as The National Destroyer Memorial commemorating the 11,000 lives and 142 Royal Navy Destroyers lost during the Second World War.
One of 96 war emergency destroyers HMS Cavalier currently resides in No.2 Dry Dock on the site of the Old Single Dock, where the Royal Navy’s most famous Chatham built ship HMS Victory was constructed – a fitting location for a vessel once known as ‘the fastest ship in the fleet’.
During a visit to the Dockyard you are free to explore HMS Cavalier in your own time.
Visit the 360 Virtual Reality Experience of HMS Cavalier
She was one of 96 emergency destroyers ordered for the war effort between 1940-42. In early 1943 J.S. White & Co’s shipyard at Cowes, Isle of Wight, was recovering from widespread damage by enemy bombing. In rebuilding, the company followed up an Admiralty request for British shipbuilders to develop the use of electric welding in warship construction. Cavalier was privileged to be among the first ships to be built with a partially welded hull, the forward and after parts, while amidships remained riveted to ensure strength. The welding proved very successful. The new process gave the ship additional speed and women were able to handle the welding more efficiently than the heavy job of riveting, important at a time when most men were required for active service.
Cavalier’s keel was laid at the White yard on 28th February 1943. She was launched on 7th April 1944 and finally completed on 22nd November 1944. HMS Cavalier joined the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet, and quickly saw action. In February 1945 she took part in three operations off Norway, “Selenium”, a strike against enemy shipping, “Shred” to provide fighter cover for a minesweeping flotilla and “Groundsheet”, an aircraft mine laying strike.
Cavalier was one of three destroyers sent from Scapa to reinforce the escort of Arctic Convoy RA64, which had left the Kola Inlet on 17th February. After being attacked by U-boats and enemy aircraft on 23rd February the convoy was scattered in a hurricane combining force 12 winds with ice. Cavalier went to round-up the convoy with the other escorts, and on 1st March thirty-one of the thirty-four merchant ships arrived safely in the Clyde. This mission earned HMS Cavalier a well deserved “Battle Honour”.
Because of Cavalier’s high speed capability, she was selected to help escort the then troopships RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, bringing thousands of American soldiers across the dangerous war zone of the Atlantic Ocean. The journey was completed at such speed that one of her crew described conditions on board as “horrendous.”
In 1945, after the war in Europe was finished, Cavalier and other destroyers of the 6th Flotilla were detached to the Western Approaches Command and based on the Clyde. In June the 6th Flotilla was allocated to the British Pacific Fleet, and HMS Cavalier was taken in hand for refit at Rosyth. On completion in mid-August, the war with Japan had ended and the 6th Flotilla was ordered to relieve the 11th Destroyer Flotilla on the East Indies Station where Cavalier took part in the bombardment of Surabaja, Java. In June 1946 Cavalier returned to Britain and was reduced to reserve.
HMS Cavalier was refitted at Portsmouth and modernised at Thornycroft’s, Southampton, between 1955 and 1957. Her capabilities were enhanced as a general-purpose escort ship. The latest Mk 6M fire control and remote power control were fitted to her guns; her after torpedo tubes were replaced by a deckhouse with two Squid anti-submarine mortars and a twin Mk 5 Bofors anti-aircraft gun fitted above. This modernisation did little to alter her wartime structure with its lattice mast, single funnel and the crew remaining at the mercy of the elements for much of the time. July 1957 was spent in the far east again, joining the 8th Destroyer squadron at Singapore.
On 8th December 1962 an armed rebellion against the formation of Malaysia broke out in Burnei, Sarawak and North Borneo. Cavalier was returning from an Australian cruise and ordered to proceed at high speed to Singapore. She arrived on the 9th, embarked troops of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, vehicles and stores, and sailed at full speed to help defend the Sultan of Brunei and his Kingdom. On arrival off Brunei she acted as communications HQ Ship and many members of her ship’s company guarded 400 rebels taken prisoner on Papan Island until the arrival of HMS Tiger with a Royal Marine detachment.
In September 1964 she was fitted with a quadruple Seacat GW20 missile system and later joined the Home Fleet. In May 1967 she was in the Far East again and before joining the Western Fleet one year later, Cavalier had exercised several operations with the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. In 1969 Cavalier rejoined the Home Fleet.
HMS Cavalier was with the Aircraft Carrier HMS Ark Royal in early September 1970 when she intercepted an SOS during night exercises. In a very heavy storm in the Bristol Channel a Scottish coaster, Saint Brandan, was on fire.
The crew had been taken off by a French trawler and the vessel abandoned, apparently about to sink. However, the ship stayed afloat and after standing by for 36 hours, still in heavy weather and with the derelict coaster nearing the rocky Welsh coast, the Cavalier succeeded in putting a boarding party on board and secured a towing hawser. The two ships made slow progress away from immediate danger and finally reached safety at Milford Haven 52 hours after the original SOS. For the remarkable seamanship displayed in this operation the ship’s company of HMS Cavalier later found themselves with a £11,000 salvage award for their troubles!
It was one of Cavalier’s final duties that was to secure her a proud place in Naval history. Following a challenge set during an exercise in 1970 a race was arranged between HMS Cavalier and the frigate HMS Rapid to decide which ship was faster.
The challenge was particularly interesting as Rapid, being a former “R” class destroyer, had a hull form and machinery outfit identical to that of the Cavalier. Both ships were now elderly by Naval standards, but with the passing of the fleet destroyers, they were still two of the fastest vessels in the Royal Navy. A national newspaper donated a trophy for the “Fastest Ship of the Fleet”, attracting great publicity. On 6th July 1971 the two ships met off the Firth of Forth in perfect weather.
After two hours the race had little in it, Cavalier had worked level with Rapid when the frigate lifted a safety valve. HMS Cavalier was declared winner by a mere 30 yards, over a distance of 64 miles. Her average speed was 31.8 knots, a speed very few more modern ships could achieve. Since then Cavalier has been affectionately known as “The Fastest of the Greyhounds”.
After a record 27 years, of Royal Navy service for such as ship, HMS Cavalier was approved for disposal in December 1971 and returned to Chatham for the last time on 5th July 1972 where she was laid up to await her fate…
Cavalier was bought for £65,000 and towed from Chatham to Portsmouth by naval tugs on 11-12th October 1977. On Trafalgar Day, 21st October, she was formally handed over to the Trust and left Portsmouth under tow of commercial tugs for Southampton where it was intended for her to become a floating museum dedicated to the destroyers and men lost in battle during the Second World War.
She was opened to the public in August 1982 but later sold to become the centre piece of Brighton’s new marina. HMS Cavalier was next offered a new home with South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council. In 1987 she moved to Hebburn where she was to be part of a new museum celebrating Tyneside’s long ship building history and the area’s strong Navy association. Alas, the plans were never realised and Cavalier was left to languish in a lonely, derelict dry-dock…
The offer of a home in a Malaysian theme park was an improvement to the terrible fate she would have suffered at the hands of a scrap dealer. However, for Britain’s last World War Two destroyer to finish up so far from home was unacceptable to many.
Tours above decks started almost immediately. A dedicated team of volunteers including ex Cavalier crew took almost two years to restore the forward compartments of the ship that were opened in July 2001.
The aim of the restoration was to take the ship back to her refit appearance of the late 1950’s to early 1960’s, which is how the ship returned to Chatham when she paid off in July 1972. The ship is now well over 50 years old and even areas of wear and tear, as long as they are stable, tell part of the story of her history. We try therefore to retain as much of the historical fabric and character of the ship, whilst balancing the future preservation needs.
Since early 2000, a small but highly dedicated group of volunteers have been engaged on a weekly basis in assisting the full time shipkeeping team working on Cavalier’s restoration. Many of these volunteers served either in the armed forces or were employed within the Dockyard; some even served on board HMS Cavalier or her sister ships.
Most of the upper 3 decks of the forward end of the ship have been restored to how they would have looked in the 1950s/1960s. Luckily Cavalier paid off with many fittings still in place. However essential maintenance was given to the overall fabric and details such as sourcing and replacing missing fixtures and fittings have meant compartments including the Forward Seaman’s Mess, the Ship’s Office; the Captain’s Day Cabin, the Wardroom and the Operations Room are now fully restored.
More recently work has included the painstaking restoration and reactivation of the hand powered 40 mm Bofors Gun within the workshop: the gun is now back onboard. One of the ship’s boats is currently being restored by an ex-shipwright with the hope of returning it to the davits where it originally hung onboard. Work on the ship’s Sick Bay is nearly complete with a number of members of the Royal Naval Medical Branch ratings and Sick Berth Staff Association working alongside the regular volunteer crew to return this fascinating compartment to its in service appearance. On a grander scale 2006 has also seen the entire superstructure nearly fully repainted. The mainmast is also undergoing essential work including re-painting and the replacement of some steelwork.
The ‘Historic Warship’ volunteers meet every Monday and Wednesday and work the ongoing restoration of HMS Gannet and HM Submarine Ocelot as well as HMS Cavalier. If you would like to get involved please contact the Trust on 01634 823800 or email email@example.com
In 2000 an independent Memorial Steering Group, chaired by the then Dean of Rochester, The Very Reverend Edward Shotter, was set up to advise on the presentation of the ship as a memorial. An extensive public consultation was carried out and the results used to develop a brief for a design competition to select an artist/designer for the memorial.
Six artists were short listed for the project during 2002 with the respected sculptor Kenneth Potts being selected for the commission in late 2003. Overall the Steering Group felt that his concept most closely met their design brief and the results of the public consultation. Kenneth Potts is an acclaimed sculptor who specialises in bronze portraits. Formerly a designer for the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company he now works mainly on public commissions. His other work includes a statue of Air Vice-Marshal ‘Johnnie’ Johnson.
Kenneth Potts’ design has now become a reality. A unique bronze artwork has been produced located on shore alongside HMS Cavalier’s port bow adjacent to the visitor entrance to the ship.
Of particular significance to those who served in destroyers and their relatives is the Roll of Honour that occupies a prominent position on one side of the memorial. Listing by name the 142 Royal Navy destroyers lost during the war it also records the sacrifice of the other British Dominion and Allied destroyers that were lost between 1939 and 1945.
The monument also features an evocative high relief sculptured panel designed to place the memorial in context of time and place and show something of what it was like to be engaged in battle aboard a fragile fighting vessel of the mid 20th Century. This will be increasingly relevant to future generations who will have little or no direct links with the Second World War.
The monument – 3.8m (12’6″) long and just over 3m (10’6″) tall and resting on a granite plinth of recycled dock stone is also a major price of public art.
The Memorial from the Artist’s View
“My research revealed the moving story of ordinary men engaged in a titanic battle against an implacable enemy and the unrelenting elements.
My design centres on a destroyer in action, with a graphic depiction of the lives of the men who served in her. Conscious of the fact that the ship in dry dock is removed from the two elements that gave her life, the men and the sea, I have tried to incorporate both and to convey the spirit of the ship in action”
“The scene is set during an imaginary action on convoy protection duty. The ship is engaged in rescuing survivors from a sunken ship, a hazardous procedure that could result in the rescuer becoming a victim of torpedo attack. Beyond the destroyer an expanse of sea graphically portraits the harsh environment of the Atlantic and Arctic wastes in which the convoys operated.”
“…an inscription describes the significance of the memorial listing the 142 Royal Navy destroyers lost. The text also makes reference to the 11,000 men who died while operating destroyers in all theatres of battle during the Second World War and to the contribution made by the destroyers of British Dominion and allied navies. This panel continues the sea theme with the lettering super-imposed over the sculpted sea.”
Kenneth Potts 2004