The Dockyard’s very own, and last remaining, Second World War Royal Navy Destroyer, HMS Cavalier, is the latest historic ship to feature in our Warship Wednesday blog series.
Once ranked “The Fastest Ship in the Fleet” for winning a celebrated race in 1971 (50 years ago yesterday) against HMS Rapid, the 77 year-old vessel far exceeded the usual 18 month life span of a ship and survived the Second World War with an active service until 1972.
Today HMS Cavalier proudly resides in No.2 Dry Dock at The Historic Dockyard Chatham on the site of the Old Single Dock, where the Royal Navy’s most famous Chatham built ship HMS Victory was constructed.
Alongside her is a bronze relief by sculptor Kenneth Potts, which depicts an imaginary action of a Destroyer on convoy protection duty. The statue was unveiled in 2007 by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. HMS Cavalier, along with the sculpture, form the National Destroyer Memorial, in tribute to the 142 ships of this class lost at sea and the 11,000 lives.
Built on the Isle of Wight in 1943, launched on 7th April 1944 and decommissioned in 1972, HMS Cavalier’s fascinating and interesting stories include not only serving in combat but various commissions in the Far East.
Joining the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Cavalier took part in several operations off Norway. She earned a battle honour for her action in reforming the convoy from the Kola Inlet in Russia which had suffered attacks from enemy aircraft and U-boats. HMS Cavalier was despatched to Asia, providing naval gunfire support during the Battle of Surabaya and later sent to Bombay to help supress the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny.
After her decommissioning, HMS Cavalier didn’t find a permanent home for some time. She was laid up in Portsmouth and then purchased by the Cavalier Trust. Moving to Southampton she opened as a museum and memorial ship in 1982 and after not much success she was relocated to Brighton a year later. She then moved again in 1987 to be part of plans for a museum which sadly came to nothing. The Cavalier Trust reformed and together with members of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, they fought in Parliament to get Cavalier back, rather than the next trip on the agenda which was to a Malaysian theme park! In 1998, Cavalier was bought by the Trust and arrived in Chatham in May of that year.
As part of a long-term programme, a small team of volunteers made a start returning HMS Cavalier to her former glory, cleaning and painting, so she was in a fit state to welcome visitors. It took ten years to restore and repaint most of the ship. Today our dedicated team of ship volunteers’ remain crucial to HMS Cavalier’s ongoing maintenance and preservation.
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