HMS Cavalier (R73)
Laid down- 1943
Displacement- 2,520 tons fully loaded
Length – 363 feet
Beam – 35.75ft
Draught – 14.5ft fully loaded
Speed- 37 knots
Range- 1,400 nautical miles at 32 knots
3x Quick firing 4.5 inch guns
2x 40mm Bofors guns
4x Anti aircraft guns single mounted 40mm Bofors guns
Quick firing 2 pounder Mk8 single mounts
Oerlikon 20mm machine guns
2x torpedoe tubes (1944) Replaced with Squid mortars later
4 throwers and 2 stern racks for 96 depth charges
1x quadruple Seacat SAM launcher from 1964
2x triple Squid anti-sub mortar (From 1957)
The Second World War resulted in the loss of 142 RN destroyers with over 11,000 lives lost. Crews tell of the incredibly difficult conditions during their service aboard destroyers during the war. These small warships were often awash with water, had an open bridge and the sub-zero temperatures on Arctic convoys that included the ever present threat U-boats and other surface and air threats. Often the gun crews spent most of their time soaked, standing around the open gun mountings as the ship plunged into deep ocean troughs with no protection from the weather. Since then time has taken its own toll and now just one destroyer remains in the UK, HMS Cavalier, a warship that once boasted proudly of being the fastest in the Fleet.
Cavalier is a C-Class destroyer built as part of the ‘War Emergency Programme’ ordered between 1940 and 1942, as part of this programme 96 ships were built including Cavalier.
She was one of the first ships to be designed to have a welded hull joining her bows and stern sections together.
After joining the fleet she made up part of the 6th destroyer flotilla, which was part of the Home Fleet, undertaking operations around the North Sea and Norway including convoys to and from Russia. In February 1945 she was despatched with other destroyers including HMS Myngs to reinforce convoy RA64 which had suffered attacks from enemy aircraft and U-boats, and had subsequently been scattered by a violent storm. She and the other escorts reformed the convoy and returned to Britain with the loss of only three of the thirty-four ships. This action earned Cavalier a battle honour.
In 1945 the 6th flotilla including Cavalier was sent to relieve the 11th destroyer flotilla at the East Indies station.
In February 1946 Cavalier was dispatched to Bombay to help quell the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, then later in 1946 she returned to the UK and was decommissioned from the active fleet and sent to the reserve fleet.
Between 1955 and 1957 Cavalier underwent a refit to modernise her into a general purpose destroyer. Systems such as the ship’s fire control and powered gun controls were added, her aft torpedo tubes were removed and replaced with two “Squid” anti-submarine mortars. Also added during this refit were two Mk5 Bofors guns, this refit retained much of the ship’s wartime appearance including her open bridge leaving the poor Officer of the Watch out in all weathers.
In July 1957 the ship returned to active service and spent this commission with the 8th destroyer squadron based out of Singapore. During December 1962 the ship was transiting back from a brief tour of Australia when she was ordered to return at best speed to Singapore where she embarked troops from the Queen’s Own Highlanders and transported them to Malaysia. Here UK forces were attempting to assist the Sultan of Brunei against armed rebellion, after landing her troops Cavalier acted as a communications headquarters ship. Members of the crew also undertook extra duties guarding prisoners until the arrival of the Cruiser HMS Tiger with a Royal Marine detachment.
In September 1964 Cavalier was again refitted with a quadruple Seacat missile system and after rejoining the fleet was attached to the Home Fleet. Between 1967 and 1969 the ship once again found herself in the far east undertaking a number of exercises with other fleet units including the carrier HMS Eagle.
In 1970 Cavalier was back in home waters and undertaking a night exercise with the carrier HMS Ark Royal in rather rough seas. They picked up a distress call from the Scottish coaster “Saint Brandan” which had caught fire, her crew however had been picked up by a trawler after they abandoned ship thinking she was sinking. The ship didn’t sink and was now adrift in rough seas. Cavalier’s crew managed to get the ship alongside and a boarding party aboard to rig the ship for towing. Both ships managed to reach the safety of the Port of Milford Haven some 52 hours after first picking up the distress call. This action earnt the crew of the destroyer the sum of £11,000 in salvage rewards.
Later in 1970 a race between the frigate HMS Rapid a former R-Class destroyer with almost identical gearing as the Cavalier was arranged. Both ships were now some of the only “Fleet destroyers” left in active service with the Royal Navy. The national press heard about the race and donated a trophy for the “fastest ship of the fleet”. The race took place in July 1971 when both ships met on a calm day just off the Firth Of Forth. The race took place over 2 hours and there was very little in it by the end. Rapid blew a safety valve and Cavalier took the lead by 30 meters after 64 miles and was declared the winner.
HMS Cavalier was approved for disposal in 1971 after 28 years active service with the fleet, 1972 she returned to Chatham for the final time and laid up awaiting her fate.
Between 1977 and 1998 attempts were made to save the ship and she was part of several projects that failed or were never followed through due to costs and low visitor numbers. 1999 saw the ship arrive back in Chatham and placed into No 2 dry dock and was opened up to the public. Over the next few years the ship was restored by volunteers including ex-Cavalier crewmen who returned the ship to a her current ship-shape condition. At some point after being decommissioned she was given a “Royal Warrant” to allow her to keep the H.M.S prefix and to continue to fly the White Ensign normally a privilege enjoyed by commissioned Royal Navy ships in active service.
In 2007 the ship was designated a War memorial to the 142 Royal Navy Destroyers that were sunk during the Second World War with the loss of 11,000 Officer and men. On 14th November 2007 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, a WW2 naval officer himself, unveiled a bronze monument on the jetty next to HMS Cavalier.
Photos from my visit can be found here