Museum Reviews Hms Cavalier Chatham Dockyard UK

Visitors to the Historic Dockyard at Chatham in Kent will be led around the Georgian naval dockyard and see a wide variety of fascinating maritime exhibits, but one will stand out: the HMS Cavalier.

HMS Cavalier is housed within a flooded dry dock on the exact site where Lord Horatio Nelson’s famed HMS Victory was built three hundred years previously. At first glance, the former Royal Navy destroyer looks ready to speed forward from her watery enclosure, but she is now permanently moored alongside and eager hordes of children clamber around the warship’s two thousand ton structure.

HMS Cavalier was built at Samuel White’s Shipyard at Cowes on the Isle of Wight as a member of the CA (or Cavendish class,) destroyers in the early part of the Second World War.The class had a full load displacement of just over two thousand tons, and were armed with three twin 4.5inch guns backed up by a secondary armament of four 40mm guns, two Squid anti submarine mortars and four 21 inch torpedo tubes for the Mk 8 torpedo.

The first steel plates in HMS Cavalier’s construction were laid down on the slipway on 28 February 1943, and whilst construction was often interrupted by German air raids over the Isle of Wight and nearby Portsmouth, construction continued until the destroyer was launched into the River Medina on 7 April 1944. Final fitting-out of the ship was completed on 22 November, the same year and she entered service with the Royal Navy.

The pressing need for escort vessels for the Russian Convoys meant that HMS Cavalier soon found herself battling the horrendous waves and stormy seas on the perilous journey to Archangel. After this, her war service saw the ship being transferred to the Far East during the closing stages of the War against the Japanese. Indeed, in the aftermath of the ceasefire, HMS Cavalier and her sister ships were involved in a number of brush fire wars and also in the quelling of the Indian Navy mutiny in 1947.

Upon her return to the United Kingdom, the CA class were placed in reserve for a number of years until refurbished in the early 1960’s for further service. HMS Cavalier and and sister ship, HMS Caprice, were fitted with the Seacat anti aircraft missile system, one of the first installations of this new advanced weapon system in the Royal Navy. During a dramatic race with HMS Rapid to see which ship was the fastest in the Royal Navy, HMS Cavalier won it by a whisker.

In 1977, HMS Cavalier was preserved as a museum ship for the nation firstly at Southampton, and then at Brighton in West Sussex. After suffering from a shortage of patrons, the ship was towed to Newcastle, where it was feared she would be scrapped or sold abroad. Fortunately, HMS Cavalier was saved again, as the Historic Dockyard in Chatham were looking for an exhibit for their collection, and as Chatham had been the destroyer’s home base throughout her career, it was a fitting final resting place for the wartime warrior.