The 6th volume in Seaforth Publishing’s acclaimed Historic Ships series is devoted to the UK’s sole remaining wartime destroyer, HMS Cavalier. Preserved in The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, she acts as a permanent memorial to more than 11,000 men who lost their lives in the 142 Royal Navy destroyers that were sunk during WWII. One of 96 Emergency Programme destroyers that were ordered between 1940 and 1942, Cavalier was built by J Samuel White & Co on the Isle of Wight.
The laying of her keel took place on 28 February 1943 followed by her launching on 7 April 1944. As completed in November 1944, Cavalier boasted a main armament of four 4.5 inch guns, a standard displacement of 1,710 tons and a top speed of 31 knots. She subsequently joined the Home Fleet’s 6th Destroyer Flotilla and participated in anti shipping, minelaying and minesweeping operations in Norwegian waters. In late February 1945 she sailed from Scapa Flow to reinforce the escort of the westbound Arctic Convoy RA64 which had been battered by hurricane force winds, torpedo bombers and U-boats. Her involvement in the final stages of this convoy’s passage led to the award of her sole battle honour “Arctic 1945”. She spent the remaining months of the European war operating in the Western Approaches as an escort to several famous liners including Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Aquitannia during the initial and final stages of their transatlantic trooping voyages. After V E Day, she underwent a brief refit in Rosyth to prepare for service within the British Pacific Fleet. However, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the conflict to a close before the destroyer left home waters and triggered her reassignment to the East Indies Station where she arrived on 29 September 1945 to help re-establish order in the troubled region.
On 10 November, Cavalier participated in the occupation of Soerabaya, Java by bombarding dissident Indonesian nationalists who had failed to respond to the Allied ultimatum to surrender. Three months later, she formed part of Force 64 to deal with unrest in the Royal Indian Navy by visiting Indian ports along the Indian West Coast between February and April before heading back to the UK to pay off in to the reserve fleet. Her future hung in the balance until 1955 when she was moved to Southampton to undergo a two year modernisation at the Thornycroft shipyard. The work included the fitting of a new open bridge to the same design as those fitted to the larger Daring class, an enlarged operations room, improved radar equipment, the replacement of one 4.5 in gun with twin squid anti submarine mortars and a revised close range armament of two single and one twin 40mm Bofors guns. On completion of the work, Cavalier’s primary roles included screening heavy forces against attack by submarines, aircraft and light forces as well as attacking enemy light forces and trade. Her secondary roles consisted of attacking heavy ships with torpedoes and participating in combined operations.
When she rejoined the Fleet in July 1957 Cavalier sailed once more for the Far East where she remained until 1963. Her programme mainly consisted of exercises and goodwill visits across the region. One of the most notable events of this time occurred in April 1958 when Cavalier joined the Grapple Squadron to patrol the waters off Christmas Island during the hydrogen bomb tests. Further drama was sparked by the outbreak of an armed rebellion in Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo on 8 December 1962 against the formation of Malaysia. Cavalier had just left Australia waters at the end of a successful goodwill visit when she received orders to proceed to Singapore at high speed and embark The Queen’s Own Highlanders complete with their vehicles and stores. On reaching Brunei, Cavalier disembarked the troops and acted as a communications HQ ship while members of crew guarded 400 captured rebels ashore until the destroyer was relieved by the cruiser HMS Tiger. She returned to the UK in May 1963 to pay off into reserve and await a decision on her future in Chatham Dockyard.
A year later she was taken in tow from Chatham to be refitted in Gibraltar when she lost her bows in a collision with the 17,905 ton Liberian registered tanker Burgan in the English Channel on 21 May 1964. Fortunately, there were no casualties among the destroyer’s skeleton crew and the virtually unscathed Burgan continued with her voyage to Rotterdam. However, Cavalier had to be towed stern first to Portsmouth Dockyard for emergency repairs.
She recommissioned in 1966 for a brief spell with the Home Fleet before sailing for the Far East in May 1967. Her last deployment East of Suez included two Beira patrols to enforce the embargo on shipments of oil to Rhodesia. Following her return to the UK on 30 May 1968 she spent the remainder of her active service operating in Home Waters and the Mediterranean. While acting as planeguard to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal during a major exercise on 8 September 1970, Cavalier received orders to assist the coaster St Brandon which had caught fire in rough weather in the Bristol Channel. The French trawler Henri Callogh rescued the crew before Cavalier’s arrival so the destroyer stood by the blazing coaster to warn other shipping and report on whether she sank. Despite the force 10 winds, a boarding party managed to secure a tow line on 10 September and brought her into Milford Haven a day later. The Admiralty Courts subsequently ruled that the Ship’s Company was entitled to a salvage award of £11,000 to be distributed among those who were onboard during the operation.
The same exercise also led to Cavalier receiving a challenge from HMS Rapid to establish which one could claim to be the fastest in the Fleet. Although Rapid had been converted from a wartime R class destroyer into a frigate, she retained the same hull form and machinery as Cavalier, thereby creating an evenly matched contest. Cavalier reached a maximum speed of 31.8 knots to narrowly win the 64 mile race on 6 July 1971 by just 30 yards. Despite this impressive performance, the veteran destroyer was nearing the end of her career, in which she steamed 564,140 miles, and paid off for the last time in Chatham Dockyard on 6 July 1972.
Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma led the campaign to preserve Cavalier. She was purchased by The HMS Cavalier Trust for £65,000 in 1977 and opened to the public in Southampton in 1982. Sadly, this scheme ended in failure as did successive plans to preserve her in Brighton and Tyneside. Time appeared to be running out by 1998 when The Historic Dockyard, Chatham stepped in at the eleventh hour with the help of a £1.6 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. She underwent £1million of repairs on Tyneside before leaving under tow for Chatham where she arrived on 16 May 1999. Three days later, she entered No 2 dry dock, the site of the Old Single Dock where Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory was built. Tours of the upper decks began soon after her arrival while The Historic Dockyard’s employed conservation team and dedicated volunteers started work to enable more parts of the ship to be opened to the public. Visitors were finally allowed down below in August 2001 following the completion of the forward messdeck’s restoration.
The wholehearted support of the preservation team’s staff and volunteers enabled Richard to take an extensive series of colour images of the Ship’s exterior and internal compartments, including a number of areas that are closed to the public. A significant proportion of the book is devoted to these images which take the reader on a unique illustrated tour of the ship from bow to stern and deck-by-deck, thereby creating the most comprehensive visual record and explanation of the ship that exists.
Title: HMS Cavalier Destroyer 1944
Foreword by: Richard Holdsworth MBE
Publisher: Seaforth Publishing
Format: Soft Back
Publication Date: 2015
Number of Published Pages: 128
Number of Images:
Remarks: In print – available direct from Seaforth Publishing, The Historic Dockyard, Chatham and in all good bookshops (both online and on a high street near you).