She Fought at Jutland: HMS Caroline

She Fought at Jutland: HMS Caroline

HMS Caroline
HMS Caroline

The Battle of Jutland – referred to by the Germans as Skagerrakschlacht, or Battle of Skagerrak – was the largest naval engagement of the First World War, fought between the Grand Fleet of the British Royal Navy and the High Seas Fleet of the Imperial German Navy in 1916. There are, of course, no human veterans of Jutland who are still alive today, but there is one survivor which remains as a poignant reminder of this mighty clash of warships – HMS Caroline.

The first of eight of her class, HMS Caroline was launched on 29 September 1914, following her construction at the Cammell Laird shipyards at Birkenhead. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 4 December of the same year, joining the 4th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow almost immediately afterwards. She began her wartime service by patrolling the North Sea searching for enemy vessels.

With a length of 446 feet, she was 41.5 feet in the beam and had a draught of 16 feet. She displaced 3,750 tons unloaded and about 4,219 tons with a full load. Propulsion was provided by several turbines built by the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, allowing Caroline to reach a top speed of around 28 to 29 knots.

Initially, her armament included two BL 6-inch MK XII naval guns, eight QF 4-inch MK V guns, two 6-pounder guns, and four 3-pounders used for protection against aircraft. Later during the war, the 4-inch guns would be removed in order to fit an additional two 6-inch guns. Caroline’s steel armour consisted of a belt of 1 to 3 inches in thickness – 2.25 inch around the magazines – while her deck was 1 inch thick.

In February 1915, Caroline was attached to the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, but in early 1916 she was transferred to the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron. It would be with this latter formation that she would take part in the Battle of Jutland under the command of Captain Henry Crooke. The ship would escape the worst of the battle, with only two of her 338 crew being killed during the action. In 1917, she was fitted with a platform for the launching of aircraft, being employed in the North Sea to intercept German airships en route to Britain.

Following the end of the First World War, Caroline remained attached to the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron when it was given orders to head for the East Indies. However, her life as an active warship came to an end in 1922, when she was ordered into the reserve. Fortunately, she would escape being scrapped after she was quickly put back into service in 1924, this time as a training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Belfast in Ireland. As part of this, she would have all her armaments removed, which were then installed for use elsewhere.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Caroline was used as a depot ship for an anti-submarine striking force. Later, she was made the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast, helping to support destroyers and corvettes that were employed in escorting Atlantic and Arctic convoys. She would remain in this role until the war ended in 1945, although the headquarters staff increased so much in size that many had to be accommodated off ship.

With hostilities over, Caroline was transferred back to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, who continued to use her as a training ship until 2009. The ship, however, was not finally decommissioned until March 2011. Since then, she has been on the list of the National Historic Fleet in the United Kingdom. There was much debate as to what role this historic vessel would now undertake, but eventually it was decided that Caroline would remain at the Alexandra Dock in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

Restoration work was carried out in order to make her a visitor attraction for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland and beyond. In order to do this, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment worked with other partners to ensure her future. A grant of £11.5 million was also made by the Heritage Lottery Fund, greatly assisting the project.

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