On the cusp of World War I, Great Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race. Battleships and battlecruisers usually receive the bulk of attention when historians look at this. But cruisers were a major component of the fleet. Cruisers were armored warships designed both to serve as the scouts of the fleet and to screen the line of battle from enemy scouts and other light forces.
Just on the eve of World War I, Britain laid down what was to become the first of an eventual 28 “C Class” light cruisers, HMS Caroline.
HMS Caroline’s greatest claim to fame is that she participated in the Battle of Jutland, the great clash of the British and German fleets that, while indecisive, would do so much to shape naval theory in the interwar years.
Obsolescent even by the end of the war, HMS Caroline was shunted to the reserves in 1924. Used as a moored training vessel for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves, she would function in that role until 2011! During World War II, she served as the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast Harbour before returning to her reservist training duties post-war.
Now the HMS Caroline has stepped into her well earned retirement, she’s slated to become a museum ship. For one thing, she’s known to a great number of sailors. Secondly, she’s the only surviving ship that was present at Jutland. Indeed, she’s one of only three British ships dating from World War I.
A £15 million-plus restoration project plans to turn HMS Caroline into a visitor attraction in time for next year’s centenary commemorations of the 1916 First World War battle off the coast of Denmark.
But before the refit could begin on the derelict vessel, which is docked in Belfast, urgent steps had to be taken to ensure it stays afloat long-term.
We can think of many sailors that would like to see any number of ships kept as museums. Sadly, however, there is only a limited market for such ships. And not only must the ship itself be of historical interest to make a go of it. Much of the success or failure of a museum ship has to do with the accessibility of the ship. The Midway in San Diego and Intrepid in New York are doing well, in large part because those cities are already prime tourist destinations, which greatly increases the traffic they get. Given that, one hopes HMS Caroline manages to stay afloat, both physically, and fiscally.