H.M.S. Caroline, Alexandra Dock, Queen’s Road, Belfast

H.M.S. Caroline is a museum in Belfast Docks. The last survivor of the Battle of Jutland served as a shore base during the Second World War.

H.M.S Caroline

Queen's Road

Belfast

BT3 9DT

Northern Ireland

Visitors to H.M.S Caroline at Alexandra Dock, Belfast are often aware of the vessel's historic achievements in The Great War. When decommissioned in 2011, Caroline was the second oldest vessel in Royal Navy service and the only surviving vessel of the Battle of Jutland. However, the Belfast-based vessel also played an important role in the Second World War.

Built in 1914 at Cammel Laird Shipyard, Birkenhead, Wirral, England, H.M.S. Caroline sailed under the Royal Navy Ensign in The Great War. The C-Class Light Cruiser saw action at Jutland, the largest naval battle in history before service in the East Indies.

H.M.S. Caroline at Scapa Flow

Imperial War Museum Photo: Q 74029 (Part of the Royal Navy 1914-1918 Collection). Light cruiser H.M.S. Caroline in active service at Scapa Flow during The Great War. H.M.S. Caroline is the last floating survivor of the Battle of Jutland and moored in Belfast. Copyright Royal Navy Photographer.

The Royal Navy Cruiser has been in Belfast since its arrival on 7th February 1924. Around this time, the firm of Harland and Wolff Ltd. removed weaponry and some of the vessel’s boilers. From 1st April 1924, it operated as a static headquarters for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Ulster Division. With the outbreak of the Second World War, H.M.S. Caroline also saw use as a training depot and administrative centre for the Royal Navy.

Among the Royal Navy members on H.M.S. Caroline was a pool of replacement Telegraphists and Signalmen. They slept on the mess deck on board the ship and ate their meals on board, just as the crew had during The Great War. Many of these Teleraphists had no real training in Wireless Telegraphy and some were even nervous using a telephone. The T.B.S. or Talking Between Ships communication had less of a formal structure than communications by radio in the Army. Scotsman James Mitchell arrived at H.M.S. Caroline just before Christmas 1943 and recalled that any phonetics were used; even “B for Bugger”. One standard practice, however, was the referral to all vessels in Belfast Lough as “Tinkerbells”.

Belfast Harbour was a hive of activity between 1939 and 1945. The Royal Navy used the harbour as a home base for a strike force of anti-submarine patrol vessels. These vessels, which grew to over 70 in number following the fall of France in 1940, escorted the Atlantic Convoys and the Arctic Convoys.

The King and Queen inspect H.M.S. Caroline

Imperial War Museum Photo: A 10040 (Part of the Admiralty Official Collection). King George VI and Queen Elizabeth inspect the ship's company of H.M.S. Caroline. Photo taken on 24th June 1942 by Lieutenant H.W. Tomlin.

Throughout the Second World War, the Royal Navy Headquarters outgrew H.M.S. Caroline with establishments at Custom House, Belfast and in Belfast Castle. There were also several repair workshops alongside the vessel berthed in Milewater Basin. Before the establishment of H.M.S. Gadwall in 1943, personnel of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm lodged under H.M.S. Caroline. Their base was at the nearby Sydenham Airfield. Among them was Fleet Air Arm 804 Squadron who operated Hawker Hurricanes.

As the naval presence continued to grow in Belfast, the fitting out of a new Captain’s Quarters took place to accommodate Rear Admiral Bevan, the Commodore responsible for Belfast Harbour. Under his command were 6 Escort Groups, each consisting of 6 Frigates. As well as a command centre for the 6 Escort Groups, Caroline continued to operate as a training post. William Leonard Harrison recalled being in Belfast in August 1943 learning how to defeat the new GNAT Torpedoes in use by the German U-Boats. Vessels from the Royal Navy Escort Groups took on board new equipment in early October 1943 before returning to their role in the Atlantic.

During wartime, several thousand ratings of the Royal Navy wore the cap tallies of H.M.S. Caroline. Following the Second World War, Caroline returned to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve for use as a floating training base. Harland and Wolff Ltd. carried out an extensive refit in 1951, and the vessel’s ensign was laid up at a ceremony in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Wrens at H.M.S. Caroline

Women of the Royal Navy WRNS at H.M.S. Caroline, Belfast in 1945. Photo from the Royal Navy Research Archives. Copyright Unknown.

Since June 2016, H.M.S. Caroline is a floating museum berthed at Alexandra Dock and telling the story of more than 100 years of naval warfare. Refurbishment took place between its decommissioning in 2011 and opening as a tourist attraction in 2016. The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, and the Heritage Memorial Fund aided the project.

Visitors can experience areas of the Cruiser such as the Captain’s Cabin, the Ward Room, or the Officers’ Dining Room. Onboard exhibits tell the stories of many of those who served on H.M.S. Caroline. There is also a Mess Deck Café and a play area for younger visitors. Newly installed lifts make H.M.S. Caroline a mostly accessible experience for visitors of all abilities. The attraction is due to reopen to the public in 2021.

Wartime events at H.M.S. Caroline

The Duke of Kent visits Northern Ireland

The Duke of Kent visits Northern Ireland

By

24th November 2019

The Duke of Kent made a Royal visit to Northern Ireland between 24th November 1941 and 29th November 1941. He inspected troops and met locals on his trip.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit Northern Ireland

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit Northern Ireland

By

24th June 2019

Between 24th June 1942 and 26th June 1942, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Northern Ireland inspecting British and American military personnel.

Known at have served at H.M.S. Caroline

Jeannie Elizabeth Armstrong

Wren | 41491

Wren Jeannie Elizabeth Armstrong died on 21st August 1943 at home in Belfast. She served in her hometown at the Naval base H.M.S. Caroline.

Herbert Isaac Chase

Telegraphist | D/J65192

Telegraphist Herbert Isaac Chase died while serving with the Royal Navy on HMS Caroline when the WWI era ship was based in Belfast, Co. Antrim in 1941.

Frank Mundy Coombs

Frank Mundy Coombs

Able Seaman | D/JX 171434

Artist, architect, and art dealer Frank Mundy Coombs joined the Royal Navy in World War Two and died on 15th April 1941 when the Luftwaffe attacked Belfast.

Victor Frank Douglas Dolan

Able Seaman | P/JX 142717

Able Seaman Victor Frank Douglas Dolan died on 20th June 1941 while undergoing treatment for typhoid in the Civil Fever Hospital, Newtownards, Co. Down.

George Ellis

Lieutenant Commander

Lieutenant Commander George Ellis was an experieced member of the Royal Navy serving at HMS Caroline in Belfast at his time of death on 7th May 1945.

John Haveron

Ordinary Seaman | P/UD/X1306

Ordinary Seaman John Haveron of Belfast, Co. Antrim died on 29th November 1940 when HMS Javelin came under torpedo attack off the coast at Portsmouth, UK.

William John Hurst

Sub-Lieutenant

Sub-Lieutenant William John Hurst of Sydenham, Belfast, Co. Down died on 13th November 1940 when a bomb tore through HMS Decoy docked in Alexandria, Egypt.

Edward Osborne Kaines

Lieutenant

Lieutenant Edward Osborne Kaines died on 29th June 1941 when the car he was in collided with another vehicle on the main Belfast to Bangor Road in Co. Down.

Rebecca McCabe

Rebecca McCabe

Wren

Wren Rebecca McCabe served at H.M.S. Caroline, Belfast from 1942-1944 before moving to the Signals Distribution Office in the run-up to D-Day.

Felix O’Neill

Stoker 2nd Class | D/KX 152186

Stoker 2nd Class Felix O'Neill from Liverpool, Lancashire drowned on 14th May 1942 while serving at HMS Caroline, the Royal Naval headquarters in Belfast.

John Maurice Mends Tickell

Lieutenant

Lieutenant John Maurice Mends Tickell died at the Savoy Hotel, Bangor, Co. Down on 28th August 1942. He had 40 years' service in the Royal Naval Reserve.