By Lisa Johnston, Tour Guide, Belfast City Sightseeing
Belfast’s Titanic Quarter can now boast another jewel in its crown of maritime history – the sole survivor of the First World War’s Battle of Jutland: the illustrious and the magnificent HMS Caroline.
This living legend has just been completely restored to its seafaring glory and, quite rightly, now takes pride of place alongside the impressive list of visitor attractions already available in the city’s vibrant and dynamic Titanic Quarter.
HMS Caroline opened to the public for the first time on 1 June 2016 and is already proving a winner for the thousands of tourists from all around the world who flock to Belfast to soak up the city’s fascinating shipbuilding and maritime history.
HMS Caroline is located at stop number 5 on our award-winning open-top bus tour so why not hop off here to see for yourself what Belfast’s newest visitor attraction has to offer.
The Battle of Jutland was the greatest naval battle ever fought and HMS Caroline, one of 8 C-class light cruisers ordered under the Admiralty’s 1913/14 construction programme, is its sole survivor.
The battle, between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, lasted for 36 hours and took place off the coast of Jutland in the North Sea on 31 May 1916. Fourteen ships and more than 6,000 sailors from the British Grand Fleet lost their lives in this devastating battle – the outcome of which changed the course of World War One.
Both the British and the German Naval Forces claimed victory because although the German High Seas Fleet suffered fewer casualties and losses, it retreated and the British Grand Fleet was able to blockade the North Sea stopping vital supplies from reaching Germany.
Visitors on board HMS Caroline can explore the importance of the Battle of Jutland and discover what life was like at sea for the 300 crew who served on board. The Captain’s Cabin, the Royal Marines Mess and the Seamen’s Wash as well as the engine room, the sick-bay and the galley kitchen have all been brought back to life so that visitors can see first-hand what it was like to serve on board this historic ship.
In 1921 the Admiralty planned for HMS Caroline’s disposal but her fate was changed when Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, formed a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve division in Ulster and the Admiralty agreed that HMS Caroline could be used as its base.
She was towed to Belfast in February 1924 where she was converted by Harland & Wolff into a drill ship and where she has remained ever since. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 HMS Caroline became a base for trawlers and other light craft and provided signal and cypher facilities.
Belfast became an important centre in the Battle of the Atlantic and HMS Caroline played an active role in World War II.
Today, visitors can join in the fun at the exciting new Signal School and can try their hand deciphering messages in Morse code or with signal flags or signal lanterns. They can also see contemporary exhibits about communication at sea today.
HMS Caroline was decommissioned as a reserve unit in December 2009 and her ensign was laid up in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast on her decommissioning on 31st March 2011.
The people of Belfast have long since taken HMS Caroline to heart and claimed her as their own. So much so that this grand old lady has been affectionately nicknamed by locals as HMS Go Nowhere and HMS Never Budge!
HMS Caroline is a living legend and is an internationally significant piece of world history – and she’s here in Belfast! So hop off at stop number 5 on our NITB 4-star rated open-top bus tour and hop on board HMS Caroline – it’s Belfast’s newest tourist attraction and it’s not to be missed!