She is one of the most important warships of the past century. But visitors will have to wait until next year before they can climb aboard HMS Caroline again.
The veteran of the Battle of Jutland, now docked permanently in Belfast as a museum ship, was due to reopen this summer, having been closed for the previous two years because of the pandemic. The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) has said that she will now not open until early 2023.
Caroline was built in Merseyside in 1914, the year of the outbreak of the First World War. In 1916, she was involved in the Battle of Jutland, the most significant naval battle of the conflict, and the only main fleet action between the German and British navies – the largest two in the world at the time.
The 12-hour battle for control of the North Sea between 31 May and 1 June 1916 cost the lives of more than 8,500 sailors.
With a maximum speed of close to 30 knots, the light cruiser Caroline enabled the Royal Navy to respond to long-range torpedo attacks on its battleships. She could also promptly locate enemy naval formations and convey their location back to the main fleet.
Caroline is now the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland still afloat. After the war’s end, she became a static headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Reserve in Belfast. But she returned to action during the Second World War to protect the North Atlantic convoys from U-boat attacks.
After a second period as a training ship, Caroline was finally decommissioned in 2011, making her the longest-serving ship in commission in the Royal Navy after HMS Victory.
Now housed in Belfast’s famous Titanic Quarter, Caroline first opened to the public in 2017, following the centenary of Jutland.
The ship is the only NMRN- run institution yet to reopen following the Covid pandemic. Earlier this year, a deal was reached between the NMRN and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy to secure her long-term future, although the reason for this latest delay has not been made public.
‘We will be reintroducing public access to the ship through select events over the coming months, with a full visitor reopening planned for early 2023,’ an NMRN spokesperson said.