Warship, cruiser, training and repair ship were some of the conversions HMS Cavendish underwent over 30 years.
It is not unusual for a warship to have two different ‘careers’ during service, but one Royal Navy vessel had no less than six separate operational uses, and even a name change, during its 30 years.
HMS Cavendish started out as a unit of the Hawkins class of cruisers designed in 1916 to track down German surface raiders. By the time they were completed, the surface raiders had largely been intercepted so the role of the Hawkins had to change.
In the case of Cavendish, renamed Vindictive after the famous cruiser in the Zeebrugge raid of April 1918, the decision was taken to convert her into an aircraft carrier in a similar way to HMS Furious.
Three of the main guns were removed, and a large hangar was installed abaft the two funnels with a 58.5m long by 17m wide flight deck on top, and a 23m long flying off deck and hangar arranged forward of the bridge.
Unfortunately, this arrangement had the same failings as those of Furious, as it proved almost impossible to land planes on the aft deck because of smoke and disrupted air flow caused by the funnels. Vindictive was able to operate seaplanes by lifting them over the side, and also acted as an aircraft ferry during the Baltic intervention of 1919.
Service in China
Following a period in reserve, interspersed with some trooping, the aft flight deck, hangar and forward flight platform were removed, and a prototype, compressed-air, aircraft catapult installed on the hangar roof – the first British cruiser to mount such a system. Armament was increased to six main guns, and the ship became a cruiser as originally designed, serving on the China Station for a couple of years.
On return from China, Vindictive trialled various catapult systems for warships and carried out occasional troop operations before being fully demilitarised as required by the 1930 London Naval Treaty. This included the removal of the after boilers and rear funnel and reduced speed to 24 knots. It made it pointless to consider reactivating and re-arming as a cruiser in case of war.
It is why the decision was taken to convert Vindictive into a training ship and which completed in September 1937. As a training ship Vindictive had a limited armament of two 4.7-inch guns and accommodation for 200 cadets.
Two years later and it was time for another conversion, this time into a fleet repair ship. The armament was removed and replaced with six, 4-inch guns, and the forward superstructure extended over the former hangar roof. The aft superstructure was extended to be flush with her sides and slightly lengthened, and a large deckhouse built on the quarterdeck.
Vindictive was back in service by the spring of 1940 in time to participate as a troopship in the disastrous Norwegian Campaign. She then served in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean before one final metamorphosis.
In 1944 she was converted into a depot ship for destroyers, with alterations carried out in Malta. Vindictive then returned to the UK to serve as flagship of the four Home Fleet destroyer flotillas, numbers 2, 6, 17 and 23, and flying the flag of Commodore Reginald Hutton.
Sold for scrap
The end of this multi-faceted career came in 1946 when she was finally sold for scrapping in Blyth, UK, ending 30 years of a service.
|HMS Cavendish timeline|
|Ordered from Harland & Wolff||April 1916|
|Laid down||26 June 1916|
|Conversion to aircraft carrier ordered||April 1917|
|Launched||17 January 1918|
|Re-named Vindictive||June 1918|
|Completed||21 September 1918|
|Commissioned as aircraft carrier||1 October 1918|
|Sent to Baltic as aircraft ferry||July 1919|
|Sailed for UK and into reserve||22 December 1919|
|Used as occasional troopship||1920-1923|
|Out of reserve for removal of flight deck||1 March 1923|
|To China Station as cruiser||1 January 1926|
|Return to UK||14 March 1928|
|Refitted and into reserve||1929|
|Used as occasional troopship||18 February 1931- May 1937|
|Converted to training ship||May 1937|
|Recommissioned as training ship||7 September 1937|
|Converted to repair ship||30 March 1940|
|Used as troopship in Norwegian campaign||March 1940-4 June 1940|
|Converted to destroyer depot ship||15 October 1944|
|Paid off into reserve||8 September 1945|
|Sold for scrap||24 January 1946|
|Sent for breaking||14 February 1946|
|Specification as originally designed|
|Displacement||10,017 tonnes (standard)|
|13,004 tonnes (full load)|
|Propulsion||4 × Parsons geared steam turbines|
|Range||5,400 nautical miles at 14 knots|
|Armament||7 x 7.5in, 4 x 4in and 2 x 2pdr guns|
|6 x 21in torpedoes|
John Barnes is a journalist and author specialising in maritime.