More than £12m will be spent saving two of the Royal Navy’s last survivors from the greatest naval clashes of the 20th Century.
Apart from spending the bulk of the cash – £11.5m – to turn HMS Caroline into a museum in Northern Ireland, £1m will be spent on the first stage of saving Landing Craft Tank LCT 7074 – one of only around ten vessels left from D-Day in 1944.
Currently sunk in a dock in Birkenhead, she will be raised and brought to Portsmouth Naval Base – with the long-term goal of restoring her.
Both ambitious projects are being spearheaded by the National Museum of the Royal Navy which is determined to see both vessels turned into living memorials to the men who fought – and died – in them.
Heritage Lottery Fund money has come to the aid of Caroline to turn her into a world-class heritage centre in Belfast’s rejuvenated Titanic Quarter.
Once restored, in time for the 100th anniversary of Jutland in 2016, visitors will be able to see Caroline’s bridge with her original compasses and telegraphs; the engine rooms with four Parson’s turbines still in position and many other aspects of the ship’s living quarters which have remained unchanged in 100 years.
The cruiser’s later life – including time as a command centre during World War 2 – will also be celebrated as part of the museum project, which is being overseen by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
HMS Caroline is quite simply one of the world’s most significant historic fighting ships. To conserve her and open her to the public as a shared space, museum and cultural hub in Belfast is hugely significant to the people of all Ireland,
said Prof Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum.
As for LCT 7074, the National Memorial Heritage Fund has come to the initial rescue with £916,000 to help conservation plans.
She was one of around 800 vessels used to disgorge armour on to the Normandy beaches in the summer of 1944.
After a two-day operation to raise her – she was subsequently turned into a floating clubhouse and nightclub before finally falling into disrepair – she is due to be brought to Portsmouth while plans are developed and more funding is sought to conserve, restore and interpret her for public view, with the National Museum having initial talks with its affiliate, the D-Day Museum, to incorporate the ship as part of a revamp ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion in 2019.
As far as we can tell, LCT 7074 is the last of these vital workhorses known to have participated in D-Day,
said Prof Tweddle.
They were the backbone of the fleet, carrying up to ten Sherman tanks, and transported almost all of the tanks, heavy artillery and armoured vehicles landed in Normandy which allowed the amphibious force to win major engagements and remain equipped to fight for months without a friendly port.
The importance of D-Day cannot be underestimated, the liberation forces which landed on the beaches at Normandy were a prelude to victory in Europe and this humble, but vital ship, played a significant role for the Royal Navy.
Also her sheer size – a 600-ton ocean-going vessel capable of carrying ten 30-ton armoured vehicles – challenges the common perception that landing craft were small assault craft.
Press release, Image: UK Navy