If there's one thing we know about Wargaming, it's that they certainly have a knack for making history exciting. Having made their fortune by letting you head online, and recreate some of WW2's largest battles for yourself, whether in World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, or World of Warships, the company has always made it a priority to "give back", from sending out an expedition to Burma on a hunt for buried Spitfires, to dredging up a Dornier 17 from the English channel, or bringing together the world's most complete collection of Tiger tanks at Bovington Tank Museum. As part of London Tech Week, in collaboration With Google Arts and Culture, yesterday they launched their latest project - a virtual reality guided tour of HMS Cavalier.
Available now on the Google Arts and Culture site (or, to really take advantage of the VR, in the mobile app on iOS and Android - just search for "HMS Cavalier" once you've downloaded it), Virtually Inside HMS Cavalier sees Wargaming's military advisor, Richard Cutland, and TV history buff Dan Snow delve into the HMS Cavalier, the last remaining WW2 destroyer, stationed at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent as a memorial to the 142 Royal Navy destroyers that were lost at sea during WW2, and the 11,000 men who died without a grave.
As Tracy Spaight, Wargaming's Director of Special Projects explained, "At Wargaming, we believe in giving back, and one of the ways we do that is by partnering with museums around the world, using technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality to bring history to life. Not everybody's going to have the chance to go to the Chatham Dockyard (although I greatly encourage you to go if you ever get the chance) [... so] what we've tried to do is solve the accessibility problem. With 360 VR tours of the ship, it's the nearest thing to actually being there."
In fact, in some ways the VR project may actually be better than being there. With the technology to pull up handy overlays, not to mention the ability to highlight important objects, so you know exactly what you should be looking at, Inside HMS Cavalier is great if you want to learn more about how the ship works, and what it would be like to live aboard it - after all, it's not every day you get a guided tour of a destroyer from two people who really know their stuff, like Dan and Richard.
While HMS Cavalier may not be included in World of Warships itself (yet), there are plenty of similar destroyers of that age that are - and the guided tour gives you plenty of insight into what it would have been like to live aboard a destroyer at sea. Armed with 4.5 inch deck guns, a bevvy of torpedoes, and plenty of anti submarine depth charges, it was a nimble, fast and well armed ship - yet for those on board, it was cramped to say the least. Unlike most ships nowadays, the bridge of the HMS Cavalier is completely exposed - with no glass, no roof over your head, and nothing in the way of home comforts, you can only imagine how much fun this would have been to live in on an arctic convoy - yet alone should it ever encounter a storm, as Richard Holdsworth, director of education and preservation at the dockyard illustrated "They were small ships, [destroyers] - for people who lived near the bow, the whole thing could be going up and down 30 feet in a hard storm, and every time it crashed into a wave, a great chunk of it would come onboard too."
One of the advantages of working closely with museums is that Wargaming were able to put together a really complete overview of the ship for history buffs and fans of the game, including access to plenty of areas that are out of bounds to the general public - including the ship's immensely claustrophobic engine room, as Tracy Spaight jokingly recalls "[In the engine room[, there's lots of ladders, and things you can hit your head on, not to mention the asbestos - but we're more expendable, so they let us go in there with a camera, to let you see things like the steam turbines, and all of the complicated piping and dials. The engine isn't just in front of you, it's two stories tall and all around you, and you can really capture that in 360 VR"
If you want to take a look around the engine room for yourself, just head over to the Google Arts and Culture site, or download the app and search for HMS Cavalier. And if all the talk of naval action inspires you to go to sea, head over to World of Warships to download the game for free!