After the First World War, an appropriate way had to be found of commemorating those members of the Royal Navy who had no known grave, the majority of deaths having occurred at sea where no permanent memorial could be provided.

An Admiralty committee recommended that the three manning ports in Great Britain - Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth - should each have an identical memorial of unmistakable naval form, an obelisk, which would serve as a leading mark for shipping.

The memorial was unveiled by The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, on 26 April 1924.

After the Second World War it was decided that the naval memorials should be extended to provide space for commemorating the naval dead without graves of that war, but since the three sites were dissimilar, a different architectural treatment was required for each.

The extension was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh on 15 October 1952.

Of the three memorials, Chatham's is the only one sited on a hill, making it visible over a wide area.

Among those commemorated at Chatham are most of the crews of HMS Natal and HMS Vanguard who lost their lives when these ships were destroyed by internal explosions in 1915 and 1917.

In 2016, a commemoration service was held at the memorial to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. The Battle of Jutland, which began on 31 May 1916, was the only major naval battle of the First World War.