B Class Destroyers (1912)

The B Class Destroyers was the designation given to all surviving 30-knot destroyers that had four funnels in 1912, in an attempt to rationalise the rather confusing mass of early destroyer types in service. Twenty were still in service at the start of the First World War, and served with a variety of patrol formations around the British Coast.

In the 1890s the Admiralty had ordered a large number of 30-knott destroyers from a variety of private builders. All followed the same basic layout, with a turtleback bow, designed to increase speed (but that actually made the front part of the boat rather too wet), a conning tower at the rear of the turtleback with a platform on top that carried a 12-pounder gun and the bridge, five 6-pounder guns (two on each side and one at the rear) and two torpedo tubes. Each company was free to use their own choice of boilers and engines, although the Admiralty insisted on the use of two boiler rooms. These destroyers were ordered in annual programmes, and each company tended to slightly modify their designs between years.

In 1912 the Admiralty decided to organise its destroyers into a series of lettered classes. The 27-knotters became the A class, while the 30-knotters were split up depending on the number of funnels. Those with four funnels became the B class, those with three funnels the C class and those with two funnels the D class. The divide in B, C and D classes was almost entirely arbitrary – all British built D class destroyers were produced by Thornycroft, but the B and C classes were both filled with destroyers from a mix of builders, and often ships with almost identical machinery would end up in different classes. In one case, that of Palmers, the number of funnels changed between two years, so their ships were split between the B and C classes.

As a result the B class destroyers came from several manufacturers and had a range of different types of boilers. Ships from eight previous classes were merged into the single B class.

HMS Quail in Victorian livery
HMS Quail in
Victorian livery

The oldest B class destroyers were three Laird 30-knotters from the 1894-95 programme. Four had been ordered, but HMS Sparrowhawk was wrecked in 1904. The three survivors (Quail, Thrasher and Virago) all served during the First World War and were broken up in 1919. They had four Normand boilers.

HMS Seal in Victorian livery HMS Seal in Victorian livery

The largest group were seven Laird 30-knotters from the 1895-6 programme. Once again one was lost before the war (HMS Chamois, foundered in 1904), but Panther, Griffon, Earnest, Locust, Seal and Wolf all served in the war and were broken up in 1919. Again they had four Normand boilers.

Laird produced one final 30-knotter in the 1897-8 programme, HMS Orwell. She was similar to the earlier boats, and survived until 1922.

The 1897-8 programme also saw the first non-Laird boats to become B class ships. Palmer produced two, HMS Peterel and HMS Spiteful, which were similar internally to their earlier 30-knotters, but with four funnels instead of three. As a result the older boats became C class destroyers and the newer ones B class. Both served during the First World War.

Palmer produced two more B class ships as part of the July 1898 supplement to the 1898-99 naval construction. Both Myrmidon and Syren served during the First World War, and the Myrmidon was sunk in a collision in 1917.

Doxford produced one C class destroyer as part of the July 1898 supplement to the 1898-99 naval construction programme, HMS Success, which was wrecked in December 1914.

Palmer produced one B class ship as part of the 1900-1 programme, HMS Kangaroo. She survived the First World War.

Two final Laird boats were purchased in 1901, to replace the two first turbine powered destroyers, lost in that year. HMS Lively and HMS Sprightly both survived the war.

A total of seventeen standard B class destroyers served during the First World War, of which only two were lost.

Two ’33-knot’ specials were also allocated to the B class. This was Laird’s HMS Express and Thomson’s HMS Arab. These were both rather larger than the standard B class destroyers, but failed to reach their design speed of 33 knots, and when the letter class system was put in place were thus classified with the standard 30-knotters.

When the 30-knotters first entered service they were the most modern and faster ships in the Royal Navy. At first they were organised into a large single flotilla, with ships split between Portsmouth, Devonport and the Nore (or Chatham). Many of them spent much of this period out of commission, with crews swapping between the boats as they were needed. As the fleet began to concentrate in Home Waters, a more structured system of flotillas was slowly developed, with destroyers attached to parts of the main fleets. As more modern ships became available, the 30-knotters were moved out of the front line flotillas and into local patrol and defence flotillas, often with a reduced crew.

By the outbreak of war in 1917 twenty ‘B’ Class destroyers were still intact, although not all were still in active service. 

Wartime Service

At the start of the war thirteen B class destroyer were serving with the Seventh Patrol Flotilla, which was moved from its peacetime base at Devonport to its wartime base on the Humber in early August, although several of its destroyers were scattered along the east coast between the Thames and the Humber to watch for any German raiders. This was by far the most common use of the type in August 1918, but that didn’t last. In November 1918 the Admiralty moved twelve older destroyers from the Patrol Flotillas to Scapa Flow, and six were B class destroyers from the Seventh Flotilla. These ships spent most of the war based at Scapa Flow, before being moved towards the end of the war, with four ended up in the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla and two back in the Seventh Patrol Flotilla,

Two B class destroyers (Peterel and Express) began the war with the Eighth patrol Flotilla, which was also based at Devonport, but moved to its wartime base on the Firth of Forth at the start of August. Both remained with that formation until 1917 when they joined the East Coast Convoys command on the Humber. In 1918 they were split, with the Peterel remaining on the East Coast with the Seventh Flotilla and the Express joining the North Channel Patrol at Larne.

Three served with the Sixth Flotilla, at Dover (Myrmidon, Syren and Kangaroo). All three remained based at Dover for their entire wartime career, although the Myrmidon was lost in a collision on 27 March 1917.

One ship, HMS Spiteful, served with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla throughout the war.

Finally the Quail served on the China Station throughout the war.

By the end of the war eighteen were still in service – four with the Seventh Patrol Flotilla, six with the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla , two with the Nore Local Defence Flotilla , one on the China Station, two with the North Channel Patrol, One with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla and two with the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

Only two B class destroyers were lost during the war, neither of them to enemy action. The Success was wrecked on 27 December 1914 and the Mymidon sunk in a collision on 26 March 1917.

During the war only one B class destroyer sank a submarine – HMS Thrasher sinking UC-39 in 1917. However most of them had very active wars, carrying out local patrols, convoy escort duties, hunting for mines and U-boats and protecting the coast.

By Ship

HMS Thrasher – Seventh Patrol Flotilla on the Humber (1914-17) then the Nore Local Defence Flotilla (1918). The Thrasher sank UC-39 in 1917

HMS Virago in Victorian livery HMS Virago in Victorian livery

HMS Virago – China Station (1914-18)

HMS Quail – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914-1917), East Coast Convoys, Humber Command (1917), Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1918)

HMS Griffon – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), Scapa Patrol/ Local Defence Flotilla (1914-1918), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla (1918)

HMS Earnest – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914-1917), East Coast Convoys, Humber Command (1917), Nore Local Defence Flotilla (1918), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla (1918)

HMS Locust – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), Scapa Patrol/ Local Defence Flotilla (1914-1918), Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1918)

HMS Panther – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914-17), Nore Local Defence Flotilla (1917-18)

HMS Seal – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914-17), Nore Local Defence Flotilla (1917-18), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla (1918)

HMS Wolf in Victorian Livery HMS Wolf in Victorian Livery

HMS Wolf - Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914-17), Nore Local Defence Flotilla (1917), North Channel Patrol, Larne (1918)

HMS Orwell – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), Scapa Patrol/ Local Defence Flotilla (1914-18), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla (1918)

HMS Peterel – Eighth Patrol Flotilla, Firth of Forth (1914-1917), East Coast Convoys (1917), Seventh Flotilla (1918)

HMS Spiteful – Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla (1914-18)

HMS Success – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), wrecked 27 December 1914.

HMS Myrmidon – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover (1914-1917), sunk in collision 26 March 1917.

HMS Syren – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover (1914-18)

HMS Kangaroo – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover (1914-18)

HMS Sprightly – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), Scapa Patrol/ Local Defence Flotilla (1914-1918), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla (1918)

HMS Lively – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), Scapa Patrol/ Local Defence Flotilla (1914-1918), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla (1918)

HMS Express – Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, Firth of Forth (1914-1917), East Coast Convoys (1917), North Channel Patrol, Larne (1918)

HMS Arab – Seventh Patrol Flotilla (1914), Scapa Patrol/ Local Defence Flotilla (1914-1917), Seventh Destroyer Flotilla (1918)

Stats

Displacement (standard)

355-400t

Displacement (loaded)

415-450t

Top Speed

30 knots

Engine

Four-cylinder triple expansion engines
Four boilers
2 screws

Range

80-90 tons of coal capacity

Length

216.25-219.75ft oa
213-215ft pp

Width

20.75-21.5ft

Armaments

One 12-pounder gun
Five 6-pounder guns
Two 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

58 (Brassey)

Ships in Class

HMS Thrasher
HMS Virago
HMS Quail
HMS Griffon
HMS Earnest
HMS Locust
HMS Panther
HMS Seal
HMS Wolf
HMS Orwell
HMS Peterel
HMS Spiteful
HMS Success
HMS Myrmidon
HMS Syren
HMS Kangaroo
HMS Sprightly
HMS Lively
HMS Express
HMS Arab

British Destroyers From Earliest Days to the Second World War, Norman Friedman. A very detailed look at the design of British destroyers from their earliest roots as torpedo boat destroyers, though the First World War and up to the start of the Second World War, supported by vast numbers of plans and well chosen photographs [read full review]
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 January 2019), B Class Destroyers (1912) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_B_class_destroyers_1912.html

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