C Class Destroyers (1912)

‘C Class destroyer’ was the designation given to those pre-First World War 30-knot destroyers that had three funnels in the general reorganisation of destroyer classes in 1912. Large numbers survived to serve during the First World War, where all but two served with a variety of local defence and patrol flotillas, playing an active but often poorly documented role in the naval war.  

The 30-knotters were built to a basic Admiralty design, but with each builder free to offer their own combination of engines and boilers, arrangement of funnels, detailed hull shape and accommodation. The basic requirements were for a ship armed with two 18in torpedo tubes, one 12-pounder and five 6-pounder guns and following the same basic layout.

HMS Whiting on a speed trial
HMS Whiting on
a speed trial

This had a turtleback foredeck, which was designed to allow high speeds, but tended to drive water onto the forward areas, including the bridge. This ended with the conning tower, which had a platform on top that held the 12-pounder gun and the bridge. Two of the 6-pounders were either side of the conning tower, and could fire forwards along the sides of the turtleback. One was at the stern and two were along the sides. The location of the torpedo tubes varied between individual builders. The ratings and stokers accommodation was in the bow, the Captain’s cabin, officers and NCOs accommodation was in the stern (making it difficult for officers to reach when at sea).

The C class was the largest of the first four letter classes, with ships from a wide range of manufacturers. In general their machinery followed the same basic layout, with four boilers in two stokeholds and the engine room behind the aft boiler room. Boiler 2 from the forward room and Boiler 3 from the aft room normally shared a single funnel, giving them the three –funnel layout. However the different builders were each free to use different boilers and engines, so the similarities were fairly superficial. In one case a shipyard produced almost identical boats that ended up in different classes – Palmer’s first 30-knotters had three funnels, and were thus C Class boats, while their later boats had four funnels, and thus became D Class boats.

There were no C class boats in the original 1894-5 order for 30-knotters. The first thus came from the 1895-6 programme.

Vickers built three boats in the 1895-6 programme, Avon, Bittern and Otter. All three survived into the First World War, but the Otter was sold to be broken up in Hong Kong in 1916 and the Bittern was lost in a collision in 1918.

Palmer built a large batch of 30-knotters in the 1895-6 programme. Chamois floundered in 1904, but the other five (Star, Whiting, Bat, Crane and Flying Fish) all served in the First World War and were scrapped in 1919.

Thomson built four in the 1895-6 programme. Recruit was torpedoed in 1915, but Brazen, Electra and Vulture all survived the war and were scrapped in 1919-20.

HMS Flying Fish in Victorian Livery
HMS Flying Fish
in Victorian Livery

The 1896-7 programme saw new builders added to the mix.

Doxford built two ships, Violet and Sylvia, both of which survived the war.

Hawthorn Leslie built two ships, Mermaid and Cheerful. Mermaid survived the war, but Cheerful was sunk by a mine in 1917.

Fairfield built three ships. Osprey and Gipsy both survived the war, but Fairy sank after ramming and sinking a U-boat in 1917.

Earle built two ships in 1896-7, Dove and Bullfinch, both of which survived the war.

Thomson (soon renamed John Brown) produced the Kestrel, which survived the war.

Palmer produced two ships. Fawn survived the war, but Flirt was sunk in an action with German destroyers in 1916.

Vickers produced the Leopard, which survived the war.

Only the Laird built HMS Leven came from the 1897-8 programme. She survived the war.

The last big batch of C class ships came from the July 1898 supplement to the 1898-99 naval construction programme.

Hawthron Leslie produced Greyhound, Racehorse and Roebuck all of which survived the war.

Vickers produced the Vixen, which survived the war.

Fairfield produced Ostrich and Falcon. Ostrich survived the war, but Falcon was lost in a collision in 1918.

The last three standard C class boats were the Brown-built Thorn, Tiger and Vigilant, ordered in 1900-1 while already under construction. Tiger was lost in a collision in 1908, but the other two survived the war.

Two special ships were also allocated to the C class. HMS Albatross was ordered from Thornycroft as a ’33-knot special’, but never reached her design speed, and was allocated to the C class in 1912.

HMS Velox was the third turbine driven destroyer ordered by the Royal Navy, after HMS Viper and HMS Cobra were both lost in 1901. The Velox was lost after she hit a mine in 1915.

There were thus a total of 34 normal and 2 special C class destroyers during the First World War, of which seven were lost.

Wartime Service Overview

Most of the C class destroyers served with either the Local Defence Flotillas or Patrol Flotillas, which carried out fairly similar roles around the coast – escorting individual ships, patrolling, hunting for mines and U-boats, spending many hours at sea.

HMS Flirt from the left
HMS Flirt from the left

At the start of the war twenty three of the C class destroyers were serving with three patrol flotillas – eight with the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, nine with the 7th Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber and four with the 8th Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth.

A group of four C class destroyers, Flying Fish, Star, Bat and Fairy, began the war with the Shetland Patrol, but were soon moved to Cromarty, where they formed the Local Defence Flotilla in 1915-1917. All four were then allocated to the new East Coast Convoys on the Humber, although the Fairy sank after ramming a U-boat before making the move. The survivors remained on the East Coast for the rest of the war, first with East Coast Convoys and then with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla.

HMS Violet in Victorian Livery HMS Violet in Victorian Livery

Seven began the war with the Local Defence Flotillas – four on the Nore, two at Portsmouth and one at Devonport.

Finally two began the war on the China Station, although the Otter was soon placed out of commission, leaving only the Whiting.

Most of the C class destroyers changed role at least once during the war. Four were moved north to form part of the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla. Nine became part of the East Coast Convoys organisation in 1917, formed as part of the new convoy system. Three joined the North Channel Patrol, which had the task of protecting the northern entrance to the Irish Sea. Two more were officially allocated to that force, but were taken over by the Senior Naval Officer at Liverpool.

Six C class destroyers were lost during the war, and two went out of use. HMS Otter was paid off at Hong Kong soon after the start of the war and sold off in 1916. HMS Vulture appears to have gone out of use late in 1917 and wasn’t listed with any active force during 1918.

The first to be lost to enemy action was HMS Recruit, sunk by UB-6 on 1 May 1915 while serving with the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

HMS Velox was next to be lost, sinking after hitting a mine on 25 October 1915, while serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

Only one was lost in 1916 – HMS Flirt, sunk by German destroyers raiding into the Channel on 26 October 1916.

HMS Fairy was lost on 31 May 1917 after she rammed and sank UC-75 while serving with the Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla.

HMS Cheerful was lost when she hit a mine on 30 June 1917 while serving with East Coast Convoys. Although this organisation was based on the Humber, the Cheerful was operating in the Shetlands when she was lost.

The last C-class destroyer to be lost was HMS Bittern, which sank after a collision with SS Kenilworth in thick fog off Portland Bill on 4 April 1918. There were no survivors.

By the end of the war the surviving ships were more widely spread. Nine were with the Seventh Flotilla on the Humber and six with the Sixth Flotilla at Dover. Two each were at Liverpool, with the Nore Local Defence Flotilla, The North Channel Patrol and the Lowestoft Local Force. One each was with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, Devonport Local Defence Flotilla, Portland Local Forces, the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla and on the China Station.

All of the surviving ships were quickly placed into the reserve after the war, and scrapped within a few years.

Wartime Service By Ship

HMS Bittern – Devonport Local Defence Flotilla 1914-1918, sunk in collision 4 April 1918
HMS Avon – Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914-1917; Liverpool 1918
HMS Otter – Hong Kong 1914, soon sold off
HMS Star – Shetland Patrol 1914, Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917; East Coast Convoys 1917, Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Whiting – China Station 1915-1918

HMS Fawn passing HMS Victory
HMS Fawn
passing HMS Victory

HMS Bat – Shetland Patrol 1914, Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917; East Coast Convoys 1917, Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Crane – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918; Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Flying Fish - Shetland Patrol 1914, Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917; East Coast Convoys 1917, Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Brazen – Nore Local Defence Flotilla, 1914-1917; Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, 1917-1918
HMS Electra – Nore Local Defence Flotilla, 1914-1918
HMS Recruit – Nore Local Defence Flotilla, 1914-1915, sunk by UB-6 1 May 1915
HMS Vulture – Nore Local Defence Flotilla, 1914-1917, not in use 1918?
HMS Violet – Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914-1917, East Coast Convoys 1917, Nore Local Defence Flotilla, 1918, Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1918
HMS Sylvia – Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914; Scapa Local Defence Flotilla 1914-1918; Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Mermaid – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918
HMS Cheerful – Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, Firth of Forth, 1914-1917; East Coast Convoys, Humber, 1917; sunk by mine 30 June 1917
HMS Fairy - Shetland Patrol 1914, Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917, sunk after rammed UC-75, 31 May 1917
HMS Gipsy – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918
HMS Osprey – Eighth Patrol Flotilla, Firth of Forth, 1914; Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917; East Coast Convoys 1917; North Channel Patrol 1918
HMS Dove – Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914; Grand Fleet 1915; North Channel Patrol 1915-1916; Liverpool 1918
HMS Bullfinch – Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914; Scapa Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917; Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Kestrel – Nore Local Defence Flotilla 1914-1918; Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla 1918
HMS Flirt – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918; sunk by German destroyers 26 October 1916
HMS Fawn - Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918; Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Leopard - Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914; Scapa Local Defence Flotilla 1915-1917; Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Leven - Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918
HMS Greyhound - Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918; Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1918
HMS Racehorse - Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918
HMS Roebuck  - Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla 1914; Devonport Local Defence Flotilla 1914-1918
HMS Vixen - Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914-1917; East Coast Convoys 1917; Nore Local Defence Flotilla 1918
HMS Falcon - Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918
HMS Ostrich – Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, Firth of Forth, 1914-1917; East Coast Convoys, Humber, 1917; Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, Firth of Forth, 1918; Lowestoft Local Flotilla 1918
HMS Thorn  - Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914; Scapa Flow 1915; North Channel Patrol 1915-1918
HMS Vigilant - Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, Firth of Forth, 1914-1917; East Coast Convoys, Humber, 1917; Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, Firth of Forth, 1918; Portland Local Flotilla 1918
HMS Albatross - Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Humber, 1914-1918; Lowestoft Local Flotilla, 1918
HMS Velox - Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, 1914-1915; sunk by mine 25 October 1915

Stats (excluding Albatross and Velox)

Displacement (standard)

355-400t

Displacement (loaded)

395-445t

Top Speed

30 knots

Engine

5,800-6,300ihp

Range

 

Length

214.25-222.25ft oa
209.75-218ft pp

Width

20-21ft

Armaments

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

Ships in class

HMS Bittern
HMS Avon
HMS Otter
HMS Star
HMS Whiting
HMS Bat
HMS Crane
HMS Flying Fish
HMS Brazen
HMS Electra
HMS Recruit
HMS Vulture
HMS Violet
HMS Sylvia
HMS Mermaid
HMS Cheerful
HMS Fairy
HMS Gipsy
HMS Osprey
HMS Dove
HMS Bullfinch
HMS Kestrel
HMS Flirt
HMS Fawn
HMS Leopard
HMS Leven
HMS Greyhound
HMS Racehorse
HMS Roebuck  
HMS Vixen
HMS Falcon
HMS Ostrich
HMS Thorn
HMS Vigilant
HMS Albatross
HMS Velox

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 (6 March 2019), C Class Destroyers (1912) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_C_class_destroyers_1912.html

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