HMS Acheron (1911)

HMS Acheron (1911) was the name ship of the Acheron class of destroyers, and served with the First Flotilla at Heligoland, Dogger Bank and Jutland, before moving to the 2nd Flotilla at Devonport in November 1916, then to the 5th Flotilla in the Mediterranean in September 1917 where she remained for the rest of the war.

Although the Acheron was the name ship of the entire class when it was first named, she was actually one of two Thornycroft specials in the class, most of which was made up of a standard Admiralty design. However the differences were fairly minor, and she had a similar layout and the same armament as the Admiralty types, but slightly different dimensions.

HMS Acheron from the left HMS Acheron from the left

The Acheron was laid down at Thornycroft on 30 September 1910, launched on 27 June 1911 and commissioned in November 1911.

In January 1914 she was part of the First Destroyer Flotilla, and was commanded by Wion de M. Egerton.

In July 1914 she was one of twenty destroyers in the First Flotilla of the First Fleet, which contained the more modern battleships. At the time the Flotilla contained all of the Admiralty, Yarrow, Thornycroft and Parsons types of the Acheron or I class of destroyers.

In August 1914 she was one of twenty I class destroyers in the First Flotilla of what was about to become the Grand Fleet, and was at sea when war broke out. The First Flotilla was allocated to the Harwich Force, a swing force that could operate with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea or against the U-boats in the Channel and western approaches.

She was part of Division 1 of the First Flotilla during the battle of Heligoland (28 August 1914)

Her division wasn’t involving in the fighting in the first phases of the battle. However at about 11am, early in the third phase of the battle, the damaged cruiser Arethusa became involved in a battle with the German cruiser Stralsund. The Fearless and the entire First Flotilla were ordered to launch a torpedo attack on the German cruiser, which withdrew in the face of such a large attack. The Arethusa, Fearless and their destroyers then turned back west. However a few minutes later the German cruiser Stettin appeared from the east, and another fight began, this time between the Stettin and the two British cruisers. At 11.20 the Acheron received an order to lead the 1st division (Acheron, Attack, Hind and Archer) in a torpedo attack on the German cruiser and turned back to head towards the last known location of this fight. A few minutes later they found the Stralsund instead and attacked her, forcing the German cruiser to turn north. The division was then ordered to take part in a torpedo attack on the Mainz, which was repulsed by the German cruiser.

The Acheron took part in an attempted seaplane attack on the German airship sheds at Cuxhaven on 25 October 1914. She was one of ten destroyers (Faulknor, Acheron, Archer, Ariel, Badger, Beaver, Hind, Hydra, Lapwing and Lizard) that were used to carry out a diversion off the Ems, which flows into the North Sea close to the German-Dutch border. During the raid the Acheron led a force of three destroyers close to the entrance to the West Ems, to the west of the island of Borkum, from where they fired towards the island, but the destroyer force was ignored by the Germans, and the entire raid ended in failure as the seaplanes were unable to reach their targets.

In November the Acheron was one of eight destroyers that were sent from Harwich to support the four Duncan class battleships when they bombarded Zeebrugge on 23 November,

Early on 1 January 1915 the battleship HMS Formidable was torpedoed and sunk by U-24 while returning to port from gunnery exercises. The Acheron and the 1st Division of the flotilla were ordered out to sea to patrol in an area bounded by the line Brighton-Cape Antifer in the west and Dover-Calais in the east. Unsurprisingly no submarines were spotted. 

At the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) she was part of the 1nd Division of the First Flotilla (Acheron, Attack, Hydra, Ariel). This was the same group of ships that had formed the 3rd Division at Heligoland Bight. However this battle was dominated by the battlecruisers, and the destroyers had little to do.

Immediately after the battle U-boats were detected in the channel once again. On 29 January the Hornet, Jackel, Sandfly and Acheron were sent from Harwich to Portland to act as escort ships. They weren’t there for long, and departed for Harwich on 3-4 February. 

HMS Acheron in the Solent HMS Acheron in the Solent

On 15 February 1915 it was decided to move the 1st Destroyer Flotilla from Harwich to Rosyth, where it was to come under the command of the Vice-Admiral commanding the 3rd Battle Squadron. This would allow eight Grand Fleet destroyers currently based at Rosyth to return to Scapa, which would in turn allow seven older River or ‘E’ class destroyers to move from Scapa Flow to the south coast to be used to escort transport ships across the Channel. The first batch of destroyers from the flotilla (Acheron, Ariel, Attack, Badger, Beaver, Jackal, Lapwing and Sandfly, led by the cruiser Fearless) reached Rosyth on 18 February.

On 10 March Attack, Acheron and Ariel were all summoned to the scene when a U-boat was spotted by a trawler off Fife Ness. All three opened fire, before Ariel rammed her conning tower. The submarine, which turned out to be U-12 had to come back to the surface where she came under fire once again and was scuttled by her crew. Her captain was killed in the conning tower by a shot from the Acheron.

On the eve of Jutland the Acheron was with the part of the First Destroyer Flotilla that was with Admiral Beatty’s battle cruiser fleet. That fleet put to sea late on 30 May, and moved towards a rendezvous position about seventy miles to the south of the main Grand Fleet.

During the advance east across the North Sea the destroyers were used to guard the flanks of the battle cruiser fleet, while the light cruisers advanced ahead of the fleet. At 2.25pm on 31 May, just after the first contact between Beatty’s cruisers and the German cruisers, the destroyers were ordered to form an anti-submarine screen heading S.S.E. He then followed with his capital ships, in the hope of cutting off the retreat of the German cruisers that had been spotted. The German battlecruisers turned south, and retreated towards the main High Seas Fleet. This chase lasted until around 4.30, when the British spotted the German battleships of the High Seas Fleet, and Beatty was forced to abandon his attack and turn north to run towards the battleships of the Grand Fleet.

The two main fleets finally came together at about 6.30pm on 31 May. By this point the battleships of the German High Seas Fleet were heading north, while the battleships of the Grand Fleet were forming a line running roughly east to west in front of them. For a few minutes the British were able to concentrate their fire on the leading ships of the German line, but the Germans then carried out their famous sixteen point turn, and within a few minutes were heading away south into the North Sea mist. However Admiral Scheer then mis-judged the British movements, and turned back east in the hope that he could pass behind the main British force. Just after 7pm the Germans found themselves steaming straight towards Jelicoe’s battleships, and by 7.15 the bulk of the Grand Fleet was finally able to open fire on the Germans. Once again Scheer was forced to reverse course. During this phase of the battle the destroyer flotillas struggled to keep up with the fast moving battleships and rather disappear from the narrative. After more confused manoeuvres the two fleets came into range of each other for a third time after 8pm, but the Germans turned away for a third time, and disappeared into the mists by 8.35.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night battle, and at 9.17 ordered the fleet into its night cruising formation. The battleships formed up into lines in their divisions, with the destroyers following behind. The entire formation began to move south in an attempt to keep between the Germans and their home bases. By 10pm the destroyer flotillas were in line, with the 12th Flotilla at the eastern (left) end of the line, then the combined 9th and 10th Flotillas, 13th Flotilla, 4th Flotilla and finally the 11th Flotilla at the western (right) end of the line. The 1st Flotilla remained with Beatty and so missed the night action which took place as the Germans passed behind the Grand Fleet, clashing with its destroyer flotillas.

Until June 1916 the entire class had been part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. In June the class was split, with some remaining with the flotilla and others joining the 3rd Battle Squadron, which had been moved south to the Thames. The Acheron remained with the First Destroyer Flotilla.

This arrangement lasted until November 1916, when the ships that were still with the 1st Flotilla were split – two went to Dover, two to Portsmouth and the rest, including the Acheron, to the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport. She remained with the 2nd Flotilla into August 1917.

Her duties could take her quite some way from base – on 3 December when destroyers were needed to hunt for U-boats in the western entrance to the Channel she and the Attack were about to return from Queenstown in southern Ireland.

In late March 1917 Ariel, Goshawk, Archer, Acheron and Lizard were used to escort the battleships of the London class to Portsmouth and Dover.

On 14 July she departed from Liverpool as part of the escort for the Olympic (Ariel, Alarm, Brisk and Acheron), which was used as a troop ship during the war. In 1917 she was being used to transport Canadian troops from Halifax to the UK, so this was the start of a return trip. The Olympic survived the war, and became known as ‘old reliable’ because of her many safe voyages.

Towards the end of the war the surviving Acheron class destroyers slowly moved to the Mediterranean. The Acheron made the move in September 1917 and spent the rest of the war in Mediterranean.

On 20 January 1918, when the Goeben and Breslau made their last sortie, she was at Genoa undergoing a refit.

In June 1918 she was part of the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla at Brindisi at the south-eastern end of Italy.

In November 1918 she was part of the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla at Mudros on Lemnos in the eastern Aegean.

In November 1919 she was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Nore Reserve. She was sold to be broke up in May 1921.

The Acheron was awarded battle honours for Heligoland, Dogger Bank and Jutland

War Service
August 1914-September 1916: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
November 1916-August 1917: 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport
September 1917-June 1918: 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean
July-August 1918: 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Brindisi
December 1918: Aegean Squadron

Displacement (standard)

778t

Displacement (loaded)

990t

Top Speed

29 knots

Engine

3-shaft Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers
15,500shp

Range

 

Length

246ft oa

Width

25ft 8in

Armaments

Two 4in BL Mk VIII guns
Two 12-pounder/ 12cwt guns
Two 21in torpedo tubes (Three in Australian specials)

Crew complement

70

Laid down

30 September 1911

Launched

27 June 1911

Completed

November 1911

Sold

May 1921

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 (13 October 2021), HMS Acheron (1911) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Acheron_1911.html

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