HMS Cherwell (1903)

HMS Cherwell (1903) was a River class destroyer that served with the Grand Fleet in 1914, at Portsmouth in 1915-17 and the second half of 1918 and the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber early in 1918.

The original River class boats carried their forward 6-pdr guns on sponsons on either side of the forecastle, but this made them too low and rather wet in some circumstances. From the 1902/3 batch onwards the forward guns were thus moved to a higher position alongside the 12-pdr gun.

HMS Cherwell from the left
HMS Cherwell
from the left

The Cherwell was one of two River class destroyers ordered from Palmers in the 1902/3 batch, the second group of Rivers to be ordered. They both had four funnels, in two pairs.

The Cherwell  completed her official trials by the end of February 1904. During her coal consumption trials she consumed 2.34lb of coal per ihp at 25.5 knots and 7,100ihp. This gave her a radius of action of 460 knots at 25.5 knots.

In the summer of 1904 the new River class boats took part in a series of torpedo craft manoeuvres, where they proved themselves to be more capable than the 30 knotters. In addition after the end of the manoeuvres a force of 31 destroyers left Falmouth and the Sicily Islands to head back to Queenstown and Waterford. They ran into a heavy gale off Land’s End, and only four River class boats (Avon, Cherwell, Eden and Welland) reached Waterford intact. Only one of the older boats, the Hunter was still with them, but she had been badly damaged by the storm. The Cherwell's captain believed that she could run down any foreign destroyer or torpedo boat either with her superior bad weather speed or her better endurance at top speed.

Pre-War Career

In June 1904 the Cherwell was one of six destroyers and four cruisers that were selected to escort the King on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert on a cruise to Kiel.

On 30 November she was paid off at Portsmouth, to be re-commissioned on the following day for service in the Mediterranean.

She briefly visited Plymouth on Thursday 8 December 1904, departing on the same day heading towards Devonport. She was to depart from Devonport for the Mediterranean on 21 December, along with the cruiser HMS Cumberland.  After her arrival she was to be paid off and placed in the Malta Fleet Reserve and her crew used to fill gaps in other ships.

The Cherwell and the Cumberland arrived at Gibraltar at the start of January 1905. The Cherwell joined the Atlantic Fleet, which was based at Gibraltar.

On the night of Monday 16 October 1905 she was cruising along the shore of Morocco between Ceuta and Ceses when she was fired on, with some bullets hitting her funnel. She turned her searchlight onto the coast but didn’t find the attackers. This came during a period of crisis caused by the increasing French influence within Morocco.

At the start of 1906 the Cherwell was one of six destroyers that were ordered to accompany the Second Cruiser Squadron as it returned from Gibraltar to Britain (the Atlantic Fleet was being disbanded). On her return to Britain she joined the 4th Destroyer Flotilla of the Channel Fleet, the main battleship force at the time.

In 1907-1909 she was part of the 2nd or 4th Destroyer Flotilla, both fully manned flotillas of the Home Fleet, which was becoming the main battle fleet.

On Monday 20 May 1907 she was stranded on the Barber Sands off Caister, followed by the Ettrick. Both destroyers fired guns to summon help, and the Caister and Yarmouth lifeboats soon arrived. The Yarmouth lifeboat tug Gleaner managed to pull the Cherwell back into deeper water, and then helped rescue the Ettrick. The accident was said to have been caused in changes in the layout of the sands since the current Admiralty charts had been prepared.

In 1909-1912 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla at the Nore, supporting the older battleships of the 3rd Division of te Home Fleet. All of these destroyers were only partly manned.

From May 1912 she was part of the 9th Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, one of the new Patrol Flotillas.

By January 1914 she was listed as being armed with four 12-pounders, her 6-pounders have all been replaced.

In June 1914 she was one of eight River class destroyers that were attached to the First Fleet, but not allocated to one of the Destroyer Flotillas, after being transferred from the Nore earlier in the year.  

First World War

In August 1914 she was part of the Second Battle Squadron of what soon became the Grand Fleet, and was based at Scapa Flow.

In November 1914 she was one of eighteen destroyers directly under the control of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Jellicoe (by this point the fleet had become the Grand Fleet, but the old name survived in some documents).

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

At the end of March 1915 the Beagle class destroyers, which had been escorting troops across the Channel, were sent to the Dardanelles. The Cherwell was one of eight destroyers that were moved south to take over from them, forming the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla.  She was originally allocated to Devonport, but soon after she arrived there on 27 March she was moved to Portsmouth,

In June 1915 she was one of seventeen destroyers in the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, a mix of River class and the older 27-knotters and 30-knotters.

In January 1916 she was one of eighteen destroyers in the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, once again a mix of older ships and River class ships.

In October 1916 she was one of nine River class destroyers in a new Escort Flotilla, based at Portsmouth.

On 15 December the Exe and Cherwell were returning to base after a trip to Havre when they found UC.17 attacking the SS Red Rose. They were able to save the Red Rose, but when the Exe attempted to lower her paravane in an attempt to attack the U-boat the charge exploded almost immediately, probably due to an operating error.

In January 1917 she was one of thirteen destroyers in the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, still mainly made up of River class ships, but with two Acheron class and one Acorn class destroyer as well.

In June 1917 she was one of nine destroyers in the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, now all River class ships, supported by a force of P-ships, smaller anti-submarine warfare vessels.

In January 1918 she was part of the large Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, based on the Humber.

By April 1918 she carried two depth charge throwers and twenty-two charges. One of the light 12-pounders was to be converted to high angle fire and the rear torpedo tube was to be removed.

In June 1918 she was one of nine destroyers that formed the First Destroyer Flotilla, based at Portsmouth. All nine were now River class ships. This flotilla had been part of the Grand Fleet until November 1916, then part of the Harwich Force until April 1917 when it was moved to Portsmouth, where it spent the rest of the war.

By the end of the war her official armament was meant to be one 12-pounder 12cwt, two 12-pounder 8cwt, one torpedo tube and two depth charge throwers with twenty two depth charges. However a post war photo shows her with only a single 12-pounder (the forward gun), no torpedo tube and her sponsons covered with canvas to turn them into accommodation space. Her bridge had also been covered (the December 1918 Navy List actually lists four 12-pounders, but this was clearly a theoretical total only!).

In November 1918 she was one of six River class destroyers that were still with the First Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth.

By February 1919 her commander was listed as Gunner Stanley P. Brewer, who had been with her since 17 September 1917.

Lt & Commander H. McL Fraser: 1 December 1904-
Lt & Commander Charles A. Poignand: 23 January 1913-April 1913-
Lt in command: Donald F. Lawrence: 14 January 1918-December 1918-
Gunner Stanley B. Brewer: - February 1919-

Displacement (loaded)

545t light load
615t full load

Top Speed







230ft oa
225ft pp



Armaments as built

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

Crew complement


Laid down

20 January 1903


23 July 1903





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 November 2019), HMS Cherwell (1903) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy