HMS Contest (1913)

HMS Contest (1913) was an Acasta class destroyer that served with the 4th Flotilla, fighting at Jutland, before moving to the Humber, then to the south coast, before being torpedoed and sunk by U-106 on 18 September 1917.

The Contest was laid down at Hawthorn on 26 December 1911, launched on 7 January 1913 and commissioned in June 1913. When the Acasta class became the K Class the new name Kittiwake was chosen for her, but it was never used.

HMS Contest from the left HMS Contest from the left

In July 1914 she was one of twenty destroyers in the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla of the First Fleet, which contained the most modern battleships. The flotilla contained all twenty Acasta or K Class destroyers.

In August 1914 she was one of twenty K destroyers in the Fourth Flotilla of what was becoming the Grand Fleet. At the outbreak of war all but the Porpoise were at sea. Over the next two years five members of the class were sunk, while the surviving members of the class remained with the Flotilla into July 1916.

In February 1915 the 1st Canadian Division was ready to be transported from Avonmouth to St. Nazaire. On 7 February Faulknor, Christopher, Contest, and Hardy were sent to act as an escort for the first two ships, but they didn’t sail as planned and instead joined the second group of ships. The Faulknor’s division were then used to escort the third batch of ships, which sailed on 9-10 February. At 5pm on 10 February the transports were judged to be safe, and the Faulknor’s division headed north to Barrow where they replaced the Laurel’s division before heading north to rejoin the Grand Fleet. They reached Barrow on 13 February, but as they were approaching the narrow entrance channel sighted the signal forbidding entrance because another vessel was coming out. Christopher, Contest and Owl all ran aground while attempting to turn around and stayed aground until the following day. The Christopher and Contest had to go into the Clyde for repairs, and didn’t reach Invergordon until 22 February.

In January 1916 nineteen K class destroyers were in the Fourth Flotilla, based at Scapa. She had been equipped with a submarine sweep.

In April 1916 Admiral Jellicoe asked for eight of the class to have one of their 4in guns converted to a high angle gun by placing it on a trap door that could tilt up to fifty degrees. The Contest was one of the ships selected to be converted.

Jutland

The Contest was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Jutland, which contained sixteen Acasta class destroyers and one Repeat M class destroyer. The flotilla put to sea with Admiral Jellico and the main body of the Grand Fleet by 10.30pm on 30 May.

As the Grand Fleet advanced into contact with the High Seas Fleet, part of the flotilla was with the British 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron (Shark, Acasta, Ophelia and Christopher), forming an anti-submarine screen ahead of Admiral Hood’s capital ships. The 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron was some way ahead of the main battleship force and was thus the first part of the Grand Fleet to get into action. The destroyers found themselves on the port flank of Hood’s battlecruisers, in a position to attack a force of German cruisers. However they soon became engaged in a battle with German destroyers which left the Shark crippled, but stopped the Germans attacking Hood’s battlecruisers. 

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 4th Flotilla was now split into three. Ophelia and Christopher were with Beatty’s battlecruisers off to the south-west. Owl, Hardy and Midge were with the armoured cruisers. That left ten destroyers and two flotilla leaders with the main part of the flotilla.

At about 10.10pm four German destroyers were sighted to the rear of the flotilla. They fired torpedoes, which missed, and the British fired a few rounds before the Germans disappeared once again.

The key moment of the night actions came at around 11.30, when the High Seas Fleet finally attempted to pass behind the Grand Fleet and ran into the British destroyers. The Germans would make contact with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was towards the right of the British line. There was then a seven mile gap to the 13th Flotilla, with the 9th and 10th Flotilla close by, and the 12th Flotilla to their rear.

The 4th Flotilla first spotted ships approaching from their right at about 11.20, but couldn’t be sure who they were. The flotilla’s commander Captain Wintour waited until the Germans were within 1,000 yards before issuing the challenge of the day. The Germans immediately opened fire, killing Wintour and wrecking his flagship, Tipperary. However the German cruisers were forced to turn away, and the Elbing was rammed by the battleship Posen while they were attempting to pass through the German battle line. Soon after this the Spitfire actually rammed the German battleship Nassau, and stayed afloat. The German briefly turned to starboard before Scheer ordered it back onto its course.

The rest of the 4th Flotilla briefly turned east, once again coming into contact with the Germans, although the worst damage at this point was done by a collision between the Sparrowhawk, Broke and Contest. Five feet was cut off the Sparrowhawk’s stern, but the Contest wasn’t badly damaged and was able to stay with the flotilla for the moment. During the resulting melee one torpedo from the flotilla hit the Rostock, which later had to be scuttled by her own crew. The flotilla was now scattered, with the Fortune sunk and all but the Ardent knocked out of the battle. She attempted to find friendly ships, but instead ran into four German battleships and was sunk at around 12.19am on 1 June. Not only had the flotilla been unable to stop the Germans, the fighting had also failed to alert the Grand Fleet, where the action was mis-interpreted as a failed German attack on the British rearguard.

The Contest reached the Tyne on 2 June and the repairs to her were completed by 19 June.

After Jutland

In August 1916 the Fourth Flotilla was relegated from the Grand Fleet having suffered heavy losses at Jutland, and now formed the Humber Force. It contained fifteen of the K class destroyers.

On 27 November 1916 the Christopher, Contest and Spitfire were hunting submarines in the area between the Isle of Wight and Beachy Head.

On 28 November a submarine clashed with the armed trawler Gavina. The Cockatrice, Contest and Spitfire were sent out from Portsmouth to hunt the U-boat but without success.

On 16 December 1916 UB-38 attacked the schooner Englishman close to the Cornish coast. The armed yacht Venetia was close by and opened fire, forcing the submarine to submerge. The Achates, Owl and Contest were ordered to the area, bu didn’t arrive until nearly four hours had passed. However an armed trawler reported having just spotted a submarine submerging three miles to the north-west so the destroyers attempted to hunt it. After no success in the original area, a second hunt was started seven miles to the north-west. This time one paravane did explode, but UB-38 had probably already left the area, and on the following day she sank a Spanish ship carrying iron ore.

On 20 December the Achates, Owl and Contest were sent to patrol an area off Ushant after U-70 passed through the area. During the patrol they didn’t find any submarines.

In December 1916 the Contest and the Fourth Flotilla moved again, and was now based at Portsmouth. It had also been reduced in size once again, and now contained ten K class destroyers (and the light cruiser HMS Active). The remaining five members of the class moved to the Sixth Flotilla at Dover.

On 10 February 1917 the Contest was sent into the Irish Sea from Queenstown in response to a U-boat attack. She was soon joined by the Christopher and the Orestes, but the U-boat hadn’t lingered, and by 16 February was off the coast of Cornwall on her way home.

In March 1917 the Fourth Flotilla moved to Devonport. It now contained ten Acasta class destroyers and six Laforey or L class destroyers. In April the five ships from Dover rejoined the flotilla at Devonport.

In mid-March 1917 the Germans had three submarines, U-53, UC-47 and UC-66 operating off the south coast of Ireland. The Christopher, Contest, Hardy and Orestes were sent from Devonport to hunt for them, but without success.

On 2 May 1917 the Contest spotted a submarine (probably UC-48) just after she had rescued the survivors from a British fishing smack United. She dropped four depth charges but without success. However the submarine moved to a different area, and was next seen off the coast of Ireland.

On 18 September 1917 the Contest was torpedoed and sunk by U-106¸ while operating off the south-west of England. Sources say that thirty five of her crew were lost, and there were twenty-one survivors, although that would suggest that she was undermanned at the time.

The Contest was awarded a battle honour for Jutland.

War Service
August 1914-July 1916: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
August-November 1916: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Humber Force
December 1916-January 1917: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Portsmouth
March-18 September 1917 1918: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport

Commander
-May June 1916-: Lt Commander E.G.H. Masters

Displacement (standard)

1,072t

Displacement (loaded)

1,300t

Top Speed

29 knots

Engine

2-shaft Parsons turbines
4 Yarrow boilers
24,500shp

Range

 

Length

267ft 6in

Width

27ft

Armaments

Three 4in/ 45cal BL Mk VIII
Two 21in torpedo tubes with four torpedoes

Crew complement

73

Laid down

26 December 1911

Launched

7 January 1913

Completed

June 1913

Torpedoed

18 September 1917

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 (27 January 2022), HMS Contest (1913) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Contest_1913.html

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