HMS Falcon (1899)

HMS Falcon (1899) was a C class destroyer that served with the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla based at Dover throughout the First World War before being sunk in a collision with the naval trawler John Fitzgerald in 1918.

The Falcon was ordered as part of the July 1898 supplement to the 1898-99 naval construction programme.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1901 reported the results of some of her 1900 trials. In one she averaged 30.135 knots at 6,299iHP, consuming 2.22lb of coal per ihp per hour. In the second she averaged 30.099 knots at 6,318ihp.

In early September 1900 she moved from the Fairfield Works to Devonport. Just off the Lizard her port engine failed, but she still managed to reach Devonport on Thursday 6 September.

Pre-War Career

From 1901-1905 the Falcon was part of the Devonport Flotilla, one of three that contained all home based destroyers.

At the start of December 1901 it was reported that the Falcon was being considered to replace the Seal, which had been allocated to the Mediterranean station, but had then developed problems with her machinery. This move wasn’t made.

On the night of Thursday 19 November 1903 the Falcon was returning to Devonport from a cruise in the Channel when she collided with the fishing boat Dove off Start Point. The fishing boat was damaged but was able to continue on her way. These early destroyers were very lightly constructed, and one seaman on the Falcon, B. Beard, was killed when the hull plates next to his bunk buckled and squeezed him to death. A hole was torn in the Falcon’s side, from the upper deck to keel level, and many of her bow plates twisted out of shape. The crew of the Dove blamed the collision on the destroyer flotilla carrying out high speed manoeuvres in the dark, while it was also claimed that the trawler wasn’t showing any lights. On 18 May 1904 the Admiralty Court found that the Falcon was entirely to blame for the collision and agreed to pay compensation to the owner of the trawler.

Late on 31 October 1905 the Falcon suffered damage when she hit the Mole rock at the entrance to the harbour while entering the port. Her forward magazine was flooded in the collision.

In 1906-1907 the Falcon was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla of the Channel Fleet, the main battleship force in Home Waters.

In 1907-1909 the Falcon was allocated to the Channel Fleet flotillas, but by now the main emphasis had moved to the Home Fleet, and the Channel Fleet destroyers were manned by nucleus crews.

In July 1907 the Violet hit a merchant ship in the North Sea, and had to be brought back to Sheerness by the Falcon.

In 1911-1912 the Falcon was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, and once again operating with a reduced crew.

On 27 November 1911 the Falcon was to have been used by Winston Churchill and his wife for a run from Portsmouth to Portland, at the end of a weekend visit to the port. The Churchills boarded the destroyer, but a thick fog prevented the trip, and at noon they came back ashore and returned to London. 

From May 1912 onwards the Falcon was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, now one of the Patrol Flotillas.

On Saturday 23 August 1913 one of her stokers was badly injured while the Falcon was passing through the Eastern Entrance at Dover. He was thrown overboard when the ship lurched and was struck and badly cut by the propeller. A boat from the Falcon was lowered and the man was rescued, and had to be taken to the Deal Naval Hospital.

On the night of Thursday 27 November 1913 the Falcon was involved in a collision with the scout cruiser Foresight during tactical exercises off Spithead. Luckily nobody was injured on either ship, and both were able to continue with the exercises. The Falcon rammed the Foresight, making a small hole in the cruiser’s bows.

In July 1914 she was part of the Sixth Patrol Flotilla at Portsmouth, part of the Second Fleet of the Home Fleet.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of fifteen destroyers from the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla that had moved to their new war base at Dover.

At the end of August 1914 she was chosen as one of six destroyers from the 6th Flotilla that were to support a planned landings at Ostend to support the Belgians. The landings began on 27 August, but it was soon clear that the port couldn’t be defended, and British troops withdrew on 31 August. On 27 August the Falcon was used to help transport the Marines from the Portsmouth battalion from the ships they had crossed the Channel to Ostend.

According to the list of British Warships damaged during the war she was patrolling off Westende on the Belgian coast on 28 October 1914 (with the Syren) when both ships came under accurate fire at about 12.30. Both stayed on station, but at 14.00 the Falcon was hit by an 8in shell while operating between Nieuport and Ostend. The shell hit by the port forward 6-pounder, killing the captain and seven ratings. Two more men died of their wounds, and the gunner and twelve rating were wounded. Acting Sub-Lieutenant C. J.H. de Boulay had to take her into Dunkirk to avoid her sinking.

In November 1914 she was undergoing repairs at Portsmouth, which including replacing her damaged guns.

In January 1915 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, one of the Patrol Flotillas.

In May 1915 the Navy carried out a bombardment of Westende Bains. The Mermaid, Syren and Falcon escorted the Venerable , which was to carry out part of the Bombardment, from Dover to Dunkirk early on 10 May 1915.

In June 1915 the Falcon was one of twenty four destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla based at Dover.

In January 1916 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover and had been equipped with a modified sweep, an early form of anti-submarine weapon.

In October 1916 she was one of twenty five destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

When the Germans raided into the Dover Straits on 26 October 1916 the Falcon was part of the general reserve of the Dover Force.

In January 1917 she was part of the Sixth Flotilla, but was off station being repaired.

On 7-8 April 1917 the Falcon was used to support an attempt to use Coastal Motor Boats to attack German destroyers. The Germans were known to order their destroyers to scatter during heavy air raids, and the plan was to try and catch them while they were isolated. The Falcon took up a position east of Dunkirk late on 7 April and waited for the CMBs. Despite running into heavy seas, they managed to get into position close to Zeebrugge and managed to sink one German destroyer, G.88, a rare success for the vulnerable CMBs.

On 20-21 April 1917 the Germans carried out a raid into the Dover Straits. During the day the Falcon was at sea, carrying out a normal coastal patrol in the area west of Ramsgate (along with the destroyers Crane and Racehorse, Torpedo Boat No.15 and P Boat No.50), but wasn’t involving in the fighting when the Germans attacked Dover and Calais.

In June 1917 she was one of twenty nine destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

The Falcon was awarded a battle honour for operations off the Belgian coast in 1914-17.

In January 1918 she was one of forty three destroyers in the Sixth Flotilla, although a sizable number were undergoing repairs. 

The Falcon was lost after a collision with the naval trawler John Fitzgerald  in 1918.

Commander
-November 1903-: Commander W.H. Cowen
-28 October 1914: Lt Hubert Osmond Wauton

Displacement (standard)

 375t

Displacement (loaded)

 420t

Top Speed

30 knots

Engine

 6,250ihp

Range

80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)

Length

214.5ft oa
209ft pp

Width

21ft

Armaments

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

Crew complement

60  (Brassey)

Laid down

 26 June 1899

Launched

29 December 1899

Completed

December 190

Collision

1918

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 (9 July 2019), HMS Falcon (1899) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Falcon_1899.html

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