HMS Firedrake (1912)

HMS Firedrake was the name ship of the Firedrake group of Yarrow specials in the Acheron class of destroyers, and spent the First World War operating with the submarine forces working in the North Sea, first with the Eighth and then Ninth Submarine Flotilla.

The Firedrake was laid down at Yarrow on 1 July 1911, launched on 1 June 1912 and commissioned in September 1912.

In January 1914 the Firedrake was officially part of the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, but was a temporary member of the First Destroyer Flotilla, which contained most of the Acheron class destroyers.

In July 1914 she was in active commission at Portsmouth, where she was a tender to HMS Vernon, the Royal Navy’s Torpedo Branch.

HMS Firedrake from the left HMS Firedrake from the left

In August 1914 she was part of the large Sixth Destroyer which was based at Dover, but she was one of two destroyers from the flotilla that were at Harwich, where she was attached to the 8th Submarine Flotilla. During the First World War her main role was to support the operations of British submarines in the southern North Sea, sometimes actively taking part in operations.

At the start of August, when the first ships carrying the BEF were ready to cross the channel to France, Commodore Keyes on the Lurcher was in command of a line of twelve submarines guarding a line that ran from the North Goodwins, through the Sandettie light-vessel to Ruytingen. The Firedrake was also part of this force. They were the first line of naval defence for the Dover Straits, and were posted just to the east of the main destroyer force, a mix of the French Boulogne Flotilla and the British 6th Flotilla. The transports crossed the Channel without any problems.

The Firedrake fought at the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914). She was one of two destroyers (Firedrake and Lurcher) that supported a line of British submarines that was waiting to ambush any German heavy ships that came out to try and catch the Harwich Force as it raided into the Heligoland Bight. The Firedrake supported E.4, E.5 and E.9, which formed the eastern end of the line of submarines. On the night of 27-28 August the Firedrake herself cruised in the area south of the battlecruisers.

During the battle her presence sometimes caused confusion. At about 0900 the Fearless ordered her destroyers to break off from an attack on the German submarine V.187 in the mistaken belief she might have been one of the two British destroyers. On this occasion it didn’t matter, as it was obvious to the British destroyer commanders that they were facing a German ship. At about the same time the Commodore (S), who was at sea on the Lurcher, spotted two British light cruisers, and having not been told they would be at sea reported them as hostiles. At 0945 he sighted Commodore Goodenough’s light cruisers and reported being chased by four enemy light cruisers, which he was attempted to lead towards the battlecruiser Invincible. The confusion was soon cleared up, but it did lead to a pause in the movement of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, which withdrew 15 miles to the west to avoid clashing with the submarine force.

Later in the battle she helped rescue the survivors from the German cruiser Mainz. A total of 348 officers and men from her crew of 380 men were rescued, although some of the wounded died later. The Firedrake picked up 33 of the survivors.

On 10 September the Firedrake and Lurcher and her submarines were sent into the Heligoland Bight to cooperate with another sweep into the area by the fleet. On this occasion the submarines had several encounters with German ships and submarines, but without any success.

On the night of 12-13 October the Firedrake replaced the Lurcher off Zeebrugge, where they were supporting two submarines that were patrolling off the Ems, watching for any German shipping. 

In November 1914 she was attached to Submarine Flotilla VIII, the Overseas Flotilla, based at Harwich.

The Firedrake and the Lurcher were at sea (off the Terschelling on the edge of neutral Dutch waters, watching for German shipping coming out of the Ems) with eight submarines when the Germans raided the Yorkshire coast. At daylight on 16 December Commodore Keyes’s flagship Lurcher picked up a faint signal that showed the Germans were off Scarborough. His force was in the wrong place to intercept them on their way home and was out of wireless range, so he sent the Firedrake off to get in touch with Yarmouth and ask for instructions. The resulting orders to move into the Heligoland Bight to try and catch the Germans on their way home didn’t reach him until 3.35pm, and it took until 5pm for him to find four of his submarines. Even so, one of his submarines, E.11, actually got into position to attack the Germans and was even able to fire a torpedo at one, but without success.

The Firedrake and Lurcher and their submarines were at sea to support an attempted seaplane raid on German Zeppelin bases on 25 December 1914. The raid wasn’t a success, and only two of the seven seaplanes involved were recovered as planned. The Lurcher rescued the crew of a third. Three of the remaining aircraft found one of the British submarines, but had to be destroyed when a Zeppelin arrived one the scene. The last aircraft came down close to the Dutch coast and ended up in Holland.

At the start of January 1915 the Admiralty decided to post two submarines off Zeebrugge to watch the U-boats based there. However one of the first two submarines sent out, C.31, failed to return. On the night of 9-10 January Commodore Keyes took the Lurcher and Firedrake across to search for her, but without success.

The Lurcher and Firedrake were to have supported a planned raid on Emden in mid-January 1915, but that was cancelled due to bad weather.

On 23 January 1915, in the build-up to the battle of Dogger Bank, Firedrake, Lurcher and four submarines were sent out from Harwich to take up position off the Ems and Heligoland. However they didn’t play any part in the resulting battle.

On the night of 9-10 July 1915 Commodore Keyes took the Lurcher and Firedrake out to sea in an attempt to find the submarine HMS C.31¸ which had gone missing on a mission to scout out Zeebrugge. No sign of her was found.

In March 1915 she was serving as a tender destroyer with the Harwich Submarine Flotilla. In that month she rescued the survivors of the German mine laying submarine U.C.5., which was then salvaged and taken back to Harwich.

At the end of March the Lurcher and Firedrake were ordered to escort three E class submarines to Devonport and then on to Ushant, at the start of a voyage to the Dardanelles.

In June 1915 she was attached to the 8th Submarine Flotilla, based at Harwich.

In mid June 1915 the submarine S.1 suffered from engine problems while on patrol in the Heligoland Bight. Luckily she was able to capture a German trawler, the Ost, and used her to tow the submarine home. When she 100 miles off the British coast S.1 released her homing pigeon with the news, and the Firedrake was sent out to try and find her. However by the time the destroyer fought the trawler and submarine they had already safely reached the coast.

On 5 August 1915 the Firedrake attempted to find the submarine C.33, which had gone missing on her way back from an anti U-boat mission off the Norfolk coast. No sign of her was found.

In January 1916 she was attached to the 8th Submarine Flotilla, based at Harwich

On 18 January 1916 the Firedrake led four destroyers out to support the submarines during an attempt to raid the Zeppelin sheds on the German coast. The main attack was frustrated by the weather, and one of the submarines H.6, ran aground in neutral waters and had to be abandoned.

On 27 April the minelaying submarine UC-5 ran aground on the Shipwash shoal and had to surrender to the Firedrake.

Although the Firedrake and her submarines were at sea during the battle of Jutland, they were too far west to be involved in the fighting.

On 15 August 1916 two of the flotilla’s submarines, E.4 and E.41 collided during an exercise off Harwich. E.4 sank immediately with no survivors. E.41 stayed afloat a little longer, but an attempt to close the forward bulkhead door failed and she sank. Three officers and eleven men were rescued by the Firedrake, and remarkable one more survivor, Stoker Petty Officer William Brown, came to the surface an hour and a half later, having managed to escape through a torpedo tube. Both submarines were later raised and returned to service.

On 18 August 1916, when the German High Seas fleet sortied, the Firedrake and six submarines were sent to a position between Lowestoft and the Dutch coast.

In September 1916 the Firedrake and Lurcher moved from the Eighth Submarine Flotilla to the Ninth Submarine Flotilla. The new flotilla inherited most of the E class submarines from the old Eighth Flotilla, while the Eighth Flotilla kept its F, H and V class submarines. They spent the rest of the war with the Ninth Submarine Flotilla.

On 13 November 1917 she carried out a depth charge attack on a German submarine in the Channel. Some sources credit her with sinking UC-51 in this attack, although others have this U-boat surviving until 17 November when she was sunk by a mine.

In November 1918 she was one of three destroyers attached to the Ninth Submarine Flotilla at Harwich

In November 1919 she was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Portsmouth Reserve. She was sold to be broken up in October 1921.

The Firedrake was awarded battle honours for Heligoland

Displacement (standard)

778t

Displacement (loaded)

990t

Top Speed

32 knots (Firedrake Type)

Engine

3-shaft Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers
20,000shp

Range

 

Length

246ft oa

Width

25ft 8in

Armaments

Two 4in BL Mk VIII guns
Two 12-pounder/ 12cwt guns
Two 21in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

70

Laid down

1 July 1911

Launched

1 June 1912

Completed

September 1912

Sold for break up

October 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 (11 November 2021), HMS Firedrake (1912) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Firedrake_1912.html

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