HMS Flirt (1897)

HMS Flirt (1897) was a C class destroyer that served with the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover during the First World War, and that was sunk by German destroyers during their raid into the Dover Straits on 26 October 1916.

The Flirt was launched at Palmer’s Howden shipyard on Saturday 15 May 1897 in front of a large crowd. They were drawn by the second double launch in a month, as the Flirt was launched alongside the cruiser HMS Pyramus. The Flirt was named by Miss Rosalind Milburn.

HMS Flirt from the left
HMS Flirt from the left

The Flirt was delivered to Portsmouth on Thursday 10 November 1898.

On Friday 9 December 1898 an attempt at a trial had to be abandoned after Fitter Jackson (from the contractor’s party) was so badly injured when he was knocked off the stokehole ladder by a bag of coal that he needed to be rushed to hospital.

On Saturday 17 December 1898 she carried out a coal consumption trial at Portsmouth. After one hour and forty minutes a leak developed in the air pump covers and the trial had to be abandoned.

On Saturday 24 December 1898 she carried out her first three hour sped trial. She reached a speed of 30.009 knots at 6,468 ihp with the engines running at 400.5rpm and the boilers producing 245lb of pressure.

In 1899 the Flirt took part in speed and fuel efficiency trials. She reached 30.039 knots at 6,720ihp.

Pre-War Service

In 1900-1905 she was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers.

In July-August 1900 the Flirt took part in that year’s naval manoeuvres.

On Wednesday 25 July 1900 the Flirt collided with the Violet in a thick fog. She was largely undamaged, but the Violet suffered damage to her bows and several hull plates had to be replaced.

In early August she managed to escape from six cruisers from the opposite team, after a chase that lasted several hours, demonstrating the speed of the new destroyers.

In September-November 1900 she was on active service with the Portsmouth Instructional Flotilla. At this point the Navy had more destroyers than it really needed, so many of them alternated between time in the reserve and service with the various Instructional Flotillas.

The Flirt took part in the 1900 naval manoeuvres, when she formed part of the Portsmouth division of Fleet B, the defensive fleet. Fleet A was smaller, but was expecting reinforcements from the Mediterranean, suggesting that the potential enemy at this stage was France.

On Friday 11 October 1901 one of her boiler tubes split during a steam trial at Portsmouth, flooding a stoke hold with scalding water. On this occasion nobody was injured.

In 1902 the Flirt was the first British destroyer to have a searchlight installed, when one was added at the after end of the bridge. It was positioned high enough to shine over the heads of anyone on the bridge.

In early March the Flirt was damaged when one of Sir John Jackson’s lighters (being used for the expansion of the Keyham Yard at Devonport) collided with her in the Hamoaze. The Flirt suffered damage to her rudder and steering gear and had to spend three weeks in the dockyard at Plymouth having them repaired. She returned to Portsmouth at the start of April 1903.

On Friday 1 May 1903 the Flirt was paid off and her officers and crew used to man the Star, which replaced her in the Portsmouth Instructional Flotilla.

The Flirt took part in the 1903 naval manoeuvres. On Tuesday 4 August she only narrowly escaped being captured after a three hour chase which ended when she reached the safety (under the rules) of the Scilly Islands. 

On Sunday 9 August 1903 the destroyer Violet fowled the Flirt off the Scilly Islands. The Flirt had to slip her anchor to avoid more serious damage, and divers had to retrieve the anchor.

On Thursday 24 September 1903 the Flirt entered Palmer’s Shipyard at Jarrow for a complete internal overhaul.

On Thursday 29 September 1904 the Flirt left Portsmouth to move to Portland, where she was attacked to the Halcyon on temporary service.

In 1905-1906 she was part of the 1st Division of the Channel Fleet Flotilla, part of a reorganisation of the British destroyer force that saw destroyers attached to the battle fleets in home waters for the first time.

In 1906-1907 she was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, a move away from the main fleets.

In 1907-1909 she was once again part of the Channel Fleet, this time as one of four destroyers based at Portland. By this point the main focus of attention was moving east towards Germany and the North Sea, so the Channel Fleet was more of a secondary formation and its destroyers only had nucleus crews.

In the summer of 1907 the Gipsy, Flirt and Cynthia paid a visit to the East Coast, visiting Grimsby and Hull, where a series of entertainments were laid on for the crew.

In the late summer and early autumn of 1907 the Flirt underwent an overhaul and repair at Portsmouth. On Wednesday 9 October she finally left port for a steam trial, but on her return to Portsmouth rammed the dockyard jetty, causing serious damage to her bows that was estimated to need a month to repair.

In 1909-1910 she was part of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, part of the main Home Fleet, and was fully manned.

In 1911-1912 she was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which was built around older battleships. Once again she was only partly manned.

From 1912 she was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, one of the new Patrol Flotillas, once again with a reduced complement.

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 four destroyers from the Sixth Flotilla that were still at Portsmouth, although most of the flotilla had moved to its wartime base at Dover. 

In November 1914 the Flirt was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla based at Dover.

On 21 November 1914 she was one of six destroyers from the Dover patrol that escorted Admiral Hood, in HMS Crusader, along with HMS Revenge and HMS Bustard as they moved to Dunkirk as part of a plan to bombard Zeebrugge. Eventually the bombardment was carried out by the four Duncan class battleships of Admiral Nicholson’s division of the 3rd Battle Squadron.

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

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

The Flirt was awarded a battle honour for operations off the Belgian Coast in 1914-15.

In January 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

On 1 June 1916 her commander, Andrew N. Swainson and five other crewmen drowned in an otherwise obscure incident. Swainson was followed as commander by Lt R. Kellett, appointed on 5 June 1916.

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

On the night of 26 October 1916 ten destroyers from the German Flanders flotilla, based at Zeebrugge, carried out their first raid into the channel. During the raid they sank the transport Queen and the destroyers Nubian and Flirt.

The Flirt was at sea supporting the drifters which operated the Dover Barrage. The Flirt first sighted the Germans early in their raid, at around 21.35, but her captain believed they were part of the Harwich Force and didn’t report the sighting, even though they had responded to his challenge by repeating the original signal, and not with the correct response.

The Germans moved on, and sank the drifter Waveney. The Flirt saw the gunfire of this clash at 22.15, and her captain believed he was seeing a clash between British destroyers and a U-boat. He ordered the ship to move towards the action, but instead found the Waveney. The Flirt’s captain decided to stop to rescue survivors. At the time destroyers were in view, but he believed they were French. They soon turned out to be German, and the Flirt was sunk with the loss of sixty men – everyone on board at the time. The only survivors were nine men from the crew of a boat that had been sent to aid the drifter Waveney II earlier in the clash.

-1 June 1916: Andrew N. Swainson (drowned)
5 June 1916-: Lt. Richard B. Kellett

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots


Four Reed water tube boilers
Two triple expansion engines


91 tons coal capacity (Brassey)


220ft oa
215ft pp




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

Crew complement

60 (Brassey)

Laid down

 5 September 1896


15 May 1897


April 1899

Sunk in action


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 May 2019), HMS Flirt (1897),

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