HMS Itchen (1903)

HMS Itchen (1903) was a River class destroyer that served with the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla in 1914-15 and the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla from 1915 until she was sunk by UC-44 on 6 July 1917.

The Itchen was built to the original design, with her forward 6-pdr guns on sponsons on either side of the forecastle. This made them rather wet in some seas, and they were lifted to a higher position on ships from the 1902/3 batch and later.

The Itchen was one of three River class destroyers ordered from Laird in the 1901-1902 batch. They both had two funnels.

By 1912 Brassey’s Naval Annual listed her as being armed with four 12-pounders, after the 6-pounders were replaced across the River class as they were no longer felt to be effective


The Itchen was launched on Tuesday 17 March 1903.

On Saturday 9 January 1904 the Itchen arrived at Devonport after a rough voyage from the Wirral – at one point the weather forced her to take shelter at Holyhead. She had already carried out her commissioning trials off the mouth of the Mersey, and was the first of the new River class destroyers to be delivered.

HMS Itchen from the left
HMS Itchen from the left

The Itchen took part in the 1904 torpedo craft manoeuvres, where the superior seaworthiness of the River class destroyers was demonstrated. At the end of the exercises the destroyers were ordered to return to their home bases from Milford. The flotilla soon ran into a storm and the 27-knotters and 30-knotters were soon forced to turn back. The River class ships were able to continue on at 15 knots until a particularly heavy wave damaged part of the breakwater on the Itchen, at which point the flotilla slowed down to 12 knots and continued on its way. The general conclusion was that the River class destroyers could stay at sea in conditions that would force all other destroyers back to base, and in a long chase could catch just about any destroyer in the world because of their superior endurance at speed. However on Saturday 13 August she was reported to have returned to Falmouth suffering from problems with her machinery, so clearly there were still some problems with the newly commissioned destroyer.

On 27 October 1904 the Itchen and Dee were commissioned for service on the Mediterranean Station, but they don’t appear to have actually taken up that appointment.

In 1904 the Itchen was one of three River class destroyers posted to the China Station. Three more arrived in 1905, but they all returned home in 1906. 

In 1906-1907 the Itchen was one of six River class destroyers in the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Channel Fleet, which then contained the main battleship force.

In 1907-1909 the Itchen was one of fourteen River class destroyers in the 1st or 3rd Destroyer Flotillas of the Channel Fleet, which was now becoming less important. As a result its destroyers only had nucleus crews.

HMS Itchen from the stern
HMS Itchen from the stern

In 1909-11 the Itchen was one of thirteen River Class destroyers in the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. This contained the older battleships and its destroyers were partly manned.

On Saturday 15 May 1909 the Itchen ran onto the Barrel of Butter, a small low lying island or skerry in Scapa Flow, while attempting to avoid another vessel. She was soon re-floated, although lost two blades from her propeller. The damage was clearly not that serious, as she steamed south to Devonport to have them repaired!

On the night of Monday 20 September 1909 the Itchen ran aground on the Head of Work, to the north-east of Kirkwall, while returning to Kirkwall after night firing exercises. She was badly holed, but luckily the sea remained calm for several days. Her guns, coal and other heavy supplies were removed to lighten her, and by Thursday 23 September she had been refloated, after being towed off the rocks by HMS Sapphire and a government tug. She then went to Kirkwall for temporary repairs.

On Saturday 9 October 1909 the Itchen was able to leave Kirkwall heading for Sheerness, accompanied by the scout cruiser HMS Skirmisher.

On Thursday 18 November 1909 her captain, Commander John Maxwell Dalrymple Elphinstone Warren, was put on court-martial for the grounding. He was found not guilty of allowing her to be stranded negligently, but guilty of allowing her to be stranded by default.

In 1911-12 the Itchen was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, which was made up of twenty-three River class destroyers and was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. This contained the older battleships and the destroyers were all partly manned.

In 1912-14 the Itchen was one of twenty five River class destroyers that formed the 9th Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, one of the new Patrol Flotillas.

On 1 October 1912 she towed the Liffey into Sheerness, after the Liffey was damaged in a collision with the merchant ship Fingal.

On 5 February 1913 one of her torpedoes was lost off the Sunk lightvessel. A few days later the Admiralty offered a reward of £5 for its return, specifying that it was a 18in R.G.F. torpedo, No.24, Mark VII.

On Sunday 18 May 1913 a boat carrying men from the Itchen capsized in the Forth of Forth, and seven of her crew were drowned. On Tuesday 8 July 1913 Lt Reginald Vesey Holt was court martialed for allowing the boat to leave the ship while overloaded, and was found guilty. He was seriously reprimanded, although this didn’t hold him back for long, and in August 1913 he was appointed commander of the Itchen.

In July 1914 she was one of sixteen River class destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla at Chatham.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of three River Class destroyers from the Ninth Flotilla that were still at Chatham, while most of the flotilla was either at sea or in the Tyne.

In November 1914 she was one of three destroyers in the 1st Division of the 9th Flotilla, based on the Tyne that were at sea in ‘Area 1’, part of the Flotilla’s area of responsibility.

In January 1915 she was part of the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla, a patrol flotilla

This flotilla consisted of the Pathfinder class scout cruiser Patrol and twelve destroyers, and was normally split into four divisions. One would be at Immingham in the Humber, having their boilers cleaned. The other three, each of three destroyers, were based on the Tyne and Tees, with the task of patrolling the area between St Abb’s Head in the north and Flamborough Head in the south. In March this force had to cope with the appearance of German U-boats off the east coast.

In June 1915 she was one of ten River class destroyers in the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla on the Tyne.

By October 1915 the Navy List placed her with the Seventh Flotilla, based on the Humber.

In January 1916 she was one of twelve destroyers from the Seventh Flotilla that were based in the Humber. A similar number were then based in the Tyne.

In October 1916 she was one of nineteen destroyers in the Seventh Flotilla, a mix of River class boats and older 30-knotters.

In January 1917 she was one of eighteen destroyers in the Seventh Flotilla.

On 8 February 1917 HMS Thrasher depth charged the mine laying submarine UC-39, forcing her crew to surrender. The Itchen arrived on the scene after the surrender, and attempted to tow the damaged U-boat to port, but she sank three hours after surrendering.

In June 1917 she was one of twenty three destroyers in a new formation, East Coast Convoys, Humber, that was formed around the Seventh Flotilla to help run the new convoy system.

The Itchen was torpedoed and sunk by UC-44 on 6 July 1917 seventy miles to the north north-east of Peterhead with the loss of seven men. At the time she was escorting a convoy of three merchant ships north towards Lerwick.

Commander John Maxwell Dalrymple Elphinstone Warren: - September-November 1909-
Lt & Commander Sydney Hopkins: 10 August 1912-April 1913-
Lt & Commander Reginald V Holt: 9 August 1913-January 1914-
Lt-Commander Herbert M. Denny: September 1914-January 1915-
Lt Frederick Langton Cavaya: to 6 July 1917

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



Laird-Normand Boilers




226.75ft oa
220ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

18 August 1902


17 March 1903


January 1904



U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History, Norman Friedmann . The standard history of the development of American destroyers, from the earliest torpedo boat destroyers to the post-war fleet, and covering the massive classes of destroyers built for both World Wars. Gives the reader a good understanding of the debates that surrounded each class of destroyer and led to their individual features.
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 March 2020), HMS Itchen (1903) ,

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