HMS Laertes (1913)

DANFS:

HMS Laertes (1913) was a Laforey class destroyer that served with the Harwich Force from 1914-1917, fighting at the battles of Heligoland and Dogger Bank, then briefly with the Dover Force in 1917 before moving to Devonport in July 1917, where she was based for the rest of the war.

The Laertes was laid down at Swan Hunter on 6 July 1912, was launched on 6 June 1913 and was commissioned in October 1913. She was originally to be named the Sarpedon, but became the Laertes when it was decided to give the entire class names beginning with L.

 

1914

In July 1914 she was one of thirteen Laforey or L class destroyers that formed the Third Flotilla, part of the First Fleet of the Home Fleet, the formation that contained the most modern battleships.

In August 1914 she was one of sixteen L class destroyers in the Third Flotilla, now part of what was about to become the Grand Fleet. At the outbreak of war the flotilla was at Harwich, and it would become part of the Harwich Force, a ‘swing’ force that could be used in the North Sea to support the Grand Fleet or around the coast.

Damaged 4in gun on HMS Laertes Damaged 4in gun on HMS Laertes

The Laertes formed part of the 4th Division of the 3rd Flotilla during the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914). At the start of the battle her division was ordered to chase the first German destroyer that was sighted, but she kept out of range. Later in the battle her division clashed with the German light cruiser Mainz, but were unable to sink her. The Laertes fired a torpedo, but was then hit by four  German shells from a single salvo, one of which struck one of the boiler rooms (another hit the empty captain’s cabin). She lost all water and came to a standstill. During the battle she lost two men killed and six or eight wounded (the British Naval Staff Monograph on the battle gives both figures in different places). One of her 4in guns was damaged when a shell exploded prematurely. The Laertes was in some danger, and the Lapwing had stopped to try and tow her out of the action when the British battlecruisers arrived on the scene and the Germans were forced onto the defensive. The Laertes was towed to safety by the cruiser Fearless,

In November 1914 she was one of twenty L class destroyers that formed the Third Flotilla, now part of the Harwich Force.

1915

In January 1915 she was part of the Third Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Grand Fleet, and under the command of the Commodore (T).

The Laertes took part in the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915). She was part of the 2nd Division of the Third Flotilla during the battle (Laurel, Liberty, Laertes and Lucifer). However because of fog they were some way behind Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers when they entered the battle, and as the battle soon developed into a chase with battlecruisers attempting to catch the retreating Germans the destroyers had little to do.

On 30 January U.21 sank a series of ships close to Liverpool. In response the Admiralty ordered the Commodore (T) to send a light cruiser and twelve destroyers to the Irish Channel to deal with the new threat, and he chose to send the Undaunted (Capitan F.G.St. John) and eight (soon increased to twelve) L class destroyers (Laforey, Liberty, Landrail, Lysander, Lawford, Lydiard, Lucifer, Lookout, Loyal, Laurel, Laertes and Llewellyn). This force left Harwich at 10.50pm on 30 January, and by the morning of 31 January reached Milford Haven. At about the same time U.21 had clashed with the armed yacht Vanduara and been forced to submerge. Captain St John sent four of his destroyers to the position reported by the Vanduara, but the report didn’t reach him for an hour, and the yacht had reported her position incorrectly, so they found nothing. The Captain then set up a patrol scheme for his four divisions of destroyers (the 12 L class and four from Scapa Flow). On each day one division would rest at Milford, one would patrol Liverpool Bay, one would sweep from Liverpool to Milford and the last from Milford to Liverpool. This routine was carried out into February, and the flotilla reported that up to nine submarines were active in the Irish Sea. However there had only ever been one, U.21, and she returned home after the clash with the Vanduara, so there were none to find.

HMS Laertes from the left HMS Laertes from the left

Captain St. John’s force was still partly based at Milford Haven when the Canadian Division was transported to France from Avonmouth, and he was given the task of escorting it on the first stage of the trip. The Laetes led a division of destroyers in a sweep of the Bristol Channel on 7 February to cover a planned sailing on the night of 7-8 February, but that was cancelled. On 8 February her division swept both sides of the Bristol Channel and reported three submarines (once again none were operating in the area). The first batch of transport ships sailed that night, and an escort of eight destroyers was assigned to them, but the weather was so poor that the two groups of ships never managed to find each other, and the troop transports safely made their way to France without any escort. Three more transports sailed on 9-10 February, this time with an escort. On the night of 10-11 February a batch of five ships sailed, escorted by the Laertes division, and a final batch of six on 12-13 February, this time escorted by the Laertes and Laforey divisions, a total of eight destroyers. Once they were past the danger zone the destroyers left the troop transports to head for Portsmouth, at the start of the trip back to Harwich. 

On 8 April the Laertes and Lysander escorted the paddle steamers Prince Edward and Queen Victoria as they laid anti-submarines nets off Ostende in an attempt to catch the German submarines using that port. The nets were laid under fire, with nine 6in or larger guns firing at the two destroyers. The paddle steamers returned home once the nets had been laid, but the two destroyers remained to guard them overnight and on 9 April. On the 9th they were attacked by three German aircraft which dropped twelve bombs, all of which missed. The two destroyers then departed for Harwich on 13 April.

In June 1915 she was one of twenty L class destroyers in the Third Flotilla at Harwich, still officially a Grand Fleet Destroyer Flotilla.

On 1 June 1915 the Laertes was part of a force that was guarding paddle steamers which were sweeping a German minefiueld on Dogger Bank. On 2 June this force was spotted by a Zeppelin, which was itself protecting a force of German minesweepers working north of Heligoland. The Zeppelin was driven off, but reported the sighting. However she got the position wrong, so all but one of the German aircraft sent out failed to find the British. One did find them, and in response the Admiralty ordered the Harwich Force to move west. On 3 June the paddle sweepers had to return to port as they were running short of coal, and at 6pm the Harwich Force left the area. 

At the end of October 1915 the Laertes was being serviced and so missed Commodore Tyrwhitt’s sweep into the German Bight.

1916

In January 1916 she was one of eighteen L class destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla at Harwich, but was one of a number of ships from the flotilla that were on escort duty at Devonport. The Ninth was essentially the old Third Flotilla given a new number. The flotilla was filled out with the flotilla leader HMS Lightfoot, the light cruiser HMS Undaunted and the depot ship HMS Dido.

On 24-26 March 1916 the Laertes was one of eight Laforey class destroyers (Laforey, Liberty, Llewellyn, Laurel, Laertes, Lassoo, Laverock and Linnet) that took part in the attempted seaplane raid on a Zeppelin base that was believed to be at Hoyer, on the west coast of Schleswig, shielded by the island of Sylt. The seaplanes took off early on 25 March, but discovered that there was no base at Hoyer. One was found further inland at Tondern, but only one aircraft found it, and her bombing gear jammed. Only two of the seaplanes returned to the fleet, and Commodore Tyrwhitt ordered his destroyers to sweep towards the German coast in an attempt to find the missing three aircraft. No sign of the aircraft was found, but the destroyers were then attacked by German aircraft, and in the confusion the Laverock rammed the Medusa. The cruiser Lightfoot, escorted by the Laertes and Lassoo attempted to tow the Medusa to safety, but she eventually had to be abandoned because of a fierce gale. The Undaunted them rammed the Cleopatra, slowing the fleet down once again. The German High Seas Fleet did put to sea, but the storm was so fierce that they soon returned to port, and the British were able to retire back to base.

The Laertes took part in the attempt to stop the German raid on Lowestoft and Yarmouth of 25 April 1916. During the clash between the Harwich Force and the German battlecruisers taking part in the raid she was hit once. One boiler was knocked out of action and five men were wounded.

On 5 August 1916 Laertes, Lydiard, Landrail and Lochinvar left Harwich to search for a U-boat that had been spotted passing Dover a few days early, before sinking nine ships between Cherbourg and Portland. They didn’t find the U-boat, but there was a gap in sinkings until 9 August.

In September 1916 the Laertes was still part of the Third Flotilla, but by October the flotilla had been renamed the Ninth Flotilla, although with the same ships. In October 1916 she was one of twenty L class destroyers in the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich, along with the Lightfoot and Undaunted. The Laertes remained with the Ninth Flotilla until March 1917.

1917

In January 1917 she was one of twenty L class destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla, along with the Lightfoot and Undaunted.

On 25 February 1917 the Germans carried out a raid on the Downs. The raid didn’t achieve anything, but the British were also unable to respond to it effectively, as by the time the Germans had been detected they were already about to return home. Several of the L class destroyers were part of the ‘stand-by’ force at Dover (Laertes, Lawford, Lark, Llewellyn, Laforey, Lucifer and Liberty, along with the Lapwing, Broke and Faulknor), but although they put to see at 11.20pm this was ten minutes after the Germans had begin to withdraw.

On 17 March 1917 the Germans launched a raid into the Dover Straits. At the time the Laertes was the flagship of the senior officer on the Dover barrage, and was positioned off 5A buoy, with the Laforey, Llewellyn and Paragon further down the line. The raid was pretty disastrous for the British. As they headed west the Germans sank the Paragon which exploded. The Laforey’s captain assumed that she had hit a mine and went to rescue survivors. She found the wreckage and switched on her searchlights just as the Germans were returning east. The Llewellyn joined the rescue effort just in time to be torpedoed, suffering heavy damage to her bows. The commander of the Laforey now assumed a submarine was involved, and headed off north-east to hunt for it. The captain of the Laertes was no more perceptive, originally judging the explosion of the Paragon to be the glow from a French iron foundry, but news of the damage to the two destroyers soon reached him. By the time the Laertes arrived on the scene the German raiders were long gone. The Llewellyn could still steam stern first, and the two destroyers were ordered to retreat five miles west to get away from the non-existence submarine.

On 23 March the Lark, Melpomene, Laertes and Laforey were returning to port after escorting transports from Folkestone to Dieppe when the Laforey hit a mine. She sank very quickly, with the loss of 57 men including her commanding officer. The Lark and Laertes lowered boats and rafts and saved 4 officers and 14 men.

In April 1917 the Laertes moved from the Ninth Flotilla at Harwich to the Sixth Flotilla at Dover, where she remained until June.

The Laertes was moored in the small Downs when the Germans raided into the Dover Straits on 20 April 1917, and played no part in the action.

In June 1917 she was one of twenty nine destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, which contained three L class ships (Laertes, Lance and Lochinvar).

In July 1917 the Laertes moved to the Fourth Flotilla at Devonport, where she would spend the rest of the war.

1918

In January 1918 she was part of the large Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

In June 1918 she was one of fifty destroyers in the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, made up of a mix of types.

In November 1918 she was one of forty destroyers at Devonport.

In November 1919 she was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Portsmouth Reserve.

By 1922 the Laertes had been sold for scrap, but on Wednesday 8 March 1922, while she was being towed from Portsmouth to Dover by the tug Warrior she broke adrift in a gale and went ashore at Birling Gap. The two men onboard the destroyer were rescued, and she was safely pulled off the shore and arrived at Dover a few days late.

The Laertes was awarded battle honours for Heligoland (28 August 1914) and Dogger Bank (25 January 1915)

War Service
November 1914-June 1915: 3rd Flotilla, 1st Fleet (Harwich Force)
July-September 1915: 3rd Flotilla, Harwich
October 1916-March 1917: 9th Flotilla, Harwich
April 1917-June 1917: 6th Flotilla, Dover
July 1917-December 1918-: 4th Flotilla, Devonport

Displacement (standard)

965t-1010t

Displacement (loaded)

1150t-1300t

Top Speed

29 knots

Engine

2-shaft Parsons turbines
4 Yarrow boilers

Range

 

Length

268ft 10in oa

Width

27ft 8in

Armaments

Three 4in/ 45 cal QF Mk IV guns
1 0.303in Maxim Machine Gun
Four 21in torpedo tubes with four torpedoes

Crew complement

73

Laid down

6 July 1912

Launched

5 June 1913

Completed

October 1913

Sold

December 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 (16 June 2022), HMS Laertes (1913) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Laertes_1913.html

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