HMS Laforey (1913)

HMS Laforey (1913) was the name ship of the Laforey class of destroyers, and served with the Third Flotilla at Harwich in 1914-1915, fighting at Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank, then briefly served in the Mediterranean, before spending 1916-1917 back at Harwich. She was sunk by a mine on 23 March 1917.

The Laforey was laid down at Fairfield on 9 September 1912, launched on 22 August 1913 and commissioned in February 1914. She was originally to have been called the Florizel, but that name was changed when it was decided to give the entire class names starting with L.

HMS Laforey from the left HMS Laforey from the left

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.

The Laforey was part of the 3rd Division of the Third Flotilla during the battle of the Heligoland Bight of 28 August 1914. The Laforey fired 229 shells and two torpedoes during the battle.

On 18 October the Laforey, Lawford, Miranda and Meteor were at see with Commodore Tyrwhitt on the cruiser Arethusa, conducting a patrol off the Broad Fourteens. They were then joined by two more cruisers and eight destroyers and on the following day carried out a sweep towards Terschelling to try and find a line of German light cruisers that was believed to be at sea. No sign of it was found and the force returned to port on 20 October.

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

On 26 November Miranda, Lance, Lennox, Landrail, Leonidas, Linnet, Louis and Laforey were ordered from Harwich to Dover, to carry out anti-submarine patrols to the west of the area covered by the Dover Patrol. This was in response to the cruise of U-21, which was then operating in the Channel and had sunk several ships near the French coast. On 27 November the British destroyers swept the area from Dover to the Needles. That night U-21 passed Dover heading east, evading an attack by three French destroyers. On 28 November the British destroyers were ordered to repeat their patrol to the Needles, but there was no longer anything to find.

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 Laforey was part of the 3rd Division of the Third Flotilla during the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915).

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 four (soon increased to eight and then 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.

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 first batch of transport ships sailed on the night of 8-9 January, and an escort of eight destroyers led by Laforey 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 back to Harwich. However they were forced into Portsmouth by bad weather, where they were briefly taken over by Admiral Meux to carry out more escort duty. On 15 February three of the four were finally ordered back to Harwich, although even then they were used to escort a transport carrying 15in howitzers to Boulogne on the way.

On 14 March seaplanes reported spotting two U-boats on the bottom close to the Cork Lightship (off Felixstowe). The Laforey and Moorsom were sent out to sweep the area and anti-submarine nets were laid in the area, but without success.

On 1-2 April Laforey, Lawford, Llewellyn and Leonidas escorted a batch of transports heading from Southampton to France on the night of 1-2 April, then continued on to the Bristol Channel, where they were to escort the 2nd Mounted Division at the start of its voyage to Egypt. They arrived on 4 April, replacing the Lance’s division. The destroyers were to escort the transport ships through the most dangerous area, leaving once they were 40 miles west of Lundy Island, where the threat from U-boats was believed to be low enough not to require an escort. The move began on 8 April when two transports sailed.

The first drama came on 11 April when the transport Wayfarer reported being attacked by a submarine. Laforey, Leonidas and Lawford were sent to investigate, but by the time they arrived the captain of the Wayfarer had realised that the explosion he had reported was caused by an internal accident, not a torpedo. This slowed down the sailings, and the last ship didn’t depart until 17 April. The four destroyers were able to depart for Harwich on 22 April.

On 1 May 1915 the Germans attacked a group of Royal Navy trawlers off North Hinder. They sank one trawler with a torpedo then became engaged in a gun battle with the other three. However four destroyers from Harwich, Laforey, Leonadis, Lawford and Lark had been sent out to hunt for a submarine that had sunk the destroyer Recruit earlier in the day, and they now came on the scene. The two German torpedo boats A.2 and A.6 attempted to escape but they were sunk by gunfire from the four destroyers.

On 30 May an SOS message was received from the line Megantic. The Laforey was able to put to see within an hour, the Leonidas soon afterwards, both being at Pembroke at the time. They were then sent on wild goose chase, with two other steamers broadcasting SOS calls. At the time there were no U-boats in the area, and it is possible that at least one of the captains had mistaken the Laforey for a U-boat on the surface.

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

On 16 June 1915 the Laforey and Lysander were sent from Devonport to Avonmouth to help escort the 13th Division at the start of its voyage to the Dardanelles. They remained there for several days on escort duty before being sent back to Harwich on 24 June.

In the autumn of 1915 Commodore Tyrwhitt was ordered to send four of his destroyers to the Mediterranean. He chose Laforey, Lawford, Louis and Lydiard, and they left Sheerness heading for the Mediterranean on 13 September 1915.

The Laforey was present off Suvla during the Allied evacuation on 20 December 1915, and took part in the post-evacuation bombardment of the remaining stores and facilities that couldn’t be removed.

1916

In January 1916 she was one of three L class destroyers that were in the Mediterranean.

In March 1916 she was reported as on Detached Duty, presumably returning to British waters, as she was back with the Harwich Force by the end of the month.

On 24-26 March 1916 the Laforey 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.

On 22 April eight L class destroyers (Laforey, Lennox, Lark, Lookout, Lance, Laurel, Llewellyn and Lucifer) were sent from Harwich to Sheerness to escort minelayers that were to take part in an upcoming barrage operation along the Flanders coast. A large barrage of mined nets was laid off Zeebrugge on the morning of 24 April.

However British plans were soon to be disrupted, first by the news of the Easter Rising in Dublin, and then by reports that the High Seas Fleet was about to sortie. This was indeed true, and marked the start of the Lowestoft Raid. The British reacted by ordering the Grand Fleet to sea, and deploying the Harwich Force to defend the east coast while the fleet was on its way south. Plans to patrol the newly laid barrage had to be abandoned. Late on 24 April the eight destroyers that had escorted the minelayers were ordered to leave the Nore to join the rest of the Harwich flotilla, but they were given an outdated rendezvous point and as a result when the Germans attacked Lowestoft, the eight were just leaving the Thames. They were then ordered to head north, and did at least force UB-18 to abandon a possible attack on three British light cruisers and dive. However at 8.50am they were ordered to return to base, after playing a very limited role in the days actions.

At the end of April 1916 the Laforey and three other destroyers were ordered to report to Dover for service under the Vice-Admiral, Dover.

From May 1916 until she was sunk the Laforey was listed with the Ninth Flotilla at Harwich, which was effectively the Third Flotilla with a new number. However she was probably part of this flotilla earlier than May.

During the High Seas Fleet sortie in August 1916 the Laforey was out of action undergoing a refit.

In October 1916 she was one of twenty L class destroyers in the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich, along with the Lightfoot and Undaunted.

On the night of 23-24 September 1916 the Laforey was on her way to the Hook of Holland to escort Dutch shipping when Zeppelin L.21 passed overhead, one of nine airships that attacked the UK that night. The Laforey opened fire with her 4in guns but with no success.

On the night of 26 October 1916 the Laforey division (Laforey, Laurel, Lucifer and Liberty) were sent to Dunkirk, arriving at about 2200, to protect against a possible attack on nearby coast by German naval forces. However that night the Germans attacked the light forces protecting the Dover Barrage. As the Laforey’s division was making the crossing they came very close to the German 18th Half Flotilla of destroyers, and were spotted from the German boats, but failed to notice their enemies.

At 2255 the Laforey division was ordered to put out to sea and patrol between the South Goodwin Light Vessel and 9A buoy on the barrage. As they approached the area of the buoy flashes of gunfire were seen, probably from a clash between the Germans and the Tribal class destroyer Viking, but they were unable to make contact. At 0050 on 27 October Lucifer and Laurel were detached to search to the north, but at 0100 an order to return to the Downs was received. This was actually meant for the Lawford’s division, which had left the Downs against orders (having misjudged an earlier message), but had been sent to the Laforey by mistake. The Laforey’s division thus made their way to the Downs, where their arrival must have been something of a surprise. At about 0300 they were ordered to spread out along the line of the barrage to search for any disabled drifters.

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 sea at 11.20pm this was ten minutes after the Germans had begin to withdraw.

On 28 February 1917 the Admiralty transferred eleven L class destroyers from Harwich to Dover, including Laforey, Laertes and Llewellyn. This was part of a plan to give the Dover patrol more modern destroyers, although only after newly built ships replaced them at Harwich. The move wasn’t immediately reflected in the Navy List, which still had the Laforey at Harwich in March.

On the night of 17-18 March 1917 the Germans carried out an attack on the Dover barrage. At the start of the raid four destroyers were spread out along the barrage, with the Laertes carrying the senior officer at No. 5A buoy, Laforey at No.7A buoy, Llewellyn and 9A and Paragon at 11A. Early in the attack the Germans sank the destroyer Paragon, but the other British destroyers failed to realise what had happened. On the Laforey the belief was that a destroyer had hit a mine, so she rushed to the area to rescue survivors. When she found the wreckage she stopped and turned on her searchlights. The Llewellyn was next to arrive, and should have had a better idea of what was going on having heard the gunfire. However she was ordered to assist with the rescue operations, and a few minutes later was hit by a torpedo fired by the Germans, who were now returning east from their raid! The Llewellyn’s bows were blown off in front of her forward 4in gun. This time the Captain of the Laforey believed that a submarine was responsible, and headed off to try and find it. The Laertes arrived last on the scene, and escorted the damaged Llewellyn to safety.

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 split in two and within a few minutes of hitting the mine the stern part sank. The forward part remained afloat for a little longer before sinking. The Commanding officer and 57 men were lost (the Naval Staff Monograph gives these figures, others say 64 men lost). The Lark and Laertes lowered boats and rafts and saved 4 officers and 14 men.

The Laforey was awarded battle honours for Heligoland (28 August 1914), Dogger Bank (25 January 1915) and the Dardanelles.

War Service
July 1914-June 1915: 3rd Flotilla, 1st Fleet (Harwich Force)
July-September 1915: 3rd Flotilla, Harwich
October 1915-Febuary 1916: Mediterranean
March 1916: Detached Duty
May 1916-23 March 1917: 9th Flotilla, Harwich

Displacement (standard)

965t-1010t

Displacement (loaded)

1150t-1300t

Top Speed

29 knots

Engine

2-shaft Brown-Curtis turbines

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

9 September 1912

Launched

22 August 1913

Completed

February 1914

Mined

25 March 1917

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 (pending), Title, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Laforey_1913.html

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