HMS Onslow (1916)

HMS Onslow (1916) was a repeat M class destroyer that fought at the battle of Jutland, where she suffered minor damage, served with the Grand Fleet until October 1917, then with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, taking part in the battle against the U-boats.

The Onslow was ordered as part of the Third War Programme of late November 1914. She was laid down at Fairfield on 5 February 1915, launched on 15 February 1916 and completed in April 1916.


In April 1916 the Nicator, Morning Star, Ossory and Onslow and the cruiser Gloucester had been sent to Ireland to intercept the Aud, a steamer that the Germans were using to send weapons to Ireland. The Aud did reach its destination on the Irish coast, but never unloaded her cargo. Instead she was detected by the armed trawler Heneage, dumped her cargo then attempted to reach Queenstown to block the harbour. Instead she was scuttled outside the harbour and her crew captured. The Gloucester and her four destroyers were then retained by Admiral Bayly to help deal with the Easter Uprising, and were sent to Queenstown to protect the crucial naval base. Onslow, Ossory, Nicator, Dee and Dove were also used to escort a troop convoy from Liverpool to Dublin, arriving on 26 April.

From May 1916 to October 1917 the Onslow served with the 13th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet

HMS Onslow towing kite balloon, Kincaldy HMS Onslow towing kite balloon, Kincaldy

The Onslow was one of a number of destroyers serving with the Grand Fleet that was equipped to operate a kite balloon.

On the eve of Jutland the Onslow was with the Thirteenth Destroyer Flotilla that was with the battlecruiser fleet at Rosyth. That fleet put to sea late on 30 May, and moved towards a rendezvous position about seventy miles to the south of the main Grand Fleet.

At Jutland she was commanded by Lt Commander John Tovey (Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet during the Second World War).

Officially she was part of the Thirteenth Destroyer Flotilla, but her first role was to escort the seaplane carrier Engadine. When the carrier was released to return home, the Onslow was freed from that role. Towards the end of Beatty’s retreat north towards the Grand Fleet, Tovey attempted to carry out a torpedo attack on the German battleships, but came under heavy fire from the 4th SG and was forced to retreat. The Moresby, which also took part in the attack, managed to fire one torpedo but missed the Kronprinz.

In the period just before the main battlefleets came together for the first time, the Onslow found the damaged cruiser Wiesbaden. Tovey decided to attack her, but this brought him within 8,000 yards of Admiral Hipper’s battle cruisers. The Onslow prepared to fire four torpedoes at the battlecruisers, but at the same time was hit by a heavy shell in No.2 boiler room (probably from the Lutzow) and began to lose steam and speed. She managed to fire one torpedo at the Wiesbaden, hitting below her conning tower (although without inflicting fatal damage). The battleships of Admiral Scheer’s main force then came into sight, and Tovey decided to try and attack. The Onslow got to within 8,000 yards and fired her last two torpedoes, but both missed. Soon afterwards the Onslow came to a stop, and she was only saved from destruction because the Germans were now concentrating on HMS Warspite, which had become dangerously isolated. The Onslow was rescued by HMS Defender, and towed to safety in formation with the badly damaged Warspite. The battleship soon had to move ahead to escape from the danger zone, leaving the destroyers to reach safety alone. The commander of the Defender was awarded the DSO for helping the Onslow survive, and Tovey received the same award for his initial attack. Despite this brush with the High Seas Fleet, only two of her crew were killed in the battle.

The Onslow was judged to have been hit by five small projectiles. The damage to her was completed by 8 August, the last of the damaged destroyers to be repaired.

After Jutland

On 17 September the Nerissa was at sea about thirty miles to the north of Fraserburgh when UB-34 fired a torpedo at her. This torpedo hit the bottom and exploded. Later on the same day the same submarine also fired at the Onslow¸ but this torpedo missed. 

On 8 October 1916 two of her crew, Able Seaman Ernest Mather and Able Seamn Charles S Lee, drowned.


In January 1917 the Onslow was at sea with the Grand Fleet when intelligence arrived that two German ships carrying iron ore were expected to be passing outside Norwegian territorial waters. The 1st Light Cruiser Squadron and a force of destroyers including the Onslow were sent to try and intercept them. At 0955 on 16 January the Onslow spotted one of them, the Aeolus, but the Germans were simply able to withdraw into Norwegian waters. The British destroyers patrolled in international waters until their fuel began to run short and they were forced to withdraw.

On 17 October 1917 the Germans attacked a Scandinavian convoy, sinking the destroyers Mary Rose and Strongbow. At the time the Royal Navy had been expected a German operation and had a large force of cruisers and destroyers patrolling parts of the North Sea. The Oriana, Onslow, Penn and Tower were used to escort the very large cruiser Furious¸ which carried a number of aircraft, as it patrolled along the 56th parallel (level with Dunbar in southern Scotland). However the British failed to intercept the raiders.

From November 1917 to December 1918 the Onslow served with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.


On 17 February 1918 the Onslow collided with the Lightfoot and the Oberon, about half way between Lowestoft and Rotterdam.

On 11 March 1918 the Onslow was operating in the Channel when she was attacked by a U-boat. A torpedo passed under her keel, and the Onslow ran back down the wake left by it and dropped depth charges where it started. At the time a sinking was claimed, possibly UB-17 but that submarine was in port at the time.  

On 25 September 1918 the Onslow collided with the Admiraly extension pier at Dover.

On 3 November 1918 the Onslow collided with a barge in Avonmouth Dock.

In December 1919 she was in the charge of a Care and Maintenance Party on the Nore.

She was sold to be broken up in November 1921

The Onslow was awarded a battle honour for Jutland.

Service Record
May 1916-October 1917: 13th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
November 1917-December 1918: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport

Displacement (standard)

1,025t (Admiralty design)
985t (Thornycroft)
895t (Yarrow)

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

34 knots


3-shaft Brown-Curtis or Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers




273ft 4in (Admiralty)
274ft 3in (Thornycroft)
270ft 6in (Yarrow)


26ft 8ft (Admiralty)
27ft 3in (Thornycroft)
24ft 7.5in (Yarrow)


Three 4in/ 45cal QF Mk IV
Two 1-pounder pom pom
One 2-pounder pom pom
Four 21-in torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

5 February 1915


15 February 1915


April 1916.

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 (14 March 2024), HMS Onslow (1916) ,

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