HMS Opossum (1895)

HMS Opossum was an A class destroyer that served with the Devonport Local Flotilla during the First World War, remaining active enough for her commander to win the DSC for action against enemy submarines in 1918.

The Opossum was one of three 27-knot destroyers ordered from Hawthorn Leslie as part of the 1893-4 programme. They were all sturdy three funnelled destroyers that survived the First World War.

The Hawthorn Leslie ships had eight Yarrow water-tube boilers organised in pairs. Each pairs had a shared uptake, and the uptakes from pairs 2 and 3 were trunked together to produce the three funnel layout.

The Hawthorn Leslie ships carried one torpedo tube between the second and third funnels and one towards the rear, just in front of the aft gun position.

By April 1918 she had the approved depth charge armament of two throwers and eighteen charges, with the aft gun and the torpedo tubes removed to compensate for the extra weight.

Pre-War Service

The Opossum was laid down on 17 September 1894 and launched on 9 August 1895.

On 27 September 1895 the Opossum reached 27.875 knots on her preliminary trials, possibly with a full load on board.

HMS Opossum in 1897
HMS Opossum in 1897

On 3 February 1896 she carried out a three hour full power trial. On the three hour trial she averaged 27.131 knots. The average speed of her six runs on the measured mile off Maplin Sands was 28.242 knots and she completed the fastest mile in 1 minutes 55.4 seconds. 

The Opossum was accepted into the Royal Navy in March 1896.

In early June 1896 the Opossum left Plymouth to replace HMS Lynx on duty at the Scilly Isles. Soon afterwards she ran onto some rocks of the Scilly Islands and suffered heavy damage, including to her propellers. While this was being fixed, serious problems with her boilers were also discovered, and needed repairing. A first attempt at boiler tests in mid July failed due to leaky joints. On Monday 27 July she was taken out for a three hour trial, but this had to be abandoned after the first hour after some of the main fittings to the port high pressure cylinder of her triple expansion engines.

In 1897-98 the Opossum was part of the Devonport instructional flotilla, and was commanded by Roger Keyes, the future Admiral of the Fleet.

On Wednesday 19 October 1898 her propeller became entangled in a mooring rope while entering the outer harbour at Torquay. She was unable to free herself, and a local diver had to untangle her.

The Opossum took part in the 1901 naval manoeuvres, which began in late July. These involved two fleets – Fleet B began in the North Sea, and had the task of keeping the English Channel open to trade. Fleet X began off the north coast of Ireland, and had the task of stopping trade in the Channel. The Opossum was part of Squadron C, a force of destroyers from Devonport that joined Fleet B. This was the first time both sides in the annual exercises had been given an equal force of destroyers. The exercises ended with a victory for Fleet X. The destroyer forces didn’t live up to expectations, either in torpedo attack or as scouts.

Until 1904 the Opossum was with the Devonport Flotilla, one of the three large flotillas that contained all of the Navy’s destroyers. From 1904 the Opossum was with the Nore Flotilla.

From 1905 to 1907 the Opossum was with the Nore Flotilla, part of the Home Fleet and in reduced commission.

By 1911 the Opossum was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, a reserve formation in the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. The flotilla was split between three ports, and the Opossum was based at Devonport.

From 1912 the Opossum was part of the Devonport Local Defence Flotilla, still in reduced commission.

In March 1913 she was in commission with a nucleus crew and was based at Devonport, where she was a tender to HMS Vivid, the Navy barracks at Devonport. She was commanded by gunner Sidney C. Cox.

By July 1914 she was back in active commission at Devonport.

First World War

The Opossum wasn’t listed in the Admiralty Pink List of August 1914, suggesting that she hadn’t yet been allocated to any of the active forces.

That didn’t last for long, and in November 1914 she was one of four destroyers serving with the Devonport Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1915 she was one of six destroyers and a force of torpedo boats serving with the Devonport Local Defence Flotilla.

In January 1916 the Opossum was one of six destroyers in the Devonport Defence Flotilla. However she was then undergoing repairs, with no clear date for their completion. Another two of the destroyers were undergoing repairs that were expected to be completed by mid-January.

In October 1916 the Opossum was one of six destroyers in the Devonport Defence Flotilla, along with eight torpedo boats.

In January 1917 the Opossum was one of six destroyers in the Devonport Defence Flotilla.

On 1 April 1917 she was one of seven Royal Navy ships that helped with the salvage of SS Valacia. In September 1918 her crew was awarded Naval Salvage Money for their efforts.

In June 1917 the Opossum was one of five destroyers in the Devonport Defence Flotilla, but she had been paid off and was Chatham.

Naval Staff Monograph Vol.19, covering events in Home Waters in May-July 1918, also listed her as part of the Plymouth Local Defence Flotilla, but also as being paid off.

From July 1917 she was commanded by Lt Arthur J Baxter.

In January 1918 the Opossum was one of four destroyers in the Devonport Defence Flotilla, although by this point the port also contained the massive Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, part of the anti-submarine force.

In June 1918 she was one of three destroyers and a force of torpedo boats serving with the Devonport Local Flotilla.

On 11 November 1918 she was one of three destroyers and a force of torpedo boats serving with the Devonport Local Flotilla.

On 26 November 1918 Lt Baxter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Action with Enemy Submarines. During the Second World War he served as a Convoy Commodore, leading 37 convoys during the war.

By February 1919 she was one of a number of ships temporarily based at Devonport.

On 28 July 1920 she was sold to Ward at Preston to be scrapped.

July 1917-February 1919-: Lt Arthur J. Baxter, DSC

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Pendant Numbers

1914: D.12
September 1915: D.99
January 1918: D.62

Top Speed

27 knots (contract)


Two Triple Expansion engines
Eight Yarrow water-tube boilers at 200lbs/ sq in
2 screw
4,000ihp at 360 rpm


60 tons of coal capacity
1,175 miles at 11 knots


204ft oa
200ft pp




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

Crew complement

50 (Brassey)
53 (British Destroyers)

Laid down

17 September 1894


9 August 1895


March 1896

Sold to be Broken up

July 1920

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 (28 December 2018), HMS Opossum (1895),

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