HMS Owl (1913)

HMS Owl (1913) was an Acasta class destroyer that served with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, fighting at Jutland, before moving to the Humber then the South Coast to take part in the fight against the U-boats.

The Owl was laid down at L&G on 1 April 1912, launched on 7 May 1913 and commissioned in April 1914. When the Acasta class became the K Class the new name Killer was chosen for her, but it was never used.

In July 1914 she was one of twenty destroyers in the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla of the First Fleet, which contained the most modern battleships. The flotilla contained all twenty Acasta or K Class destroyers.

HMS Owl from the right
HMS Owl from the right

In August 1914 she was one of twenty K destroyers in the Fourth Flotilla of what was becoming the Grand Fleet. At the outbreak of war all but the Porpoise were at sea. Over the next two years five members of the class were sunk, while the surviving members of the class remained with the Flotilla into July 1916.

In November 1914 all twenty K class destroyers were in the Fourth Flotilla, part of the Grand Fleet. She had been equipped with a submarine sweep.

On 24 November the British attempted to raid a possible Zeppelin base at Cuxhaven, in the hope of drawing out the High Seas Fleet. The Hardy, Lynx, Midge and Owl were part of the fleet that ventured into the Heligoland Bight, but the operation had to be abandoned when a force of German cruisers entered the area the seaplanes would have had to launch from. 

In January 1915 she was part of the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, under the direct control of the commander-in-chief of the Home Fleet.

On 1 February 1915 the armed yacht Vanduara clashed with U-21 north-west of Fishguard, during a cruise that had halted shipping in the Irish Sea. The Admiralty dispatched reinforcements to the area, including the cruiser Faulknor and the destroyers Achates, Owl, Hardy and Ambuscade from Scapa. They arrived at Milford Haven on 2 February, and were used to patrol the area between there and Liverpool for part of February.

In February 1915 the 1st Canadian Division was ready to be transported from Avonmouth to St. Nazaire. On 7 February Faulknor, Christopher, Contest, and Hardy were sent to act as an escort for the first two ships, but they didn’t sail as planned and instead joined the second group of ships. The Faulknor’s division were then used to escort the third batch of ships, which sailed on 9-10 February. At 5pm on 10 February the transports were judged to be safe, and the Faulknor’s division headed north to Barrow where they replaced the Laurel’s division before heading north to rejoin the Grand Fleet. They reached Barrow on 13 February, but as they were approaching the narrow entrance channel sighted the signal forbidding entrance because another vessel was coming out. Christopher, Contest and Owl all ran aground while attempting to turn around and stayed aground until the following day. The Owl went into Barrow for repairs. She left on 16 February to move to Aberdeen, where she was given new propellers, then rejoined the flotilla on 26 February.

In January 1916 nineteen K class destroyers were in the Fourth Flotilla, based at Scapa. She had been equipped with a submarine sweep.

Jutland

The flotilla contained sixteen Acasta class destroyers and one Repeat M class destroyer at Jutland. The flotilla put to sea with Admiral Jellicoe and the main body of the Grand Fleet by 10.30pm on 30 May.

As the Grand Fleet advanced into contact with the High Seas Fleet, part of the flotilla was with the British 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron (Shark, Acasta, Ophelia and Christopher), forming an anti-submarine screen ahead of Admiral Hood’s capital ships. The 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron was some way ahead of the main battleship force and was thus the first part of the Grand Fleet to get into action. The destroyers found themselves on the port flank of Hood’s battlecruisers, in a position to attack a force of German cruisers. However they soon became engaged in a battle with German destroyers which left the Shark crippled, but stopped the Germans attacking Hood’s battlecruisers. 

The two main fleets finally came together at about 6.30pm on 31 May. By this point the battleships of the German High Seas Fleet were heading north, while the battleships of the Grand Fleet were forming a line running roughly east to west in front of them. For a few minutes the British were able to concentrate their fire on the leading ships of the German line, but the Germans then carried out their famous sixteen point turn, and within a few minutes were heading away south into the North Sea mist. However Admiral Scheer then mis-judged the British movements, and turned back east in the hope that he could pass behind the main British force. Just after 7pm the Germans found themselves steaming straight towards Jelicoe’s battleships, and by 7.15 the bulk of the Grand Fleet was finally able to open fire on the Germans. Once again Scheer was forced to reverse course. During this phase of the battle the destroyer flotillas struggled to keep up with the fast moving battleships and rather disappear from the narrative. After more confused manoeuvres the two fleets came into range of each other for a third time after 8pm, but the Germans turned away for a third time, and disappeared into the mists by 8.35.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night battle, and at 9.17 ordered the fleet into its night cruising formation. The battleships formed up into lines in their divisions, with the destroyers following behind. The entire formation began to move south in an attempt to keep between the Germans and their home bases. By 10pm the destroyer flotillas were in line, with the 12th Flotilla at the eastern (left) end of the line, then the combined 9th and 10th Flotillas, 13th Flotilla, 4th Flotilla and finally the 11th Flotilla at the western (right) end of the line.

The 4th Flotilla was now split into three. Ophelia and Christopher were with Beatty’s battlecruisers off to the south-west. Owl, Hardy and Midge were with the armoured cruisers. That left ten destroyers and two flotilla leaders with the main part of the flotilla. The Owl thus missed the night action, which did involve the main part of the flotilla.

After Jutland

On 5 June 1916 the cruiser HMS Hampshire hit a mine while steaming along the west coast of the Orkneys at the start of a voyage to Russia with Lord Kitchener on board. The cruiser had already sent away her destroyer escorts because of the atrocious weather, and there were only a handful of survivors. Lord Kitchener was amongst the dead. The Unity and Victor, which had been part of her escort, were ordered back out to sea to hunt for survivors, followed a few minutes later by the Owl and the Midge. They spent the night searching for survivors along the northern coast of Birsay, but without success. The Owl was the first to spot wreckage off Marwick Head, then a capsized boat. At 4.30am she signalled ‘Total destruction; nothing more to be done’.

In August 1916 the Fourth Flotilla was relegated from the Grand Fleet, and now formed the Humber Force. It contained fifteen of the K class destroyers.

On 16 December 1916 UB-38 attacked the schooner Englishman close to the Cornish coast. The armed yacht Venetia was close by and opened fire, forcing the submarine to submerge. The Achates, Owl and Contest were ordered to the area, but didn’t arrive until nearly four hours had passed. However an armed trawler reported having just spotted a submarine submerging three miles to the north-west so the destroyers attempted to hunt it. After no success in the original area, a second hunt was started seven miles to the north-west. This time one paravane did explode, but UB-38 had probably already left the area, and on the following day she sank a Spanish ship carrying iron ore.

On 20 December the Achates, Owl and Contest were sent to patrol an area off Ushant after U-70 passed through the area. During the patrol they didn’t find any submarines.

In December 1916 the Owl and the Fourth Flotilla moved again, and was now based at Portsmouth. It had also been reduced in size once again, and now contained ten K class destroyers (and the light cruiser HMS Active). The remaining five members of the class moved to the Sixth Flotilla at Dover.

At the start of 1917 German submarines disrupted the shipping route from Portugal to France, threatening the movement of Portuguese troops. The Cockatrice, Garland, Midge and Owl arrived at Lisbon on 27 January and were used to patrol the route while three troop transports steamed to France.

In March 1917 the Fourth Flotilla moved to Devonport. It now contained ten Acasta class destroyers and six Laforey or L class destroyers. In April the five ships from Dover rejoined the flotilla at Devonport.

On 9 August the Owl led three destroyers that joined the escort of Convoy HS3, incoming from Australia, and escorted it safely to St. Helens (in the Solent).

In January 1918 she was one of forty destroyers in the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Plymouth, which was now made up of a mix of various types.

In April 1918 she lost both of her torpedo tubes. Her high angle gun was removed and she was given an unusually heavy depth charge armament, with thirty depth charges, split between two depth charge rails and four throwers each with four charges. She was also given a ‘fish hydrophone’ which required a silent cabinet that was installed by the galley. She was also given a 2-pounder pom-pom over the engine room and a Maxim machine gun. 

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. She was sold to be broken up in November 1921.

The Owl was awarded a battle honour for Jutland.

War Service
August 1914-July 1916: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
August-November 1916: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Humber Force
December 1916-January 1917: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Portsmouth
March 1917-December 1918: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport

Displacement (standard)

1,072t

Displacement (loaded)

1,300t

Top Speed

29 knots

Engine

2-shaft Parsons turbines
4 Yarrow boilers
24,500shp

Range

 

Length

267ft 6in

Width

27ft

Armaments

Three 4in/ 45cal BL Mk VIII
Two 21in torpedo tubes with four torpedoes

Crew complement

73

Laid down

1 April 1912

Launched

7 May 1913

Completed

April 1914

Sold for break up

November 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 (17 March 2022), HMS Owl (1913) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Owl_1913.html

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