HMS Phoenix (1911)

HMS Phoenix (1911) was an Acheron class destroyer that fought at Heliogoland and Dogger Bank, before serving from Dover and Devonport. In September 1917 she moved to Malta, and she still officially based there when she was sunk by an Austrian submarine in the Adriatic on 14 May 1918.

The Phoenix was laid down at Vickers on 4 January 1911, launched on 9 October 1911 and commissioned in May 1912.

In July 1914 she was one of twenty destroyers in the First Flotilla of the First Fleet, which contained the more modern battleships. At the time the Flotilla contained all of the Admiralty, Yarrow, Thornycroft and Parsons types of the Acheron or I class of destroyers.

HMS Phoenix from the left HMS Phoenix from the left

In August 1914 she was one of twenty I class destroyers in the First Flotilla of what was about to become the Grand Fleet, and was at sea when war broke out. The flotilla was allocated to the Harwich Force, a swing force that could operate in the Channel or in the North Sea with the Grand Fleet.

On 18 August 1914 the Lapwing, Lizard, Phoenix and Goshawk, making up the 5th Division of the 1st Flotilla, were patrolling on the Broad Fourteens. The Germans sent out a raiding force to attack this patrol, and at some point just after 5.40am the German light cruiser Stralsund found the division and opened fire. At about 6.10am the Fearless and the first reinforcements from the rest of the flotilla found the fight and called for more reinforcements. Captain Blunt in the Fearless believed the Stralsund to be the armoured cruiser Yorck, so ordered his forces to retreat south-west. Given that the Stralsund and Yorck were rather similar visually, with four funnels between similar looking fore and aft superstructures, and the light cruiser was actually slightly longer, this wasn’t a difficult mistake to make, especially as Blunt could only see her masts and funnels.

At about 7am the Stralsund broke oft the action and turned north. The British flotilla came together, and her commanders came to the conclusion their foe had been the light cruiser Rostock (a very similar looking light cruiser). Blunt ordered his flotilla to turn back to the north to try and catch the German, but by this point she had escaped.

The Phoenix fought at the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914), but only one man was wounded. 

At the start of the battle the Phoenix’s 5th Division of the flotilla (Phoenix, Lapwing, Lizard and Goshawk), lead by the cruiser Fearless, were second in the British line, behind Commodore Tyrwhitt in the Arethusa (leading the Third Destroyer Flotilla). The fighting began when Tyrwhitt detached some of his destroyers to chase down a German destroyer, before joining in the chase with the rest of his flotilla. However the Germans were aware of the British plan, and had set a trap of their own. Tyrwhitt soon found himself under attack by two German cruisers, Stettin and Frauenlob. The Fearless and her flotilla reached the scene just after 8am, and the Stettin began to withdraw to the east.Fearless and the First Flotilla gave chase, but soon afterwards the German guns on Heligoland began to fire, and Tyrwhitt gave the order to begin the second part of the British plan, a sweep to the west. The Fearless and her destroyers received the order at 8.12am, and turned west, leaving the Stettin alone.

At 8.15 the flotilla sighted the German destroyer V-187. Fearless opened fire, and Phoenixand the rest of Division 5 was ordered to give chase. However a few minutes later the order was cancelled in the mistaken belief that V-187 was actually the Acasta class destroyer Lurcher , which was in the area working with her submarine flotilla. At 8.25 V-187 was sighted again and Division 5 moved to attack. V-187 attempted to escape to the south, only to run into the cruisersNottingham and Lowestoft. She attempted to turn east, but found her route blocked Division 3. V-187 then attempted to escape by turning north to run through the 5th Division, but was caught and knocked out of action. At 8.50 Divisions 3 and 5 were left to finish her off, while the Fearless rejoined the rest of the flotilla, still moving west. In the belief that the battle was over the British destroyers lowered their boats to begin a rescue attempt, but the Germans had not yet surrendered, and in the belief that they were about to be boards opened fire with one remaining gun. The British opened fire again, and V-187 sank at 9.10. The rescue attempt was then resumed, but the German cruiser Stettin then appeared and opened fire. 

At about 11am, early in the third phase of the battle, the damaged cruiser Arethusa became involved in a battle with the German cruiser Stralsund. The Fearless and the entire First Flotilla were ordered to launch a torpedo attack on the German cruiser, which withdrew in the face of such a large attack. The Arethusa, Fearless and their destroyers then turned back west. However a few minutes later the German cruiser Stettin appeared from the east, and another fight began, this time between the Stettin and the two British cruisers. At 11.20 the Acheron received an order to lead the 1st divisionin a torpedo attack on the German cruiser and turned back to head towards the last known location of this fight.

Trawler trying to save HMS Phoenix Trawler trying to save HMS Phoenix

At about the same time the rest of the flotilla sighted another German cruiser, the Mainz, which appeared to their south-west, heading north across their course on her way to help the Stralsund. The 2nd Division turned north to try and engage her. The 3rd and 5th Divisions (Goshawk, Lizard, Lapwing and Phoenix) followed her, and a long range gun battle followed. The Phoenix also fired torpedoes, but without success. However after twenty minutes the Mainz turned though 180 degrees and began to run to the south, after sighting Commodore Goodenough’s four light cruisers coming from the north. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions turned west to join up with the light cruisers, while the 5th Division turned south to try and keep up with the Mainz. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions then joined up with Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers, which were about to enter the battle.

Early on 1 January 1915 the battleship HMS Formidable was torpedoed and sunk by U-24 while returning to port from gunnery exercises. The Phoenix was one of ten destroyers ordered out to sea to patrol in an area bounded by the line Brighton-Cape Antifer in the east and Cherbourg-Anvil Point in the west. Poor weather forced them into harbour on 1 January, but they soon resumed the patrol. Unsurprisingly no real submarines were spotted, but the Hornet reported being attacked just after 10.30am on 4 January, and an impressive array of U-boats were spotted over the next few days, even though none were actually operating in the channel at the time. The Hornet’s division returned to Harwich on 6 January.

At the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) she was part of the 5th Division of the First Flotilla (Goshawk, Phoenix, Lapwing). This was the same group of ships that had formed the 3rd Division at Heligoland Bight. However this battle was dominated by the battlecruisers, and the destroyers had little to do.

On 9 February 1915 the Attack, Defender, Druid, Forester, Goshawk, Lapwing, Ferret and Phoenix replaced a group of M class destroyers on escort duty, covering minelayers that were laying a new mine field across the Dover Straits, in an attempt to stop German submarines operating so freely in the English Channel.

In June 1915 she was one of twenty one destroyers in the First Flotilla at Rosyth, made of the original I class boats and one flotilla leader.

In mid June the Goshawk, Phoenix, Lapwing and Attack supported a sweep across the middle of the North Sea by the 3rd Cruiser Squadron. The aim was to investigate any suspicious vessels, but it took them into an area occupied by several U-boats. Towards the end of the ill judged mission, the cruiser Roxburgh was hit, by the seventh torpedo to be fired at the force (but the first to hit!). The four destroyers were left with the damaged cruiser, while the rest of the force returned to Rosyth at top speed. The rest of the 1st Flotilla was sent out to help, and the Roxburgh also reached safety.

In late July 1915 the Goshawk took part in a sweep towards the Skagerrak, looking for suspicious vessels. The only significant event of the raid was the sinking of the German trawler Hanseat from Bremerhaven, which was sunk by gunfire by the Goshawk and Phoenix, after her crew had been taken onto the Goshawk.

On the eve of Jutland the Pheonix was with the part of the First Destroyer Flotilla that was with the battlecruiser fleet at Rosyth, but she remained in harbour, in dockyard hands, so missed the battle.

On 8-9 November 1916 the Goshawk led a force of five destroyers from Devonport on an anti-submarine sweep, which started on a line between Portland Bill and Casquets and ended on a line between Anvil Point and Cap de la Hague. Unsurprisingly the five destroyers didn’t happen to run into a submarine while crossing this vast area.

Until June 1916 the entire class had been part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. In June the class was split, with some remaining with the flotilla and others joining the 3rd Battle Squadron, which had been moved south to the Thames.

This arrangement lasted until November, when the ships that were still with the 1st Flotilla were split – most went to Devonport, two to Portsmouth, while Phoenix and Lapwing joined the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Dover. They were recorded as reaching Dover on 29 October to replace theNubian and the Flirt

HMS Pheonix listing before sinking HMS Pheonix listing before sinking

On 25 December 1916 the Admiralty decided to move sixteen M class destroyers to Dover. When the tenth and eleventh had arrived, the Lapwing and Phoenix were to move to Devonport. It took some time for this to happen, but both had moved by April 1917.

When the Germans laid mines in the Irish Sea in mid-March 1917 the Lapwing and Acheron were at sea escorting HMS Hibernia.

In April 1917 the Phoenix and Lapwing moved from Dover to join eight of their sister ships in the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

In September 1917 the Phoenix moved to the Mediterranean, where she joined the Malta flotilla. She was officially based at Malta until she was sunk, becoming part of the large 5th Destroyer Flotilla in February.

In January 1918 she was part of the destroyer force in the Mediterranean, and was undergoing repairs at Malta.

The Phoenixwas torpedoed and sunk by the Austrian submarine U.XXVII in the Adriatic on 14 May 1918, with the loss of two men. She was the first British warship lost while defending the Otranto Barrage.

The Phoenixwas awarded battle honours for Heligoland and Dogger Bank

War Service
August 1914-September 1916: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
November 1916-March 1917: 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Dover
April-August 1917: 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport
September 1917-January 1918: Malta Flotilla
February-May 1918: 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Malta

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

27 knots


3-shaft Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers




246ft oa


25ft 8in


Two 4in BL Mk VIII guns
Two 12-pounder/ 12cwt guns
Two 21in torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

4 January 1911


9 October 1911


May 1912


14 May 1918

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 (9 September 2021), HMS Phoenix (1911),

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