HMS Unity (1913)

HMS Unity (1913) was an Acasta class destroyer that served with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, fighting against the Yorkshire Coast raid of 1914 and at Jutland, before moving to the Humber then the South Coast to take part in the battle against the U-boats.

The Unity was laid down at Thornycroft on 1 April 1912, launched on 18 September 1913 and commissioned in March 1914. When the Acasta class became the K Class the new name Kinsale 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.

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 was at Portsmouth undergoing repairs, which were expected to be complete by 14 November. At the same time she was to be given a submarine sweep. 

Yorkshire Coast Raid

When the Germans raided the Yorkshire Coast in December 1914 the Unity was one of seven Acasta class destroyers that were with Admiral Warrender’s 2nd Battle Squadron when it was sent out to try and intercept them. During the night of 15-16 December the destroyers were posted ten miles to the port of the battle squadron, with orders to close in on them at daylight. The Unity was part of the 1st Division of the Fourth Flotilla during this sortie..

HMS Unity from the left HMS Unity from the left

At about 5.15am the Lynx, at the head of the flotilla, spotted a destroyer that failed to answer the identification correctly. The Lynx opened fire and turned to port to give chase. The German retreated north, while the rest of the British destroyer flotilla followed the Lynx. The Hardy was in the middle of the column, and sighted more German destroyers off to port. A gun battle developed between these destroyers and the rear of the British column, but the Lynx then suffered a fault with her steering and turned further to port. The rest of the flotilla followed, and the second set of German destroyers disappeared to the east. The original target soon followed them.

The Lynx then turned to the south-west to close up with the battle squadron, but only three minutes later, at 5.58, a German cruiser was sighted about 600-700 yards to the port of Hardy and Shark. The cruiser switched on recognition lights, which identified her as German. A gun battle then developed between the cruiser and the Hardy and the Shark. The Hardy was soon taking heavy damage and was forced to steer to the starboard. The destroyers behind her followed, while the Lynx and Unity at the head of the column continued on their original course and were soon out of the battle.

Just after 6 the sound of gunfire faded, and the Lynx received a call for help from the damaged Ambuscade. The Unity was sent to try and help her, but found her route blocked by a German cruiser. In the meantime the Lynx had managed to convince three more German cruisers that she was German, and they had disappeared to the east. The Unity helped escort the Lynx out of the danger area, then returned to find the Ambuscade, escorting her back to Leith.

The clash had been with the light cruiser Hamburg and several of the German destroyers, which were part of the screen for Admiral von Ingenohl and the High Seas Fleet, which were there to protect the forces actually carrying out the raid. News of the clash with British destroyers convinced von Ingenohl to withdraw, as part of his orders were not to risk losses

1915-1916

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

In June 1915 all twenty K class destroyers formed the Fourth Flotilla, along with two flotilla leaders. She was undergoing repairs on the Clyde.

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

On the eve of Jutland the Ambuscade was part of the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Scapa Flow. She sailed with the fleet on 30 May.

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.

At about 10.10pm four German destroyers were sighted to the rear of the flotilla. They fired torpedoes, which missed, and the British fired a few rounds before the Germans disappeared once again.

The key moment of the night actions came at around 11.30, when the High Seas Fleet finally attempted to pass behind the Grand Fleet and ran into the British destroyers. The Germans would make contact with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was towards the right of the British line. There was then a seven mile gap to the 13th Flotilla, with the 9th and 10th Flotilla close by, and the 12th Flotilla to their rear.

The 4th Flotilla first spotted ships approaching from their right at about 11.20, but couldn’t be sure who they were. The flotilla’s commander Captain Wintour waited until the Germans were within 1,000 yards before issuing the challenge of the day. The Germans immediately opened fire, killing Wintour and wrecking his flagship, Tipperary. However the German cruisers were forced to turn away, and the Elbing was rammed by the battleship Posen while they were attempting to pass through the German battle line. Soon after this the Spitfire actually rammed the German battleship Nassau, and stayed afloat. The German briefly turned to starboard before Scheer ordered it back onto its course.

The rest of the 4th Flotilla briefly turned east, once again coming into contact with the Germans, although the worst damage at this point was done by a collision between the Sparrowhawk, Broke and Contest. During the resulting melee one torpedo from the flotilla hit the Rostock, which later had to be scuttled by her own crew. The flotilla was now scattered, with the Fortune sunk and all but the Ardent knocked out of the battle. She attempted to find friendly ships, but instead ran into four German battleships and was sunk at around 12.19am on 1 June. Not only had the flotilla been unable to stop the Germans, the fighting had also failed to alert the Grand Fleet, where the action was mis-interpreted as a failed German attack on the British rearguard.

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. Unity and Victor had been detailed to escort her, but the weather was terribly, and they were unable to keep up with the cruiser without suffering damage. At 6.20 the Hampshire’s captain ordered them to return to base, and the Unity returned to port. The Victor was ordered to stay, but soon had to depart as well as she could no longer keep up with the cruiser.

The cruiser hit the mine just over an hour after sending her escorts away. There were only a handful of survivors. Lord Kitchener was amongst the dead. The Unity and Victor, 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.

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 19 August 1916 the cruiser HMS Falmouth was torpedoed by U-66 while the Grand Fleet was at sea in response to a sortie by the High Seas Fleet. The Falmouth remained afloat and was able to proceed under her own power, but slowly. A series of destroyers were sent to escort her, with the Ambuscade, Porpoise, Victor and Unity arriving at 11pm. However unluckily her route took her past U-63, and despite the strong destroyer escort the Falmouth was hit again. The Falmouth still remained afloat for several hours, and tugs managed to get her within 25 miles of the Humber before she finally sank off Flamborough Head.

In early September the Porpoise, Spitfire, Unity and Midge were sent from Immingham on the Humber to help deal with an outbreak of U-boat activity off Ushant. On 12 September they were sent from Portsmouth to Plymouth, and on the night of 12-13 September found a submarine right on their route. The submarine was almost too close to be successfully attacked, but may have suffered some damage, as the area remained quiet for a few days after the clash.

On 8 November 1916 the Martin, Brisk and Unity from Devonport and the Cockatrice from Portland were at sea sweeping the Channel.

In December 1916 the 4th Flotilla moved to Portsmouth, but the Porpoise, Ambuscade and Paragon officially joined the 6th Flotilla at Dover (having been sent there in late November), where they were joined by the Unity and the Victor.  In January 1917 she was one of twenty destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

When the Germans raided into the Dover Straits on 25 February 1917 the Ambuscade, Porpoise, Paragon and Unity were anchored off Deal, but they didn’t take part in the action.

By March 1917 the 4th Flotilla had moved from Portsmouth to Devonport. The five boats that had joined the 6th Flotilla made the same move by April, bringing the surviving members of the class back together.

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 to save weight.

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.

At some point during the war the Unity was equipped to carry a kite balloon.

In November 1919 she was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Portsmouth Reserve. She was sold to be broke up in October 1922

The Unity 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 1917-March 1918: 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Dover
April-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

18 September 1913

Completed

March 1914

Sold for break up

1922

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 (5 May 2022), HMS Unity (1913) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Unity_1913.html

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