HMS Vigilant (1900)

HMS Vigilant (1900) was a C class destroyer that served with the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla in 1914-1918 before becoming the only destroyer in the Portland Local Flotilla during 1918. After the war she remained in use into 1919, when she was used to ferry a British diplomat home from Copenhagen.

The Vigilant was one of three destroyers ordered from Brown on Clydebank as part of the 1900-1 programme, while already under construction.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1901 published two of her 1900 trial results. In one she reached 30.094 knots at 6,216ihp using 2,38lb of coal per ihp per hour. In the second she reached 30.147 knots at 6,507ihp.

The Vigilant moved from the Clyde to Devonport in late January 1901. During the voyage she was forced by bad weather to seek shelter at Pembroke.

Pre-war career

In 1901-1904 the Vigilant was part of the Devonport Flotilla, one of three that contained all home based destroyers.

She was commissioned into the Devonport Instructional Flotilla on Tuesday 3 September 1901, using the officers and crew from HMS Wolf. That ship had developed such severe problems with her engines that she couldn’t be fixed in time to take part in the flotilla’s planned cruiser off the north coast of Irleand and had to be replaced.

HMS Vigilant at sea
HMS Vigilant at sea

The Vigilant 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 Vigilant was part of a force of destroyers from Devonport that joined Fleet X. 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.

On 27 May 1902 the Recruit ran aground on the Verick Rock, off Cape Cornwall, and for some time it was feared that she might sink. The Vigilant was one of a number of ships that went to her assistance, and she was soon lifted off the rocks and safely got to harbour.

On 4 March 1904 it was reported that she had completed her machinery trials, and she was ordered to complete, ready to be commissioned.

On Tuesday 15 March 1904 some of the water tubes in two of her boilers burst while she was off Dungeness, on the voyage from Sheerness to Devonport to be commissioned. At first it was feared that she had been rendered immobile, but she was able to make her way to port under her own steam.

The Vigilant reached Plymouth on Thursday 17 March 1904, and was able to report that the damage was limited and nobody was hurt. She would be repaired by the Devonport Fleet Reserve Staff and then prepared for a fresh commission.

The Vigilant was selected to take part in the 1904 Naval Manoeuvres as part of the Falmouth Flotilla. In late July, just before the start of the manoeuvres, she had to return to Devonport to have her electric dynamo fixed, after it broke down at sea on Wednesday 27 July.

In 1905-1906 the Vigilant was part of the 1st Division of the Destroyer Flotilla of the Channel Fleet, the  main battleship force in Home Waters.

In August 1905 the Vigilant was part of the British fleet that greeted a French fleet making a formal visit to Portsmouth, as part of the general improvement of Anglo-French relations.

In 1907-1909 the Vigilant was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, now seen as a local defence force.

In 1909-1912 the Vigilant was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, and only partly manned.

In 1912-1913 the Vigilant was part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, one of the patrol flotillas.

In 1913 the Vigilant joined the 8th Destroyer Flotilla at Chatham, another patrol flotilla.

In July 1914 she was part of the Eighth Patrol Flotilla at Chatham, part of the Second Fleet of the Home Fleet.

First World War

In August 1914 she was at sea, possibly as part of the Eighth Flotilla’s move to her war base on the Firth of Forth.

On 25 September 1914 the Vigilant was searching for U-boats to the east of May Island. U-19 and U-22 were both in the area, supporting a possible operation by the High Seas Fleet. U-22 fired a torpedo at her, but it missed. Another destroyer, HMS Cheerful, spotted the torpedo when it came to the surface at the end of its run, 1,500 yards to the stern of the Vigilant. The torpedo hadn’t been seen from the Vigilant.

In November 1914 she was one of three destroyers in the 1st Division of the Outer Patrol of the Eighth Flotilla, on the Firth of Forth. Their task was to protect the coast around the Firth, from St Abb’s Head to Gregness.

In January 1915 she was part of the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, a patrol flotilla

On 15 March 1915 the Vigilant was one of several ships to spot a possible periscope in the Firth of Forth. Over the next few days many ships believed they had spotted a glimpse of a periscope, or even a submarine on the surface, but none of the many warships sent to the area were able to make real contact. After the war it was discovered that no submarine had been in the area at the time!

In June 1915 she was one of seven destroyers in the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla at Rosyth.

In January 1916 she was one of six destroyers in the Eighth Flotilla. All six had been equipped with submarine sweeps and were operating in pairs, with one pair patrolling off May Island, one pair at stand by at Queensferry and one pair resting.

In October 1916 she was one of seven destroyers in the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth.

In January 1917 she was one of seven destroyers in the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth

In June 1917 she was one of twenty three destroyers in the newly formed East Coast Convoys, Humber, formed as part of the general introduction of convoys in response to the success of unrestricted submarine warfare.

In January 1918 she was one of seven destroyers in the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla at Rosyth.

In June 1918 she was the only destroyer in the Portland Local Flotilla, operating alongside five torpedo boats and four coastal motor boats.

In November 1918 she was the only destroyer from the Patrol and Escort Forces to be based at Portland, alongside five torpedo boats and six coastal motor boats.

In 1919-1920 British and Soviet representatives were involved in a series of negotiations at Copenhagen that ended with the signing of an agreement to exchange prisoners of war, signed on 12 February 1920. In late December 1919 the Vigilant was used to bring the British representative, James O’Grady, back from Copenhagen to Chatham, for a brief visit. He returned to Copenhagen on 1 January 1920. This was the first agreement between Britain and the Soviet Union, and paved the way for later treaties. 

The Vigilant was sold in February 1920.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)


222 oa
218ft pp




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

Crew complement

58 (Brassey)

Laid down



16 August 1900


June 1901

Broken Up


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 (24 July 2019), HMS Vigilant (1900) ,

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