Acorn Class Destroyers/ H Class Destroyers

The Acorn or H class destroyers were produced for the 1909-10 programme, and were the first class of British destroyers to be built to a standard Navy design, giving them a far more uniform appearance than earlier classes. They also saw a return to oil power after the coal powered Beagle class. They formed the Second Flotilla of the Grand Fleet during 1914, then moved south to Devonport during 1915. Some served on the Ireland Station, most moved to the Mediterranean starting late in 1915, and the surviving ships all ended the war in the Mediterranean.

Work on the design of the destroyers for the 1908-9 programme began in the summer of 1907. At the time the Navy had a high-low policy, with the high speed Tribal class destroyers at the top end and the Cricket class coastal destroyers (soon reclassified as 1st class torpedo ships) at the low end. However by 1907 it was clear that this system wasn’t working – the coastal ships didn’t have the endurance to operate against Germany, while the Tribal class destroyers were too expensive.

HMS Acorn from the right HMS Acorn from the right

Instead the navy chose to revert to the policy that had led to the earlier River class destroyers, emphasising sea keeping and endurance over a theoretical high speed. The resulting Beagle class ships had a top speed of 27 knots, were armed with one 4in gun on the forecastle, three 12-pounders and two 18in torpedoes (later replaced with 21in torpedoes). Although they were slower than the Tribal class destroyers, they had much better endurance, and could be built in larger numbers. Only twelve Tribal class destroyers had been built over three financial years, while sixteen Beagle class boats were built as part of the 1908-9 programme. The only flaw with them was the decision to revert to coal power, in order to avoid cost. This ended up increasing their displacement, as the coil boilers produced significantly less space than oil boilers that would fit in the same space.

Work on the destroyers for the 1909-10 programme began in October 1908 when Admiral Jellicoe, then serving as Controller of the Navy, issued the basic requirements,. The new ships were to cost no more than £80,000, and as a result speed could be lowered to 26 knots, oil or coal fuel used and turbine or reciprocating engines. There was thus the potential for a major step back in design. They were to be armed with at least three 12-pounders (at this stage the Beagle class ships were to carry two 12-pounders on the forecastle instead of the 4in gun they were completed with). They would have the same endurance and range as the Beagle class ships.

HMS Alarm from the left HMS Alarm from the left

For the first time the DNC and his staff produced a standard design, covering everything but the machinery, so the resulting Acorn class ships had a much more uniform appearance and layout than previous classes. This also allowed a wider range of companies to tender for the work, although the majority were actually produced by the existing destroyer specialists. They began work in March 1909, first looking at the boilers and engines. They soon settled on oil power and turbines, which had already proved to be much more suitable for use in destroyers. The new ships were to use four oil burning boilers in two boiler rooms, feeding three funnels, with the central funnel serving two boilers. A contemporary description in Engineering described them as having seven turbines – a high pressure main turbine for high speed, one high pressure and one intermediate pressure cruising turbines, two low pressure turbines for forward movement and two turbines for astern movement. There were three propeller shafts. Each wing shaft was linked to one cruising turbine, one low pressure ahead turbine and one astern turbine. The high pressure high speed turbine was the only one on the central shaft.

They would be armed with five 12-pounders and carry two long 21in torpedoes. Displacement would be 765 tons, a significant reduction on the 945t standard displacement of the Beagle class. In April three of the 12-pounders were replaced with two 54in guns and the required speed rose to 27 knots (also raising the price from £82,000 to £92,000).

The final design was ready by 30 April. This called for a ship with a displacement of 748 tons, capable of 27 knots at 13,500shp. Four boilers were carried in two boiler rooms, facing each other across the room so that one set of stokers could operate them both. The design was approved on 21 May. A more detailed design was approved on 30 July 1909. Displacement was now 772t, cost was £82,000 and endurance was set at 2,250nm at 13 knots.

HMS Brisk from the left HMS Brisk from the left

Although the Acorn class ships were significantly shorter than the Beagles, their oil powered machinery needed much less deck space than the coal powered machinery on the earlier ships. This meant that the first of the torpedo tubes could be much closer to the rear funnel than before. The rear torpedo tube could also be moved forward, allowing the aft 4in gun to be carried on the centreline, with no obstruction behind it. On the Beagle class the rear torpedo tube had to be placed right at the stern, with the rear gun carried on a platform just behind. As completed the Acorns were armed with 4in guns fore and aft and a pair of 12-pounders on either side, carried above the boiler rooms.

Twenty Acorn class ships were built. All but one had triple screws, while the Brisk had twin screws and used Brown-Curtis turbines. On trials most of them achieved their target speed, and some proved to be much quicker, with the Ruby reaching 30.335 knots.

The Acorn class was followed by the very similar Acheron class (originally described as ‘new’ or ‘repeat’ Acorns). Sixteen members of this class followed the standard Admiralty design,  

By 1918 one torpedo tube had been removed from the surviving members of the class to save weight, and most carried a relative heavy load of depth charges

Service Record

HMS Cameleon from the left HMS Cameleon from the left

At the outbreak of the First World War the H class destroyers formed the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, which joined the Grand Fleet. In January 1915 this flotilla was under the direct authority of the commander-in-chief of the fleet.

They remained together in this role for most of 1914 and 1915.

1915

At the start of 1915 all twenty of the Acorn class ships were still with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet. The first change came on HMS Goldfinch was wrecked on 19 February 1915 while HMS Goldfinch was wrecked, leaving the nineteen surviving ships in the flotilla. The Navy List sometimes reacted slowly to the loss of ships, and the Goldfinch was still part of the Flotilla in the March 1915 listings. 

The Navy List of June 1915 is the last time all nineteen survivors of the class were part of the same group, when they were still all serving with the 2nd Flotilla in the Grand Fleet.

HMS Comet in 1918 HMS Comet in 1918

The first to leave was the Hope, which in July 1915 was listed as part of the Tenth Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Harwich Force. By August Hope and Fury were gone, and were listed amongst the ships on detached service in home waters. By this point the Fury was already at Devonport, as she was sent out from there during the month.

The big change came in September 1915, when the class was split in two. At this point the way the Navy List describes them is somewhat obscure. The entire class remained part of the 2nd Flotilla of the Grand Fleet, and twelve of them were still with the fleet (Alarm, Brisk, Cameleon, Larne, Lyra, Martin, Minstrel, Nemesis, Nereide, Nymphe, Rifleman and Ruby). The remaining seven ships (Acorn, Comet, Fury, Hope, Redpole, Sheldrake and Staunch) were listed as being detached to serve as ‘tenders to Vivid’. This was the shore base at Devonport. Over the next few months most of the first batch of ships to reach Devonport would move to the Mediterranean, while the ships that had remained at Scapa slowly moved down to Devonport to replace them.

The next ships to move south were Minstrel and Nereide, which were still listed with the Grand Fleet in October, but had reached Devonport by November. Brisk and Martin made the move between November and December 1915.  

HMS Fury from the left HMS Fury from the left

On 13 November 1915 Comet, Fury, Redpole and Staunch left Devonport, heading for the Mediterranean. The Fury and the Comet had been allocated to a force that was being gathered in case war broke out with Greece, but by December all five had joined the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean Fleet. However Redpole’s first stint in the Mediterranean was very short (if she ever actually arrived), as by January 1916 she was undergoing a refit back in Southampton. As late as June 1916 she was still listed as being on detached duties in Home Waters, and she didn’t reach the Fifth Flotilla until July 1916.

In December 1915 the Acorn, Minstrel, Rifleman and Sheldrake were sent from Devonport to join the forces under the command of Admiral Limpus at Malta. During the voyage from Britain they were also used to escort troop transports to Malta. 

1916

For most of 1916 the class was largely split in two, with part of the class serving with the 2nd Flotilla at Devonport and the rest in the Mediterranean.

HMS Goldfinch from the right HMS Goldfinch from the right

In January 1916 only two of the class (Nemesis and Nymphe) were still with the Grand Fleet and they would soon move on. There were now nine ships at Devonport (Alarm, Brisk, Cameleon, Hope, Larne, Lyra, Martin, Nereide and Ruby). Of these only Hope had been there since September 1915, and the rest of that first batch to move south had gone to the Mediterranean, to be replaced at Devonport by ships coming from the Grand Fleet. Seven of the eight ships sent to the Mediterranean (Acorn, Minstrel, Rifleman, Sheldrake, Comet, Fury and Staunch) were now with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean. The Redpole had clearly suffered from sort of problem and was now back at Southampton.

By February only Nymphe was left with the Grand Fleet and by March she had also gone. The Nemesis was sent to Devonport, but the Nymphe now separated from her sisters. In May she was a temporary tender to Vernon, the torpedo school at Portsmouth. In July- November 1916 she was part of the Port Defence Flotilla at Portsmouth. From January 1917-February 1918 she was serving with the Paravane Department at Portsmouth, to help development defensive measures for use against mines and U-boats. In March-April 1918 she was back with Vernon, and in May 1918 she finally rejoined the rest of the class in the Mediterranean, joining the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla.

HMS Hope from the left HMS Hope from the left

The Devonport contingent remained fairly stable for most of 1916. The original nine ships were joined by Nemesis in March 1916, and that group of ten ships remained at Devonport until November 1916.

The ships in the Mediterranean were split into two for most of 1916. Acorn, Minstrel, Rifleman and Sheldrake were serving as tenders to Egmont, the shore base at Malta, and remained together there for the rest of the year. Comet, Fury and Staunch were with the main Fifth Destroyer Flotilla. They were joined by Redpole in July, and that group of four stayed together as part of the Fifth Flotilla for the rest of the year.

The final change in 1916 came in December, when Cameleon, Nereide, Larne and Nemesis moved from Devonport to join the British Adriatic Squadron.

1917

In January 1917 the class was split into four groups and one individual ship. The Nymphe was part of the paravane department at Portsmouth, where it remained into 1918. Alarm, Brisk, Lyra, Hope, Martin and Ruby were still with the 2nd Flotilla at Devonport. The ret of the class were in the Mediterannea – Cameleon, Nereide, Larne and Nemesis with the British Adriatic Squadron, which was attached to the Italian fleet, Comet, Fury, Staunch and Redpole with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla and Acorn, Minstrel, Rifleman and Sheldrake base based at Malta.

HMS Larne from the right HMS Larne from the right

The four ships with the Adriatic Squadron had moved to Malta by March, giving that station eight members of the class. This group was described as part of the Fifth Flotilla until April, and then as the Malta Flotilla from May 1917 onwards. The next change came in September when Minstrel and Nemesis were handed over to the Japanese Navy, becoming the Sendan and Kauran. This group remained the same throughout the year.

Comet, Fury, Staunch and Redpole remained part of the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla throughout 1917. They were joined by Alarm, Hope and Ruby, coming from Ireland, in December 1917.

The six home based destroyers remained together at Devonport until September 1917. At this point Alarm, Brisk, Hope, Martin and Ruby moved to join the Northern Division of the Coast of Ireland Station (based at Buncrana), although still as part of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. Lyra remained at Devonport in September-October 1917, but as part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla. She then moved to the Mediterranean, appearing in the Navy List in January 1918.

HMS Lyra from the left HMS Lyra from the left

The five boats were only listed together in Ireland in September-October 1917. By November only Brisk and Martin were still there, while Alarm, Hope and Ruby had joined the Fifth Flotilla in the Mediterranean by December 1917. The Brisk hit a mine in the North Channel on 2 October, and spent some time being repaired. They were both listed as being in Ireland in November, but the Martin was then sent to the Mediterranean, where she was listed by January 1918.

1918

At the start of 1918 only two members of the class were still in home waters – Brisk being repaired after hitting a mine, and Nymphe serving with the Paravane department at Portsmouth. Nymphe joined the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla in May and Brisk finally joined the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla on July 1918.

Alarm, Ruby, Hope, Lyra, Martin, Comet, Fury and Redpole were all part of the Fifth Destroyer Squadron, while Acorn, Rifleman, Sheldrake, Cameleon, Nereide and Larne were part of the Malta Flotilla. The Japanese manned Sendan (Minstrel) and Kauran (Nemesis) was also serving at Malta. From March they were listed as being embedded within a Japanese flotilla.

HMS Martin from the left HMS Martin from the left

In July 1918 the ships in the Malta Flotilla had joined the Fifth Flotilla, which was based at Brindisi. In addition they had finally been joined by the Brisk, which had disappeared from Ireland in June, and arrived in the Mediterranean in July. This was the first time since June 1915, when the first ships left the Grand Fleet to move to Devonport, that all of the surviving Acorn class ships still in British service had been gathered in the same formation. It didn’t last for long, as by August 1918 Lyra had been moved to Gibraltar.

On 2 October 1918 six members of the class took part in a major surface operation for the first time, when they were part of a large Allied fleet that bombarded the Albanian port of Durazzo, which was then in Austrian hands. Nereide, Ruby, Nymphe and Cameleon were part of the bombardment force itself, while Acorn and Fury were part of the covering forces.

Unfortunately there is a gap in the Navy Lists between August 1918, when all but Lyra were still at Brindisi, and November 1918, when they had moved from there to Mudros, to join the Aegean Squadron. The six that took part in the Durazzo bombardment will probably have remained at Brindisi at least until October, but we can’t be sure about the rest of the class.

HMS Minstrel from the right HMS Minstrel from the right

Only three members of the class were lost during the First World War. HMS Goldfinch was wrecked on 19 February 1915 while serving with the Grand Fleet. HMS Staunch was sunk by UC-38 off the coast of Palestine on 11 November 1917.  HMS Comet was damaged in a collision and then probably torpedoed on 4 August 1918 while under tow.

After the war the surviving members of the class were soon sold off and scrapped.

In August 1916 the Navy adopted a policy for anti-aircraft guns. The H class ships were to be given 3-pounder Vickers HA Guns.

Ships in Class

HMS Acorn – Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-August 1915; Devonport September-November 1915; Malta January 1916-June 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla Mediterranean July-December 1918

HMS Nemesis from the left HMS Nemesis from the left

HMS Alarm ­­- Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-December 1915, Devonport, January 1916-August 1917; Coast of Ireland September-October 1917; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla Mediterranean December 1917-December 1918

HMS Brisk - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-November 1915, Devonport, December 1915-August 1917; Coast of Ireland September-October 1917; under repair to May 1918; Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, June-December 1918

HMS Cameleon - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-November 1915, Devonport, January-November 1916; British Adriatic Squadron attached to Italian Fleet December 1916-January 1917; Malta March 1917-June 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla Mediterranean July-December 1918

HMS Comet - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-August 1915, Devonport, September-November 1915; Fifth Destroyer Mediterranean, January 1916 until sunk while under tow, 4 August 1918

HMS Fury - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-July 1915; Devonport, September-November 1915; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, December 1915- February 1919

HMS Nereide from the left HMS Nereide from the left

HMS Goldfinch - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914 until wrecked, 19 February 1915

HMS Hope - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-June 1915; Tenth Destroyer Flotilla, Harwich Force, July 1915; Second Flotilla, Devonport, September 1915-August 1917; Coast of Ireland September-October 1917; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, December 1917-February 1919

HMS Larne - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-December 1915, Devonport, January-November 1916; British Adriatic Squadron attached to Italian Fleet December 1916-January 1917; Malta March 1917-June 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla

HMS Lyra - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-December 1915, Devonport, January 1916-September 1917; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, January-July 1918; Gibraltar August-November 1918

HMS Martin - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-November 1915, Devonport, December 1915-August 1917; Coast of Ireland September-November 1917; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, January 1918-February 1919

HMS Nymphe from the left HMS Nymphe from the left

HMS Minstrel - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-October 1915; Devonport, November-December 1915; Malta January 1916-August 1917; Malta as Japanese Sendan, September 1918-November 1918

HMS Nemesis - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-January 1916; Devonport, March-November 1916, British Adriatic Squadron attached to Italian Fleet December 1916-January 1917, Malta March-August 1917; Malta as Japanese Kanran September 1917-February 1918

HMS Nereide - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-October 1915; Devonport November 1915-November 1916, British Adriatic Squadron attached to Italian Fleet December 1916-January 1917; Malta, March 1917-June 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, July 1918-February 1919

HMS Nymphe – Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-February 1916; Portsmouth Local Defence/ Escort Flotilla, to November 1916; Paravane Department, Portsmouth, January 1917-February 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, May 1918-February 1919

HMS Redpole from the right HMS Redpole from the right

HMS Rifleman from the left HMS Rifleman from the left

HMS Ruby from the left HMS Ruby from the left

HMS Sheldrake from the left HMS Sheldrake from the left

HMS Staunch from the right HMS Staunch from the right

HMS Redpole - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-August 1915; Devonport September-November 1915; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, December 1915-February 1919

HMS Rifleman - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-October 1915; Devonport November-December 1915; Malta January 1916-June 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, July 1918-February 1919

HMS Ruby - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-October 1915, Devonport, December 1915-August 1917; Coast of Ireland, September-October 1917; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, December 1917-February 1919

HMS Sheldrake - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-August 1915; Devonport, September-November 1915; Malta, December 1915-June 1918; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, July 1918-February 1919

HMS Staunch - Second Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet, 1914-August 1915; Devonport September-November 1915; Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1916 until sunk by UC-38 off Palestine, 11 November 1917

 

Displacement (standard)

772t

Displacement (loaded)

970t

Top Speed

27 knots

Engine

3-shaft Parsons turbines (most in class)
2-shaft Brown-Curtis turbine (Brisk)
4 Yarrow boilers (most in class)
4 White-Forester boilers (Redpole, Rifleman, Ruby)
13,500shp

Range

 

Length

246ft oa

Width

25ft 3in to 25ft 5.5in

Armaments

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

Crew complement

72

Ships in class

HMS Acorn
HMS Alarm
HMS Brisk
HMS Cameleon
HMS Comet
HMS Fury
HMS Goldfinch
HMS Hope
HMS Larne
HMS Lyra
HMS Martin
HMS Minstrel
HMS Nemesis
HMS Nereide
HMS Nymphe
HMS Redpole
HMS Rifleman
HMS Ruby
HMS Shekdrake
HMS Staunch

 

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 (7 January 2021), Acorn Class Destroyers/ H Class Destroyers , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_acorn_class_destroyers.html

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