Beagle Class Destroyers/ G Class Destroyer (1909)

The Beagle Class or G Class destroyers (1909) were developed from the earlier River class, and spent most of the First World War in the Mediterranean, where the entire class served in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli. Half of the class briefly returned to home waters over the winter of 1914-15 to escort troop ships to France, and late in 1917 the entire class began to move home to help escort convoys, at first from Buncrana in the north of Ireland and later from Devonport.

Design

The Beagle class destroyers can trace their design back to a plan for modified River class destroyers, developed in the second half of 1903 for the 1904-5 production programme. The River class boats had a target speed of 25.5 knots. This was raised to 27 knots on the new design. They would be longer and slightly wider than the River class, and with a displacement of around 620 tons. A suggestion to arm them with four 12-pounders and to make them strong enough to ram a destroyer or submarine was abandoned after the cost was found to be too great. They would probably have been oil burners, after it was decided that there wasn’t enough time to introduce oil in the 1903-4 River class boats. In 1904 the Committee on Designs suggested that all new destroyers should use turbines, but when the six main destroyer building firms were asked to produce designs for faster destroyers, they all produced improved versions of the River class, with updated triple expansion engines.

HMS Basilisk in 1910 HMS Basilisk in 1910

Work on the new faster Rivers was clearly slower than had been hoped, and in August 1904 the Controller of the Navy decided that the fourteen destroyers planned for 1904-5 should simply be repeat River class boats with minor improvements. This would have included the use of oil fuel, wireless officers and possibly a revised armament with a mix of a more powerful 12-pounder and a new 3-pounder gun. The armoured conning tower was eliminated to save weight, although s similar un-armoured structure was still required to hold the 12-pounder gun platform. By December 1904 the design was almost ready to go out to tender. Their speed hadn’t quite been agreed on, with 25.5 knots or 27 knots as the options. They would carry three 12-pounders, two forward and one aft. They would be powered by turbines. However the entire programme was then cancelled after Admiral Fisher became First Sea Lord. He preferred the high-low mix of faster Tribal class destroyers and Cricket class coastal destroyers, and by February 1905 the thirteen destroyers from the 1904-5 programme had been cancelled. Instead five Tribal class destroyers were added to the 1905-6 programme.

Australian Troops on HMS Beagle, Gallipoli Australian Troops on HMS Beagle, Gallipoli

After three groups of Tribal class destroyers, in 1907 the Navy began to plan for the destroyers of the 1908-9 programme. The initial draft programme of June 1907 called for twelve destroyers (increased to sixteen in November 1907 after the cost per ship dropped enough to allow the budgeted £1.5 million to pay for four extra ships), that had to have superior ‘endurance and sea keeping qualities to the most recent German destroyer’. Both of these requirements made it unlikely that the Tribal type would be satisfactory, as they lacked endurance and were so expensive that only five had ever been purchased in a single year. The new boats were to be armed with five 12-pounders from the start, eliminating the mix of 12-pounders and 6-pounders in the original River class design. In January 1908 the Controller of the Navy added more details – the new boats should have a similar draught and freeboard to the Tribal class boats, and run their trials over six hours. The Controller wanted them to be oil burners, but this was changed to coal, probably to reduce cost. A key requirement was good sea keeping abilities, as there was a belief that the new destroyers might be used to impose a close blockade on Germany. As a result they needed a forecastle instead of a turtleback at the front, a high flared bow and for the bridge to be as far back as possible, to prevent spray blinding the bridge crew.

Early in 1908 the DNC prepared a design for a modified River class destroyer, capable of reaching 30 knots and armed with two 4in guns and two torpedo tubes. The Controller requested a less powerful design, so by April 1908 the DNC produced two more designs. This time they would be capable of 28 knots, and would be armed with four 12-pounders, with the potential to carry two more. One version was oil powered and the other used a mix of oil and coal. Both were more expensive than expected. By the end of May the plan was to approve the design by 15 June, invite tenders at the end of August and place orders on 20 November.

HMS Bulldog from the left HMS Bulldog from the left

On 3 June 1908 the decision was made to switch to coal power, in order to reduce the cost of each ship below £100,000. The DNC’s destroyer specialist objected to this, pointing out that coal produced less power from the same sized boiler rooms as oil, required heavier machinery and would force an increase in displacement. Despite these problems, the decision to use coal was confirmed. On 11 June the requirements for the new design were thus reduced, to make it more affordable. Speed was reduced to 27 knots, and the number of guns cut to five, with two on the forecastle and three along the rest of the destroyer. The quality of accommodation could be reduced to that of the River class. They would be built with 18in torpedoes, but with the ability to change to 21in models if required. The Beagles would be larger and less efficient than the oil powered Acorn class that followed them.

Towards the end of June the DNC produced a third design, taking into account the latest changes. There were five boilers in three boiler rooms, two each in the front and middle rooms and one in the rear room. These fed three funnels, originally all of the same height. This would later cause problems when smoke from the forward funnel got onto the bridge, so the forward funnel was raised. They were to carry five 12-pounder guns – two side by side on the forecastle, one level with the funnels on the starboard side, one behind the funnels on the port side and one close to the stern. This stern gun would be offset slightly to starboard. They would displace 850 tons. The design was approved by the Controller on 7 July.

HMS Foxhound at Gallipoli HMS Foxhound at Gallipoli

This was followed by a debate about the detailed design process. For previous destroyers the Navy had issued an overall specification and the destroyer builders had produced the detailed plans. As a result the ships within a class could each be very different (especially in the choice of machinery), and it also made it difficult for new firms to bid for contracts, as their detailed designs would require a great deal of checking. The DNC wanted his own staff to produce the sketch designs, arguing that it would speed up the process and allow more firms to bid. He didn’t get his way for the Beagle class destroyers, but was given permission to design the ships for the 1909-10 programme (the Acorn Class).

HMS Harpy in 1918-19 HMS Harpy in 1918-19

Most of the orders were placed with the standard destroyer building firms – John Brown built three, Denny built one, Fairfield built three, Hawthorn Leslie built one, Cammell Laird built three, Thornycroft built one and White built two. Two new firms also won contracts to build single ships – the London & Glasgow Shipbuilding Company, which had a shipyard at Goven (soon purchased by Harland and Wolff) and one by the Thames Iron Works (experienced builder of battleships for the British and Japanese navies).

While the new destroyers were under construction, the two 12-pounders on the forecastle were replaced with a single 4in gun, after tests suggested that the 12-pounders weren’t powerful enough to inflict significant damage on enemy destroyers.

The Beagle class ships were controversial when they first appeared, as they were clearly slower than the Tribal class ships. However they quickly proved to have much superior endurance to the Tribals, and to be much better suited to operating with the fleet in the North Sea. The majority of destroyers built over the next few years would be developments of the Beagle class, with incremental improvements. This included the Acorn class (1909-10 programme), the Acheron class (1910-11), the Acasta class (1911-12), the Laforey class (1912-13), the M class (1913-14) and the wartime Repeat M class, R class, modified R class and even the late S class of 1918. These later classes were much faster than the original Beagles, and all were oil powered, but the basic layout had been set.

Ships in Class

HMS Mosquito from the left HMS Mosquito from the left

HMS Beagle – Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918; Londonderry again by July 1918

HMS Bulldog - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918 onwards

HMS Foxhound - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918; Londonderry again by November 1918

HMS Pincher - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918, wrecked 24 July 1918

HMS Grasshopper - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918 onwards

HMS Pincher from the left HMS Pincher from the left

HMS Mosquito - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918 onwards

HMS Scorpion - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914- early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, 1918

HMS Scourge - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918 onwards

HMS Racoon - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918 until wrecked 9 January 1918

HMS Renard ­- Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914-summer 1918; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry by November 1918

HMS Wolverine - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914-1917; sunk in collision to north-west of Ireland 12 December 1917

HMS Racoon from the left HMS Racoon from the left

HMS Rattlesnake - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-summer 1918, Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry by November 1918

HMS Nautilus/ Grampus - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914- early 1918; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, by June 1918

HMS Savage - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918 onwards

HMS Basilisk - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914-summer 1918, Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry by June 1918

HMS Harpy - Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean, 1914, Portsmouth, 1914-15, Mediterranean 1915-1917; Second Destroyer Flotilla, Londonderry, early 1918; Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport, mid 1918 onwards

 

Service

HMS Rattlesnake from the left HMS Rattlesnake from the left

The new destroyers were formed into the 1st Destroyer Flotilla when they entered service in 1910. Contemporary newspaper reports confirm this for several members of the class, reporting them being commissioned directly into the First Flotilla. They were all with the First Flotilla until October 1911, and twelve were still with it in November. However they had all gone by 1912.

Dr Graham Watson’s excellent ‘From Imperial Policemen to North Sea Battle Fleet’ lists them as part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla in 1910-11. However this appears to be in error - In October 1911 the Dover Express reported that the new Seventh Flotilla was to be formed from the new Acheron class destroyers, and in November it reported that the flotilla had just been officially formed. It is possible that the Beagles formed this flotilla from late in 1911 until the spring of 1912.

HMS Renard from the left HMS Renard from the left

From May 1912 until 1913 they all served with the Third Destroyer Flotilla, part of the First Fleet. This was also reported in the press – in September 1912 the Aberdeen Journal and Dundee Courier both listed all sixteen as forming the Third Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich.

Late in 1913 they became the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, which was then sent to the Mediterranean (they were still listed with the Third Flotilla in October, but were in the Mediterranean for the November Navy List). They were still there at the outbreak of war in 1914. The first and second divisions of the flotilla along with two ships from the third took part in the unsuccessful attempt to intercept the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau.

HMS Savage from the right HMS Savage from the right

By November the need for destroyers to help protect the transport route between Britain and France was becoming more urgent, and it was decided to move the Beagle class destroyers home to fill the gap. On 17 November the first four were ordered back (Beagle, Bulldog, Pincher and Rattlesnake), with the rest to follow as soon as possible.  They were to be replaced in the Mediterranean by the seven River class destroyers that had been on the China station. Eight of the sixteen Beagles would make this move, and spent their entire time back in home waters escorting troop ships from their new base at Portsmouth.

By December the plan had been changed. The 1st Destroyer Flotilla was now to move north to Rosyth, while eight River class destroyers were to move south from Scapa to Portsmouth to take over from the Beagles. The Beagle class destroyers were to join a new 10th Destroyer Flotilla, based at Harwich. This flotilla would be led by the cruiser Aurora and also contain the newer M class destroyers. It would be commanded by the Commodore (T), Reginald Y. Tyrwhitt. However the increased threat from German submarines in the Channel meant that this plan wasn’t implemented, and the Beagles remained at Portsmouth for the time being. By 15 December eight of the Beagles were at Portsmouth (the Naval Staff Monograph on Home Waters says ten, but this is almost certainly an error).

HMS Scorpion from the left HMS Scorpion from the left

On 19-20 December the 27th Infantry Division, formed from Regular army units that had been on garrison duty around the Empire, began to cross to France, with the Beagles providing their escort. On 15-18 January 1915 they escorted the 28th Infantry Division to France.

In mid-February 1915 the plan to move the Beagles to the 10th Flotilla was officially cancelled and they were to remain at Portsmouth to escort the troop transports. By this point eight of the Beagles were based at Portsmouth (Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Harpy, Pincher, Rattlesnake, Savage and Scourge). February was a busy month for them, with regular troop crossings, and on most occasions each transport was escorted by a single destroyer.

The other half of the class - Basilisk, Grampus, Grasshopper, Mosquito, Racoon, Renard, Scorpion and Wolverine – remained in the Mediterranean. In January 1915 they were waiting to join a flotilla, but they were back with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla by March 1915.

Those members of the class that remained in the Mediterranean took part in the failed attempts to force the Dardanelles with naval forces only. Some of them were used as mine sweepers during this episode, in an attempt to support the more vulnerable civilian manned minesweepers originally used.

No.1 Field Ambulance on HMS Scourge, Gallipoli No.1 Field Ambulance on HMS Scourge, Gallipoli

On 26 March the eight Beagles in home waters were ordered to move to the Dardanelles, as soon as they had been replaced at Portsmouth by a similar number of River class boats. This was achieved by the end of March, and they departed for the Mediterranean.

The entire class took part in the Dardanelles campaign, supporting the fighting at Gallipoli. Most of them were awarded the Dardanelles battle honour for 1915-16, although Harpy, Mosquito, Renard and Scourge were only awarded it for 1915 and for some reason the Pincher and Savage didn’t get the battle honour despite taking part in the campaign.

The entire class remained in the Mediterranean for the rest of 1915, all of 1916 and most of 1917. For most of that period they were all part of the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla, although in December 1915 the Foxhound was on detached service, and in November-December 1916 the Pincher was detached.

Eleven of the ships were recalled to home waters late in 1917, where they joined the Second Destroyer Flotilla at Londonderry. However they didn’t all move at the same time – six were in Ireland by October 1917, nine by November and ten by December 1917 (by which time one had been lost, for the total of eleven).

Having served for three years in the Mediterranean without loss, this new post soon took its toll. The Wolverine was sunk in a collision to the north-west of Ireland on 12 December 1917 and the Racoon was wrecked on 9 January 1918.

The October 1917 Navy List had six - the Beagle, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Scourge and Wolverine with the Second Destroyer Flotilla at Buncrana (to the west of Londonderry), and eight – the Basilisk, Bulldog, Grampus, Pincher, Rattlesnake, Renard, Savage and Scorpion in the Mediterranean. Mosquito and Racoon were probably already on their way home.

HMS Wolverine from the left HMS Wolverine from the left

By the November 1917 Navy List nine were in Ireland – Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Racoon, Scourge and Wolverine and seven – Basilisk, Grampus, Pincher, Rattlesnake, Renard, Savage and Scorpion in the Mediterranean.

By the December 1917 Navy List ten were in Ireland – Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Racoon, Savage, Scourge and Wolverine and six in the Mediterranean – Grampus, Pincher, Rattlesnake and Renard with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla and Basilisk and Scorpion with the Malta Flotilla.

The January 1918 Navy List listed the Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Pincher, Racoon, Savage and Scourge as part of the Irish Flotilla and the Rattlesnake as shortly to join it. Basilisk, Grampus and Scorpion remained with the Fifth Flotilla in the Mediterranean.

The February 1918 list had Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Pincher, Racoon, Savage, Scorpion and Scourge in Ireland and the Grampus shortly to arrive. The Renard was still in the Mediterranean, but was now detached to Egypt. Basilisk and Rattlesnake were still with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean.

By the March 1918 List the Grampus was shortly to arrive in Ireland, the Racoon had been removed from the list and the Mosquito had been paid off. The Basilisk and the Rattlesnake were still with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean.

By June 1918 ten of the class had moved to Devonport to join the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla (including all of the ships that had been in Ireland in March). The July 1918 Navy List places Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Pincher, Savage, Scorpion and Scourge at Devonport, although the Scourge was paid off, and Basilisk and Grampus with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla in Ireland. The Rattlesnake and the Renard were both with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean. However in mid-July the Beagle and Foxhound were on detached duty with the Northern Patrol, operating between the Shetland Islands and Faroe Islands, supporting military trawlers.

The Pincher became the last of them to be lost, when she was wrecked on wrecked 24 July 1918 while serving from Devonport. None of the Beagle class ships were lost to enemy action.

By the August 1918 List the Beagle, Bulldog, Foxhound, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Savage, Scorpion and Scourge were at Devonport, with the Scourge still paid off. The Basilisk and Grampus were still with the 2nd Flotilla, with the Renard listed as being about to join them. The Rattlesnake was the only member of the class left with the Fifth Flotilla.

Thirteen of the sixteen Beagle class destroyers survived the war. Both the 11 November 1918 Pink List and the December 1918 Navy List have six of them back with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla at Buncrana (Basilisk, Beagle, Foxhound, Grampus, Rattlesnake and Renard) and seven with the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport (Bulldog, Grasshopper, Harpy, Mosquito, Savage, Scorpion and Scourge).

The surviving members of the class were all scrapped soon after the end of the war.

Displacement (standard)

945t (average)

Displacement (loaded)

1,100t

Top Speed

27 knots

Engine

3-shaft Parsons turbines
5 Yarrow boilers (most ships)
5 White-Forester boilers (Basilisk and Harpy)
14,300shp

Range

 

Length

263ft 11.25in pp

Width

26ft 10in

Armaments

One 4in/ 45cal QF Mk VIII gun
Three 12-pounder/ 12cwt guns
Two 21in torpedo tubes with four torpedoes

Crew complement

96

Ships in class

HMS Beagle
HMS Bulldog
HMS Foxhound
HMS Pincher
HMS Grasshopper
HMS Mosquito
HMS Scorpion
HMS Scourge
HMS Racoon
HMS Renard
HMS Wolverine
HMS Rattlesnake
HMS Nautilus/ Grampus
HMS Savage
HMS Basilisk
HMS Harpy

 

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 (30 July 2020), Beagle Class Destroyers/ G Class Destroyer (1909) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_beagle_class_destroyers.html

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