Tribal Class Destroyer (1905)

The Tribal class destroyers were a class of 33-knot destroyers that were significantly faster than the previous River class, but lacked their endurance and were used with the Dover Patrol during the First World War.

Design

The Tribal class destroyers were one of three types that were part of Admiral Fisher’s construction programme when he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1904. These ranged from a 36 knot ‘super destroyer’ that evolved into the one-off HMS Swift, down to the Cricket class coastal destroyers, which were soon reclassified as First Class Torpedo Boats. The Tribal class fell in the middle. The original design requirements, which were sent out on 17 November 1904, was for a destroyer that could reach 33 knots, and steam at full power for eight hours in a moderate sea. They would be oil powered. At first they were to be armed with two 12-pounders and five 3-pounders, but the 3-pounder quickly fell out of favour and this was changed to three 12-pounders. At first they were only required to carry two days of provisions, but this was soon changed to four (and would later be greatly increased). Fisher was determined to get his new destroyers very quickly, so the builders were given a free hand with the detailed design of their ships. A letter asked for tenders went out on 18 November, to be submitted by 1 December!

HMS Amazon during the First World War
HMS Amazon during
the First World War

The resulting designs were not at all satisfactory. Faced with the need for a big increase in speed all of the submissions were for lightly built turtleback destroyers, which had more in common with the old 30 knotters than with the River class ships, which were generally acknowledged as being superior in almost all ways. They were all powered by turbines at high speed, but with reciprocating cruising engines for use at lower speeds.

Each of the companies offered very different designs. Palmers offered two designs – one with turbines and one with reciprocating engines, only guaranteeing to reach 33 knots with the reciprocating design. Two of the 12-pounders would be carried on the sides of the rear end of the forecastle, next to the conning tower and the third on the centreline aft. Their design was eliminated because of their refusal to guarantee the required speed.

Yarrow offered two designs. The main one had a turtleback and a raised section amidships. One gun was carried on top of the conning tower, one on the raised section and one aft. The second design had a forecastle. In both cases they refused to guarantee more than 30 knots and tried to impose too many conditions. They were also eliminated.

This left five companies – Hawthorn Leslie, Thornycroft, White, Armstrong and Cammell Laird, all of whom would get a contract for one ship in the 1905-6 batch.

Hawthorn Leslie offered two designs – one with turbines and one with reciprocating engines. Their turbine version had two engines on each shaft, each operating at 450rpm, an unusually high speed. Their design had a forecastle, but the two forward guns were placed just behind the break, making them too wet, with the third gun aft.

Thornycroft offered a 31 knot design, powered by either turbines or reciprocating engines. Two guns were placed on either side of the turtleback, and another on the centreline aft.

White had one 12-pounder on top of the conning tower, one on the starboard side level with the end of the engine room and one on the port side further back.

Cammell Laird’s design had a forecastle, which carried two 12-pounders side by side. The third was on the centreline aft.

Armstrong’s design also had a forecastle with two 12-pounders side by side and the third on the centreline aft.

HMS Afridi from the left
HMS Afridi from the left

The Navy’s requirements continued to evolve. In January 1905 the requirement to be able to cruise for 1,500nm at sixteen knots was added, which meant that cruising turbines would be needed as the low powered reciprocating engines weren’t powerful enough. The freeboard forward was set at 15ft, making it almost essential to replace the turtleback with a forecastle.

The DNC was now able to impose more uniformity on the designs. All of the ships would have to use cruising turbines, and carry enough fuel to cruise at 1,500nm or run at full speed for eight hours, whichever required the most fuel. They would have similar officer’s accommodation to the River class ships. Freeboard at the stem was to be at least 15t 9in. Trials would be carried out with the ship fully equipped and carrying a realistic load of fuel. The River class ships had used chains to control the steering, but this had caused problems (mainly with loose chains), so the new ships were to use shafts and gearing. A standard arrangement of the guns was agreed, with two 12-pounders side by side on the forecastle and the third aft on the centreline. The guns chosen were the older 12-pounder/ 12cwt, instead of the more powerful 12-pounder/ 18cwt. This was probably done to save money, as the older guns could come from existing ships that were being removed from service, but the 12cwt gun was also the main gun on the River class ships. The two torpedo tubes were to be placed as far apart as possible to make sure they couldn’t both be destroyed by the same shot. They were eventually required to use the same bridge layout as the River class ships, with the bridge on top of a chart room.  

In January 1905 Fisher accepted that it wouldn’t be possible to produce his 36 knotter destroyers quickly enough, and so the Navy decided to focus on a ‘high-low’ split of Tribal class and Cricket class destroyers. However time was running out if any were to be ordered in 1904-5, and so on 7 February 1905 the fourteen destroyers that had been planned for that year were scrapped and five Tribal class destroyers added to the 1905-6 programme.

HMS Ghurka from the right
HMS Ghurka from the right

The first batch of five ships (the 1905-6 programme) were ordered with three 12-pounder guns, two abreast on the forecastle and one aft on the centre line. In October 1908 the DNO suggested adding two more 12-pounders to these ships and by the end of 1909 all five these guns had been fitted, with two extra added on the waist of each of these ships.

HMS Afridi (Armstrong) had five boilers and three low funnels.

HMS Cossack (Cammell Laird) had five boilers and three large funnels.

HMS Ghurka (Hawthorn Leslie) had its HP turbine on the centre shaft and LP, astern and cruising turbines on the wing shafts. She had five boilers and three low funnels.

HMS Tartar (Thornycroft) had its HP turbine on the centre shaft and LP, astern and cruising turbines on the wing shafts. She had six boilers in three boiler rooms, with four funnels – two narrow ones front and back and two wider ones in the middle.

HMS Mohawk (White) had its HP turbine on the centre shaft and LP, astern and cruising turbines on the wing shafts. She had six boilers in three boiler rooms, with four funnels – two narrow ones front and back and two wider ones in the middle. The Mohawk was built to a different design than the other Tribal class destroyers – she was a flush decker with a turtleback foredeck (the deck line rose to the required high at the stem, but curved down to a lower level by the time it was level with the bridge), which gave her less freeboard than the other ships in the class. She also had a higher metacentric height than predicted, making her unacceptable unstable. In 1908 she had to be rebuilt with a forecastle

HMS Saracen from the right
HMS Saracen from the right

The two ships of the second batch (1906-7) had their 12-pounders replaced with two 4in guns both on the centreline. This was a result of gunnery tests carried out in January 1906 against the old destroyer HMS Skate. These proved that a new 3-pounder gun that had been of some interest was of no use, while the 12-pounders lacked the penetration to reliably reach the engine room of its targets.

HMS Amazon (Thornycroft) had six boilers with the same four funnels of varying size as in Tartar and Mohawk.

HMS Saracen (White) had six boilers with the same four funnels of varying size as in Tartar and Mohawk. She was built to a different design to the Mokawk, with a forecastle right from the start, and didn’t have the problems of White’s first Tribal class ship.

The five ships in the third batch (1907-8) carried the same guns as the second batch.  This time Armstrong and Cammell Laird didn’t receive an order, but Denny and Palmers were added to the programme.

HMS Crusader (White) had the same arrangement of six boilers and four funnels of varying size as the 1906-7 batch. Like the Saracen she was built with a forecastle, so didn’t suffer from the same problems as the Mohawk.

HMS Maori (Denny) had the same arrangement of six boilers and four funnels of varying size as the 1906-7 batch.

HMS Nubian (Thornycroft) had the same arrangement of six boilers and four funnels of varying size as the 1906-7 batch.

HMS Viking (Palmers) had six boilers, each of which had its own funnel, making her the only six funnelled destroyer in the class.

HMS Zulu (Hawthorn Leslie) had the same arrangement of six boilers and four funnels of varying size as the 1906-7 batch.

Service Record

Most of the Tribal class ships were considered to be good sea boats, dryer than the 30 knotters but not as dry as the River class, but steadier gun platforms. The only exception was the Mohawk, which had a very different design when first built and had to be rebuilt.

HMS Nubian on the rocks
HMS Nubian on
the rocks

After the 1906-7 batch the Tribal class was abandoned, and construction moved onto the Beagle Class, which was essentially a developed version of the River class boats. This was probably because of the rising threat of Germany and the slow improvement of relations with France, which meant that the coastal destroyers of the Cricket Class were no longer relevant as they didn’t have the range to operate off the coast of Germany, while the Tribal class boats were too expensive.

As the most modern destroyers in the fleet, the Tribal class destroyers entered service with the main units of the fleet. The first four entered service in 1908 and joined the 2nd or 4th Flotillas, part of the Home Fleet, which was then the main battleship force. The entire class entered service in 1909-1910 with the 1st and 2nd Destroyer Flotillas, which were then attached to the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the Home Fleet. At this point the 1st Flotilla contained a mix of Rivers and Tribals, and the 2nd Flotilla Rivers, Tribals and the older 30 knotters. In 1911-12 the entry into service of the Acorn class allowed the situation to be rationalised – all twelve Tribal class destroyers now formed the 1st Destroyer Flotilla and the Acorn class the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. In 1912 theall twelve Tribal class destroyers moved to the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was part of the First Fleet.

As newer destroyers became available the Tribal class boats were moved away from the main fleet. Later in 1912 and into 1913 they were joined in the 4th Flotilla by the Acasta or K class ships, and during 1914 the Tribal class ships were moved into the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, one of the new patrol flotillas, where they were given a reduced complement. At the outbreak of war the Sixth Flotilla moved to Dover. 
 

HMS Zubian from the air
HMS Zubian from the air

The biggest problem with the Tribal class ships was their limited endurance. As a result they weren’t suitable for use with the Grand Fleet and instead spent most of the First World War fighting with the Dover Patrol. The entire class was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla in 1914, and moved with that flotilla from Portsmouth to their wartime base at Dover. Two of the class were sunk, both by mines – Ghurka on 8 February 1917 and Maori on 7 May 1915. Two more were involved in one of the more remarkable examples of making do and mend. On 26 October 1916 the Nubian was very badly damaged during a clash with German destroyers. The forward part of the ship was destroyed, but her rear half remained largely intact. On November 1916 the Zulu hit a mine and her stern was blown off. The Navy was thus left with the front end of one destroyer and the rear end of a second, and decided to patch them together to form a new ship, even though the Nubian was a Thornycroft ship and the Zulu  a Hawthorn Leslie ship, so their designs were different. The resulting ship was named the Zubian, and entered service with the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla in 1917.

Only two of the Tribal class boats ever left the Dover patrol. In 1918 two moved north to work with submarine flotillas, with the Mohawk supporting X Submarine Flotilla on the Tees and the Tartar supporting XI Submarine Flotilla at Blyth.

In August 1916 the Navy adopted a policy for anti-aircraft guns. The Tribal class ships were to be given a single 2-pounder pom-pom.

Ships in Class

HMS Afridi – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918

HMS Cossack – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918

HMS Ghurka – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914 until sunk by mine, 8 February 1917

HMS Mohawk – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1917; X Submarine Flotilla, Tees, 1918

HMS Tartar – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918; XI Submarine Flotilla, Blyth, 1918

HMS Amazon – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918

HMS Saracen – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918

HMS Crusader - Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918

HMS Maori – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914 until sunk by mine 7 May 1915

HMS Nubian – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914 until almost sunk by German destroyers, 26 October 1916

HMS Viking – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914-1918

HMS Zulu – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, Dover, 1914 until stern blown off by mine, 8 November 1916

HMS Zubian – Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, 1917-1918

Stats

Displacement (standard)

850t-1,045t

Displacement (loaded)

1,000t-1,200t

Top Speed

33 knots

Engine

3-shaft Parsons steam turbines
5  or 6 boilers
14,000shp

Range

 

Length

206ft-280ft 4in pp

Width

24ft 6in-27ft 5in

Armaments

Three 12-pounder/ 12cwt QF as deigned
Five 12-pounder guns in service
Two 18in Torpedo Tubes

Crew complement

68

Ships in class

HMS Afridi
HMS Cossack
HMS Ghurka
HMS Mohawk
HMS Tartar
HMS Amazon
HMS Saracen
HMS Crusader
HMS Maori
HMS Nubian
HMS Viking
HMS Zulu
HMS Zubian

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 (28 April 2020), Tribal Class Destroyer (1905), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_tribal_class_destroyer_1905.html

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