D Class Destroyers (1912)

D Class Destroyer was the designation given to all of the early generation of 30 knotter destroyers with two funnels in 1912, and contained the Thornycroft built ships.

In 1912 the Admiral decided to group all of its destroyers into a series of lettered classes. The 30-knotters were spilt into B, C and D classes, depending on the number of funnels. The B class ships had four funnels, the C class three funnels and the D class two funnels.

While this might seem a rather arbitrary classification, in the case of the D class ships it made some sense. All of the British built D class ships had been built by Thornycroft, and shared the same arrangement of boilers and engines. They had three boilers in two rooms, with a single boiler in the forward room and two in the rear room. The uptakes from Boiler No.1 in the forward room and Boiler No.2, the first one in the aft room, were trunked into a single funnel and Boiler No.3 got its own funnel. The B and C class ships all used standard triple expansion engines, but Thornycroft used a four-cylinder compound expansion engine, which had one high pressure, one medium pressure and two low pressure cylinders. They had two rudders that were positioned on either side of the two propellers, giving them a ‘semi-tunnel’ stern. This made them more manoeuvrable than many of the other 30-knotters, but they were also considered to be particularly ‘wet’ forwards.

HMS Fame from the left
HMS Fame
from the left

The D Class destroyers followed the same basic layout as all of the 27-knotters and 30-knotters, based on a general layout diagram provided by the Admiralty. They had a turtleback foredeck, which ended at the conning tower. A platform above the conning tower carried one 12-pounder gun and the bridge, an awkward arrangement that mean that operating of the main gun interfered with the command of the ship. In some cases this also meant that the map table had to be dismantled before the gun could be used! Five 6-pounder guns were carried – two on either side of the conning tower, so they could fire forward along the sides of the turtleback, one at the stern and one each along the sides of the ships. They also carried two 18in torpedo tubes.

They were designed to carry a crew of 73, of which about half were stokes for the coal powered boilers. The ratings and stokers accommodation was in the bow, and the officers and NCOs in the stern. The captain’s cabin was right at the rear, and as the middle of the ship was filled with the engine room and boiler rooms, the only way to the officer’s quarters was along the deck. This was an unpopular layout, with many commanding officers complaining that they couldn’t easily reach their cabin while at sea, meaning that they were soon exhausted.

Four Thornycroft destroyers were ordered in 1894-95 (Desperate, Fame, Foam and Mallard). The Foam was broken up in 1914, but the other three served throughout the First World War.

Two were ordered in 1895-96. Angler served through the First World War, but Ariel was wrecked in 1907.

Three were ordered in 1896-7. Coquette was mined in 19167, but Cynthia and Cygnet survived the First World War.

HMS Cynthia from the right
HMS Cynthia
from the right

HMS Coquette at sea
HMS Coquette at sea

HMS Stag from the right
HMS Stag from the right

One was ordered in 1897-8, HMS Stag. She served throughout the First World War.

A total of ten Thornycroft 30-knotters were produced, of which eight survived to serve during the First World War. Only the Coquette was lost during the war, but the survivors were all broken up in 1920-21.

The only none Thornycroft D Class destroyer was HMS Taku. She was built in Germany for the Chinese government, but captured by the British in 1900. When she was being built her manufacturers had made claims about her speed that caused a brief scandal in Britain, but after the Taku was captured these claims proved to be largely false, and she wasn’t considered to be a very impressive boat. She doesn’t appear to have been in active service during the First World War.

Eight D class destroyers were active during the First World War. Of these six spent the entire war where they started it (apart from the Coquette which was sunk by a mine in 1916) – three on the Nore (Coquette, Cygnet and Cynthia), two at Portsmouth (Desperate and Angler) and one in China (Fame). Two started the war with the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth (Mallard and Stag), and ended it with the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla, serving at Scape, the Forth of Forth and on the Humber in the gap.

Wartime Service Summary
HMS Desperate – Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla
HMS Fame – China Station
HMS Mallard – Eighth Destroyer Flotilla (Firth of Forth), Scapa Local Defence Flotilla, Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla
HMS Angler - Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla
HMS Coquette - Nore Local Defence Flotilla.
HMS Cygnet - Nore Local Defence Flotilla.
HMS Cynthia - Nore Local Defence Flotilla.
HMS Stag - Eighth Destroyer Flotilla (Firth of Forth), Forth Local Defence Flotilla, Seventh Destroyer Flotilla (Humber), Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla

Stats excluding HMS Taku

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots


Four cylinder compound engines
Three boilers




210ft oa – 215.5ft
208ft pp




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

Crew complement


Ships in class

HMS Desperate
HMS Fame
HMS Mallard
HMS Angler
HMS Coquette
HMS Cygnet
HMS Cynthia
HMS Stag
HMS Taku

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 (25 September 2019), D Class Destroyers (1912) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_D_class_destroyers_1912.html

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