HMS Arab (1901)

HMS Arab (1901) was the third of three 33-knot ‘specials’ that all failed to reach their target speed. She became a standard B class destroyer, and served with the Seventh Flotilla on the Humber in 1914, the Scapa Patrol in 1915-17 before returning to the Seventh Flotilla in 1918.

The Arab was ordered as one of three 33-knot ‘specials’ in the 1896-7 programme. However she wasn’t laid down until 1900, by which time the other specials, Express and Albatross had already begin trials, and had failed to reach their target speed. Despite this setback, work on the Arab was allowed to continue. In trials she was the slowest of the three, reaching only 30.75 knots at 8,250ihp at a displacement of 430 tons, and very little effort was made to improve her speed. This was hardly surprising, as one of the reasons for the delay was that Thomsons were still struggling to get their 30-knotters to reach their lower target speed. Eventually the Navy decided to accept her despite her lower than expected speed.

She had four funnels, with the middle pair quite close together. The engines were placed behind the boiler rooms.

Pre-War Service

The Arab was launched on 9 February 1901, and was described in the Dundee Evening Telegraph as the ‘first British warship placed in the water since the 20th century commenced’ (on the technically correct grounds that the century actually began on 1 January 1901, and 1900 was the last year of the 19th Century). 

HMS Arab at sea
HMS Arab at sea

By 1903 she had been given a searchlight mounted on a platform just above the bridge.

On 5 January 1903 ordered were issued to commission the Arab for service with the Portsmouth Naval Division. Despite not having achieved her target speed, she was still described as being the fastest warship in the Portsmouth Naval Division at the time. On the morning of 12 January 1903 she was commissioned as the Senior Officer’s ship in the Portsmouth Instructional Flotilla, under Commander H.G.B. Brand. She replaced the Success, whose crew were transferred to the Arab. By this point she was being described as the fastest vessel in the Royal Navy.

In March 1903 she was serving as one of two Commodores’ Ships with the Portsmouth flotilla, when she had to put into Devonport to have faulty condensers repaired.

In 1903-1905 she was part of the Devonport Destroyer Flotilla, one of the three flotillas that contained all of the home based destroyers.

In the summer of 1905 the Arab took part in a Channel Fleet visit to the Baltic. This led to one rather embarrassing incident. In late August the fleet was visiting Esbjerg, on the west coast of Jutland, where they had planned to host local dignitaries for luncheon on 23 August. This had to be postponed due to a gale that made it impossible for the guests to get out to the warships. To make things worse, the Arab ran aground while attempting to leave the harbour. A second destroyer that attempted to go to her assistance hit the mole of the Commercial Harbour and damaged her bows. The Arab then managed to get afloat by running at full speed, but rammed a third destroyer (the Greyhound), damaging her rudder. All three had to stay behind to repairs while the rest of the fleet moved on.

In 1906-1907 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Channel Fleet.

HMS Arab from the right
HMS Arab from the right

In the autumn of 1907 the Arab was allocated to the forces to take part in that year’s naval manoeuvres, but while docked at Queensferry she was rammed by the collier Rockwood, which badly damaged her bows. She had to be taken to Leith for repairs, arriving on Friday 25 October, and was unable to take part in the exercises.

In 1907-1909 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, still part of the Channel Fleet, but with a nucleus crew.

In 1909-1911 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which contained the older battleships.

From 1912 she was part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, one of the Patrol Flotillas.

In the summer of 1913 the Arab took part in the annual naval manoeuvres, which were meant to simulate the defence of the east coast against hostile invasion.

On Sunday 27 July 1913 the Arab arrived at Grimsby, carrying Admiral de Robeck, who paid a visit to the Coastguard Wireless Station.

On Friday 1 August 1913 the Arab collided with the dock pier at Grimsby while heading out to sea to take part in tactical manoeuvres. She suffered damage to her stern and steering gear and had to be towed into the Freshney.

In January 1914 she was part of the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, Patrol Flotillas, with Lt. Arthur F. Crutchlety as her commander.

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

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of two destroyers from the Seventh Flotilla that were based at Harwich, while the bulk of the formation had moved to its wartime base on the Humber.

In November 1914 she was one of six destroyers from the flotilla that were based at No.6 Patrol Base, Harwich.

On 7 November 1914 she was one of twelve destroyers that the Admiralty ordered to move from the patrol flotillas to Scapa Flow, and she departed for her new base on 8 November.

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

In June 1915 she was part of the Scapa Patrol, then considered one of the destroyer flotillas of the Grand Fleet.

In January 1916 she was one of ten destroyers attached to the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Jellicoe.

In October 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers attached to the Grand Fleet, but not part of any particular formation.

In January 1917 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

In April 1917 the Arab was operating on the Lerwick to Bergen convoy route. In mid-April U-30 began to attack ships around the eastern end of that route, which had to be outside neutral Norwegian waters. At 7am on 14 April the submarine sank the Norwegian SS Fjeldli with gunfire. The Norwegian SS Rondane was close behind, and her crew took to their boats, expecting to be sunk. However the Arab was close by, and she was able to drive off the U-boat.

In June 1917 she was one of eleven destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

In the first week of July 1917 she was part of the escort for a convoy heading to Scandinavia. On 4 July this convoy was attacked by a U-boat. The Arab dropped depth charges while the armed yacht Amalthea and the armed whaler Pilot Whale opened fire. Between them they drove the submarine away.

From 19 September 1917 she was commanded by Lt. Kenneth Mckay.

In January 1918 she was undergoing repairs at Dundee, but was still part of the Scapa Flotilla.

In June 1918 she was part of the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the East Coast of England, based on the Humber.

In November 1918 she was part of the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber.

She was still an active part of the Seventh Flotilla in February 1919, at a time when large numbers of the older destroyers were being moved to south coast ports on the way to being sold off.

The Arab was sold for break up in July 1919.

From 12 January 1903: Commander H.G.B. Brand
19 September 1917-February 1919-: Lt Kenneth McKay

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30.75 knots


Four Normand boilers




232ft oa
227.5 pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

5 March 1900


9 February 1901


January 1903

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 (4 March 2018), HMS Arab (1901) ,

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