HMS Ariel (1911)

HMS Ariel (1911) was a Thornycroft special Acheron class destroyer that served with the First Destroyer Flotilla in 1914-16, fighting at the battle of Heligoland, Dogger Bank and Jutland and sinking U-12. She then moved to the 2nd Flotilla at Devonport in 1916-17, possibly sinking another U-boat, then the 4th Flotilla at Devonport before becoming a mine laying destroyer on the East Coast from October 1917 to the end of the war.

The Ariel was laid down at Thornycroft on 10 October 1910, launched on 26 September 1911 and commissioned in March 1912.

In January 1914 she was based at Portsmouth, and was commanded by Lt. Dashwood F. Moir.

In July 1914 she was one of twenty destroyers in the First Flotilla of the First Fleet, which contained the more modern battleships. At the time the Flotilla contained all of the Admiralty, Yarrow, Thornycroft and Parsons types of the Acheron or I class of destroyers.

HMS Ariel from the right HMS Ariel from the right

In August 1914 she was one of twenty I class destroyers in the First Flotilla of what was about to become the Grand Fleet, and was at sea when war broke out. The flotilla joined the Harwich Force, a swing force that could operate with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea, or with the Channel Fleet, often taking part in the battle against the U-boat.

On 5 August the Ariel took part in a sweep into the Channel, carried out to clear the area of German vessels. Her first role was to tow the submarines E8 to their war station off the enemy coast. E.8 and E.6 then carried out a three day cruise in the Heligoland Bight area, without having any chance to attack any German ships.

The Ariel led Division 2 of the First Flotilla during the battle of Heligoland (28 August 1914)

Her division wasn’t involving in the fighting in the first phases of the battle. However at about 11am, early in the third phase of the battle, the damaged cruiser Arethusa became involved in a battle with the German cruiser Stralsund. The Fearless and the entire First Flotilla were ordered to launch a torpedo attack on the German cruiser, which withdrew in the face of such a large attack. The Arethusa, Fearless and their destroyers then turned back west. However a few minutes later the German cruiser Stettin appeared from the east, and another fight began, this time between the Stettin and the two British cruisers. At 11.20 the Acheron received an order to lead the 1st division in a torpedo attack on the German cruiser and turned back to head towards the last known location of this fight.

At about the same time the rest of the flotilla sighted another German cruiser, the Mainz, which appeared to their south-west, heading north across their course on her way to help the Stralsund. The Ariel led the 2nd Division (Ariel and two Laforey class destroyers, Lucifer and Llewellyn) north in an attempt to attack her. The 3rd and 5th Divisions followed her, and a long range gun battle followed. However after twenty minutes the Mainz turned though 180 degrees and began to run to the south, after sighting Commodore Goodenough’s four light cruisers coming from the north. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions turned west to join up with the light cruisers, while the 5th Division turned south to try and keep up with the Mainz. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions then joined up with Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers, which were about to enter the battle.

During the battle the Ariel fired 37 rounds of 4in ammo and 19 rounds of 12-pounder ammo.

The Ariel took part in an attempted seaplane attack on the German airship sheds at Cuxhaven on 25 October 1914. She was one of ten destroyers (Faulknor, Acheron, Archer, Ariel, Badger, Beaver, Hind, Hydra, Lapwing and Lizard) that were used to carry out a diversion off the Ems, which flows into the North Sea close to the German-Dutch border. The destroyer force was ignored by the Germans, and the entire raid ended in failure as the seaplanes were unable to reach their targets.

In November the Ariel was one of eight destroyers that were sent from Harwich to support the four Duncan class battleships when they bombarded Zeebrugge on 23 November,

At the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) she was part of the First Division of the First Flotilla (Acheron, Attack, Hydra, Ariel). However this battle was dominated by the battlecruisers, and the destroyers had little to do.

On 15 February 1915 it was decided to move the 1st Destroyer Flotilla from Harwich to Rosyth, where it was to come under the command of the Vice-Admiral commanding the 3rd Battle Squadron. This would allow eight Grand Fleet destroyers currently based at Rosyth to return to Scapa, which would in turn allow seven older River or ‘E’ class destroyers to move from Scapa Flow to the south coast to be used to escort transport ships across the Channel. The first batch of destroyers from the flotilla (Acheron, Ariel, Attack, Badger, Beaver, Jackal, Lapwing and Sandfly, led by the cruiser Fearless) reached Rosyth on 18 February.

On 10 March 1915 the Ariel was part of a group of destroyers that caught U-12 after a four day hunt off the east coast of Scotland (Ariel, Attack and Acheron). The submarine was first spotted by the armed trawler Duster on 6 March. She was spotted again on 8 March, and after that she was tracked as she moved south along the east coast of Scotland. On 9 March the Fearless and the First Flotilla left port to join the hunt.

HMS Ariel from the left HMS Ariel from the left

Early on 10 March the commander of the flotilla received two reports giving different locations for the submarine. The Ariel was allocated to the force that was sent to investigate a report from the trawler May Island (Acheron, Attack and Ariel). At 10.15am Ariel and Attack both spotted the submarine. The Attack attempted to ram her, but she submerged in time. The submarine then came back up and attempted to torpedo the Attack, but she had emerged 200 yards from the Ariel, which turned sharply to port and hit U-12 close to the conning tower. After two minutes the damaged submarine was forced to come to the surface. The three destroyers opened fire, but some of her crew came on deck and surrendered. Ten of her crew of twenty two were rescued. The submarine then sank. The Ariel suffered damage to her bow and took on water, leaving her stern out of the water. She had to be towed back to Leith for repairs.

In June 1915 she was one of twenty one destroyers in the First Flotilla at Rosyth, made of the original I class boats and one flotilla leader.

On the eve of Jutland the Ariel was with the part of the First Destroyer Flotilla that was with the battlecruiser fleet at Rosyth. The flotilla was part of Admiral Beatty’s battle cruiser fleet. That fleet put to sea late on 30 May, and moved towards a rendezvous position about seventy miles to the south of the main Grand Fleet.

During the advance east across the North Sea the destroyers were used to guard the flanks of the battle cruiser fleet, while the light cruisers advanced ahead of the fleet. At 2.25pm on 31 May, just after the first contact between Beatty’s cruisers and the German cruisers, the destroyers were ordered to form an anti-submarine screen heading S.S.E. He then followed with his capital ships, in the hope of cutting off the retreat of the German cruisers that had been spotted. The German battlecruisers turned south, and retreated towards the main High Seas Fleet. This chase lasted until around 4.30, when the British spotted the German battleships of the High Seas Fleet, and Beatty was forced to abandon his attack and turn north to run towards the battleships of the Grand Fleet.

The two main fleets finally came together at about 6.30pm on 31 May. By this point the battleships of the German High Seas Fleet were heading north, while the battleships of the Grand Fleet were forming a line running roughly east to west in front of them. For a few minutes the British were able to concentrate their fire on the leading ships of the German line, but the Germans then carried out their famous sixteen point turn, and within a few minutes were heading away south into the North Sea mist. However Admiral Scheer then mis-judged the British movements, and turned back east in the hope that he could pass behind the main British force. Just after 7pm the Germans found themselves steaming straight towards Jelicoe’s battleships, and by 7.15 the bulk of the Grand Fleet was finally able to open fire on the Germans. Once again Scheer was forced to reverse course. During this phase of the battle the destroyer flotillas struggled to keep up with the fast moving battleships and rather disappear from the narrative. After more confused manoeuvres the two fleets came into range of each other for a third time after 8pm, but the Germans turned away for a third time, and disappeared into the mists by 8.35.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night battle, and at 9.17 ordered the fleet into its night cruising formation. The battleships formed up into lines in their divisions, with the destroyers following behind. The entire formation began to move south in an attempt to keep between the Germans and their home bases. By 10pm the destroyer flotillas were in line, with the 12th Flotilla at the eastern (left) end of the line, then the combined 9th and 10th Flotillas, 13th Flotilla, 4th Flotilla and finally the 11th Flotilla at the western (right) end of the line. The 1st Flotilla remained with Beatty’s battlecruisers and thus missed the night destroyer action, which took place behind the main force of the Grand Fleet.

Until June 1916 the entire class had been part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. In June the class was split, with some remaining with the flotilla and others joining the 3rd Battle Squadron, which had been moved south to the Thames.

This arrangement lasted until November, when the ships that were still with the 1st Flotilla were split – two went to Dover, two to Portsmouth and the rest, including the Ariel to the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport. She remained with the 2nd Flotilla into August 1917.

On 6 December 1916 the Ariel carried out an attack on a surfaced U-boat off Lands End. She dropped a depth charge which failed to explode, but had more luck with an armed paravane which successfully fired. The submarine was probably UC-19 or UB-29, both of which were lost on this day. UB-29 is the more likely of the two, having been operating in the correct area at the time. 

In January 1917 she was one of fourteen destroyers in the Second Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

Much of her time in this period was taken up with convoy escort duties. On 27 January she met up with an incoming convoy coming from Australia, and was given the task of escorting the three faster ships to Devonport.

In mid-March the Ariel and Goshawk was escorting a convoy coming in from Sierra Leone, led by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Orcoma.

In late March 1917 Ariel, Goshawk, Archer, Acheron and Lizard were used to escort the battleships of the London class to Portsmouth and Dover.

On 22 April the Ariel and Lennox collided off the Eddystone Rock and badly damaged each other

In June 1917 she was one of seventeen destroyers in the Second Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

On 14 July she departed from Liverpool as part of the escort for the Olympic (Ariel, Alarm, Brisk and Acheron). In 1917 she was being used to transport Canadian troops from Halifax to the UK, so this was the start of a return trip. The Olympic survived the war, and became known as ‘old reliable’ because of her many safe voyages.

In September 1917 the Acheron class ships with the 2nd Flotilla were split up. The Ariel was one of four that remained at Devonport, but as part of the large Fourth Destroyer Flotilla.

In October 1917 the Ariel moved to the 7th Destroyer Flotilla, on the eass coast. She became a destroyer-minelayer and was based at Immingham, part of a new minelaying squadron that was to be based in the Humber (Abdiel, Legion, Ferret, Ariel and three V-class destroyer).  

From March 1918 she was part of the Twentieth Destroyer Flotilla, which was still based at Immingham but now contained all of the mine layers.

The Ariel was sunk by a mine while on a mine laying mission in Heligoland Bight on 2 August 1918. Forty nine men were killed and there were thirty seven survivors. The Vehement was also sunk during the same sortie.

The Ariel was awarded battle honours for Heligoland, the Belgian Coast in 1914, Dogger Bank and Jutland

War Service
August 1914-September 1916: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
November 1916-August 1917: 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport
September 1917: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport
October 1917-February 1918: 7th Destroyer Flotilla, East Coast, Mine Layer
March-August 1918: Slow Division, 20th Destroyer Flotilla, East Coast, Minelayer

-March 1915-: Lt-Commander Tipper

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

29 knots


3-shaft Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers




246ft oa


25ft 8in


Two 4in BL Mk VIII guns
Two 12-pounder/ 12cwt guns
Two 21in torpedo tubes (Three in Australian specials)

Crew complement


Laid down

10 October 1910


26 September 1911


March 1912


2 August 1918

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 (21 October 2021), HMS Ariel (1911) ,

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