HMS Cheerful (1897)

HMS Cheerful (1897) was a C class destroyer that served with the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth in 1914-1917, then moved to the East Coast Convoys organisation, but was sunk by a mine off the Shetlands on 30 June 1917.

Hawthorn Leslie built three destroyers in the 1896-7 programme. They had four Thornycroft boilers in two stokeholds, with the second and third boilers sharing the central funnel. They were considered to be amongst the best of the 30-knotters. In 1900 John de Robeck, command of the Mediterranean destroyer force, recommended that all future destroyers follow the Palmer or Hawthorn Leslie pattern for accommodation. In the same year Commander Mark Kerr, of the Medway Instructional Flotilla, described them as ‘by far the best sea boats’

On Saturday 13 August 1898 she carried out her builder’s trials off the Tyne, achieving a speed of 30.64 knots on the mile and an average speed of 30 knots on the three hour trial.

On 22 September 1899 she was forced to abandon an official trial in the North Sea due to a fierce autumn gale.

On 28 September 1899 she carried out a full power trial in the North Sea, reaching an average speed of 30 knots per hour. She was then to undergo tests of her guns and join the Medway Fleet Reserve. She passed her gunnery trials on Tuesday 3 October 1899 off Sheerness

HMS Cheerful from the left
HMS Cheerful from the left

On 10 October 1899 she was heading down the Medway to carry out a trial of her machinery when she ran into a bank in a sudden fog and had to return to dock for the potential damage to be checked. Her propeller shafts turned out to have been damaged in the grounding.

On Wednesday 13 December 1899 she carried out successful steam and circle turning trials off Sheerness, and then returned to port to prepare to join the A Division of the Medway Reserve.

In 1899 the Cheerful  took part in speed and fuel efficiency trials. She reached 29.941 knots at 5,566 ihp, consuming 2.84 pounds of coal per iHP per hour and 30.152 knots at 5,912 ihp. On a low speed run she reached 13.1 knots at 497ihp at 1.72 pounds of coal per iHP per hour, making her one of the more efficient slow speed boats. These results were later published in Brassey’s Naval Annual for 1900.

In 1900-1904 she was part of the Nore Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers.

On 12 March 1900 she was ordered to move from Chatham to Sheerness to join the Medway Destroyer Flotilla as the senior officer’s ship.

The Cheerful took part in the 1900 naval manoeuvres, when she formed part of the Chatham division of Fleet B, the defensive fleet. Fleet A was smaller, but was expecting reinforcements from the Mediterranean, suggesting that the potential enemy at this stage was France. During the manoeuvres one of her artificers, Alexander Kent, suffered serious injuries to his right thigh and had to be landed at Queenstown under a flag of ‘truce’. Her commander at the time was Mark E. F. Kerr, who later rose to the rank of Admiral, and was the first British Flag Officer to become a qualified aircraft pilot.

The Cheerful took part in the 1901 naval manoeuvres, which began in late July. These involved two fleets – Fleet B began in the North Sea, and had the task of keeping the English Channel open to trade. Fleet X began off the north coast of Ireland, and had the task of stopping trade in the Channel. The Cheerful was part of Squadron Y, a force of destroyers from Chatham that joined Fleet X. This was the first time both sides in the annual exercises had been given an equal force of destroyers. The exercises ended with a victory for Fleet X. The destroyer forces didn’t live up to expectations, either in torpedo attack or as scouts. The Cheerful put in a claim to have destroyed some searchlights at Queenstown, but it was disallowed by the umpires.

In November 1901 she was part of the Medway Instructional Flotilla, and was one of four of the eight destroyers in the flotilla that took part in a three week long cruise.

On Monday 2 December 1901 the destroyer HMS Salmon was hit by the Great Eastern Railway Company’s steamship Cambridge. As was so often the case the larger merchant ship was undamaged, but the Salmon was almost crippled and her crew had to be rescued. Her captain watched the salvage operations from the Cheerful, and was able to see her reach safety. The Salmon was repaired, and remained in service for another ten years.

The Cheerful took part in the 1903 naval manoeuvres, which took place in a large area of ocean, from the Channel and Irish Sea into Portuguese waters.

The Cheerful also took part in the 1906 manoeuvres, but collided with another destroyer outside Dover and had to withdraw from the exercises for repairs. She was part of the ‘Red’ or British fleet during these exercises.

In 1906-7 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla of the Channel Fleet, then the most important home based formation.

In 1907-9 she was still part of the Channel Fleet, but the main force was now the Home Fleet, increasingly facing Germany in the North Sea, and the Channel Fleet destroyers only had nucleus crews.

In February 1908 one of her crew, Lieutenant Commander William Spencer Hargreaves, was dismissed from the ship and lost three months seniority for getting drunk on the Hecla and then falling into the sea while being taken back to his own ship.

In April 1908 the Cheerful took part in a Channel Fleet visit to the Forth of Forth.

In 1909-11 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla at the Nore, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, built around the older battleships. She was partly manned during this period.

In February 1909 the Cheerful was used to escort the Royal Yacht as it carried the King and Queen from Dover to Calais.

From May 1912-1913 she was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, one of the new Patrol Flotillas. She then moved to another patrol flotilla, the 8th Destroyer Flotilla at Chatham in 1913.

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

First World War

In August 1914 she was still with the Flotilla, which had moved to its wartime base on the Firth of Forth. She was based at Queensferry. 

In November 1914 she was part of the Eighth Flotilla, and was one of four destroyers in the 2nd Division of the Out Patrol, which covered the area between St Abb’s Head and Gregness, on either side of the Firth of Forth.

On 25 September 1914 the Cheerful was searching for U-boats to the east of May Island. U-19 and U-22 were both in the area, supporting a possible operation by the High Seas Fleet. At 3.30pm she reported spotting a torpedo come to the surface at the end of its run, after being fired at the Vigilant by U-22.

At 5.50pm on 26 September the Cheerful reported seeing a torpedo coming to the surface 1,000 yards to her port, having passed between herself and the Mallard, although no submarine was sighted. However this was a false report, as both of the German submarines had left the area by the end of 25 September, one moving north to the Moray Firth and the other heading home.

In January 1915 she was part of the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, a patrol flotilla

In June 1915 she was part of the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla, a patrol flotilla based at Rosyth.

In January 1916 she was one of six destroyers in the Eighth Flotilla. All six had been equipped with submarine sweeps and were operating in pairs, with one pair patrolling off May Island, one pair at stand by at Queensferry and one pair resting.

In October 1916 she was one of seven destroyers in the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth.

In January 1917 she was one of seven destroyers in the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla on the Firth of Forth

In June 1917 she was one of twenty three destroyers in the newly formed East Coast Convoys, Humber, formed as part of the general introduction of convoys in response to the success of unrestricted submarine warfare.

The Cheerful sank after she hit a mine off the Shetlands on 30 June 1917. Forty men were killed. The mine had been laid on 27 June by UC-33, part of a field of ten mines laid five miles to the south of Lerwick. At the time the Cheerful was escorting a north bound convoy into Lerwick. She broke in two and the forward part remained afloat although upside down.

-July 1900-: Commander Mark E. F. Kerr
-30 June 1917: Lt H.A.L. Bond

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




82 tons of coal capacity (Brassey)


215ft oa
210ft pp




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

Crew complement

52 (Brassey)

Laid down

 7 September 1896


14 July 1897


February 1900



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 (2 May 2019), HMS Cheerful (1897) ,

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