HMS Chelmer (1904)

HMS Chelmer was a River class destroyer that was on the China station at the outbreak of war in 1914, but moved to the Mediterranean late in the year. She took part in the Gallipoli campaign, and spent the rest of the war in the Mediterranean.

The original River class boats carried their forward 6-pdr guns on sponsons on either side of the forecastle, but this made them too low and rather wet in some circumstances. From the 1902/3 batch onwards the forward guns were thus moved to a higher position alongside the 12-pdr gun.

HMS Chelmer at Mudros, 1915
HMS Chelmer at Mudros, 1915

The Chelmer was one of two boats ordered from Thornycroft in the 1903/4 batch. Both had two funnels. Their hull shape was based on that of TB 98, but enlarged and with a modified stern.

The Chelmer carried her forward 12-pounder on a stubby conning tower. In July 1904 she lacked the guns alongside the chart house, but they were installed soon afterwards. Her rear 6-pounder was close to the stern. The rear torpedo tube was between that gun and the boats. The forward torpedo tube was between the two funnels. She had two single funnels, with the rear one about half way along the hull. The two side guns were staggered, with the port gun level with the rear funnel and the starboard gun a little further aft.

The Chelmer was launched on Thursday 8 December 1904 at Chiswick.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1906 published the results of her four hour speed trial. She averaged 25.70 knots at 8,084 ihp.

By 1912 Brassey’s Naval Annual listed her as being armed with four 12-pounders, after the 6-pounders were replaced across the River class as they were no longer felt to be effective

Pre-War Career

In 1905-1907 the Chelmer was one of three River class boats in the Devonport Flotilla, one of three flotillas that supported the Home Fleet battleships. 

In 1907-1909 the Chelmer was one of fourteen River class destroyers in the 1st or 3rd Destroyer Flotillas of the Channel Fleet, which was now becoming less important. As a result its destroyers only had nucleus crews.

HMS Chelmer from the left
HMS Chelmer from the left

On Wednesday 4 March 1909 the Doon collided with and sank the trawler Halcyon off the Owers Lightship. The Chelmer was sailing with the Doon and helped rescue the crew of the trawler. As was so often the case the lightly constructed destroyer also suffered heavy damage, in this case to her bows.

In the summer of 1910 the Chelmer was part of a flotilla of destroyers that took part in a cruise up the East Coast of England and Scotland, starting from Portland (Chelmer, Moy, Erne, Liffey, Boyne and Thelmer). In August they were at Dundee

In 1909-1913 the Chelmer was part of the Mediterranean Destroyer Flotilla, one of six River class destroyers that served there for at least part of that period.

In 1913 the Chelmer was one of four River class destroyers that moved to the China Station, joining three other River class boats that had been there since 1911.

At the outbreak of the First World War the Chelmer was posted on the China Station.

In July 1914 the Chelmer was one of eight destroyers on the China Station.

First World War

In August 1914 the Chelmer was one of three destroyers on the China Station based at Hong Kong.

On 1 September 1914 the German liner Tannenfels left Manila with 6,000 tons of coal onboard, to be used to supply German warships. However the British intercepted a radio message, and that allowed the Chelmer to intercept her in the Basilan Strait on 14 September. This is the strait between Mindanao and Basilan islands, and was claimed as territorial waters by the Americans. This thus led to a diplomatic incident. At the time the Chelmer had been based at Sandakan, the HQ of the North Borneo Company and her main task was to watch for any German colliers in the area.

In November 1914 she was one of eight destroyers on the China Station based at Hong Kong.

The fall of Tsingtau to the Japanese on 7 November and the destruction of the Emden reduced the need for British warships in the Far East, and on 17 November Admiral Jerram was ordered to send his river class destroyers to Egypt.  The Colne, Jed, Chelmer and Welland were ordered to Singapore, where they were joined by the Kennet after she completed a minor refit. The flotilla then left for Egypt on 30 November. They reached Suez on 28 December 1914 and were ordered to go to Malta.

On 18 March the Allies carried out a disastrous attempt to force the narrows at Gallipoli, using battleships to bombard the shore forts while the minesweepers cleared the way. However three battleships, the French Bouvet and the British Irresistible and Ocean were all lost. The Ocean hit a mine while attempting to rescue the Irresistible. It quickly became clear she was going to sink, and her captain ordered the Colne, Jed and Chelmer to come alongside and rescue his crew. The Ocean was then allowed to drift in the hope that she would end up out of danger.

On 25 April 1915 the Chelmer took part in the landings at Anzac Cove, one of eight destroyers involved in the action. Six of the destroyers carried troops and used their ship’s lifeboats to land them on the beach. Most of the ships involved in the action came under heavy machine gun fire. At least one man was killed in action on the Chelmer.

Early on 5 May 1915 the Chelmer was one of four destroyers (Colne, Chelmer, Usk and Ribble) were used to support a landing party that attempted to raid an observation station at Gaba Tepe, but surprise was lost and the party ended up being pinned down close to the beach, from where they had to be rescued under cover of the destroyer’s guns.

On 25 May 1915 the battleship HMS Triumph was sunk by U-21 while taking part in a shore bombardment from a position off Gaba Tepe between Suvla Bay and Cape Helles. The Chelmer had been allocated to protect her, taking up that role at 7am. At 12.25 the Chelmer spotted the wash from the submarine, but it was too late and the Triumph was hit. She soon started to list, and the Chelmer dashed in to help rescue some of her crew, placing her bow under the battleship’s stern walk. This was a quick operation, as the Triumph capsized only ten minutes after being hit. However most of her crew abandoned ship, and the Chelmer and her boats picked up over 500 men.

On 27 May the battleship HMS Majestic also fell to U-21. This time the Chelmer rescued over 500 of her crew.

After the two battleships were sunk the role of providing on-demand fire support for the troops was passed to the destroyers. The Chelmer and the Colne were posted off Anzac Beach.

In June 1915 she was one of twenty two destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean, supporting operations at Gallipoli.

On 29 June the Chelmer, Pincher and Humber opened fire on Turkish heavy guns, during the battle of Gully Ravine, one of the more successful Allied attacks at Gallipoli.

In January 1916 she was one of eight River Class destroyers in the sizable destroyer forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and on 27 December 1915 had left Mudros heading for Port Iero.

The Chelmer was awarded the Dardanelles battle honour.

In October 1916 she was one of seven River Class destroyers in the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla of the Mediterranean Fleet.

In January 1917 she was one of eight River Class destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In June 1917 she was one of eight River Class destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In January 1918 she was one of eight River Class destroyers in the Mediterranean.

When the two German warships in Turkish service made their last sortie in late January the Chelmer was one of three destroyers that had been detached from the Aegean Squadron to serve in the Adriatic.

In June 1918 she was one of eight River Class destroyers in the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla based at Brindisi.

In November 1918 she was one of eight River Class destroyers in the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla based at Mudros.

The Chelmer was broken up in 1920.

Lt & Commander Gerald C. Dickens: November 1911-April 1913-
Lt & Commander Hugh T. England: 11 October 1913-January 1914
Lt in Command Henry A. Simpson: 3 June 1918-December 1918
Lt Douglas C. Way (acting): 8 December 1918-February 1919-
Gunner Frank R. Dobson: - December 1919-

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed





225ft oa
220ft pp


23ft 10.5in


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

Crew complement


Laid down

11 December 1904


8 December 1904


June 1905

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 (14 April 2020), HMS Chelmer (1904) ,

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