HMS Cygnet (1898)

HMS Cygnet (1898) was a D class destroyer that served in the Mediterranean early in her career and with the Nore Local Defence Flotilla throughout the First World War.

HMS Cygnet was one of three ships in the second batch of 30-knot destroyers ordered from Thornycroft, as part of the 1896-7 programme. She was similar to the earlier ‘Desperate class’, with Thornycroft’s own four cylinder compound engine and two funnels, but had improved lines that made her five feet longer.

The Thornycroft boats followed the standard basic layout with a turtleback foredeck, leading to the conning tower, which had the bridge and 12-pounder gun platform on top. The mast was between the forward funnel and the bridge. Two 6-pounders were mounted either side of the bridge, to allow three guns to fire forwards. One 6-pounder was on the port side close to the forward funnel, and another on the starboard side close to the aft funnel. Both of the torpedo tubes were carried between the rear funnel and the final 6-pounder, close to the stern. They had two map tables - one on the bridge and one between the funnels, and at least three wheels - on the bridge, in the conning tower and right at the stern. 

The three ships in the 1896-7 order were slightly longer than the earlier Thornycroft 30 knotters, but were otherwise similar.

The Thornycroft 30 knot destroyers had three boilers in two rooms, with a single boiler in the forward room and two in the rear room. The uptakes from No.1 and No.2 boilers were trunked into a single funnel. This was the same arrangement as in their 27 knot (‘A Class’) destroyers, but using more powerful larger boilers.

The Cygnet was launched on Saturday 15 January 1898. The naming ceremony was carried out by Miss Sylvia Baines, daughter of Sir Jervoise Athelstane Baines, C.S.I. (Companion of the Star of India), a senior member of the Indian Civil Service and a famous statistician.

In 1899 the Cygnet took part in speed and fuel efficiency trials. She reached 30.374 knots at 6,077ihp, consuming 2.229 pounds of coal per iHP per hour and 30.305 knots at 5,729ihp. She also ran a low speed trial, reaching 13.04 knots at 462ihp at a surprisingly high rate of fuel consumption of 1.82 pounds of coal per iHP per hour. One set of trials was carried out on Monday 15 May 1899.


The Cygnet was delivered to Chatham Dockyard on Tuesday 18 April 1899.

The Cygnet took part in the 1899 naval manoeuvres, where she was one of the destroyers allocated to the Reserve Fleet (as ‘B Flotilla), which was given the task of using slower capital ships and destroyers to protect a convoy against an attack by faster capital ships. Both fleets included large numbers of cruisers, and the aim was to learn more about how to integrate cruisers and battleships and how to use destroyers.

In early June 1901 the Cygnet collided with the Orwell just before the Mediterranean Squadron entered Pollenza Bay. The squadron was turning to starboard when the Cygnet’s steering gear broke, and she hit the Orwell on the pot side. The Cygnet’s bow was badly crumpled, but the Orwell escaped serious damage. Both ships were then sent to Malta for repairs.

The Cygnet took part in the Mediterranean Naval Manoeuvres of 1902. She formed part of Fleet X, which was given the task of escaping from two blockading fleets that were smaller individually, but larger when operating together. She was involved in a controversial clash on the night of 2-3 October. On the following morning the Commander-in-Chief judged that she was one of several destroyers that had been knocked out, but this judgment was later overturned by the umpires. The whole exercise was rather spoilt by the odd nature of the judging, with some decisions made at the time and others after the entire thing was over, and some ships remaining in action despite having been knocked out.

The Cygnet was still in the Mediterranean on Tuesday 17 February 1903 when she was part of a sizable fleet that arrived at Malta from Corfu.

On Saturday 2 July 1904 the Cygnet paid off and her crew transferred to the Coquette.

In 1905 the Cygnet was part of the Atlantic Fleet, based at Gibraltar. That fleet was disbanded in February 1906.

After the Atlantic Fleet was abolished, the Cygnet joined the Portsmouth Flotilla. In 1906 this was one of three that supported the Home Fleet Battleships.

The Cygnet remained with the Portsmouth Flotilla in 1907-9, when it was a local defence force.

In October 1907 the Cygnet was badly damaged when she was rammed by a barge that was being towed up the Forth. The Cygnet was anchored at the time, and suffered bad damage to her bows. She had to go to Leith for repairs.

The Cygnet took part in the 1908 Naval Manoeuvres, where she operated alongside the submarine depot ship Aeolus and a force of seven submarines.

In 1909-11 the Cygnet was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, still based at Portsmouth. This flotilla was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which contained the older battleships, and its destroyers were partly manned.

In 1911 the Cygnet moved to the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, at Devonport, another of the 3rd Division flotillas.

The Cygnet was still with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla in 1912 when it became a patrol flotilla, but then joined the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

On 23 December 1912 she left the Medway carrying a party from the Missions to Seamen on their annual visit to the lightships in the Thames and Medway estuaries, bring Christmas gifts (woolen comforts, literature, plum pudding and other gifts). 

In July 1914 the Cygnet was one of twelve destroyers in active commission at Sheerness/ Chatham.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of twelve destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In November 1914 she was one of twelve destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla. In mid-month they were to escort a force of monitors to Dunkirk.

In June 1915 she was one of eleven destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In January 1916 she was one of ten destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In October 1916 she was one of eight destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In January 1917 she was one of nine destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1917 she was one of seven destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In January 1918 she was one of twelve destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla, but was undergoing repairs.

In June 1918 she was one of six destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In November 1918 she was one of six destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla

In January 1920 she was listed as one of the destroyers to be sold off.

Lt & Commander Claude L. Bate: 16 July 1912-April 1913-
Lt & Commander Roy Bacchus: 16 December 1913-January 1914-
Lt George B. Bray: 20 November 1916-February 1919-

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots in theory


Four cylinder compound engines
Three boilers


215.5ft oa
208ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

25 September 1896


3 September 1898


February 1900

Broken Up


Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 October 2019), HMS Cygnet (1898) ,

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