HMS Derwent (1903)

HMS Derwent (1903) was a River class destroyer that served with the Ninth Flotilla in 1914-15, then at Portsmouth from 1915 until she hit a mine and sank on 2 May 1917 while escorting a convoy.

The Derwent was built to the original design, with her forward 6-pdr guns on sponsons on either side of the forecastle. This made them rather wet in some seas, and they were lifted to a higher position on ships from the 1902/3 batch and later.

HMS Derwent from the left
HMS Derwent from the left

The Derwent was one of two River class destroyers ordered from Hawthorn Leslie in the 1901-1902 batch. They both had two funnels. The two ships were given different engines – the Derwent used triple expansion engines, while the Eden used three-shaft Parsons turbines. They were then used for comparative trials, in which the turbines were judged to have been the winner. Turbine engines soon became the standard for all destroyers.

The Derwent was launched on Saturday 14 February 1903 and was christened by Mrs John A. Whitford, the wife of the Admiralty overseer who had overseen her construction.

In November 1903 the results of her speed trails were published in the press. Her best run saw her average 26.085 knots at 7,155ihp and overall she averaged just below 26 knots at 7,600ihp.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1905 published the results of her official tests. On her four hour speed trial she averaged 25,68 knots at 7,240ihp. On her four hour coal consumption trial she averaged 25.29knots at 2,580ihp and used 2.24lb of coal per ihp.

By 1912 Brassey’s listed her armament as four 12-pounders, after the five 6-pounders were replaced with three extra 12-pounders.


In early July 1904 the Derwent was passed into the Medway Fleet Reserve after being delivered to the Navy. Later in the month she was commissioned at Sheerness to replace the Haughty which had been damaged in a collision.

The Derwent took part in the torpedo craft manoeuvres of 1904 that helped prove that the River class design was valid. At the end of the exercises the destroyers were ordered to return to base from Milford, but they soon ran into heavy weather. The captain of the Derwent reported that the 30-knotter destroyers Arab and Flirt were soon taking water over their 12-pounder gun platforms, while his ship was only suffering from a little spray. An hour later all of the older destroyers had to put back to Milford, but the Rivers were able to complete the voyage. They did have to slow down from 15 knots to 12 knots after the Itchen suffered some damage to her breakwater, but this was seen as a precaution rather than a necessary reduction.

HMS Derwent at speed
HMS Derwent at speed

In 1904-1905 the Derwent was one of six River class destroyers that were part of the Nore Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers. The River class boats were all based at Felixstowe.

In late December 1904 the Derwent was ordered to pay off and then recommissioned as a tender to the Vivid, the general depot at Devonport. She was given a nucleus crew.

In 1906-1907 the Derwent was one of six River class destroyers in the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Channel Fleet, at that time the main battleship force of the Royal Navy.

In 1907-1909 the Derwent 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.

In August 1908 the Derwent accompanied the King, Queen, Prince of Wales and Princess Victoria as they inspected the Channel Fleet off Portland from the Royal Yacht.

In 1909-1911 the Derwent was one of six River class destroyers (although the Blackwater was lost in 1909) in the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, which supported the 1st Division of the Home Fleet. All of these destroyers were fully manned.

In 1911-12 the Derwent was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, which was made up of twenty-three River class destroyers and was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. This contained the older battleships and the destroyers were all partly manned.

In 1912-14 the Derwent was one of twenty five River class destroyers that formed the 9th Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, one of the new Patrol Flotillas.

In July 1914 she was one of sixteen River class destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla at Chatham.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of three River Class destroyers from the Ninth Flotilla that were still at Chatham, while most of the flotilla was either at sea or in the Tyne.

In November 1914 the Derwent was part of the 1st Division of the Ninth Flotilla, and was in the Tyne.

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

In June 1915 she was part of the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber, but was at Portsmouth.

In the October and November 1915 Navy Lists she was part of the large Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

In January 1916 she was undergoing repairs at Portsmouth, with no certain date for their completion.

In October 1916 she was one of nine destroyers in the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, all River class boats.

In January 1917 she was one of thirteen destroyers in the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, now a mix of types.

On 5 April 1917 the Derwent attacked a submarine off the Owers, off Selsey Bill, forcing it to submerge. However the submarine, probably UB-32, escaped intact and later on the same day sank the French merchant ship Ernest Legouve, which was being towed from London to Buenos Aires with a cargo of cement.

On 2 May 1917 the Derwent, Teviot and T.B. No.21 were escorting a convoy of four transports, including the hospital ship Grantully Castle when the Derwent hit a mine that had been laid close to Le Havre earlier in the day by UC-26. The Derwent broke in half, and the forward part capsized. The rear part remained upright and afloat for seven minutes, allowing her commander, Lt Edward Chicheley Thornton, to hail the ship from the sea, where he had been blown by the blast! According to Naval Staff Monograph No.19 62 of her 86 crewmen were rescued as the seas were calm. Other sources give different figures – 13 survivors and 58 men lost.

Lt-Commander William H.S.S. Thomson: August 1914-Janaury 1915-
Lt Edward Chicheley Thornton: -2 May 1917

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



Modified Yarrow boilers




225.5ft oa
220ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

12 June 1902


14 February 1903


July 1904



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 (18 February 2020), HMS Derwent (1903) ,

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