HMS Erne (1903)

HMS Erne (1903) was a River class destroyer that was under the direct command of the C-in-C of the Grand Fleet early in the First World War, before being lost when she ran aground near Rattray Head on 6 February 1915

The Erne was built by Palmer at Jarrow on Tyneside. The Erne was launched on Wednesday 14 January 1903, only seven months after the contract to build her was signed.

HMS Erne from the left
HMS Erne from the left

The Erne was built to the original River class 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.

The Erne was one of three River class destroyers ordered from Palmers in the 1901-1902 batch, the first group of Rivers to be ordered. The Palmers boats all had four funnels, in two pairs.

The Erne seems to have undergone an unusually lengthy series of trials in the Tyne, which were recorded in passing in the local press. She was reported arriving back in the Tyne after trials on Sunday 19 April 1903. She carried out preliminary trials on 20 April 1903. The Erne left the Tyne for trials on 7 May 1903, and was recording returning on 23 May 1903, and departed for more trials on 3 June. She sailed from the Tyne for more trials on 28 August. On these trials her best average on a pair of runs with and against the tide was 27.38 knots, and her best time on the three hour trial was 26.47 knots. This was slower than the 30-knotters, but was achieved at a more realistic load, and could be maintained for much longer at sea.

She carried out more trials on 17-20 November and again ending on 10 December. She departed for more trials on 13 January 1904 and again on 9 February. This series of trials finally came to an end in late February, and on 24 February 1904 she departed for Devonport, arriving on Friday 26 February.


On 1 May 1904 she and the Exe departed from Plymouth, heading for Malta. She was part of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1904-5.

In 1905-6 she served on the China Station.

In 1906-7 she was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla of the Channel Fleet, having returned home from the Far East.

She took part in the 1906 naval manoeuvres, serving with the Red Fleet. She was captured by the Blue side on 25 June when she was captured by the Blue second class cruiser HMS Sappho 40 miles from Falmouth.

In September 1906 two of her crew, Petty Officer Hood and Able Seaman Gaynor, were badly injured when they fell 20 feet from her deck to the bottom of the dry dock at Sheerness.

In 1907-9 she was part of either the 2nd or 4th Destroyer Flotillas, both fully manned as part of the Home Fleet.

In 1909-12 she was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla based at the Nore. This was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which contained the older battleships, and was a sign that the River class destroyers were starting to be outclassed by newer ships.

In the summer of 1910 the Erne was part of a flotilla of destroyers that took part in a cruise up the East Coast of England and Scotland, starting from Portland (Chelmire, Moy, Erne, Liffey, Boyne and Thelmer). In August they were at Dundee, where Allan Hill, one of the Erne’s stokers, suffered a head injury.

In 1912-14 she was part of the 9th Destroyer Flotilla on the Nore, one of the Patrol Flotillas.

In March 1914 Frank Baldock, one of her stokes, was tried for deliberately extinguishing street lamps in Dorchester on the night of 21 March while drunk. One of his officers spoke up for Baldock, who had a good conduct badge and was up for promotion, and the case was dismissed, although Baldock had to pay 7s 6d costs.

In June 1914 she was one of eight River class destroyers that were attached to the First Fleet, but not allocated to one of the Destroyer Flotillas.

First World War

In August 1914 she was part of the Second Battle Squadron of what soon became the Grand Fleet, and was based at Scapa Flow.

In October 1914 the Erne received a number of care parcels raised in Exeter, showing she still had a connection to the south-west.

In November 1914 she was recorded as being one of eighteen destroyers directly under the control of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Jellicoe (by November the Home Fleet had become the Grand Fleet, but some references to the older name still remained in the Navy’s Pink List of warship locations.

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

The Erne was wrecked on Rattray Head on 6 February 1915. She ran aground 800 yards to the south of Rattray Head in a severe easterly gale. She couldn’t be refloated, and she was abandoned as a wreck in October. In November a survey found that her back had been broken, and she was sold for scrap in January 1906 for £405. After her loss 36 men from her crew were sheltered at the Aberdeen Sailors’ Home. Luckily none of her crew were lost in the incident.

Lt & Com John P. Landon: 31 July 1912-January 1914-

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed







233.5ft oa
225ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

3 July 1902


14 January 1903


February 1904


6 February 1915

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 (29 October 2019), HMS Erne (1903) ,

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