HMS Ettrick (1903)

HMS Ettrick (1903) was a River class destroyer that began the war with the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla based on the Tyne, but soon moved south to join the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, where she helped protect troop ships crossing the channel. In July 1917 she was hit by a torpedo, losing her bows. She many not have been fully repaired, but from December 1917 she was listed as an active warship in the Navy List, serving on the Humber and at Portsmouth.

The Ettrick 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.

The Ettrick was one of three River class destroyers ordered from Palmers in the 1901-1902 batch, the first batch of River class destroyers. They all had four funnels, in two pairs.

In late October 1903 she completed her full speed consumption trials on the Tyne, consuming 29.5 tons of coal over a 4 hour trial, generating 7,067hp and averaging 25.3 knots. On Tuesday 3 November she carried out a 4 hour full speed trial and circling, steering and stop/ start trials. In February 1904 she was inspected by officers from the Fleet Reserve, in preparation for her first real voyage, from Jarrow to Devonport. She arrived at Devonport on Wednesday 10 February 1904, after a rough passage in which she was forced to seek shelter at Dartmouth on 8-9 February. During the storm she proved to be a good sea boat, a key feature of the River class ships. 

HMS Ettrick from the right
HMS Ettrick from the right

She was part of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1904-5. She reached Malta on 17 May 1904.

In June 1904 part of her crew made a visit to Rome, where they visited the Vatican.

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.

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

In 1907-8 the Ettrick was one of a number of River class destroyers that had their five 6-pounders removed and replaced with three 12-pounder 8cwt guns, two replacing the forward 6-pounders and one on the centreline aft.

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

In late May 1914 she was supporting sea plane exercises off Dundee when the crew of Seaplane No.77 had a rather embarrassing mishap. While landed on the sea the engine backfiring, knocking the starting handle into the sea. This left the crew without any way to re-start their engine and they had to be towed back to base by the Ettrick

In June 1914 the Ettrick was one of sixteen destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla at Chatham, one of the Patrol Flotillas.

First World War

In August 1914 the Ettrick was still part of the Ninth Flotilla, but this was now split between several ports, with ships at Jarrow, Chatham, Sheerness and in the Tyne. The Ettrick was one of seven destroyers based on the Tyne.

In November 1914 the Ettrick was one of four destroyers that formed part of the 1st Division of the 9th Flotilla, which was now based in the Tyne. The Ettrick was allocated to ‘Area 1’.

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

This flotilla consisted of the Pathfinder class scout cruiser Patrol and twelve destroyers, and was normally split into four divisions. One would be at Immingham in the Humber, having their boilers cleaned. The other three, each of three destroyers, were based on the Tyne and Tees, with the task of patrolling the area between St Abb’s Head in the north and Flamborough Head in the south. In March this force had to cope with the appearance of German U-boats off the east coast.

At the end of March 1915 the Beagle class destroyers, which had been escorting troops across the Channel, were sent to the Dardanelles. The Ettick was one of eight destroyers that were moved south to take over from them, forming the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla.  

In June 1915 she had been moved to the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, which now contained seventeen destroyers a mix of the older 27-knotters and 30-knotters and newer River class boats.

In January 1916 she was one of eighteen destroyers with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, and one of two that carried a high speed submarine sweep, one of the earliest anti-submarine weapons.

In October 1916 she was one of nine River class destroyers in a new Escort Flotilla, based at Portsmouth.

In January 1917 she was one of thirteen destroyers in the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, still mainly made up of River class ships, but with two Acheron class and one Acorn class destroyer as well.

In June 1917 she was one of nine destroyers in the Portsmouth Escort Flotilla, now all River class ships, supported by a force of P-ships, smaller anti-submarine warfare vessels.

The Ettrick was badly damaged by a mine in the English Channel on 7 July 1917, with the loss of forty-eight men.

On 7 July 1917 the Ettrick was hit by a torpedo that had just missed the Landrail. It hit just behind the fore-bridge, and cut her in two. The bow capsized and sank in 5 minutes, with a heavy loss of life – in total 48 of her crew were lost. The rear part remained afloat and was towed into Portsmouth. The torpedo might have been fired by U.C.61 which was then heading back to Zeebrugge. The Ettrick was considered to have been sunk, although she was later allocated to other forces.

The December 1917 annex to the Navy List places her with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, based on the Humber, and involved in escorting the East Coast Convoys.

In the January 1918 Pink List she was still officially part of the large Seventh Destroyer Flotilla, based on the Humber, but she was undergoing repairs at Portsmouth.

In the January 1918 Navy List she was one of nine destroyers that formed the First Destroyer Flotilla, based at Portsmouth. All nine were now River class ships. This flotilla had been part of the Grand Fleet until November 1916, then part of the Harwich Force until April 1917 when it was moved to Portsmouth, where it spent the rest of the war.

By April 1918 she carried two depth charge throwers and twenty-two charges. One of the light 12-pounders was to be converted to high angle fire and the rear torpedo tube was to be removed.

She was listed as part of the First Flotilla in the June 1918 Pink List (the Navy’s working list of warship locations) and the July 1918 Navy List.

In November 1918 she was still officially based at Portsmouth with the First Destroyer Flotilla, but was one of two River class ships that had been loaned to the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber, which makes it unlikely that she had been hulked by this point.

She was listed in the December 1918 Navy List, complete with a commanding officer, second officer, gunner and engineer, three of whom had joined her after the torpedo damage.

Lt & Commander Alexander G. Fleming: 28 November 1912-January 1914-
Lt George H. Wylie: 4 March 1918-December 1918-
Lt George L. H Dean, DSC (temporary): - February 1919-

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed







233.5ft oa
225ft pp



Armaments (as built)

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

Armament (in service)

Four 12-pounder guns

Crew complement


Laid down

9 July 1902


28 February 1903


February 1904

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 (4 November 2019), HMS Ettrick (1903) ,

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