HMS Fairy (1897)

HMS Fairy (1897) was a C class destroyer that served with the Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla in 1914-1917, then the East Coast Convoys in 1917. She sank after ramming and sinking UC-75 on 31 May 1918.

Fairfield built three destroyers in the 1896-7 programme. They had four Thornycroft boilers in two stokeholds, with the second and third boilers sharing the central funnel.

The Fairy was the last of the three to be launched, on Saturday 29 May 1897.

The Fairy left Glasgow heading for Devonport in early July 1898. She was fitted with her guns, and almost immediately carried out her gunnery trials.

Pre-war career

On Friday 5 August 1898 the Fairy hit the sea wall while entering the Keyham basin at Devonport to have problems with her machinery fixed, and suffered damage to the starboard side of her bow. Several hull plates were damaged and had to be replaced. The accident was said to have been caused after the reversing gear of the engines failed to engage.

HMS Fairy in Victorian Livery
HMS Fairy in
Victorian Livery

The Fairy took part in the 1899 Naval Manoeuvres. She was part of the destroyer flotilla attached to the Reserve or ‘B’ Fleet, under Vice Admiral Sir Compton Domvile. The exercise involved three forces – a convoy heading from Halifax to Milford Haven, the ‘A’ Fleet, which was to start at Belfast and try and intercept the convoy, and the ‘B’ Fleet, which had slower but more powerful ships and was to try and defend the convoy. The A fleet was given torpedo boats, the B fleet destroyers. The exercises ended as a success for the B fleet, but the Fairy had to put into port at Stranraer to fix problems with her machinery during the exercises

In 1900-1905 she was part of the Devonport Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers.

Early in 1901 a scandal broke. On 28 February 1901 the Fairy had arrived at Devonport, and a surgeon from HMS Nile was sent over to examine her captain, Lt. and Commander W. A. Barkley (or Barkeley). He was found to be suffering from an ulcer on the left shin caused by an injury. He was taken to the Royal Naval Hospital, where it was discovered that he was suffering from alcoholism. In hospital he began to suffer from withdrawal symptoms, described as ‘alcoholic delirium’.

As a result Barkley was charged with drinking to such excess as to cause illness, which unfitted him for his duties. Barkley’s court martial began at Devonport on Monday 6 May 1901. His defence was that his symptoms were actually caused by a fever triggered by his leg injury and that no evidence for his drinking to excess had been produced, but this was dismissed by the court martial. Barkley was found guilty, dismissed from the Fairy, severely reprimanded and lost two years’ seniority.

In mid-March 1900 (after Barkley had left the ship at the end of February) the Fairy collided with the destroyers Osprey, Bat and Locust in Falmouth Harbour, causing damage to the Osprey that was repaired at Devonport, but only after the Osprey had suffered more damage when her own bow anchor knocked a hole in her hull!  The Fairy was also damaged, but remained active with the instructional flotilla for two weeks, before she was docked at Devonport on Monday 26 March 1900 to have the damage repaired.

In April 1901 she was one of eight destroyers from the Devonport command that paid a visit to Manchester, travelling to the city up the Ship Canal. As would be expected, there was a great deal of public interest in the visit, and crowds came to watch the ships as the moved up the canal, and as they were moored in Manchester.

In May 1901 she was one of three destroyers that visited Douglas, on their way from the Clyde to Kingstown, Ireland.

The Fairy took part in the 1901 naval manoeuvres, which began in late July. These involved two fleets – Fleet B began in the North Sea, and had the task of keeping the English Channel open to trade. Fleet X began off the north coast of Ireland, and had the task of stopping trade in the Channel. The Fairy was part of Squadron C, a force of destroyers from Devonport that joined Fleet B. This was the first time both sides in the annual exercises had been given an equal force of destroyers. The exercises ended with a victory for Fleet X. The destroyer forces didn’t live up to expectations, either in torpedo attack or as scouts. The Fairy was judged to have been captured the opposing fleet’s scouts by 31 July and sent back to Plymouth as a prisoner of war.

At the start of June 1903 the Fairy was sent to Barrow to help with the experimental trails of the submarine HMS A1, which had just been completed by Vickers. This was the first British designed destroyer to be completed for the Royal Navy, and wasn’t a very lucky ship, eventually sinking twice (once after being accidently rammed during a training exercise, with the loss of her entire crew, and the second time while being used to test an auto-pilot system for submarines), but on this occasion her trials went well. Even then she only narrowly escaped damage when a passenger steamer, the City of Belfast, almost rammed her while she was returning to dock.

At the start of November 1904 the Fairy replaced the Gipsy with the Devonport Instructional Flotilla.

In 1905 she was part of the 3rd Division of the Channel Fleet, after destroyers were attached directly to the battle fleet for the first time.

From 1907 she was part of the Devonport Flotilla, but by March 1909 she had moved to the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla of the Home Fleet (now the main battle fleet), which contained destroyers with a full crew complement.

This was a short lived move, as from 1909-1912 she was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. This contained the older battleships, and its destroyer flotillas were partly manned.

In 1913 she moved to the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth, one of the new patrol flotillas. Later in the year she moved again, to the 8th Destroyer Flotilla at Chatham, another of the patrol flotillas. Ships in these flotillas carried a reduced complement.

In July 1914 she was part of the Eighth Patrol Flotilla at Chatham, part of the Second Fleet of the Home Fleet.

First World War

At the start of the First World War the Fairy was based at Dales Voe having been detached from the 8th Destroyer Flotilla to form the Shetlands Patrol (with Bat, Star and Flying Fish). At 5pm on 1 August German transport ships were detected moving out of the Great Belt, heading north from Kiel. The Admiralty suspected that this might be the start of a German raid on Shetland, and so ordered the 2nd and 3rd Cruiser Squadrons, the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron and the four destroyers to move to the Shetlands. The destroyers reached Lerwick at 8pm on 3 August, but the raid scare soon passed.

In September the Flying Fish, Bat, Fairy and Star were detached from the Shetland patrol and sent to reinforce the patrol in the Moray Firth, arriving on 18 September.

In November 1914 she was one of eighteen destroyers to Admiral Jellicoe in his role as C-in-C of the Grand Fleet.

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

In June 1915 she was serving with the Grand Fleet as part of the Cromarty Patrol.

In January 1916 she was one of five destroyers based at Cromarty  that were attached to Admiral Jellicoe in his role as C-in-C of the Grand Fleet

In October 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers attached to the Grand Fleet but not allocated to any particular formation.

In January 1917 she was one of five destroyers in the Cromarty Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1917 she was still listed as one of twenty three destroyers in the newly formed East Coast Convoys, Humber, formed as part of the general introduction of convoys in response to the success of unrestricted submarine warfare, despite having just been sunk!

In early July 1917 the Fairy and the Albatross were escorting a north-bound convoy that was attacked by U-52. On 9 July the submarine torpedoed SS Prince Abbas and missed the SS Rigmor. The Fairy sighted a possible periscope and dropped a depth charge, but without any result. The two destroyers didn’t have much luck, and on 12 July the same submarine attacked a south bound convoy they were escorting and sank SS Frederika.

On 31 May 1918 the Fairy rammed UC-75, a much larger vessel. Both ships were sunk in the clash. There were fourteen survivors from the submarine

-before May 1910: Lt and Commander W.A. Barkeley
-April-June 1901-: Lt and Commander Cyril Asser
-June 1903-: Lt Parker

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons of coal capacity (Brassey)






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

Crew complement

60 (Brassey)

Laid down

19 October 1896


29 May 1897


August 1898



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 (7 May 2019), HMS Fairy (1897) ,

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