HMS Ferret (1911)

HMS Ferret was an Acheron class destroyer that served with the First Flotilla at Harwich in 1914-16, fighting at the battle of Heligoland Bight, then with the 3rd Battle Squadron in 1916-17 before becoming a minelayer, ending the war as part of the slow division of the 20th Destroyer Flotilla of Minelayers based on the East Coast.

The Ferret was laid down at White on 6 September 1910, launched on Wednesday 12 April 1911 and commissioned in October 1911.

In July 1914 she was one of twenty destroyers in the First Flotilla of the First Fleet, which contained the more modern battleships. At the time the Flotilla contained all of the Admiralty, Yarrow, Thornycroft and Parsons types of the Acheron or I class of destroyers.

HMS Ferret from the left HMS Ferret from the left

In August 1914 she was one of twenty I class destroyers in the First Flotilla of what was about to become the Grand Fleet, and was at sea when war broke out. The First Flotilla was allocated to the Harwich Force, a ‘swing force’ that could be used to support the Grand Fleet or the Channel Fleet as required.

The Ferret  took part in the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914). She was part of Division 3 of the First Flotilla (Ferret, Forester, Druid and Defender).

At the start of the battle the Ferret’s flotilla, lead by the cruiser Fearless, were second in the British line, behind Commodore Tyrwhitt in the Arethusa (leading the Third Destroyer Flotilla). The fighting began when Tyrwhitt detached some of his destroyers to chase down a German destroyer, before joining in the chase with the rest of his flotilla. However the Germans were aware of the British plan, and had set a trap of their own. Tyrwhitt soon found himself under attack by two German cruisers, Stettin and Frauenlob. The Fearless and her flotilla reached the scene just after 8am, and the Stettin began to withdraw to the east.Fearless and the First Flotilla gave chase, but soon afterwards the German guns on Heligoland began to fire, and Tyrwhitt gave the order to begin the second part of the British plan, a sweep to the west. The Fearless and her destroyers received the order at 8.12am, and turned west, leaving the Stettin alone.

At 8.15 the flotilla sighted the German destroyer V-187. Fearless opened fire, and Division 5 was ordered to give chase. However a few minutes later the order was cancelled in the mistaken belief that V-187 was actually the Acasta class destroyer Lurcher , which was in the area working with her submarine flotilla. At 8.25 V-187 was sighted again and Division 5 moved to attack. V-187 attempted to escape to the south, only to run into the cruisers Nottingham and Lowestoft. She attempted to turn east, but found her route blocked by Ferret and the rest of Division 3. V-187 then attempted to escape by turning north to run through the 5th Division, but was caught and knocked out of action. At 8.50 Divisions 3 and 5 were left to finish her off, while the Fearless rejoined the rest of the flotilla, still moving west. In the belief that the battle was over the British destroyers lowered their boats to begin a rescue attempt, but the Germans had not yet surrendered, and in the belief that they were about to be boards opened fire with one remaining gun. The Britishopened fire again, and V-187 sank at 9.10. The rescue attempt was then resumed, but the German cruiser Stettin then appeared and opened fire.  The Ferret closed on the Stettinand fired a torpedo at her, which missed, before the British destroyers withdrew.

At about 11am, early in the third phase of the battle, the damaged cruiser Arethusa became involved in a battle with the German cruiser Stralsund. The Fearless and the entire First Flotilla were ordered to launch a torpedo attack on the German cruiser, which withdrew in the face of such a large attack. The Arethusa, Fearless and their destroyers then turned back west. However a few minutes later the German cruiser Stettin appeared from the east, and another fight began, this time between the Stettinand the two British cruisers. At 11.20 the Acheron received an order to lead the 1st divisionin a torpedo attack on the German cruiser and turned back to head towards the last known location of this fight.

At about the same time the rest of the flotilla sighted another German cruiser, the Mainz, which appeared to their south-west, heading north across their course on her way to help the Stralsund. The 2nd Division turned north to try and engage her. The 3rd (Ferret, Forester, Druid and Defender) and 5th Divisions followed her, and a long range gun battle followed. The Ferret also fired torpedoes, but without success. However after twenty minutes the Mainz turned though 180 degrees and began to run to the south, after sighting Commodore Goodenough’s four light cruisers coming from the north. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions turned west to join up with the light cruisers, while the 5th Division turned south to try and keep up with the Mainz. The heavier ships then dominated the later stages of the battle.

During the battle the Defender fired 150 4in shells and 52 12-pounder shells.

On 11 October the Ferret was part of a destroyer patrol off the mouth of the Scheldt which was attacked by U-8. The submarine fired a torpedo at her, but was spotted at 11.42am and the Ferret turned towards her in an attempt to ram. The torpedo missed, and the Ferret came very close to success, actually knocking the magnifying lens off the top of the U-boat’s periscope.

In November 1914 she was part of the First Flotilla, which now contained nineteen I class boats and three new M class boats. The Ferret was at Sheerness having defects repaired. She was also to be installed with a modified sweep

In November the Ferret was one of eight destroyers that were sent from Harwich to support the four Duncan class battleships when they bombarded Zeebrugge on 23 November,

At the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) she was part of the 2nd Division of the First Flotilla (Ferret, Forester, Defender and Druid). This was the same group of ships that had formed the 3rd Division at Heligoland Bight. However this battle was dominated by the battlecruisers, and the destroyers had little to do.

On 30 January 1915 the Defender, Druid, Ferret and Hind left Harwich to escort the Irresistible to Portland. They then moved to Sheerness, where they were used as escort ships while submarines were known to be in the area.

On 3 February 1915 the Defender and Ferret left Portland to escort the Implacable to Devonport, where her guns were to be changed.

On 6 February the Ferret’s division escorted the Collingwood on part of her voyage from Scapa to Portsmouth for a refit.

On 9 February 1915 the Attack, Defender, Druid, Forester, Goshawk, Lapwing, Ferret and Phoenix replaced a group of M class destroyers on escort duty, covering minelayers that were laying a new mine field across the Dover Straits, in an attempt to stop German submarines operating so freely in the English Channel.

On 24 February the Defender, Druid, Ferret and Forester were chosen to escort the transports carrying the Royal Naval Division on the first stage of their voyage from Avonmouth to the Dardanelles. They were to reach Avonmouth by 27 February, but it was soon realised that in the winter weather the destroyers were unable to keep up with the transports, so most of them sailed without escort. The destroyers remained at Avonmouth until the start of march, when they were replaced by other destroyers from Harwich.

In June 1915 she was one of twenty one destroyers in the First Flotilla at Rosyth, made of the original I class boats and one flotilla leader.

From June-October 1916 she was one of eight destroyers in the Destroyer Flotilla attached to the Third Battle Squadron. This was a force of older battleships, led for most of the time by HMS Dreadnought, which was moved south to the Thames to guard against any further German raids on the east coast.

In November 1916 the ships that had remained in the First Flotilla were scattered to other units, and the Destroyer Flotilla of the Third Battle Squadron became the new First Destroyer Flotilla. This arrangement lasted into March 1917.

At the end of November 1916 the Ferret, Sandfly and Moorsom escorted the minelayer Princess Margaret when she laid 500 mines in the Heligoland Bight, in the area west of the Borkum Light vessel.

In mid January 1917 the Druid, Defender and Ferret were hunting submarines between the Isle of Wight and Lyme Regis. They may have come close to UB-37, just before that submarine was sunk by the Q Ship Penshurst.

On 18 January 1917 the Ferret was hit by a torpedo from UC-21 while operating in the English Channel. One crewman died of his wounds. At the time the Ferret was on an anti-submarine patrol on the Portsmouth-Havre route, and she never saw the U-boat or even the torpedo track. At first it was believed that she had hit a mine, and it was only when part of a torpedo pistol was discovered in the damaged area that it was realised she had been torpedoed.

In April 1917 the Ferret was still with the First Destroyer Flotilla when it lost its connection to the battleships and moved to Portsmouth. However she was soon chosen to be converted into a minelayer, and didn’t appear with the First Flotilla after April. As a minelayer she could carry 38 mines, but this reduced her speed to 25 knots.

In June 1917 she was serving as a minelayer in the Nore command, although she started the month at Portsmouth. From July 1917-February 1918 she was part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla on the East Coast, serving as a Mine Layer.

In January 1918 she was serving as a minelayer in the Portsmouth command.

From March-December 1918 the Ferret served with the 20th Destroyer Flotilla, based at Immingham on the Humber, still serving as a mine layer. From June 1918 onwards she was part of the Slow Division of the flotilla.

In June 1918 and November 1918 she was one of eleven destroyer-minelayers in the Twentieth Destroyer Flotilla.

In November 1918 she was one of eleven destroyer-minelayers in the Twentieth Destroyer Flotilla at Immingham.

In November 1919 she was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Portsmouth Reserve. She was sold to be broken up in May 1921.

The Ferret was awarded battle honours for Heligoland, Dogger Bank and operations off the Belgian Coast in 1917

War Record
August 1914-May 1916: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet (Harwich Force)
June-October 1916: Destroyer Flotilla, 3rd Battle Squadron
November 1916-March 1917: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, 3rd Battle Squadron
April 1917: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Portsmouth
July 1917-February 1918: 7th Destroyer Flotilla, East Coast, Mine Layer
March-December 1918: Slow Division, 20th Destroyer Flotilla, East Coast, Mine Layer

Displacement (standard)

778t

Displacement (loaded)

990t

Top Speed

27 knots

Engine

Admiralty Type:
3-shaft Parsons turbines
3 White-Forester boilers
13,500shp

Range

 

Length

246ft oa

Width

25ft 8in

Armaments

Two 4in BL Mk VIII guns
Two 12-pounder/ 12cwt guns
Two 21in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

70

Laid down

6 September 1910

Launched

12 April 1911

Completed

October 1911

Sold

May 1921

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 (23 June 2021), HMS Ferret (1911), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Ferret_1911.html

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