HMS Lapwing (1911)

HMS Lapwing (1911) was an Acheron class destroyer that fought at Heligoland Bight, Dogger Bank and Jutland, then was based at Dover, Devonport and the north of Ireland, before ending the war in the Mediterranean. 

The Lapwing was laid down at Laird on 17 February 1911, launched on 29 July 1911 and commissioned in April 1912. 

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 Lapwing from the left HMS Lapwing 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 assigned to the Harwich Force, a ‘swing’ force that meant she operated with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea, and in the Channel, part of the long campaign against the U-boats.

On 18 August 1914 the Lapwing, Lizard, Phoenix and Goshawk, making up the 5th Division of the 1st Flotilla, were patrolling on the Broad Fourteens. The Germans sent out a raiding force to attack this patrol, and at some point just after 5.40am the German light cruiser Stralsund found the division and opened fire. At about 6.10am the first Fearless and the first reinforcements from the rest of the flotilla found the fight and called for more reinforcements. Captain Blunt in the Fearless believed the Stralsund to be the armoured cruiser Yorck, so ordered his forces to retreat south-west. Given that the Stralsund and Yorck were rather similar visually, with four funnels between similar looking fore and aft superstructures, and the light cruiser was actually slightly longer, this wasn’t a difficult mistake to make, especially as Blunt could only see her masts and funnels.

At about 7am the Stralsund broke off the action and turned north. The British flotilla came together, and her commanders came to the conclusion their foe had been the light cruiser Rostock (a very similar looking light cruiser). Blunt ordered his flotilla to turn back to the north to try and catch the German, but by this point she had escaped.

She was part of Division 5 of the First Flotilla during the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914).

At the start of the battle the Lapwing’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 Lapwing and the rest of 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 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 British opened 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.  Some of the British boats had to be left behind, and as a result ten of the Lapwing’s crew ended the battle as prisoners.

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 Stettin and the two British cruisers. At 11.20 the Acheron received an order to lead the 1st division in 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 and 5th Divisions (Goshawk, Lizard, Lapwing and Phoenix) followed her, and a long range gun battle followed. During this battle the Laertes was badly damaged, and the Lapwing prepared to take her in tow. After twenty minutes the Mainzturned 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 2nd and 3rd Divisions then joined up with Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers, which were about to enter the battle. Once the battlecruisers had entered the battle the Fearless was able to go to help the Laertes, after the Lapwing’s towing wire had parted.

On 21-22 October the Lapwing was part of a naval force that bombarded German positions at Lombartzyde on the Belgian coast. This helped prevent the Germans crossing the Yser River near the coast.

The Lapwing took part in an attempted seaplane attack on the German airship sheds at Cuxhaven on 25 October 1914. She was one of ten destroyers (Faulknor, Acheron, Archer, Ariel, Badger, Beaver, Hind, Hydra, Lapwing and Lizard) that were used to carry out a diversion off the Ems, which flows into the North Sea close to the German-Dutch border. The destroyer force was ignored by the Germans, and the entire raid ended in failure as the seaplanes were unable to reach their targets.

Early on 1 January 1915 the battleship HMS Formidable was torpedoed and sunk by U-24 while returning to port from gunnery exercises. The Lapwing was one of ten destroyers ordered out to sea to patrol in an area bounded by the line Brighton-Cape Antifer in the east and Cherbourg-Anvil Point in the west. Poor weather forced them into harbour on 1 January, but they soon resumed the patrol. Unsurprisingly no real submarines were spotted, but the Hornet reported being attacked just after 10.30am on 4 January, and an impressive array of U-boats were spotted over the next few days, even though none were actually operating in the channel at the time. The Hornet’s division returned to Harwich on 6 January.

At the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) she was part of the 5th Division of the First Flotilla (Goshawk, Phoenix, Lapwing). 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 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 15 February 1915 it was decided to move the 1st Destroyer Flotilla from Harwich to Rosyth, where it was to come under the command of the Vice-Admiral commanding the 3rd Battle Squadron. This would allow eight Grand Fleet destroyers currently based at Rosyth to return to Scapa, which would in turn allow seven older River or ‘E’ class destroyers to move from Scapa Flow to the south coast to be used to escort transport ships across the Channel. The first batch of destroyers from the flotilla (Acheron, Ariel, Attack, Badger, Beaver, Jackal, Lapwing and Sandfly, led by the cruiser Fearless) reached Rosyth on 18 February.

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.

In mid June the Goshawk, Phoenix, Lapwing and Attack supported a sweep across the middle of the North Sea by the 3rd Cruiser Squadron. The aim was to investigate any suspicious vessels, but it took them into an area occupied by several U-boats. Towards the end of the ill judged mission, the cruiser Roxburgh was hit, by the seventh torpedo to be fired at the force (but the first to hit!). The four destroyers were left with the damaged cruiser, while the rest of the force returned to Rosyth at top speed. The rest of the 1st Flotilla was sent out to help, and the Roxburgh also reached safety.

In January 1916 she was one of twenty one destroyers in the First Flotilla, made of the original I class boats and one flotilla leader. She was undergoing repairs on the Tyne, which were expected to be complete on 1 January.

On the eve of Jutland the Lapwing was with the part of the First Destroyer Flotilla that was with the battlecruiser fleet at Rosyth.  She sailed with the fleet on 30 May.

The flotilla was part of Admiral Beatty’s battle cruiser fleet. That fleet put to sea late on 30 May, and moved towards a rendezvous position about seventy miles to the south of the main Grand Fleet.

During the advance east across the North Sea the destroyers were used to guard the flanks of the battle cruiser fleet, while the light cruisers advanced ahead of the fleet. At 2.25pm on 31 May, just after the first contact between Beatty’s cruisers and the German cruisers, the destroyers were ordered to form an anti-submarine screen heading S.S.E. He then followed with his capital ships, in the hope of cutting off the retreat of the German cruisers that had been spotted. The German battlecruisers turned south, and retreated towards the main High Seas Fleet. This chase lasted until around 4.30, when the British spotted the German battleships of the High Seas Fleet, and Beatty was forced to abandon his attack and turn north to run towards the battleships of the Grand Fleet.

The two main fleets finally came together at about 6.30pm on 31 May. By this point the battleships of the German High Seas Fleet were heading north, while the battleships of the Grand Fleet were forming a line running roughly east to west in front of them. For a few minutes the British were able to concentrate their fire on the leading ships of the German line, but the Germans then carried out their famous sixteen point turn, and within a few minutes were heading away south into the North Sea mist. However Admiral Scheer then mis-judged the British movements, and turned back east in the hope that he could pass behind the main British force. Just after 7pm the Germans found themselves steaming straight towards Jelicoe’s battleships, and by 7.15 the bulk of the Grand Fleet was finally able to open fire on the Germans. Once again Scheer was forced to reverse course. During this phase of the battle the destroyer flotillas struggled to keep up with the fast moving battleships and rather disappear from the narrative. After more confused manoeuvres the two fleets came into range of each other for a third time after 8pm, but the Germans turned away for a third time, and disappeared into the mists by 8.35.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night battle, and at 9.17 ordered the fleet into its night cruising formation. The battleships formed up into lines in their divisions, with the destroyers following behind. The entire formation began to move south in an attempt to keep between the Germans and their home bases. By 10pm the destroyer flotillas were in line, with the 12th Flotilla at the eastern (left) end of the line, then the combined 9th and 10th Flotillas, 13th Flotilla, 4th Flotilla and finally the 11th Flotilla at the western (right) end of the line.

The Lapwing was at sea again when the Grand Fleet sailed in response to a new sortie by the High Seas Fleet in mid-August. At 7.45pm on 19 August she reported spotting a periscope and two torpedoes passing behind the battlecruiser Inflexible. This had been fired by either U-44 or U-65, both of which were in the area at the time.

Until June 1916 the entire class had been part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. In June the class was split, with some remaining with the flotilla and others joining the 3rd Battle Squadron, which had been moved south to the Thames.

This arrangement lasted until November, when the ships that were still with the 1st Flotilla were split – most went to Devonport, two to Portsmouth, while Phoenix and Lapwing joined the 6th Destroyer Flotilla at Dover. They were recorded as reaching Dover on 29 October to replace the Nubian and the Flirt

On 25 December the Admiralty decided to move sixteen M class destroyers to Dover. When the tenth and eleventh had arrived, the Lapwing and Phoenix were to move to Devonport. It took some time for this to happen, but both had moved by April.

When the Germans raided the Downs on 25 February 1917 the Lapwing was one of ten ‘stand by’ destroyers ordered to put to sea from Dover, but they saw nothing of the Germans.

When the Germans laid mines in the Irish Sea in mid-March 1917 the Lapwing and Acheron were at sea escorting HMS Hibernia.

In April 1917 the Phoenix and Lapwing moved from Dover to join eight of their sister ships in the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

In June 1917 she was one of seventeen destroyers in the Second Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

On 7 August 1917 the Lapwing was one of six destroyers that was leaving Lough Swilly to escort a troop convoy led by the Orama when a periscope and conning tower was spotted. Between them the destroyers dropped 13 depth charges in the area, but the submarine, possibly U-44, survived the attack.

In September-October 1917 the Lapwing was allocated to the Northern Division of the Coast of Ireland station.

In November 1917 the Lapwing moved to the Mediterranean, joining the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla

In January 1918 she was part of the destroyer force in the Mediterranean. On 19-20 January, when the Goeben and Breslau made their last sortie, she was on her way between the Adriatic and Alexandria.

In June 1918 she was part of the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla at Brindisi.

In November 1918 she was part of the large Fifth Destroyer Flotilla at Mudros.

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

The Lapwing was awarded battle honours for Heligoland, the Belgian Coast in 1914, Dogger Bank and Jutland

War Service
August 1914-September 1916: 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
November 1916-March 1917: 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Dover
April-August 1917: 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport
September-October 1917: Coast of Ireland, Northern Division
November 1917-June 1918: 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Mediterranean
July-August 1918: 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Brindisi
December 1918: Aegean Squadron

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

27 knots


3-shaft Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers




246ft oa


25ft 8in


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

Crew complement


Laid down

17 February 1911


29 July 1911


April 1912

Sold for break up

October 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 (19 August 2021), HMS Lapwing (1911) ,

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