HMS Leopard (1897)

HMS Leopard (1897) was a C class destroyer that began the First World War with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber, but was soon moved north to Scapa Flow. From 1917 she served as a convoy escort, taking part in the first Norwegian convoy. She ended the war with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber.

The Vickers 30-knotters had four Thornycroft boilers in two stokeholds, with the second and third boilers sharing a single funnel. They followed the standard general layout, with a turtleback foredeck, with a conning tower with gun platform and bridge above just behind the turtledeck. Two 6-pounder guns were on either side of the conning tower, two on the sides of the ship and one on the stern.

On Monday 1 May 1899 a navigating party was sent from Devonport to Barrow to collect the Leopard. She arrived at Devonport on Thursday 4 May 1899.

In 1899 the Leopard took part in speed and fuel efficiency trials. She reached 30.135 knots at 6,848ihp, consuming 2.299 pounds of coal per iHP per hour and 30.135 knots at 6,415ihp. This was not the only example from the 1899 trials in which higher power didn’t lead to higher speed, and indicates the role played by sea condition and weather in speed trials. These results were later published in Brassey’s Naval Annual for 1900.

The Leopard was commissioned on Saturday 22 July 1899 to replace the Gipsy in that year’s naval manoeuvres, after the Gipsy broke down. She used the same crew, and almost immediately departed for Milford Haven to join the fleet.

Pre-War Service

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

The Leopard took part in the 1900 naval manoeuvres, when she formed part of the Devonport division of Fleet B, the defensive fleet. Fleet A was smaller, but was expecting reinforcements from the Mediterranean, suggesting that the potential enemy at this stage was France. On the first day of the exercises the Leopard successfully captured the fleet auxiliary Les Reaulx, a water distilling ship.

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.

On Saturday 25 May 1901 three of her stokers drowned while attempting to row ashore at Helensburgh on the Clyde. The accident was blamed on an unsafe boat, and it delayed the Leopard on her way from the Clyde to Kingstown, Ireland.

The Leopard 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 Leopard was part of a force of destroyers from Devonport that joined Fleet X. 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.

In late January 1902 the Leopard had to return to port at Portsmouth with a broken propeller.

In August 1902 it was announced that she was to undergo a refit at the cost of £6,000.

By March 1903 the refit had been completed, but early in the month she was caught by a squall of wind while leaving the docks at Barrow and hit the dock wall, causing damage to several stern plates that took some time to repair.

The Leopard was to take part in the 1903 naval manoeuvres, but her engines broke down on the voyage from Devonport to Queenstown and she had to be towed into harbour by the destroyers Lively and Viper. She arrived at midnight on Wednesday 22 July 1903.

In 1905-1907 she was part of the Devonport Flotilla, supporting the older battleships of the Home Fleet.

On Tuesday 7 August 1906 the Leopard hit a buoy while attempting to move into the Keyham Basin at Devonport, suffering damage below the water line. She began to take in water and had to be grounded between Wilcove and Tor Point, At low tide the hole was revealed, and enough repairs were carried out to allow her to be towed to the dockyard late on the same day.

In 1907-1909 she was one of the destroyers attached to the Channel Fleet, which then contained the most modern battleships in home waters.

In 1909-1912 she was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which contained the older battleships. She had a reduced complement during this period.

From 1912 she as part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, one of the new patrol flotillas, again with a reduced complement.

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

First World War

In August 1914 the Seventh had moved to its new war base on the Humber, but at the outbreak of war the Leopard was reported to be at sea.

In November 1914 the Leopard was part of No.5 Patrol, based at Yarmouth, but was going to move to No.4 Patrol at Grimsby after being replaced by the Albatross.

In November 1914, when the Germans raided Yarmouth, the Leopard was one of six patrol destroyers based there. Their task was to patrol the area from Cromer Knoll to Yarmouth. On the morning of 3 November she was the middle of three destroyers that put to sea to check the swept mine free channel along the coast. She was a mile behind the leading ship, HMS Lively, the first British ship to spot the incoming German raiders. While the Lively moved to support the minesweeper Halcyon, nearest to the Germans, Lt V.S. Butler, commander of the Leopard, had the duty of reporting the raid. He signalled to the Violet, the flagship of the flotilla’s commander, that ‘two battle cruisers and two armoured cruisers open fire on Lively and myself’. The German gunnery wasn’t terribly effective at this stage, and neither destroyer was hit.

On 7 November 1914 she was one of twelve destroyers that the Admiralty ordered to move from the patrol flotillas to Scapa Flow, and she departed for her new base on 8 November.

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

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

In January 1916 she was one of ten destroyers 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 ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

On 24 February 1917 the Leopard took part in a historic action, when she formed part of the escort of the first Norwegian Convoy, escorting one British and eight Norwegian ships east from Lerwick to a point 50 miles east of Bard Head. Although troop convoys had been use throughout the war, this was an early example of a commerce protection convoy, of the type that would soon be in general use. On 28 February the Leopard and Locust took part in another first, when they met up with an incoming Norwegian ship (the SS Ragnhild) at a pre-agreed rendezvous point for the first time and escorted her to port. However they were meant to have met up with three other Norwegian ships as well, and due to some confusion all three of the others were lost.

In June 1917 she was one of eleven destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

On 17 June 1918 the Leopard, Northesk and Pellew were escorting an east-bound convoy of nine ships and were close to the Norwegian coast when U-100 managed to torpedo the SS Gunhild.

In January 1918 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1918 she was one of twenty five destroyers in the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber.

In November 1918 she was one of twenty seven destroyers in the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla.

The Leopard was sold in June 1919.

Saturday 22 July 1899 -; Commander Prendergast
-April 1901-: Lt and Commander Alan E. Hudson
-August 1906-: Lt Commander Osmond Prentis

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)


214.25ft oa
210ft pp


20 ft


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

Crew complement

60 (Brassey)

Laid down

10 June 1896


20 March 1897


July 1899

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 (3 June 2019), HMS Leopard (1897) ,

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