HMS Matchless (1914)

HMS Matchless was an Admiralty type M class destroyer that served with the 10th Flotilla at Harwich from 1915-1917, operating in the North Sea, Channel and Western Approaches, then the 6th Flotilla at Dover for the rest of the war, taking part in the Ostend Raid.

The Matchless was laid down at Swan Hunters on 8 November 1913, launched on 5 October 1914 and completed in December 1914. The Admiralty type had three boilers and three funnels.

On 1 January 1915 she was based at Portland, and was at sea when HMS Formidable was torpedoed. She was diverted to the scene to try and help rescue any survivors.

On 31 January 1915 the Miranda, Manly, Morris, Minos, Matchless, Milne and Murray arrived at Sheerness to act as the escort for minelayers that were to lay a new minefield on the route used by German ships heading along the Belgian coast towards the Dover Straits. The start of the operation was delayed until 4 February by bad weather, and fog stopped work on 7 February. On 9 February the M class destroyers were replaced by eight destroyers from the 3rd Flotilla. They were then used to support an air raid on the Belgian coast which was planned for 11 February, and were back at Harwich on 13 February. The mine laying operation itself continued to 16 February and 3,390 mines were laid.

The Matchless was one of the last of the original M class destroyers to enter service, but by  June 1915 she was one of fourteen destroyers in the Tenth Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich, which was made up of all thirteen ships in the original M class and HMS Medea¸ which had been under construction for Greece and was taken over by the Royal Navy at the outbreak of war. She was part of the Tenth Flotilla until April 1917.

On 14 June 1915 the Aurura, Mansfield, Matchless, Minos and Myngs arrived at Milford to help escort the 13th Division on the first stages of the voyage from Britain to the Mediterranean.

On 16 June 1915 the Mansfield and Matchless escorted the first transport ship out from Milford.

At the start of July 1915 the Tenth Flotilla (Aurora, Manly, Mansfield, Mastiff, Matchless, Medea, Mentor, Meteor, Milne, Minos, Miranda, Moorsom, Morris, Murray and Myngs) was operating from Devonport, escorting troop transports, either incoming from Canada or on their way to the Dardanelles.

On 17 August 1915 seven destroyers from the 10th Flotilla (Mentor, Minos, Moorsom, Miranda, Manly, Matchless and Medusa) along with four from the 4th Flotilla and the Harwich Light Cruiser Squadron escorted the minelayer Princess Margaret as she laid the first British minefield in the Heligoland Bight. The operation wasn’t a success. The force ran into part of the German 2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla, and in the resulting clash the Mentor was hit and her bows blown off (but managed to get back to port). The Princess Margaret withdrew when the clash began, and when she turned back she couldn’t find most of the escorts and hadn’t laid any mines when the entire force was recalled because a more powerful German fleet was believed to be in the area.

On 31 October 1915 the Mansfield took part in a large sweep across the Heligoland Bight from south to north and back again, carried out by five cruisers and fourteen destroyers from the Harwich force. This squadron found one suspicious Swedish steamer which was sent to the Humber to be inspected, and plenty of Dutch trawlers, but no German ships, and was back at Harwich by the afternoon of 1 November.

On 9 November 1915 the Matchless was on her way back to Harwich when she ran into a German mine. Her stern, rudder and screws were all blown off, she was down by the stern and rolling. She was towed most of the way to Harwich by the Murray, but the tow parted when they were almost back, and the tow was completed by a light cruiser. The Matchless was then towed to Chatham to get a new stern.


In January 1916 she was part of the Tenth Flotilla, which was still officially based at Harwich, but that was rather widely scattered at the start of 1916. The Matchless was undergoing repairs at Chatham and was in the hands of a care and maintenance party.

Early on 25 April the Manly, Meteor, Mastiff, Lightfoot and Termagant left Harwich with the cruisers Conquest, Cleopatra and Penelope in an attempt to intercept the German forces heading for Lowestoft. The Mansfield and Matchless followed soon afterwards and the Mentor at 3.05am. This flotilla sailed east at first, but when news arrived that the Germans were probably heading for Yarmouth, it turned north, and moved up the coast inside the British minefield. At 3.50am the German light cruisers were spotted, soon followed by the battlecruisers. The Commodore (T) turned south, in the hope that the Germans would follow, but at first they didn’t, and instead focused on the bombardment of Lowestoft. The British turned back north to keep in touch. At about 4.20 the German light cruisers had turned to the south-east, and soon after 4.30 the two forces opened fire. However the range was too long and nobody hit anything. However the German battlecruisers then came on the scene, and at 4.49 opened fire. The cruiser Conquest was hit by several 12in shells but the destroyers were largely untouched. At 4.56 the Germans turned east to begin the voyage home before the more powerful British forces heading their way could reach the scene. The Harwich force attempted to pursue, but without success, and the Penelope was torpedoed during the operation (although survived).

On 22 July 1916 the German Second Flotilla carried out a mission aimed at disrupting the Anglo-Dutch sea routes by laying mines off the North Hinder Light Vessel. The British had sizable forces at sea, including the cruiser Carysfort with a destroyer division near North Hinder and the cruiser Canterbury and four destroyers (Melpomene, Matchless, Morris and Milne) near the Maas Light Vessel. This second group took part in the most significant clash with the Germans, starting when the Melpomene reporting seeing six destroyers at 0145. The captain of the Canterbury wasn’t sure if this was the Carysfort group, while his destroyers were forced to split up after the Matchless was unable to keep up (having only just returned from the dockyard repairs). The Milne was next in line behind the Matchless, and stayed with her. Melpomene and Morris gave chase, but the Melpomene was hit by German gunfire, before the chase had to be called off.

On 26 July 1916 the Matchless was on her way back to Harwich after colliding with the Manley off the Cork light vessel (off Harwich), when she collided with the torpedo boat TB.9. Her crew were taken off by the Matchless, and she remained afloat until 0445 on the following day before sinking. One of her crew died of his injuries.

In October 1916 she was part of the Tenth Flotilla at Harwich, which now contained all thirteen of the original M class ships, the flotilla leader HMS Nimrod and the ex Greek destroyer HMS Melpomene.


In January 1917 she was one of ten destroyers from the Tenth Flotilla that were still at Harwich, while the rest had been detached to Dover.

On 9 January 1917 the Matchless fouled the moorings of SS Eupion, a British steam powered tanker.

On 22 January 1917 the Germans sent the 6th Flotilla of torpedo boats from Germany to reinforce the Flanders command. The British intercepted radio communications and correctly guessed that the force was heading for Zeebrugge. The British dispatched Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force to attempt to intercept the Germans. He had six light cruisers (split into two division), one flotilla leader and ten destroyers from his own command and another flotilla leader and six destroyers from Dover in support. Tyrwhitt placed two destroyer divisions, under the Nimrod and Simoom to the south, seven destroyers further north and his cruisers furthest from the coast. Early on 23 January the Germans briefly clashed with the two cruiser divisions, and their formation partly broken, although most reached their destination intact.

The destroyers didn’t get into the action until later, when at 0410 the Simoon spotted the German torpedo boat S50. She attempted to ram, but missed, and was then hit by a German torpedo. Her magazine exploded, and she was left dead in the water. In the confusion that followed, the S50 escaped back to Germany. The Nimrod and the Matchless both attempted to take the remnants of the Simoon in tow, but she was too badly damaged, and dangerously close to German bases. Eventually Tyrwhitt was forced to have her sunk by gunfire after the survivors were rescued. Forty seven of her crew were killed in the battle.

On 10 February 1917 the Matchless was escorting a west-bound convoy from the Netherlands when she spotted the conning tower of a submarine and gave chase. She dropped a depth charge, but then had to return to her convoy. She ordered the Meteor to take over the hunt for the submarine, and she also spotted a submarine, opening fire and later dropping a depth charge. However the submarine, which may have been UC-4 on her way to Lowestoft, survived and laid mines on 11 February.

On 8 March 1917 the Matchless was damaged when she collided with the Harwich Floating Dock while entering it.

At some point before 18 March 1917 (and probably before the 8 March collision above). the Matchless collided with the Manly.

On 20 April 1917 the Matchless, Morris, Amazon and Nugent spent the day patrolling along the Dover barrage. That night the destroyers joined the Nugent and the combined force patrolled along the eastern side of the barrage, at the Calais end. That night the Germans carried out a raid into the channel, shelling Calais and Dover. The Nugent’s force saw the gun flashes from Calais and briefly headed toward them, but returned to their patrol when the gunfire ended.

On 29 May 1917 the Matchless collided with the Minos off the Goodwin Light Vessel, and was so badly damaged that she was slowly sinking. She was towed into Dover and beached in the harbour to prevent that. She was wedged upright and refloated on the next high tide, then taken into the floating dock for repairs.

In June 1917 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, but was undergoing a refit at Portsmouth.

The Matchless was still assigned to the Tenth Flotilla until April 1917

By May 1917 the Matchless had been officially transferred to the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, and by July she had been joined by her entire class.

On 31 December 1917 the Matchless ran aground at Dunkirk.


In January 1918 she was part of the large destroyer force at Dover.

On 26 February 1918 the Matchless lost her anchor in the Dunkirk roads.

On 21 March 1918 the Swift, Matchless, Myngs and North Star were on patrol in the Dover Straits in the hope of intercepting a possible German raid aimed at the coastal flank of the Allied armies. However when the Germans did appear they ran into a force based at Dunkirk instead, lead by the Botha. During the resulting battle the German torpedo boats A.7 and A.19, although the Botha was also hit and damaged.

The Matchless was one of five destroyers that were posted to Dunkirk before the attempted Ostend raid of 23 April 1918, with the task of patrolling off Ostend during the raid itself. During the raid the Matchless was allocated to the 24th Sub Division of the 22nd Division.

The Mansfield was part of the 33rd Division during the attempted attack on Ostend on 9 May 1918, which failed to achieve its objectives.

On 31 May 1918 her wash damaged the barge Fossil off Purfleet.

In June 1918 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, but was undergoing repairs.

On the night of 28-29 September 1918 the Mastiff, Moorsom, Melpomene, Matchless, Morris, Phoebe, Velox and Broke carried out shore bombardments and fired star shells in support of the ground forces advancing in Flanders, replacing a force of Coastal Motor Boats that had been forced back to port by weather too rough for them to cope with.

On 19 October 1918 the Matchless ran aground on Stroon Bank off the coast of Belgium.

In November 1918 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, but was undergoing repairs.

In November 1919 she was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Nore Reserve.

The Matchless was given battle honours for the Belgian Coast 1916/18 and Ostend (Zeebrugge) 23 April 1918

Wartime Service
June 1915-April 1917: 10th Destroyer Flotilla, Harwich
May 1917-December 1918-: 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Dover

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

34 knots


3-shaft Parsons turbines
4 Yarrow boilers, 25,000shp




273ft 4in oa


26ft 8in


Three 4in/ 45 QF Mk IV guns
Two 1-pounder pom pom guns
Four 21in torpedo tubes with four torpedoes

Crew complement


Laid down

8 November 1913


5 October 1914


December 1914

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 (21 December 2022), HMS Matchless (1914) ,

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