HMS Narwhal (1915)

HMS Narwhal (1915) was a repeat M class destroyer that served with the Grand Fleet in 1916-1917, fighting at Jutland, on the Coast of Ireland station during the first half of 1917 then with the Grand Fleet for the rest of the war.

The Narwhal was ordered under the Fourth War Programme of February 1915. She was laid down by Denny on 21 April 1915, launched on 3 December 1915 and completed on 3 March 1916.


From March 1916 until June 1917 the Narwhal served with the 12th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet.

On the eve of Jutland the Narwhal  was part of the Twelfth Destroyer Flotilla, which was at Scapa Flow, and filled entirely with twelve Repeat M class destroyers. The flotilla put to sea with Admiral Jellicoe and the main body of the Grand Fleet by 10.30pm on 30 May.

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 key moment of the night actions came at around 11.30, when the High Seas Fleet finally attempted to pass behind the Grand Fleet and ran into the British destroyers. The Germans would make contact with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was towards the right of the British line. There was then a seven mile gap to the 13th Flotilla, with the 9th and 10th Flotilla close by, and the 12th Flotilla to their rear.

In a series of clashes the Germans inflicted heavy damage on the 4th Flotilla, but instead of rushing to their aid, the 13th Flotilla, which was next in line, believed they were the target of the gunfire, and that there were friendly ships between them and the Germans preventing a torpedo attack. The flotilla leader Captain Farie ordered the flotilla to turn away to the east to get out of range, but he failed to signal the move, so only two of the flotilla followed him. His move also forced the 9th and 10th Flotillas and the 12th Flotilla to turn to port to get out of the way. As a result the British destroyers were no longer in the correct place when the High Seas Fleet passed behind the Grand Fleet. As a result the Germans were able to move past almost without being detected and the one clash that did occur was with two cruisers so didn’t cause any alarm.  The Menace and Nonsuch from the 12th Flotilla clashed with the German cruisers Frankfurt and Pillau and were lucky to escape.

Despite all of the chaos and confusion, a large part of the 12th Flotilla ended up in position to launch one final attack on the High Seas Fleet as it passed behind the Grand Fleet. Twelve destroyers and two flotilla leaders were still together, and had been forced into a position some thirty miles behind the main fleet. As they headlined south they ran into the German fleet. The Germans were sighted at about 1.45am on 1 June. The flotilla commander ordered his 1st Division to attack, and signalled the news of the sighting to Jellicoe. The Germans turned away to avoid the torpedo attack and were briefly lost to sight. However the flotilla soon found them again, and was able to launch a powerful torpedo attack. One torpedo hit the Pommern, which exploded, taking her entire crew with her. The Germans were forced to turn away again, preventing the rest of the flotilla from attacking effectively. The Narwhal was able to fire two torpedoes during this part of the battle, but missed with both.


On 31 January 1917 Germany announced the resumption of unrestricted U-boat warfare, and in the first week of February they sank 35 ships in the Channel and western approaches. One of the British responses was to move four destroyers (Magic, Peyton, Parthian and Narwhal) from the Grand Fleet to Queenstown in southern Ireland, where they came under the command of Admiral Bayly. They were mainly used to escort ships heading to the protected coastal routes.

On 17 February 1917 the Q-boat Farnborough (Q-5) sank U-83 using the dangerous technique of allowing the submarine to actually torpedo the Farnborough then attacking when she came to investigate her victim. Unsurprisingly the Farnborough also ended up in a sinking condition, so Admiral Bayly sent the Narwhal and the sloop Buttercup to tow her to shore. Despite two depth charges exploding on the Farnborough, they did manage to get her to the coast near to Cork, but she wasn’t worth restoring.

On 26 February U-50 attacked the Anchor liner Cameronia and a gun battle resulted with the liner returning fire with her 6in gun. The Narwhal was sent to her assistance, forcing U-50 to submerge.

On 1 March Admiral Bayly sent the Magic and Narwhal to Milford, to take part in the hunt for U-70, which was believed to be about to head though that area heading north. However they didn’t encounter the U-boat.

On 12 March U-70 torpedoed the British oiler Winnebago after a three hour chase. Although the crew abandoned ship they had sent off an SOS. The Hardy arrived and forced U-70 away. The Narwhal then arrived, and was able to bring the Winnebago to safety at Plymouth, arriving on 14 March.

On 22 March UC-65 laid mines off Liverpool, forcing the port to be closed on 24 March. It was opened again on 26 March and the Magic, Narwhal and two sloops were sent to sea to escort ships that had been stuck at Queenstown to Liverpool. However that night UC-65 laid more mines, Liverpool had to be closed again, and the destroyers and their ships had to put into Milford instead.

On 19 April the Narwhal dropped two depth charges on a U-boat that was probably U-67, but then had to abandon the hunt to go to the aid of the SS Thermidor, which was being chased by a U-boat sixty miles further to the north.

On 28 April U-67 sank the Port Jackson. At the time the Narwhal was heading towards the SS Terence, which was being chased by U-81. She saw the explosion from the Port Jackson and went to rescue the survivors. As she approached the site she spotted the periscopes of U-67 and dropped a depth charge, before picking up the 14 survivors. She then headed for the Terence.

In May 1917 Admiral Bayly decided that his destroyers would operate in pairs when possible. The Narwhal and the Magic were one of the pairs.

On 1 June 1917 the Narwhal met the US 5th Destroyer Division towards the end of its voyage across the Atlantic, and escorted it into Queenstown.

In July-August 1917 the Narwhal was officially recorded as being posted to the Southern District of the Coast of Ireland Station, despite having been posted there since February.

On 26 July P.60 spotted a periscope while operating to the west of Wolf Rock. The Narwhal and Peyton arrived on the scene and dropped depth charges, but without any visible result. However the submarine, UB-23, had actually suffered damage that forced to make for Spain, where she was interned for the rest of the war.

From September 1917 to June 1918 the Narwhal was part of the 12th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet.

On 17 October the Germans attacked one of the Scandinavian convoys, sinking the destroyers Mary Rose and Strongbow. On 20 October, once it was clear that the raiding forces had left the area, the convoys resumed. The Narwhal and Obedient were allocated to escort the east-bound convoy, heading from Lerwick to Bergen. The Obedient then fouled her propellers and had to be replaced by the Marmion, which had to try and catch up with the convoy. However the captain of the Narwhal had mis-calculated his position, and gave the Marmion the wrong instructions. As a result the Marmion ended up running straight into the west-bound convoy, escorted by the R class destroyers Tirade and Sarpedon. Despite having the entire North Sea to operate in the Tirade and Marmion ended up colliding. The Marmion was almost split in half, and one of her depth charges fell off and exploded below her. She quickly began to sink, with the loss of all but 19 of her crew. Captain Hudson of the Narwhal was blamed for the incident, although he wasn’t court martialled for it.


From July to December 1918 the Narwhal was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport.

On 16 August the Hardy and the Narwhal collided off Lizard Head.

On 3 October the Narwhal was damaged while leaving the moorings at Devonport.

In December 1919 she was in the charge of a Care and Maintenance Party at Devonport.

The Narwhal was awarded a battle honour for Jutland.

The Narwhal was badly damaged in a collision in 1919 and broken up in 1920.

Service Record
March 1916-June 1917: 12th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
July-August 1917: Southern District, Coast of Ireland Station
September 1917-June 1918: 12th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
July 1918-December 1918: 4th Destroyer Flotilla, Devonport

Displacement (standard)

1,025t (Admiralty design)
985t (Thornycroft)
895t (Yarrow)

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

34 knots


3-shaft Brown-Curtis or Parsons turbines
3 Yarrow boilers




273ft 4in (Admiralty)
274ft 3in (Thornycroft)
270ft 6in (Yarrow)


26ft 8ft (Admiralty)
27ft 3in (Thornycroft)
24ft 7.5in (Yarrow)


Three 4in/ 45cal QF Mk IV
Two 1-pounder pom pom
One 2-pounder pom pom
Four 21-in torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

21 April 1915


3 December 1915


3 March 1916

Damaged in collision


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 (19 September 2023), HMS Narwhal (1915) ,

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