HMS Nessus (1915)

HMS Nessus (1915) was a repeat M class destroyer that served with the Grand Fleet from 1915, fighting at Jutland, before sinking after a collision in the North Sea in September 1918.

The Nessus was ordered as part of the Second War Programme of early November 1914. She was laid down at Swan Hunter, launched on 24 August 1915 and completed in November 1915


The Nessus served with the 12th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet from October 1915 to June 1918.


In January 1916 she was one of five repeat-M class destroyers that formed the Twelfth Flotilla at Scapa, along with the flotilla leader Marksman and the light cruiser Royalist.

On 6 January 1916 the pre-dreadnought battleship King Edward VII ran into a mine off Cape Wrath while on her way from Scapa Flow to Belfast. After nine hours it was clear that she couldn’t be saved, and the Musketeer, Marne, Fortune and Nessus came alongside and rescued the entire crew. The abandoned battleship sank four hours later. The mine turned out to have been laid by the surface raider Moewe on the night of 1-2 January.

On the eve of Jutland the Nessus was part of the Twelfth Destroyer Flotilla, which was at Scapa Flow, and filled entirely with 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.

During the battle with the Pommern the Nessus was hit by German fire, losing five dead. She also lost two dead during the fighting on 31 May.  Another seven men were wounded during the battle.


Soon after midnight on the night of 14-15 March 1917 the ‘standby’ destroyer division (Maenad, Noble, Mindful and Nessus) was sent out to sea to try and intercept a damaged German submarine (U.48) that was attempting to get home. Just after noon on 15 March the destroyers found a surfaced submarine. The submarine signalled an identification challenge, but although they were still 150 miles short of their destination, the destroyers assumed this was their target and opened fire from 3,000 yards. Two depth charges were dropped and the captains of the Maenad and Noble were sure the submarine had been sunk. Only after their return to port was it discovered that their target had been the British submarine G.12, which had been damaged but luckily not sunk.

On 14 June the Noble and Nessus were sent out to escort the armed merchant cruiser Avenger back to Scapa Flow after a patrol. However at 2.03am the Avenger was torpedoed by U-69 and badly damaged. At 2.30am her captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. At 4am the two destroyers arrived and picked up the survivors. They then remained on the scene, as the Avenger was still afloat. At 5.30am the Noble spotted a periscope and both destroyers dropped depth charges but without result. By 8.30 it was clear that the Avenger was sinking and her captain left the ship. At 10.50am the Noble and Nessus left, leaving the Relentless, which had arrived later, to watch her sink at 12.25.

On 6 July 1917 UC-44 attacked a convoy hading along the coast from Immingham north to Lerwick. He fired at a merchant ship, but his torpedo ran under the convoy and instead hit and sank the escort HMS Itchen. The Mary Rose and Nessus were sent out to take over the escort.


On 25 May 1918 the Nessus and the Scimitar collided at Port Edgar on the Firth of Forth, the location of a depot for destroyers of the Grand Fleet. 

From July to September 1918 the Nessus served with the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet.

On 7 September the Nessus and the protected cruiser Amphitrite collided while operating in fog about 100 miles to the east of Scapa Flow. The Nessus was badly damaged but remained afloat, and an attempt was made to flow her back to Scapa Flow. However on the following day bad weather hit the area and permission was given to take off her crew if required. At 4am on 8 September HMS Paladin and the tug Labour arrived on the scene and managed to get a tow line onto the Nessus, but the weather continued to get worse. At 8.50am the Nessus’s pumps stopped working, and her remaining officers and crews were taken off by the Paladin. The Nessus sank at 10.25.

The Nessus was given a battle honour for Jutland.

Service Record
October 1915-June 1918: 12th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
July 1918-8 September 1918: 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet

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



24 August 1915


November 1915

Sunk in collision

8 September 1918

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 (17 October 2023), HMS Nessus (1915) ,

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