HMS Nicator (1915)

HMS Nicator (1915) was a repeat M class destroyer that served with the Grand Fleet from 1916 to July 1917, fighting at Jutland, then on the Coast of Ireland Station for the rest of the war.

The Nicator was ordered under the Fourth War Programme of February 1915. She was laid down by Denny on 21 April 1915, launched on 3 February 1916 and completed in 15 April 1916.


In April 1916 the Nicator, Morning Star, Ossory and Onslow and the cruiser Gloucester had been sent to Ireland to intercept the Aud, a steamer that the Germans were using to send weapons to Ireland. The Aud did reach its destination on the Irish coast, but never unloaded her cargo. Instead she was detected by the armed trawler Heneage, dumped her cargo then attempted to reach Queenstown to block the harbour. Instead she was scuttled outside the harbour and her crew captured. On 26 April the destroyers screened ships carrying British troops from Liverpool to Kingstown, Ireland. The Gloucester and her four destroyers were then retained by Admiral Bayly to help deal with the Easter Uprising, and were sent to Queenstown to protect the crucial naval base.

HMS Nicator, 1917 HMS Nicator, 1917

The Nicator served with the 13th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet from June 1916 to July 1917

The flotilla was part of Admiral Beatty’s battle cruiser fleet at Jutland. 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.

At about 4pm, during the chase south, Beatty signalled to the Thirteenth Flotilla that ‘it seemed a good opportunity to attack’. The flotilla turned east, and attempted to get into position to fire its torpedoes. While this was happening, the first of the British battlecruisers was lost, when HMS Indefatigable exploded and sank after being hit by the Von der Tann.

The flotilla commander, in the cruiser Champion, gave the order to attack at 4.15. The first five destroyers (Nestor, Nomad, Nicator, Pelican and Narborough) were able to pass in front of the British line at about 4.20 and turned towards the Germans. They were joined by Turbulent, Termagant, Morris and Moorsom from the Ninth and Tenth Flotillas. German destroyers came out at the same time, originally with the aim of attacking the fast battleships of the British Fifth Battle Squadron. The result was a rather confused melee, in which the German destroyers V-27 and V-29 were sunk. Only Nicator and Nestor managed to get into a position to launch torpedoes, but as they fired at 4.30 the Germans turned away. They followed them east and tried again, but again missed. As they withdrew from this second attack the Nestor was hit by fire from the Regensburg and crippled. She was later sunk by the battleships of the High Seas Fleet.

This destroyer battle ended at 4.43 when Admiral Beatty recalled the destroyers after the German battleships of the High Seas Fleet were sighted to the south. Beatty was forced to turn north and begin his own retreat back towards Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet.

As she retreated the Nicator was joined by the Petard, and between them they fired four more torpedoes at the German battlecruisers, but again without success.

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. 

By the time this confusion ended the remaining seven boats from the 9th and 10th Flotillas had been joined by one ship from the 4th and five from the 13th. This force of twelve destroyers was led south-west in an attempt to find the German van, but most of this force passed in front of the Germans without spotting them. Two boats from the 13th, the Pelican and Petard did spot the Germans, but the Petard had fired all of her torpedoes, so was unable to take advantage, while the Pelican was out of position for an attack.

Despite having come under heavy fire during the first torpedo attacks on 31 May, the Nicator didn’t suffer any casualties during the battle.


On 16 January 1917 the Nicator and SS Mile End collided in the River Tyne. Clearly no significant damage was caused to the Nicator.

On 18-19 January 1917 the Nicator took part in an anti-submarine sweep off the Dogger Bank. The sweep was carried out by two cruisers, four screening destroyers and six destroyers equipped with paravanes. However during the night of 18-19 January the destroyers lost touch with the cruisers, and the sweep was cancelled at daylight on 19 January.

On 22 February she suffered damage to her propellers after hitting a sunken object.

On 1 June the Nicator and HMS Hospital Paddlesteamer Edinburgh Castle II collided off Crombie, just to the west of Rosyth.

The Nicator served with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla on the North Division of the Coast of Ireland Station from August 1917 to December 1918. The flotilla was based at Buncrana. Its main role was to protect the convoys crossing the Atlantic, meeting them as they approached the U-boat danger zone and escorting them to ports in the west of Britain.


On 24 January 1918 the Nicator, Ossory and Vestfos all collided while operating in the Irish Sea, between Liverpool and Anglesey.

On 13 April 1918 the Nicator and the Greenock harbour trust dipper dredge collided in the Clyde.

On 11 August 1918 the Nicator grounded off Tara Bay (probably close to Ayr on the coast of the Forth of Clyde, the destination for many of the convoys escorted by her flotilla).

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

She was sold to be broken up in May 1921.

The Nicator was awarded a battle honour for Jutland.

Service Record
June 1916-July 1917: 13th Destroyer Flotilla, Grand Fleet
August 1917-December 1918: 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, North Division Coast of Ireland, Buncrana

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 February 1916


15 April 1916

Sold for break up

May 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 (31 October 2023), HMS Nicator (1915) ,

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