HMS Nubian (1909)

HMS Nubian (1909) was a Tribal class destroyer that served with the Dover Patrol until she was badly damaged during the battle of the Dover Straits in 1916. Her stern was then combined with the bow of HMS Zulu to produce a new destroyer, HMS Zubian.

The Nubian was one of five Tribal class destroyers built in the 1907-8 programmes, the last members of the class. Thornycroft was asked to submit their own design for the 1907-8 programme. They suggested a repeat of HMS Amazon, but with more power, at a higher cost. The Nubian was armed with two 4in guns and two 18in torpedo tubes. The Nubian was launched at Thornycroft’s Southampton works on Tuesday 20 April 1909.

Pre-War Career

In July 1909 the Afridi, Nubian, Crusader, Maori, Zulu and Viking were all ordered to join the First Destroyer Division as soon as they were commissioned, to replace River class boats.

HMS Nubian on the rocks
HMS Nubian on
the rocks

The Nubian may have briefly joined the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, attached to the 2nd Division of the Home Fleet, in August 1909. However on 3 September 1909 she was commissioned for service in the 1st Destroyer Flotilla and by 17 September she had joined the destroyer division based at Harwich. However she wasn’t there for long, as by 11 October the Saracen, Nubian, Mohawk and Ghurka were at Dundee, on their way south after manoeuvres in the Cromarty Firth.

In 1911-1912 she was part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, attached to the 1st Division of the Home Fleet. The flotilla contained all twelve Tribal class destroyers.

In 1912-1914 she was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, part of the First Fleet, which contained the most modern battleships. She was fully manned in this role. The Flotilla was made up of all twelve Tribal class destroyers and eighteen Acasta or K class destroyers

In the 1912 battle practise the Nubian came top of her class (Tribal class with 4-in guns) with 102 points.

In May 1912 a flotilla made up of the cruiser Bristol and the destroyers Zulu, Amazon, Hope and Nubian visited Manchester, using the ship canal to reach the city.

At the start of December 1913 the Nubian was used to tow three large box kites, which were being used as targets in the trial of new quick firing anti-aircraft guns. Two of the three kites were said to have been destroyed, although only twenty rounds were fired.
In July 1914 the Nubian was one of ten destroyers in active service at Portsmouth.

Wartime Career

In July 1914 she was one of twenty three destroyers in the Sixth Patrol Flotilla at Portsmouth, made up of a mix of Tribal class and old 30-knotters.

In August 1914 she was one of fifteen destroyers from the Sixth Flotilla that had moved to its war base at Dover, where the flotilla was part of the Dover Patrol.

On 18 October 1914 she took part in a bombardment of the Belgian coast near the Yser in an attempt to support the Belgian and French armies retreating to that river. The flotilla came under heavy fire, but the Nubian wasn’t damaged.

In November 1914 she was part of the Sixth Flotilla and had been equipped with a modified sweep.

On 21 November 1914 she was one of six destroyers from the Dover patrol that escorted Admiral Hood, in HMS Crusader, along with HMS Revenge and HMS Bustard as they moved to Dunkirk as part of a plan to bombard Zeebrugge. Eventually the bombardment was carried out by the four Duncan class battleships of Admiral Nicholson’s division of the 3rd Battle Squadron.

In January 1915 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, one of the Patrol Flotillas.

In March 1915 she took part in the operations that ended with the destruction of U-8. On 4 March the Viking detected a possible U-boat. More destroyers were sent out, and the Nubian and Leven were ordered to use their modified sweep to try and attack a possible target. However by this point the U-boat had actually moved south, where she was forced to surface and surrendered to the Maori and Ghurka

On 13 April 1915 the Maori and the Nubian carried out a patrol off Ostende. During the afternoon they were attacked by German aircraft, but without suffering any damage, but so no German naval activity apart from a patrol by small coastal craft.

On 30 May 1915 the minelaying U-boat UC-11 got entangled in a buoy, which revealed her location to a nearby drifter. The Nubian was nearby and was summoned to the scene, but she had already fired her modified sweep, so the best she could do was attempt to ram the submarine. However her captain had slowed down to receive a message from the drifter, and the U-boat escaped. A Court of Enquiry was held into the incident, and the Nubian’s commander lost his command.

In June 1915 she was one of part of the large Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, which contained all but one of the Tribal class ships and a large number of the older 30-knotters..

The Nubian took part in the bombardment of Zeebrugge in August 1915. On 21 August, the day first selected for the raid, she was used to carry the observation stations that were to be used with the raid, but the weather was poor and one of the observation stations was swept overboard. The attack was pushed back to 23 August. The Nubian and the Ure was used to support the 1st Division of minesweepers and to lay the eastern observation station.

The Nubian took part in the bombardment of Ostend and Westende on 7 September 1915. She was part of No.3 T.B.D. Patrol, itself part of Division II, which was to carry out the bombardment of Westende. The results were somewhat disappointing, and were limited to some signs of fire damage.

In January 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover.

In October 1916 she was one of twenty five destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, which was largely filled with Tribal class boats and older 30-knotters.

In late October 1916 the Germans carried out a raid into the Dover Straits. The British were expecting some sort of attack, but had no information about its target, so Admiral Bacon left six Tribal class destroyers, including the Cossack, at Dover to act as a striking force. The raid itself began on 26 October, and at 10.50pm the Tribal class destroyers were ordered to sea.

The Tribal flotilla didn’t perform particularly well during the raid. Its commander, on the Viking, decided to send them out of Dover by two entrances, and the two sub-divisions didn’t find each other for the rest of the night. The Amazon, Nubian and Cossack began the night together but soon got separated. The Cossack fell behind and was the only one of the six not to encounter the enemy.

At about midnight her commander, M.R. Bernard, spotted gunfire to the east and headed towards it, losing contact with the Amazon. The Nubian ran into the Germans at about 12.20am on 27 October. Her commander believed this was the division of L class destroyers that was at sea, issued the identification challenge and turned to one side to avoid a collision. This simply allowed the Germans from the 17th Half  Flotilla to steam past him at high speed firing as they went. The Nubian was hit be several shells and a torpedo, which struck under the bridge. She was brought to a standstill and a fire broke out in the forward petrol tanks. Most of the remaining British destroyers in the area headed towards the fire.

Fifteen men were killed and six injured, including the ship’s commander. The stern part of the ship stayed afloat for some time, allowing the rest of the crew to survive. She was sighted at 1am, and the Lark attempted to tow the remains to safety. The towing hawser parted at about 5.45am, and the Nubian was driven ashore on the South Foreland (although the wounded were taken off her by the tug William Gray before she ran aground). The remains were battered by two gales, but survived fairly intact. They were then towed back to Dover, and from there taken to Chatham, where the rear half of the Nubian was attached to the front half of the Zulu, which had hit a mine on 8 November, to produce a new destroyer, named the Zubian.

It took some time for the Navy’s paperwork to catch up with her fate. In January 1917 she was still officially listed as being with the Sixth Flotilla, but she was one of twelve destroyers that were listed as being off station undergoing a refit!

After the war the Navy produced an official list of their losses, including 64 destroyers. The Zulu and Nubian were listed together as the loss of a single vessel.

The Nubian was awarded one battle honour, for the Belgian Coast in 1914-15.

Commander C MacKenzie: -September 1909-
Lt & Commander Frank F. Rose: 1 April 1911-January 1914-
Commander Charles E. Cundall: 27 February 1914-January 1915-
Montague Robert Bernard: -October 1916-

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

33 knots


3-shaft Parsons steam turbines
6 Thornycroft boilers




280ft 2in


26ft 8.5in


Two 4in/ 45cal BL Mk VI
Two 18in Torpedo Tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

18 May 1908


24 May 1909


September 1909

Joined with Zulu to form Zubian


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 (2 July 2020), HMS Nubian (1909) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy