HMS Orwell (1898)

HMS Orwell (1898) was a B class destroyer that served in the Mediterranean and Home Waters before the First World War, then with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber in 1914, the Scapa Defensive Flotilla in 1915-17 and the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla in 1918.

The Orwell was one of only six destroyers ordered in the 1897-8 programme, and the only one ordered from Laird. Like the first two batches, HMS Orwell was an enlarged versions of the Laird 27-knotters (HMS Banshee, HMS Contest and HMS Dragon), which were in turn enlarged version of their first generation destroyer prototypes (HMS Ferret and HMS Lynx). They had four Normand boilers in two stokeholds, with the uptakes at each end, the boilers next to them and the working space in the middle. The engine room was placed between the fore and aft stokeholds. The 30-knotters used four cylinder triple expansion engines, with two low pressure cylinders. They were criticized in service for their large turning circles, but were considered to be strongly built. The Orwell was very slightly heavier in light load, and slightly heavier in full load, and two feet shorter in overall length (although the same length at the waterline). High tensile steel was used in part of her structure.

By April 1918 she had the approved depth charge armament of two throwers and eighteen charges, with the aft gun and the torpedo tubes removed to compensate for the extra weight.

Pre-War Career

The Orwell was laid down on 9 November 1897 and launched on 29 September 1898.

In 1899 the Orwell took part in speed and fuel efficiency trials. She reached 30.282 knots at 6445 ihp, consuming 2.67 pounds of coal per iHP per hour and 30.187 knots at 6,350 ihp. On a low speed run she reached 12.963 knots at 456ihp at 1.975 pounds of coal per iHP per hour.

The Orwell was accepted into the Royal Navy in January 1900.

From 1900-1906 the Orwell served with the Mediterranean Destroyer Flotilla.

On 30 January 1903 the Orwell was part of a force of fifteen destroyers, the cruiser HMS Pioneer and the store ship HMS Tyne that were carrying out night exercises in the Corfu channel. The Orwell was part of a division of six destroyers that was attempting to escape from a blockage, but had been discovered and knocked out of the exercise. She was heading towards an agreed position when she was rammed by the Pioneer, which was moving at high speed with her lights out, as she was still taking part in the exercise. The Pioneer hit the destroyer close to the fore-bridge, and the bow part of the ship sank in deep water (this accounted for about one third of the ship). Fifteen men were lost, mainly drowned when the bow sank. The rear part of the Orwell was towed to Corfu by the Pioneer. Some early press reports suggested that the Orwell had sunk, but she was repaired and returned to service.

Commander Hope of the Pioneer and Commander Roberts of the Orwell were both court martialed at Malta on 13 February 1903. Roberts was honourably acquitted of all charges, while Hope was reprimanded. 

From 1906-1907, after her return from the Mediterranean, the Orwell was part of the Nore Flotilla, part of the Home Fleet, the Navy’s reserve force in home waters. At this stage she had a nucleus crew.

In 1909-1911 the Orwell was part of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, part of the 2nd Division of the Home Fleet, a fully operational force built around ten pre-dreadnought battleships.

From 1912 the Orwell was part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla, one of the newly formed patrol flotillas that were outside the command structure of the main fleets.

In July 1914 she was part of the Seventh Patrol Flotilla at Devonport, part of the Second Fleet of the Home Fleet.

First World War

In July 1914 the Orwell was part of the large Seventh Patrol Flotilla, based at Devonport.

In August 1914 the Orwell was one of eleven destroyers from the Flotilla that had moved to its new war base on the Humber (others were scattered along the east coast).

After the outbreak of war the Patrol Flotillas were ordered to send out single boat patrols to cover the entire east coast, but this policy soon demonstrated some flaws. On 19 August the Orwell was patrolling off the Outer Dowsing Bank (east of the Lincolnshire coast) when at 1545 she reported that she was being chased by a German cruiser. She later reported that this was a Konigsberg or Emden class cruiser, with three funnels, and that it had stopped near the Outer Dowsing. The scout class cruiser Skirmisher was sent out to intercept the German raider, but found nothing. For three days the Navy genuinely believed that this was a real sighting, but it turned out to be a false alarm, and the enemy cruiser was actually the British minesweeping gunboat Speedy. This incident demonstrated that the individual destroyers weren’t powerful enough to deal with most possible enemy ships they might encounter, while the supporting forces were too distant and too slow to respond.

In November 1914 the Orwell was docked at Immingham, but was about to move to the Flotilla’s No.4 Patrol Base at Grimsby. However on 7 November 1914 she was one of twelve destroyers that the Admiralty ordered to move from the patrol flotillas to Scapa Flow, and she departed for her new base on 8 November.

In January 1915 she was attached to the Grand Fleet.

In June 1915 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Patrol of the Grand Fleet.  

In January 1916 she was one of ten destroyers based at Scapa and attached to Admiral Jellicoe.

In October 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers attached to the Grand Fleet but not in a particular formation.

In January 1917 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla, which at that time wasn’t listed as part of the Grand Fleet.

In June 1917 she was one of eleven destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

Between 8-10 August 1917 a boarding part from the Orwell helped with the salvage of SS Othelia. In September 1919 the boarding part was awarded naval salvage money for their efforts.

In January 1918 she was still part of the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla, but she was at Kirkwall, and was desribed as being badly damaged.

From 28 May 1918 she was commanded by Lt. Sydney Robbins.

In June 1918 she was one of six destroyers from the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla to be based at Holyhead.

In November 1918 she was one of six destroyers from the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla based at Holyhead.

The Orwell was sold for break up in July 1920.

- January 1903 - : Lt and Commander Percy A. Roberts
28 May 1918-February 1919-: Lt Sydney Robbins

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots


216.25ft oa
213ft pp




One 12-pounder gun
Five 6-pounder guns
Two 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

 9 November 1897


 29 September 1898


 January 1900

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 (22 January 2019), HMS Orwell (1898) ,

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