HMS Seal (1897)

HMS Seal (1897) 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 from 1914-17, the Nore Local Defence Flotilla in 1917-18 and the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla in 1918.

HMS Seal from the left
HMS Seal from the left

The Seal was ordered as part of the second batch of Laird-built 30-knot destroyers. Like the first batch, the second batch of Laird 30-knotters were enlarged versions of their 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. All six served throughout the First World War.

One torpedo tube was carried between the second and third funnels, and the second between the rear funnel and the aft 6-pounder gun. They were built with a chart table and compass platform between the first and second funnels and a chart table on the 12-pounder platform.

By 1914 she had been given a searchlight that was mounted on the aft end of the bridge/ 12-pounder platform, along with the vertical pole for a semaphore signalling system.

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 Seal was laid down on 17 June 1896 and launched on 6 March 1897.

In January 1898 she reached 30.04 knots on the measured mile and 30.02 over three hours during full power coal consumption trials on the Clyde. On the three hour trial she averaged 370.5 rpm.

The Seal was accepted into the Royal Navy in May 1898.

HMS Seal in Victorian livery HMS Seal in Victorian livery

The Seal took part in the 1900 naval manoeuvres, when she formed part of the Devonport division of Fleet B, the defensive fleet. Fleet A was smaller, but was expecting reinforcements from the Mediterranean, suggesting that the potential enemy at this stage was France. During the manoeuvre the Locust, Seal and Wolf were judged to have captured the torpedo gunboat Speedwell

From 1902-1906 she served with the Mediterranean Destroyer Flotilla, where many later destroyer tactics were worked out. In home waters destroyers were originally seen as a separate force, based at key ports facing France and operating independently of the battle fleet, but in the Mediterranean the destroyers had to operate closely with the fleet, which ranged widely across the area, and only had a handful of home bases. 

From 1906-1907 she was part of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, part of the Channel Fleet. This was the most important post at this point, as Germany became the main threat.

In September 1906 the Seal was part of a flotilla that visited Dundee. During this visit her crew took part in a boat race against a crew from the Nith, but lost by ten lengths.

From 1907-1909 she was part of the Nore Flotilla of the Home Fleet, the first step in the transfer of the battle fleet from the Channel to the North Sea.

In March 1909 her commander, Commander R. S. Gwatkin, was court-martialed and dismissed from the ship for failing to report a minor grounding in which the propeller shaft was damaged. His defence was that he hadn’t realised that the ship was damaged, and had reported the damage once it was discovered, but he had also altered the log to hide the incident.

In early May 1909 she suffered damage when she collided with the quay at Grimsby.

In September 1909 another of her officers, Engineer Lt Edward V. Waud, was dismissed from the ship for being absent without leave, although he was acquitted of being too drunk to carry out his duties.

From 1909-1912 she was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport. This placed her in the 3rd/ 4th Division, the Home Fleet reserve, with a reduced complement. This marked the end of her time as part of the main battle fleet.

From 1912 she moved to the 7th Destroyer Flotilla, one of the patrol flotillas commanded by the Admiral of Patrols.

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 Seal was part of the massive Seventh Patrol Flotilla at Devonport.

In August 1914 the Seal moved to the Seventh’s wartime base on the Humber. Part of the flotilla was scattered along the east coast, but at least at first the Seal was actually based in the Humber. The flotilla’s wartime role was to patrol the east coast, search for submarines and mines, escort individual ships and react to any potential threat. Ships in the flotilla had a busy but often rather undocumented war

In November 1914 the Seal was part of the Seventh Flotilla, but was one of seven of the flotilla’s destroyers that were based at No.6 Patrol Base, Harwich, with the task of protecting the coast north from Harwich to Yarmouth.

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

In June 1915 she was part of the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla based on the Humber.

In January 1916 the Seal was one of six active destroyers from the Seventh that had been moved north to the Tyne.

In October 1916 the Seal was one of nineteen destroyers from the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla based on the Humber.

In January 1917 the Seal was one of eighteen destroyers from the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla based on the Humber.

In June 1917 the Seal was about to be transferred to the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

From 8 November 1917 she was commanded by Lt. Hugh N. McGill.

In January 1918 she was one of twelve destroyers in the Nore Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1918 she was one of five destroyers from the Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla that was based at Kingstown (just to the south of Dublin).

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

By February 1919 she was one of a large number of destroyers temporarily based at the Nore.

The Seal was sold for break up in March 1921.

September 1899-: Lt Commander Arthur J. Payne
-September 1906-: Lt Prentis
- March 1908: Commander S. G. Watkin Williams.
8 November 1917-February 1919-: Lt Hugh N. McGill

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots






218ft oa
213ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

 17 June 1896


6 March 1897


May 1898

Broken up


Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 January 2019), HMS Seal (1897),

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