HMS Surly (1894)

HMS Surly was an A class destroyer that served with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla during the First World War.

The Surly was the only one of three 27-knot destroyers ordered from J & G Thomson to see service during the First World War. All three were three funnelled ships completed in just over sixteen months. Her sister ships were broken up in 1911 and 1912.

The Surly had four Normand boilers in two stokeholds, with the uptakes from boilers 2 and 3 trunked together in a single funnel to give the three funnel layout. 


The Surly was laid down on 14 February 1894, launched on 10 November 1894 and accepted into the Royal Navy in July 1895.

The Surly underwent her official trials in the Firth of Clyde. On six runs over the measured mile at Skelmorlie she averaged 27.6 knots at 398 rpm. On her three hour continuous run she averaged 28.05 knots at 405 rpm. She completed her trials with a steering trial at lower speeds.

The Surly was chosen to serve as a tender to the Magnificent, second flagship of the Channel Fleet, but by February 1896 problems with one of her engine cylinders meant she had to go for repairs at Portsmouth. Her crew transferred to the new destroyer Decoy, which took on her role with the Magnificent. The Surly was paid off into the B Division of the Fleet Reserve at Portsmouth to undergo repairs.

By November 1896 the Surly had been chosen for trials in the use of oil fuel, using a system developed by Mr Holden, the Superintending Engineer of the Great Eastern Railway. In November she was in the dockyard at Portsmouth, having the copper tubes in her boilers replaced with steel tubes. Her aft two boilers were converted to burn oil, while her forward boilers remained on coal to all for direct comparisons.

This work doesn’t appear to have been carried out at any great speed, and in November 1897 it was reported that the trials were to begin after Christmas. In April 1898 she was in the dry dock have her bottom cleaned, and at this point the delay was said to be due to problems finding a suitable oil. A Russian mineral oil that flashed at 300 degrees F was chosen, causing some concern about the use of foreign fuel supplies in the Fleet.

By mid June 1898 experiments had been carried out in the ship basin at Portsmouth, but didn’t live up to expectations. A new fuel supply system was to be tested using an overhead tank that allowed fuel to flow directly into the furnace.

The first sea trials were finally tried out in mid-August 1898. The Surly carried out three runs over the measured mile in Stokes Bay, where she reached fourteen knots, below the target speed of sixteen knots. This was the first time oil fuel had been tried at sea by the Royal Navy.

On Friday 28 October 1898 the Surly carried out horse-power trials, with rather disappointing results. Her two oil powered boilers produced 900hp, down on the 2,000hp if they had been using coal. The equipment was to be modified before more trials were carried out.

In September-October 1899 the Surly was used for sea trials of a patent fuel, made of a mix of coal dust and tar shaped into small square bricks. A variety of mixtures were tested, with varying results.

On 17 November 1899 the Special Fuel Committee met to begin discussions on the results of the trials, which had now lasted for eighteen months. Even now things didn’t move with any speed, and it wasn’t until April 1901 that the Admiralty announced that further trials were to be carried out.

In 1901 the Navy used the Surly for trials of a liquid fuel system, the Kesmode system, after trials of a similar system on shore were satisfactory. The shore trials involved boilers from the cruiser HMS Blonde, while the tries on the Surly both oil firing and a mix of oil and coal were tried out. The oil fuel trials resumed at Portsmouth on Monday 17 June, this time using Borneo oil that was sprayed onto a bed of coal. During this first test the engines were run at a rate that would have produced a speed of 10-15 knots at sea. On the following day the Lords of the Admiralty visited Portsmouth to view the trials. On 26 November she carried out trials in one of the basins at Portsmouth Dockyard.

The Surly took part in the 1901 naval manoeuvres, which began in late July. These involved two fleets – Fleet B began in the North Sea, and had the task of keeping the English Channel open to trade. Fleet X began off the north coast of Ireland, and had the task of stopping trade in the Channel. The Porcupine was part of a force of destroyers from Portsmouth that joined Fleet B. This was the first time both sides in the annual exercises had been given an equal force of destroyers. The exercises ended with a victory for Fleet X. The destroyer forces didn’t live up to expectations, either in torpedo attack or as scouts.

On Saturday 4 January 1902 Admiral W.H. May visited Portsmouth to inspect the Surly. The trials hadn’t been entirely satisfactory, but it was decided that the results were promising enough to be worth repeating on larger ships. The press reported that the battleships Mars and Hannibal and the cruiser Arrogant had been chosen. By April 1903 the trials on the Mars and Hannibal had been judged to be a failure, and work continued on the Surly.

In April 1902 more trials were announced using the Surly, including a 24 hour test run. An eight hour trial was held on Tuesday 2 September 1902.

On 6 January 1903 the Lords of the Admiralty began a visit Portsmouth, and once again inspected the Surly, where oil burning trials were demonstrated for them.

In March 1903 the Surly in dock, having her engines examines and further changes made to her boilers. At the same time the Spiteful was to be modified for further oil trials.

In April 1903 a new series of trials were announced, this time including a series of 36 hours tests. In May Admiral Maypaid another visit to the Surly, witnessing the thick smoke.

In early June 1903 the Surly reached 16 knots on a single boiler, marking a great improvement on her early tests.

In general oil firing was a success, but during these early trials the Surly became somewhat notorious for producing large clouds of smoke. This was noted as early as April 1899, and again in July 1901 during the second major set of trials. By May 1903 both the Surly and the Spiteful were said to be producing thick clouds of black smoke.

In June 1904 another series of trials was announced, this time including three runs in the basin and three on the open sea.

Although these experiments didn't appear to have been entirely satisfactory, the benifits of oil were so clear that when the design of the Dreadnought was being laid down Admiral Fisher decided to make her partly oil powered, adopting a system in which oil was sprayed onto the coal to increase power.

Until 1905 the Surly was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, one of the three flotillas that contained all of the home-based destroyers.

In the summer of 1908 the Surly took part in the annual naval manoeuvres. On 10 July, just before the start of the exercises, she was part of a small flotilla that paid a visit to Dundee, made up of a flotilla of submarines, the submarine tender Thames, the torpedo gunboat Hazard and the Surly, which for once was the largest warship present in a fleet!

From 1911-1912 she was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. This was a reserve formation that was split between three ports, and the Surly was based at Portsmouth.

From 1912 she was part of the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, with a reduced complement.

In March 1913 she was in commission with a nucleus crew and was serving as a tender to HMS Fisgard, the engineer training department at Portsmouth. She was commanded by Gunner Frederick J. Moon.

By July 1914 she was back in active commission at Portsmouth.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of six destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, along with a force of torpedo boats. The formations had a fairly active war, carrying out a mix of activities, but only a few hints of them have survived in the record.

One of her first tasks was to form part of a life saving patrol that stretched across the Channel from Southampton to Havre to support the passage of the BEF across the Channel. The Patrol was active twice, from 8/9 August-17 August to cover the first convoys and again on 22 August to cover the passage of the 4th Infantry Division. The patrol’s services were never required, as all of the troop transports got across the channel safely.

In November 1914 she was one of six destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

In June 1915 she was one of seventeen destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, which now contained a mix of River class and the older 27-knotters and 30-knotters, along with a large force of torpedo boats.

In January 1916 she was one of eighteen destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla

In October 1916 she was one of nine destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, after the River class ships had largely moved on to new duties.

In January 1917 she was one of eight destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla. At this point the port was also the home of the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla and an Escort Flotilla, so was fairly crowded with destroyers.

In June 1917 she was one of nine destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla

In January 1918 she was one of nine destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, but was one of three undergoing repairs.

From 26 January 1918 she was commanded by Lt George. S. Loraine.

In June 1918 she was one of four or five destroyers serving with the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla

In December 1918 she was one of four active destroyers in the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

By February 1919 she was one of a large number of destroyers that were temporarily based at Devonport.

On 23 March 1920 she was sold to Ward at Milford Haven to be scrapped.

-February 1896: Commander A.H. Shirley
-March 1913-: Gunner Frederick J. Moon
26 January 1918-February 1919-: Lt George S. Loraine

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Pendant No.

1914: P.30
September 1915: D.3A
January 1918: D.82

Top Speed

27 knots (contract)


Four Normand boilers
2 screws


75 tons coal capacity
1,445 miles at 11 knots


203.75ft oa
200ft pp




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

Crew complement

50 (Brassey)
53 (British Destroyers)

Laid down

14 February 1894


10 November 1894


July 1895

Sold to be broken up

March 1920

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 January 2019), HMS Surly (1894),

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