HMS Sylvia (1897)

HMS Sylvia (1897) was a C class destroyer that served with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber in 1914, then with the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla for most of the rest of the war, often serving on convoy escort duties. She ended the war with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber.

Doxford built two destroyers in the 1896-7 programme, their first 30 knotters. They had four boilers in two stokeholds, with the uptakes from No 2 and No 3 boilers trunked into a single funnel.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1896 reported that she was under construction, but gave her an exaggerated top speed of 32 knots, and predicted that her engines were to produce 7,700ihp. Both of these figures would prove to be rather too high.

The Sylvia arrived at Portsmouth on Saturday 25 December 1897, at the end of her first voyage, south from Sunderland.

The Sylvia’s trials didn’t go well.

On Tuesday 29 March 1898 she attempted a three hour 30 knot coal consumption trial, but after an hour and a half a fan engine in the after stokehold broke and the trial had to be abandoned.

On Friday 22 April 1898 she carried out a speed trial, but failed to achieve her target speed of 30 knots.

On Tuesday 7 June 1898 she carried out a three hour speed trial, with the target speed of 30 knots. She completed the three hour run, but only achieved 29.788 knots at 5,300ihp.

On Monday 3 October 1898 she attempted a 3 hour speed trial. She averaged 30.4 knots over the first two hours, and a top speed of 31 knots on one run over the measured course. However ten minutes before the end of the trial one of her boiler tubes exploded and her trial had to be abandoned.

In mid October 1898 the Sylvia achieved an average speed of 30.194 knots over six runs over the measured mile. On an earlier trial she had reached 29.75 knots when limited to fuel consumption of 2.5lb of coal per ihp per hour.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1898 reported that she had reached 29.7 knots at 6,000ihp on a trial whose results had been published.

Pre-war career

On Wednesday 18 January 1899 the Sylvia joined the A Division of the Portsmouth Fleet Reserve.

The Sylvia took part in the 1899 Naval Manoeuvres. She was part of the destroyer flotilla attached to the Reserve or ‘B’ Fleet, under Vice Admiral Sir Compton Domvile. The exercise involved three forces – a convoy heading from Halifax to Milford Haven, the ‘A’ Fleet, which was to start at Belfast and try and intercept the convoy, and the ‘B’ Fleet, which had slower but more powerful ships and was to try and defend the convoy. The A fleet was given torpedo boats, the B fleet destroyers. The exercises ended as a success for the B fleet.

In 1900-1904 she was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home based destroyers

The Sylvia took part in the 1900 naval manoeuvres, when she formed part of the Portsmouth 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.

On Wednesday 19 December 1900 she suffered from a broken rudder while cruising with the instructional flotilla and had to return to Portsmouth.

The Sylvia 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 Sylvia 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.

At the start of August 1901 the Sylvia had to return to Portsmouth because of damage suffered during the manoeuvres.

On 27 August 1901 her crew were transferred to the Star, which replaced her in active service.

In 1904-1905 she was part of the Devonport Flotilla, the third of the three home based destroyer flotillas.

In the late summer of 1904 the Sylvia was commissioned at Portsmouth to take part in torpedo-craft manoeuvres. In late September she was then chose to replace HMS Blackwater in the Devonport Instructional Flotilla.

In 1905-1909 she was still part of the Devonport Flotilla, but by this point the more modern destroyers were attached directly to the battle fleet, while the three original flotillas mainly contained older ships.

On Sunday 11 February 1906 three of her crew were fatally injured while she was anchored in the Hamoaze at Devonport. A steam pipe burst on a local steamer that was moored next to the Sylvia¸ allowing scalding steam to fill the Sylvia’s boiler room. Two of the victims died on the 12th and the third on the 13th.

In 1909-1912 she was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, which contained the older battleships. She now carried a reduced complement.

From 1912 she was part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, one of the Patrol Flotillas, with a reduced complement.

At the end of July 1913 the armoured cruiser HMS King Alfred collided with the Spanish steamer Umbe 18 miles off Spurn Head. The Umbe sank an hour later, but only after her crew of 25 had been rescued by the King Alfred, They were then transferred to the Slyvia, and landed at Grimsby

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 August 1914 she was one of eleven destroyers from the flotilla that had moved to the flotilla’s new base on the Humber, others were scattered along the east coast. 

In November 1914 she was serving with No.4 Patrol, which was based at Grimsby, and patrolled the area between Spurn Light and Cromer Knoll. However after she docked for the next time she was to join No.5 Patrol at Yarmouth. This move was soon cancelled.

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 serving with the Grand Fleet as part of the Scapa Patrol.

In January 1916 she was one of ten destroyers attached to Admiral Jellicoe in his role as C-in-C of the Grand Fleet.

On 26 September 1916 a U-boat sank the collier St. Gothard , armed trawler Sarah Alice and armed yacht Conqueror II, while they were stopped as the two warships inspected the collier  off Fair Island. Fifteen men from the Conqueror II got into their boats, and were rescued by the Sylvia and the armed trawler Armageddon on the following day.

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

In January 1917 she was one of ten destroyers in the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla.

On 17 February 1918 the Sylvia began to escort ships from her base at Lerwick. On 23 March she was at sea when UC-45 sank the Norwegian SS Blomvaag with gunfire while she was steaming from Leith to Bergen. The Sylvia quickly arrived on the scene, and was able to force the submarine to submerge. While escorting ships the Sylvia repeatedly came into contact with possible U-boats and carried out depth charge attacks on 20 May, 29 May and 5 June.

On 20 May her target was U-19, which had just sunk the Norwegian S.S Arnfinn Jarl, which was part of a westward bound convoy. The Sylvia picked up her survivors, and then signed a periscope. She dropped a depth charge on the contact, and forced the submarine away from the convoy.

On 29 May the Sylvia was escorting an east-bound convoy when U-19 sank SS Norway with a single torpedo.

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

On 29 September 1917 the Sylvia was on patrol off the Shetlands with the destroyer Tirade and the trawler Moravia when the U-boat UC-55 was forced to surface after suffering problems on a minelaying sortie. The submarine’s crew scuttled her within sight of the British warships. In May 1920 the Sylvia’s crew was awarded prize money for their efforts.

In January 1918 she was still part of the Scapa Local Defence Flotilla, but she was undergoing repairs at Dundee.

In June 1918 the Sylvia was part of the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the East Coast of England, based on the Humber.

In November 1918 she was one of twenty seven destroyers in the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla.

The Sylvia was sold in July 1919.

-March 1917-May 1917-: Lieutenant Peter Shaw

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)


215ft oa




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

Crew complement

58-60 (Brassey)

Laid down

13 July 1896


3 July 1897


January 1899

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 (24 April 2019), HMS Sylvia (1897) ,

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