HMS Syren (1900)

HMS Syren (1900) was a B class destroyer that served with the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla of the Dover Patrol during the First World War, and helped sink U-8 in March 1915.

The first Palmer 30-knotters had four boilers with the middle two feeding a single funnel, but this changed in the 1897-8 programme, with all four boilers getting their own funnel. The middle two funnels were positioned close together, in the same area as the original merged funnel. The new layout was retained in the 1898-9 programme.

HMS Syren at sea
HMS Syren at sea

The Syren was ordered as part of the July 1898 supplement to the 1898-99 naval construction programme. It saw the introduction of a new system of forced lubrication, which was also used in later Palmer destroyers.

She was laid down on 24 November 1899and launched on 20 December 1900

Over time the 30-knotters were found to be increasingly impractical. The commandeering officer of the Syren noted that the exposed chart table was useless in ‘a heavy sea, or when raining hard’, making it rather useless in British waters!

On Tuesday 10 September 1901 she carried out a full power trial, and on Friday 13 September she carried out a twelve hour trial. She achieved an average speed of exactly 30 knots, slower than her predecessors, but carrying 40 tons more than HMS Star on her trials and 30 tons more than the Myrmidon, as efforts were made to make the trials more realistic.

The twelve hour trial was carried out at 18 knots, faster than the normal 13 knots. She used two of her four boilers, generating 1,224hp (from the possible 6,200hp) and using 2.2lb of coal per unit of power per hour.

On 6 May 1902 the Syren collided with the Admiral Superintendent of the Reserve’s yacht while crossing Portsmouth Harbour after undergoing steam trials. The Syren was attempting to avoid a steamer at the time, and ran into the yacht’s bows. The Syren suffered the loss of her third funnel and one of the ship’s boats.

In April 1903 the Syren was chosen for trials with a self lubricating apparatus that pumped oil into the bearings, removing the need to have this done manually. This was a success and by 1905 was being introduced into the Swale, Ure and Wear, and used in parts of the engines of new battleships and cruisers.

On 28 November 1904 the Syren damaged her bows when she hit the jetty while docking at Portmouth Dockyard.

On the night of Monday 1 May 1905 the Syren took part in night exercises off Berehaven. This involved a flotilla of 34 destroyers under Rear Admiral Winsloe, whose flagship was the cruiser Sapphire. The flotilla took part in a simulated attack on the flagship, when the Syren hit the Dog’s Rock at the eastern end of Bere Island (close to a gun battery). The destroyer was moving at 26 knots, and almost broke in two. Luckily the entire crew was saved easy, as the weather was good. The flagship and three destroyers remained with the wreck, while the rest of the flotilla departed for its base at Portland.

In the aftermath of the disaster the guns, engines, boilers and valuables were removed from the wreck. The tug Storm Cock and two lighters then arrived on the morning of 3 May to help salvage the hull. On 4 May the battleships Albemarle and Cornwallis joined the salvage efforts.

On the night of Thursday 4 May the wreck was taken off the rocks and beached in two parts at Milcove Strand on the mainland, two miles from the scene of accident. The aft section was moved to Berehaven to be patched up, and then towed to Queenstown, although a temporary bulkhead that had been built was discovered to be leaking. A new forward section was then constructed, and the destroyer returned to service in 1906.

Her return to the news was rather more positive. On Wednesday 29 August 1906 she made a recording breaking trip from Portsmouth to Jersey, leaving at 6am and arriving at 11am, after only five hours.

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

First World War

From August 1914 she served with the Dover Patrol. At the outbreak of the war she was one of six destroyers from the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla of the Dover Patrol that were posted at the Downs.

At the end of August 1914 she was chosen as one of six destroyers from the 6th Flotilla that were to support a planned landings at Ostend to support the Belgians. The landings began on 27 August, but it was soon clear that the port couldn’t be defended, and British troops withdrew on 31 August. On 27 August the Syren was used to help transport the Marines from the Portsmouth battalion from the ships they had crossed the Channel to Ostend.

Just after noon on 28 October 1914 she was carrying out an anti-submarine patrol in the channel off Westende on the Belgian coast with the Falcon when they came under accurate fire from the German battery at Westende. At this point neither ship was badly damaged, but the Falcon was hit by an 8in shell later in the day and had to head to Dunkirk.

In November 1914 she was still with the Sixth Flotilla, but she had arrived at Portsmouth on 30 October.

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

On 24 February 1915 the Syren reported spotting a submarine in the area west of Beachy Head, while at sea hunting for some floating tanks that had been seen between Dungeness and Beachy Head. While she was at sea she witnessed the merchant ship Harpalion being torpedoed by U-8. As she was going to rescue the survivors a periscope was spotted, and she moved to try and attack that target. The Harpalion’s crew were able to lower their boats, and they were rescued by the Syren. The Syren then took the rescued crew into Newhaven. The Harpalion stayed afloat until the following day, but an attempt to tow her to safety failed and she sank.

On 4 March HMS Viking spotted a submarine on the surface. The U-boat submerged before the Viking reached the spot, but a hunt was put in place. The Syren was waiting at Dover and was ordered to put to sea to join the Viking. The hunt ended in success, when the Ghurka used her sweep to damage the U-boat and force it to surface, allowing the entire crew to surrender. This turned out to be U-8, which sank soon after the crew were rescued. 

On 10 May 1915 the Syren escorted the Venerable from Dover to Dunkirk. The Venerable then took part in a unsatisfactory bombardment of Westende Bains (half way between Dunkirk and Ostende), requested by the Army to support a possible offensive on land.

In June 1915 she was part of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, based at Dover.

In January 1916 she was one of fifteen destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover, and one of only five that hadn’t been given modified anti-submarine sweeps.

In October 1916 she was one of twenty five destroyers in the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla.

On 26 October 1916, at the start of the battle of the Dover Strait (a successful German raid on the Dover Barrage), the Syren was one of eight British destroyers and a destroyer leader that were at Dunkirk. She was one of five destroyers that were already at Dunkirk before the raid began, as part of a permanent British naval presence in the area.

In January 1917 she was still part of the Sixth Flotilla, but she was away from Dover undergoing a refit.

In June 1917 she was one of twenty nine destroyers in the Sixth Flotilla.

The Syren was involved in a collision on 18 November 1917 in which one crewmember was killed.

The Syren was awarded a battle honour for operations off the Belgian coast in 1914-1917.

In January 1918 she was part of the Dover Destroyer Flotilla, which had expanded even further, and at full strength contained forty destroyers, although twelve were away being repaired!

On the night of 14-15 February 1918 the Germans carried out a destroyer raid into the Straits of Dover, to attack the Folkestone-Gris Nex Barrage. During the raid the Syren was at sea, patrolling between Nos.7 and 10 buoys in the southern part of the barrage. During the raid itself several ships were sunk by the Germans within a mile of the Syren, but her crew didn’t suspect that anything was going on, reported sighting nothing unusual, and thought that all of the gunfire they could see was coming from the vicinity of Dover! However at 0250 on the morning of 15 February the Syren found the abandoned and burning hulk of the drifter Cosmos, one of the victims of the raid, near No.10 buoy, making it clear that something had been going on!

In June 1918 she was officially part of the large Sixth Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Dover Force, but she was undergoing a long refit at Hull.

From 17 June 1918 she was commanded by Engineering Sub-lieutenant Charles K. Barker.

In November 1918 she was part of the Sixth Destroyers Flotilla, but was undergoing repairs.

By February 1919 she was one of a large number of destroyers temporarily based at Portsmouth,

The Syren was sold for break up in September 1920.

-May 1905-: Commander S.R. Olivier
17 June 1918-February 1919-: Engineering Sub-lieutenant Charles K. Barker.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots






219/75ft oa
215ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

24 November 1899


20 December 1900


February 1902

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 (17 January 2019), HMS Syren (1900) ,

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