HMS Thorn (1900)

HMS Thorn (1900) was a C class destroyer that began the First World War with the Seventh Destroyer Flotilla on the Humber, before moving to Scapa Flow at the end of 1914. In February 1915 she was used to found the North Channel Patrol, based at Larne, where she spent the rest of the war.

The Thorn was one of three destroyers ordered from Brown on Clydebank as part of the 1900-1 programme, while already under construction.

Brassey’s Naval Annual for 1901 published two of her trial results from 1900. In one she reached 30.174knots at 6,540ihp at 2.33lb of coal per ihp per hour. In the second she reached 30.053knots at 6,455ihp.

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.

In December 1900 the Thorn sailed from Glasgow to Plymouth, where she was to have her guns and torpedo tubes added and undergo official trials. The press erroneously reported her as a ’33-knot’ destroyer at the time, and also that she had been forced to put in at Queenstown by bad weather.

Pre-war Career

In 1901-1905 the Thorn was part of the Devonport Flotilla, one of three that contained all of the home-based destroyers.

HMS Thorn from the left
HMS Thorn from the left

The Thorn 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 Thorn was part of a force of destroyers from Devonport that joined Fleet X. 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 Monday 14 October 1901 the Thorn left Plymouth to join the Reserve Squadron (within the Devonport Flotilla). She was soon serving with the Devonport Instructional Flotilla.

On 29 October 1901 the Thorn was returning to port at Devonport after an operation with the flotilla when she hit a liberty boat from the cruiser Forth. One man from the Forth was reported missing at first. This was later reported to be an error, but in later reports three men were recorded as missing. The body of one of the missing men, James Burrow, was found two weeks later.

On Friday 15 November 1901 the Thorn’s commander on the day, Lt. Commander H. S. Alton, was court-martialled for the incident, and found guilty of negligently performing his duty as commander of the destroyer. He was dismissed from the ship and severely reprimanded.

At the end of November 1901 an inquest on the three drowned men was held at Devonport. This time Lt. Commander Alton, who attended while on half pay, was exonerated from all blame.

In May 1904 the Thorn was chosen to replace the Leven in comparative speed trials against the River Class destroyer Foyle, to compare the real performance of the 30-knotters and the more sea-worthy but officially slower River class destroyers. The Leven had been knocked out of the contest after she collided with the Torpoint floating bridge.

The Thorn took part in the 1904 Naval Manoeuvres, but she was soon judged to have been captured by the opposing fleet, and had to surrender.

In late August, soon after the end of the manoeuvres, the Thorn, Dee and Zephyr, were paid off into the Portsmouth Reserve.

In August 1905 the Thorn was part of the fleet that greeted a French fleet that was visiting Portsmouth, as part of the general improvement in Anglo-French relations of the period.

In September 1905 one of her crew, Richard McGrath, was arrested after a quarrel in a house in Arthur Street, Edinburgh. After the incident he claimed that he had received facial injuries while in police custody, but at an sheriff’s inquiry on 19 September it was proved that he already had the injuries before the police arrived.

In 1906-1907 the Thorn was part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, part of the Channel Fleet, at that time the main battleship force in Home Waeters.

In 1907-1909 the Thorn was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, now seen as a local defence force, while the more modern destroyers were directly attached to the battle fleets.

In 1909-1912 the Thorn was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, which was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet. All of the 3rd Division destroyers were partly manned.

From May 1912 the Thorn was part of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, one of the patrol flotillas.

In the summer of 1913 the Thorn and the 7th Destroyer Flotilla paid a visit to the East Coast. At the start of June 1913, when they were returning to Devonport, the Thorn was involved in a tragic accident, when Leading Seaman Bucknell fell off the Arab, which was ahead of her in the flotilla, and was struck by the Thorn’s propeller. Only his cap was ever found, and a burial service was conducted on the spot, before the flotilla continued on its way.

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 part of the Seventh Flotilla, and was based at Hunstanton, with the task of patrolling the local coastline.

In November 1914 she was part of No.3 Patrol of the Seventh Flotilla, based at Grimsby.

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.

On 16 February 1915 she was one of three destroyers that left Scapa Flow to form a new North Channel Patrol, protecting the northern entrance to the Irish Sea, answering to the commanding admiral at Larne.

The role of the North Channel patrol was to guard the northern entrance to the Irish Sea and to watch the ends of the North Channel barrage, a set of indicator nets designed to alert the defenders if any U-boat attempted to pass.

On 20 February a U-boat was spotted off Liverpool, and the Thorn was one of four destroyers sent to try and find it, without success.

On 19 April the armed merchant cruiser HMS Oropesa was attacked by a U-boat while travelling between Oversay and Skerryvore on the way from the Clyde to her station. The three available patrol destroyers (Thorn, Garry and Tara) put to sea to try and find the submarine, but news soon arrived that the cruiser had driven off the submarine with gunfire. The orders were cancelled, and the Thorn never left Stranraer, where she was taking on coal.

In late April the Thorn took part in a major escort operation, protecting the ships that carried the 10th Division across the Irish Sea from Ireland to England, on their way to the Western Front. The move took place without any problems.

In June 1915 she was operating with the North Channel Patrol and was based at Larne.

In January 1916 she was one of two destroyers in the North Channel Patrol, based at Larne.

By March 1916 the North Channel patrol only had two destroyers - Garry and Thorn, along with 120 net drifters, 2 armed yachts, 18 armed trawlers and 5 motor boats.

In October 1916 she was one of two destroyers in the North Channel Patrol, based at Larne

In January 1917 she was one of two destroyers in the North Channel Patrol, based at Larne

In June 1917 she was one of two destroyers in the North Channel Patrol, based at Larne

In January 1918 she was one of four destroyers in the North Channel Patrol, based at Larne. 

In June 1918 she was operating with the patrols in the Grand Fleet area and was one of four destroyers from the North Channel Patrol based at Larne.

In November 1918 she was one of six destroyers in the North Channel Patrol.

The Thorn was broken up at the Portsmouth Dockyard in 1919.

-29 October 1901-: Lt Commander H.S. Alton

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30 knots




80 tons coal capacity (Brassey)


222 oa
218ft pp




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

Crew complement

58 (Brassey)

Laid down



17 March 1900


June 1901

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

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 July 2019), HMS Thorn (1900) ,

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