HMS Velox (1902)

HMS Velox (1902) was the Navy’s third turbine destroyer, and although her turbines were a success she wasn’t terribly sea-worthy. As a result she spent most of her pre-war career serving as a tender to the Leander depot ship. During the First World War she was part of the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla, but was lost after she hit a mine on 25 October 1915.

The Velox was the third turbine destroyer to be purchased by the Royal Navy. The first, HMS Viper, was lost after she ran aground in the Channel in 1901. The second, HMS Cobra, was lost when she broke up near Cromer on her delivery voyage. At this point the turbine engine had yet to be proved - the potential was clear, but they were uneconomical at low speed, and experience with them was limited.

HMS Velox at sea
HMS Velox at sea

Parsons’s suggestion for improving fuel efficiency was to install lower powered triple expansion engines for use at lower speeds. His company laid down a destroyer on spec on 10 April 1901 (as the Python), sub-contracting construction of her hull to Hawthorn Leslie. This ship was to use two 150ihp triple expansion engines alongside the 4-shaft turbines. After the loss of the Viper and the Cobra, the Royal Navy considered four alternatives - buy the Parsons boat, fit turbines to two River class destroyers, fit turbines to a third class cruiser or fit turbines to a torpedo boat. In the end the Admiralty decided to try three of these options - the Parsons boat, one River class destroyer (HMS Eden) and install turbines in the cruiser HMS Amethyst.

The Parsons boat was accepted by the Royal Navy as HMS Velox (after the Navy decided not to name any more ships after reptiles!). She was basically a modified 30-knotter, with the same layout - turtleback foredeck with conning tower behind and bridge and 12-pounder gun on top. She had four boilers in two boiler rooms, with the middle two boilers sharing a single larger funnel. The engine room was behind the boiler rooms. As built the engine room contained the two small triple expansion engines and the high speed turbines. The ratings accommodation was split into two spaces below the turtleback and bridge. The captain’s cabin was in the stern, with the other officers mess and quarters, Chief and Petty Officers mess and engine room artificers mess between the captain’s quarters and the engine room. She had a retractable bow rudder controlled from a wheel in the forward crew space, designed to improve her manoeuvrability when going backwards.

The Velox had two compound turbine engines, each with a high pressure and a low pressure turbine. She had four shafts, with the outer ones powered by the high pressure turbines and the inner pair by the lower pressure turbines.

HMS Velox at Speed
HMS Velox at Speed

The expansion engines were connected to the inner two of four shafts, and at low speed only these were used. At full speed the turbines drove all four shafts. One problem was that the expansion engines were always connected to the shafts, so some of their power was used to rotate the turbines, which were also still connected. The amount of power that was lost could be reducing by maintaining a vacuum in the turbines, but this also used up power.

The Velox was laid down on 10 April 1901 and launched on 11 February 1902.

The Velox carried out her trials just after a change in the rules. Earlier ships carried out their contract trials with 25 tons of coal, but in future ships had to carry their full fuel load. As a result the Velox had a contract speed of 27 knots. However on her first sea trials on 24 July 1902 she had reached 33.127 knots. In early September 1902 she was reported to have reached 33.64 knots, making her the fastest ship in the world.

Brassey’s Naval Annual of 1904 reported the results of her 1903 trials. On her four hour speed trial she averaged 27.077 knots. On her four hour coal consumption trial she averaged 27.124 knots. Both of these results matched her more realistic contract speed, and must have been carried out with a more realistic load than the 1902 trials. During these trials she used 7.25 tons of coal per hour.

Although the Velox was fast, her service trials revealed a number of problems. Even with the cruising engines her range was still lower than the normal 30 knotters. She couldn’t carry enough stokers to allow her to keep up her full speed for very long, as she wasn’t much larger than the standard 30 knotters. Perhaps the most serious problem was that her condensers were above the waterline, making them more difficult to operate and making her unseaworthy in some eyes.

In May 1903 she carried out fuel efficiency trials. She used 41 tons of coal during a twenty-four hour run at 18 knots, and consumed 15 cwt/ hour of coal during an economy run with both types of engines in use.

A more satisfactory solution to the economy issue was to use lower powered cruising turbines. Parsons suggested this fairly early, and that arrangement was used in the River class destroyer HMS Eden. The Velox was given cruising turbines in 1907.

Pre-war Service

The Velox was officially taken over by the Admiralty at the end of August 1903. She was taken over by a naval navigating party, and departed from the Tyne on Wednesday 9 September 1903. On the voyage south she ran into a more powerful gale than the one that had sunk the Cobra, and survived two days of very bad weather, proving that the efforts made to make her stronger than the first turbine destroyers had worked. She reached Portsmouth on Saturday 12 September.

Soon afterwards she was nearly involved in an embarrassing incident. On Wednesday 7 October 1903 the Velox became unmanageable while leaving Portsmouth Harbour and nearly rammed the King’s favourite yacht Osborne. The Velox’s commander dropped anchor just in time to avoid a collision.

On Monday 19 October 1903 the Velox carried out a trial of her bow lights.

In March 1904 the Velox was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales during a Royal Visit to Portsmouth.

HMS Velox from the left
HMS Velox from the left

On 15 September 1904 the crew of the Velox helped to put out a fire that had broken out in the destroyer Spiteful while both were docked at Portsmouth.

From 1905-1906 the Velox was part of the 1st Division of the Destroyer Flotilla of the Channel Fleet, the main battleship force in Home Waters.

In 1907-1909 the Velox was part of the Portsmouth Flotilla, a local defence force.

On Tuesday 19 November 1907 the Velox was commissioned as a tender to the Leander depot ship at Plymouth, a depot ship for destroyers, using a nucleus crew from Devonport.

In September 1908 the Velox was used in early experiments with voice radio. She and the cruiser Furious were both equipped with wireless telephony equipment, and put to sea to get in touch with the Vernontorpedo school. The set on the Furious worked at up to 50 miles distance.

In 1911-1912 the Velox was part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, and was based at Portsmouth. The 6th was part of the 3rd Division of the Home Fleet, and her destroyers were all partly manned.

In 1912 she joined the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

By 1913 she had been given a mainmast that supported wireless aerials, and a wireless telegraph office below the bridge.

In July 1914 she was in active commission at Portsmouth.

First World War

In August 1914 she was one of six destroyers in the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

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 June 1915 she was part of the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla.

On 25 October 1915 the Velox ran into a mine three miles to the north-west of the Nab Light Vessel. The Velox was badly damaged but remained afloat. The wounded were taken off by a drifter, and another destroyer from the Portsmouth Local Defence Flotilla attempted to tow her to safety. The mine had laid in a field a mile to the east of the light vessel by UC-5 on 18 October, and might have been dragged to the position where the Velox hit her by a British mine sweeper. The effort to tow the Velox to port failed, and she sank, but not before most of the crew were taken off. Only four men were killed in the incident.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

27 knots


4-shaft turbines with TE cruising engines on 2 shafts


1,175nm at 13 knots


215ft oa
210ft pp




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

Crew complement


Laid down

10 April 1901


11 February 1902


February 1915



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 (14 August 2019), HMS Velox (1902) ,

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