HMS Defender (1911)

HMS Defender (1911)

HMS "Defender" was an "Acheron"-class destroyer of the Royal Navy.

She was built at William Denny & Brothers in Dumbarton, Scotland for £83,000 [ D K Brown 'The Grand Fleet: Warship Design and Development 1906-1922". Caxton Editions 2004. ISBN 1-84067-531-4] and launched on 30 August 1911.

Pennant Numbers



"Defender" and her sisters formed the 1st Destroyer Flotilla and were attached to the Grand Fleet in 1914.

Heligoland bight

On 28 August 1914 the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy met at the Battle of Heligoland Bight. When the German Destroyer V184 was hit by four British destroyers and sank with heavy loss of life, the British stopped to pick up survivors. The German cruiser SMS "Stettin" re-appeared and the fight resumed. Two boats belonging to "Defender" were left behind, and their crews and the rescued Germans were later picked up by the British Submarine E4. Unable to take all of them on board, E4's captain took a few German prisoners and left the rest the boats, water, biscuits, a compass, and the course to steer back to their base.


On the night of 31 May/01 June 1916 "Defender" took an active part in the Battle of Jutland. During the night action she had one man killed by a shell which also reduced her speed to zero, but on restoring propulsion (about 19:15) she took the damaged "Onslow" in tow and made Aberdeen the next day. Her captain, Lieutenant Commander L R Palmer Royal Navy received the DSO. The event was described in detail by Rudyard Kipling, in his book "Sea Warfare" as "Towing Under Difficulties":

::Rudyard Kipling, "Sea Warfare, Destroyers at Jutland, Stories of the Battle"

The Report on the Battle by Admiral Beatty included:

::Admiral Beatty, "The Beatty Papers, vol. 1, B.McL. Ranft, ed, Navy Records Society, 1989, p 323"

In Kipling's "Destroyers at Jutland", the narative is taken up by the First Lieutenant of HMS Defender, Lieutenant Ralph Broughton:

cquote|H.M.S. Defender had been detached from the 1st Flotilla, and was attached to the Harwich Flotilla for duty with the 3rd Battle Squadron at Sheerness but was carrying out a periodical docking and refit at Leith, near Rosyth, which was completed at noon on the 30th May.

After completing with oil and ammunition at Rosyth on that day, instead of getting sailing orders to return to Harwich, we were very much astonished to be told to raise steam for full speed and join the Fearless and the six remaining boats of the 1st Flotilla for duty with the Rosyth force. We sailed with Fearless and the flotilla about 9.30 p.m. on 39th May, and were stationed as anti-submarine screen to the 5th Battle Squadron. We had no intimation on board of what we were doing or even of the composition of our own forces out. The first news we received of anything out of the ordinary was a semaphore message about 3.45 on Wednesday 31st May, from our Captain in the Fearless stating that the enemy had been sighted. However, as we could not see any enemy it did not excite us very much, until we saw the 5th B.S. increase to full speed and hoist a signal to destroyers “get out of the way”. We then realised something was up, and very soon afterwards sounds of firing were heard ahead from the battle cruisers.

We formed, by signal from Fearless, on the starboard, i.e. the disengaged, quarter of the last ship in the 5th B.S. line, the Malaya, where we were in readiness for any attack. Nothing of the enemy could be seen except the flashing of his guns, but in the distance we saw the loss of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary.

It was next seen that the battle cruisers led by the Lion had turned 16 points, and were steaming to the North on an opposite course to the 5th B.S., and as they had no destroyers with them, Captain D turned the 1st flotilla to their course and we received a signal to form an anti-submarine screen ahead of the battle cruisers. Defender’s billet should have been half a mile ahead of Lion, but the Lion was doing a jolly good 25 and we had not got the legs of her. However, we had a good lead and were the leading boat of the flotilla, the whole lot of which were racing for the positions, but could not get ahead of the Lion. Defender got to about half a cable on the port beam of the Lion with Acheron just outside. We could see that the Lion had received some damage to “Q” turret, and men were working around it putting things right again, for at the time they were out of range of the enemy.

Our next move (at about 6 p.m.) was a signal from the Lion - “Prepare to renew the action” – and almost at once we saw the leading ships of the battle fleet coming in from our port bow. Lion turned to starboard to close the range on the enemy, but the leading destroyers of the battle fleet which had not yet got the deployment signal, nearly collided with us, but we held on to our course and they went under our stern out of it.

As we closed the range, the Germans started to drop shells about, and salvo after salvo, meant for the Lion fell beautifully all around us. At about 6.30 p.m. we took a ricochet 12-inch shell, which came in sideways into the foremost boiler-room and lodged in the bottom of the ship under the boiler without exploding. It tore a hole about 8 feet wide in the side of the ship, cut steam pipes, and started an oil fuel fire. Naturally, our speed dropped at once, and it was obvious we could do no good where we were, so we turned out and passed between the two fleets until t got a bit clearer. We then turned again and stopped to take stock of the damage. By great exertion and extreme bravery, the boiler-room party had shut the stop valves, and the oil fuel fire, which had raged furiously was put out with sand. The collision mat was got over the hole in the side, and acted well in checking the entry of any more water. It was found that the main steam pipe had not been cut, and that we had one boiler left and the engines intact, and with one boiler a speed of 15 knots, or perhaps more in an emergency, could be guaranteed.

A destroyer, which afterwards proved to be the Onslow, was seen some distance off, stopped and apparently in worse plight than ourselves, so we closed her and offered assistance. This was at once accepted, a she had a 5-degree list, no steam, and no steering gear left, and about three large holes in her. We started to get her in tow, but very nearly made a mess of it owing to some cruisers coming into view, which looked as if they were Germans going to put an end to both of us. We luckily got the Onslow’s wire in in time, and started to clear out of it – course, west for England.

About 9 p.m. that night – Wednesday 31st – a large ship was seen coming up astern, but on being challenged she proved to be the Warspite, also homeward bound. We asked if we might keep with her for protection, but unfortunately she was too fast for us, and disappeared into the darkness without giving our position. Both of us wanted a position badly, as during the fighting no very accurate reckoning had been kept, and our compasses had no doubt been put out of adjustment.

In the middle watch the wind got up, and unfortunately we did not ease speed in time, so the tow parted. But the Onslow had got some steam by this time, and said she would struggle on by herself, but at daylight it was seen that it was hopeless and she was hardly making any way through the water so it was decided to take her in tow again, using Defender’s wire. Some little time was taken to prepare for this, and also it was necessary for Defender to steam stern to wind to adjust her collision mats, which had become displaced in the rising sea. But eventually the Onslow got in tow again, and we were just going well ahead when the towing slip of Defender snapped clean in two. This meant further delay and getting some cable from the fo’csle aft, but at last Onslow was in tow again with Defender’s wire secured to a shackle of cable round the pedestal of Defender’s after 4-inch gun.

The weather got steadily worse, which gave us cause for anxiety as we wanted to take a sight of the sun, being very uncertain of our position, and whenever we tried to take a sounding we lost every lead owing to the heavy rolling of the ship. Also our anxiety was increased by the very alarming reports received from time to time fro Onslow, from which it really seemed that we should fail to get her in, and that she would sink while still in tow. To slip our make-shift towing gear would have been impossible for us, and the chance of saving her cre would have been very remote. The weather was anxiously studied, and, as the Onslow had no barometer left, she was asking us for frequent reading in the hopes that we had seen the worst of it and that a turn for the better was coming. But our speed went down and down until we could barely keep steerage way.

Just before dark we intercepted a wireless signal from one of our destroyers which was apparently ahead of us, stating that she had sighted four German destroyers steaming back towards Heligoland, and from the course and position she gave of them, we estimated that they would pass close by us. A couple of lame birds would have been easy meat for them, so Onslow decided to alter course up to the northward to give them as wide a berth as possible, but as we were so uncertain of our position, we were still left rather anxious that we might run across them. However, we didn’t meet them.

Next morning, Friday, 2nd June, the weather got a little better, and about 10 o’clock, to our great relief, we made out Tod head, and shaped course for Aberdeen which we reached about 1.0 p.m., when a couple of tugs picked up the Onslow from us just outside the breakwater, and took her into harbour.

As there was no reason for Defender to enter, we shaped course for the Firth of Forth, and made fast alongside the destroyer depot ship Woolwich, from where in due course we moved into dockyard and there refitted the ship and gave leave to the crew.

An unidentified officer of the "Onslow" wrote the following notes on Kipling’s "Towing Under Difficulties", and it is worth repeating in full here:cquote|A quarter of an hour after our engines stopped, at 7.15 p.m., the Defender came in sight, closed us, and asked if she could be of any assistance. She also was a lame duck, having been reduced to a speed of 0 knots by a 12-inch shell ricocheting into her foremost boiler room, so, as she was of no further fighting use for that day, our Captain accepted her offer, and she proceeded to take us in tow.

There then started the long journey home of two lame-duck destroyers, which Rudyard Kipling has written of under the title, “The Cripple and the Paralytic”. [pp. 160-162 of ‘Sea Warfare’ – the heading is actually “Towing under difficulties”] I am not able to compete with Rudyard Kipling as a descriptive author, and anyhow there is really not much to be said about it, except that it was a somewhat uncertain and distinctly uncomfortable voyage. The taking in tow was enlivened by a few large splashes arriving near us, I don’t know where from, and by the apparent probability of the general action returning to our neighbourhood at any moment. The Captain directed Defender to shape course west by north as soon as we were I tow, and just as dusk was falling we left the scene of our adventures at rather less than 6 knots’ speed, still hearing occasional bursts of firing to the southward. I must mention here that, in spite of the heavy damage to the ship, our casualties were only three men killed, which was really an astonishingly light number considering all the damage we had received. Two of these three men we buried next morning according to the custom of the sea.

About 9 p.m. we had a mild scare, the after look-outs reporting a large ship overhauling us, but, to our relief, it proved to be the Warspite, which signalled to us, “Take station astern; speed 16 knots”, and then rapidly disappeared on the port bow. We were not 16 knotters.

A fresh sou’westerly breeze was now gaining force every hour and the barometer was falling fast. Three times the tow parted, and eventually we found that the only tow that was proof against the continual jerks of the two ships plunging in the short steep sea, was a span composed almost entirely of chain cable. But after a time the Engineer Officer raised enough steam in the boilers, by using salt water, to enable the steering engine to be worked, and this was a great assistance in preventing the ship from yawing violently from side to side as she had been doing. Most of the hands at this time were employed in transferring oil fuel from one tank to another in any little pot or pan that could be collected – the only means of getting the fuel to the boilers, as the pipe system was out of order, and only the for’ard tank had any oil left in it. We were still able to receive W/T signals, although we could not send any, and we intercepted one signal from Champion giving directions for a division of the 13th Flotilla to search for Onslow, but neither ourselves nor Defender (which was able to signal) could tell Champion where we were, as we did not know ourselves, and, our sextants all being smashed up, we could not find out.

We continued towards Aberdeen during the 1st June, but that evening intercepted a signal reporting a division of enemy destroyers steering a course and speed which apparently would take them right past our position. However, we had all our guns intact and plenty of ammunition left, and made arrangements with Defender that we would occupy the Huns whilst she tried to make good her escape. But our anxiety over this was unnecessary, as some days later we heard that the scare was a false one, the division of destroyers being a British one wrongly reported as Germans.

In spite of the wind continuing to freshen, the tow held throughout the night of 1st June without further trouble, and on Friday, June 2nd, we got under the lee of Scotland, and at 1 p.m. that day were met by tugs off Aberdeen and taken safely into harbour. There we remained being repaired for the next two months. ::Rudyard Kipling, "Sea Warfare"

) to his brother after the battle:cquote|I have had the most providential escape. I left the dock I was in at noon Tuesday (30th May) and went to get ammunition and asked about four hours later if I could go South to my base. I was told to raise steam and go out with the eight boats of 1st Flotilla. This made me rather bored as really [I did] not belong to them, however good show as turned out. We left about 10 p.m. with Lion and fast battleships…
Next day 31st May about four o'clock got signal “Enemy in sight". We being with the four fast battleships (Queen Elizabeth class) and they engaged with Battle Cruisers the whole of the High Sea Fleet, and got a hammering (not the battleships but the Battle Cruisers, losing three). We got nothing at all as out of range and with the battleships, which the Germans were frightened of. The Battle Cruisers turned round and so did we, the first D Flotilla the battleships going on, found ourselves with the Lion. A lull now took place, having drawn out of range purposely to allow repairs at this time, we had hardly had a shot near us. Lion made “Prepare for action" and told us to form submarine screen ahead. The speed now 25 knots our utmost, so we could not do it but steamed our utmost to get to positions ahead of her as submarine screen.
Lion then led towards the Huns again with us 200 yards on his beam. Then to our great joy out of the mist to the westward appeared the leading position of the Grand fleet. It then came (signal) that they were closing on us and dangers of collision us all forming into line. However we kept on with the Lion and the Grand Fleet turned up parallel. Then it was that the Defence led 1st Cruiser Squadron to their deaths instead of turning (Cruiser Squadron – Defence, Duke of Edinburgh, Warrior, Black Prince). The Duke of Edinburgh apparently turned. Shots were now falling round us like hail shrapnel and big stuff over for the Lion, every ship firing for all they were worth, of course not us, waiting until required for torpedo attack, merely expecting a shell or casualties. At 6.30 after about 20 minutes of action a 12 inch projectile hit us on foremost boiler room causing a fire and a lot of steam escape putting it out of action and reducing our speed to 15 knots. By the mercy of providence the shell did not explode and is on board now. Wrecked the place a bit and if it had exploded we should have been blown to pieces.
It then appeared to me that with my speed reduced I could not keep my station in the line so turned round and steamed between the English and German fleet, on fire and belching steam. Reaching the end of the line I turned again in an area of comparative calm and prepared for anything to do. We had now repaired up a bit, found out one man killed, got the fire under and shut off steam, got a mat to keep the water out and generally squared up, found all things okay.
Then saw a destroyer in a worse state than myself, went to her and offered assistance. She proved to be the Onslow and replied “could not steam” so offered to tow him as it was useless with my speed reduced to continue the action. Getting him in tow was when I had the only qualms I experienced. Four light cruisers coming straight at us with shells falling around - thought they were Huns and our number up, but found they were British ! Got Onslow in tow and after 48 hours heart breaking job and also dangerous managed it all right. I enclose signal received from them, saved them at any rate:
From Onslow to Defender: “We all Captain, officers and ship’s company thank you very much for your kind and most efficient assistance and wish you all possible luck and a long leave.”
I patched up a bit and went to Harwich and expect to be three weeks in dock soon to repair and hope for leave here.

1916 - 1921

She was transferred to the 3rd Battle Squadron and sold to a Mr Rees for breaking up in November 1921.


External links

*Naval History Websites by Bob Henneman -
*Clyde Built Warships -

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