HMS Swift (D60) (1918)
HMS Swift was a unique destroyer leader, designed and built for the Royal Navy prior to World War I, in what would be the pinnacle of Admiral “Jackie” Fisher’s relentless quest for speed, which was one of his major visions for modernizing the Royal Navy. Due to this pursuit of speed, he envisioned the need for a large ocean-going destroyer, capable of both the usual destroyer requirements, along with the ability to keep up with faster Capital ships he intended to build, where it would serve as a high-speed scout for the as of yet unbuilt battle cruisers (The first of which would be HMS Invincible, followed by the Courageous-class). HMS Swift was intended to be the first of class for this new breed of high seas destroyer intended to replace the Rivers-class then in service, though this ambition unlike most of Admiral Fisher’s other pursuits would unfortunately fall flat, as reality did not quite align with his ambitions.
This white elephant would begin its conception in October of 1904, when Fisher would put his specification to the Director of Naval Construction (DNC), requesting a tender be put out for a ship conforming to the following requirements; that it be 320 feet (98 m), displace 900 tons, and be able to achieve 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph). The DNC had a gander at this and simply stated that the requested design was not strong enough, so instead in 1905 a revised design was issued for; a speed of 33.5 knots (62.0 km/h; 38.6 mph) from 19,000 shp (14,000 kW) on a 1,400 t hull, which was pushed through, followed by an additional request for a vessel capable of 36 knots on 1,350 tons from 29,000 shp (22,000 kW).
The short notice of this request only gave major shipyards four weeks to produce their tenders, though even with the small window five managed to put forward designs. Cammell Laird, Thornycrofts, Fairfields, John Brown and Armstrong Whitworth all immediately encountered issues as in order to meet the requirements, a high cost would be necessary, for example, Armstrong’s tender listed a price of £284,000, compared to £139,881 for HMS Afridi, a destroyer of the 1905 Tribal class). Because of this, a final design was not agreed upon until mid-December of 1905, with Cammell Laird only taking the order with the proviso that amendments would be needed. The design they put forward was a vessel 340 feet long (100 m), weighing 1,680 tons, armed with four Mark VIII 4-inch guns and two 18-inch (457 mm) torpedo tubes, running on oil-fired Parsons steam turbines, producing 30,000 shp (22,000 kW) across four shafts. The ship was conservatively priced at £236,000 and given the internal building name of Flying Scud (changed to Swift in April 1906 once the admiralty had settled on a name). Construction work started in December 1906 and she was launched ready for fitting on 7 December 1907.
The initial contract the Admiralty had put forward stipulated an additional reward of £18,000 for every knot more than 36 knots the ship was able to achieve. Unfortunately, during trials in March of 1909, she stuffed a large number of mechanical failures, and even lightened was never able to manage better than 35.099 knots, which came at an exorbitant fuel consumption cost of 27.5 tons/hour out of a total stock of only 180 tons. Attempts to get correct this issue resulted in sea trials being prolonged until September of 1909, where 26 different propeller designs were trialled in an attempt to reach the required speed. This would never occur though, and the Admiralty reluctantly accepted her as is, for the sum of £236,764 with £44,240 in penalties for the failure to reach contracted speed and late delivery. This resulted in arguments from the builder due to the difficulty of the requested contract, and eventually, the penalties were reduced to £5,000, even as contemporary civilian press reports claimed that HMS Swift was capable of reaching 38 knots.
This resulted in the prototype vessel being the only member of her class constructed, as her horrible performance had soured the admiralty to the idea, and no other leaders were built before the outbreak of the First World War due to both expense and disappointing outcome. Fisher’s replacement Arthur Wilson was also rather scathing of the project, and is quoted as saying “I do not think we require any repetition of Swift in the immediate future”, in reference to its weak armament and high cost.
Armament history and other equipment changes:
During her career HMS Swift had three major changes to her primary armament layouts, the first as completed featured four 4-in B.L. Mark VIII on P. III mounting, with two in tandem on the forecastle, and an additional two aft on the centerline. These guns recoiled 38 inches when fired and had 100 rounds per gun, in the following configuration 50 steel, 50 lyddite, and 14 practice.
This layout would change in 1916, when the two 4-inch guns on the forecastle were replaced by a 6-in B.L. Mark VII on a P. III mounting, with the intention of having this gun outrange the German 4.1 inch guns currently in service with their destroyers. This gun recoiled 16 inches when fired, and instead of firing 6-inch rounds, instead fired 102mm 4-inch shells, with additional charge, with 46 rounds carried, 26 common and 20 practice.
This layout would again change in May of 1917, when after combat proved the 6-inch gun was substandard, it was removed in favour of two 4-inch QF Mk V guns mounted again in tandem on the foredeck. In addition to this, the ship also received a 6-pdr Q.F. gun on H.A. mounting was added near the aft torpedo tube (which had to be reversed in order for the gun to fit), as well as a 1.5-pdr H.A. gun near the aft steering position (This was a precursor gun to the famous 2 pounder, and was only made in limited numbers).
In terms of Torpedo armament, HMS Swift was initially with two 18-in torpedo tubes with Mark VI* torpedoes. But in 1914 these were instead replaced with a pair of 21-in dual revolving Mark I tubes as replacements.
HMS Swift’s first assignment would set a trend for her subsequent career, as in march of 1910, she was commissioned at Portsmouth, with orders to join the Nore destroyer flotilla of the home fleet. Upon leaving she nearly immediately suffered damage after a collision with a gunboat on the Solent, forcing her to return to port for repairs, which after a short delay allowed her to leave the next day on march 11th.
In July of 1910 she took part in the annual naval manoeuvers, in which she conducted a false attack on the port of Milford Haven on the 13th, where she was “repelled” but the port’s guns and submarines. She continued training and patrols, with the ship scoring 94 points during the 1912 battle practice, before she was assigned to be the leader of the 4th Torpedo Boat Destroyer Flotilla.
The issues regarding reliability persisted with her during this time though, but she remained a prestigious ship, with Winston Churchill using her for transport at least twice while he served as the First Lord of the Admiralty. The first time in May of 1912 when he used her to watch the annual naval manoeuvres, and again in August of 1913 when he used her to travel to Harwich, in order to get to London. This role continued into 1913 when she was listed as one of only three ships directly attached to the commander-in-chief of the First Fleet, though she remained the flagship of the 4th flotilla during this time.
The next major action occurred on the 17th of June 1914, when the hospital ship RFA Maine ran aground on the Isle of Mull, and was subsequently wrecked. HMS Swift came to the stricken vessel’s aid, and was able to bring 35 patients ashore at Campbeltown, marking its last action until the start of the First world war.
With the start of the first world war, HMS Swift was in her normal place as the flotilla leader for the Fourth Flotilla of the First Fleet of the Home Fleet. At the start of the war, the flotilla was based at Queenstown Ireland, though with hostilities now in play they were transferred to Scarpa Flow in order to protect the three main entrances, until the arrival of the main fleet on the 31st of July. In this role, Swift was the flagship of a flotilla of twenty Acasta and K-class destroyers, which even for the time was an impressively sized grouping of ships.
On the 15th of October 1914, HMS Hawke (Noteworthy for colliding with RMS Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic in 1911), an Edgar-class protected cruiser failed to report in while operating in the north sea off Aberdeen. Unbeknownst to the fleet she had been hit by a torpedo fired by U-9 while attempting to catch up with the rest of her squadron while collecting mail from her sister ship HMS Endymion. This was not observed by the other ships in her flotilla, and it was not until she failed to respond to an order to retreat that something was seen to be amiss. Due to her size and speed, HMS Swift was dispatched from Scapa Flow to locate the as of then missing cruiser, but she found no sign of her, as Hawke had capsized and sunk almost immediately after being hit. After two hours Swift found a raft carrying one officer and 20 men, and only then was the Cruiser’s fate discovered. In addition to this boat, another one carrying 49 survivors was picked up by a Norwegian steamer, giving only 70 survivors with 524 men lost with the ship. This fate was almost shared with Swift, as soon after fishing the survivors out of the north see she reported being attacked by a U-boat, though this claim has never been substantiated.
After this excursion, HMS Swift was transferred to Second in Command of the Fourth Flotilla to serve as the flagship where on the 9th of November an intercepted telegram suggested that two minelaying cruisers might have left German on a raid. In response HMS Swift and two divisions of destroyers were sent to intercept, though no enemy ships were spotted and the flotilla returned to harbour on the 11th of November after a 2 day search.
In June of 1915, while serving as the flagship for the Fourth Flotilla of the Grand Fleet and was based at Scapa, she was deemed to be too lightly constructed for flagship service in the more stormy north sea. Because of this, she was refitted in July of 1915, with her bridge being enclosed and strengthened, along with additional changes to her funnels. After this modification, she again returned to being the listed flotilla leader of the Fourth Flotilla.
During 1916, her forward 4-inch guns were replaced by a single 6-inch BL gun, which also involved her bridge being made even larger and further strengthened. It was in this configuration that she lead the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla though due to being at Dunkirk she was unable to help repel a German raid into the straits on the 26-27 October 1916, in what would become known as the battle of Dover Strait.
After this, she would be transferred to Dover in January of 1917, where she would then take part in the minor battle of the cover strait on the 20th of April 1917. This engagement involves an attack by six german torpedo boats, which were sent to bombard Dover, in tandem with another six which were sent to bombard Calais, with the intent of hitting allied shipping in the Downs. HMS Swift and HMS Broke were at sea when the attack began, and about seven miles to the east of Dover they encountered the six torpedo boats sent to attack Dover, prompting both destroyers to fire their torpedos. The destroyer’s torpedos found their mark, and one hit German torpedo boat G.85 amidship, sinking the vessel. Swift proceeded to begin chasing two more fleeing torpedo boats, but after suffering damage from return gunfire, she gave up the chase and instead returned to the seriously damaged Broke, who had been rammed and subsequently enmeshed herself in the hull of Torpedo boat G.42. This engagement resulted in the Captain getting a DSO and the Navigating officer, Executive and gunnery officer, surgeon and one gunner to be awarded the DSC. Only one man aboard HMS Swift was killed during the battle, with the Germans losing two destroyers. This engagement also resulted in a £955 bounty being paid to the officers and crews of Swift and Broke, as a reward for the sinking of the two destroyers. After the battle HMS Swift was subsequently repaired, and finding the 6-inch gun wanting, instead had it replaced with two 4-inch QF Mk V guns.
After this refit Swift was made one of four destroyer leaders of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla at Dover along with Broke, Faulknor and Botha). This flotilla was one of the largest in the fleet having thirty-five destroyers, two torpedo boats, six patrol boats and the seaplane carrier Riviera.
Swift’s next major action would be her involvement in the Zeebrugge raid of 23 April 1918, although she was on the fringes of the operation. She would then strike a mine on the 6th of May 1918, which killed one officer and one rating requiring her to return to port for repairs. She was repaired in good time, and was able to take part in the Second Ostend Raid which was some of the last bombardments to take part on the German-held coastline.
With the end of the war, Swift was soon placed in reserve in November of 1919 at Portsmouth as part of the massive post-war reserve. This berth would not last long though, and in july of 1920 the navy announced that Swift was surplus to requirements, and she would be sold. The ship ultimately being sold to Edgar Rees & Co. Ltd. of Llanelli on the 9th of December and subsequently broken up thereafter.
Displacement: 2,170t Standard, 2390 Loaded
Length: 353.75 ft (107.8 m)
Beam: 34.5 ft (10.5 m)
Draught: 10.5 ft (3.2 m)
Installed power: 12 Yarrow-type Laird water tube boilers producing 30,000 shp (22,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4 shafts; steam turbines
Speed: 35 knots ( 40.2 mph, 64.8 kp/h)
History of pennants: H.64 (1914), H.3A (Jan 1918), D.60 (Sep 1918)
Armament as of 1918
2 × single BL 4-inch (102mm) Mk VIII naval gun mounted aft (100 rounds per gun)
2 x Single QF 4-inch (102mm) naval gun Mk V sided on the foredeck (100 rounds per gun)
1 × single 1.5-pdr (37mm) H.A. gun near the aft steering position
1x 6-pdr (57mm) Q.F. gun on H.A. mounting behind rear torpedo tubes
2 × 21-in (533mm) dual revolving Mark I tubes
- HMS Swift (1907) - Wikipedia. (Obligatory Wikipedia post for the vessel)
- http://dreadnoughtproject.org/tfs/index.php/H.M.S._Swift_(1907)#cite_note-44 (good overview of how the armaments and equipment changed on HMS Swift during its service)
- https://web.archive.org/web/20201203074114/http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Swift_1907.html (Good overall summery of the service history of HMS Swift)
- Combrig Models In Box Review - HMS Swift (Source for a model of the ship, though it is rather inaccurate compared to the other sources, though does a good job of showing the locations of all the weapon systems)
- http://www.dreadnoughtproject.org/tfs/index.php/21-in_D.R._Torpedo_Tube_(UK) (info on torpedo tubes)