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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 16 September 2023

British Destroyers 1892-1918

 This book is by Jim Crossley in the Osprey New Vanguard series, looks at the development of Royal Navy destroyers in the period up to the First World War. This is a period of naval warfare I know little about and is an introduction to my HMS Ambuscade project.

HMS Ambuscade, in this period, was an Acasta-class destroyer. This appears to be a step up from the previous frigate status, although destroyers were only introduced into the world's navies in the 1880s. However, everything is relative because the HMS Ambuscade we are planning to bring back to the Clyde is a Type 21 frigate and is over 100 feet longer than the WW1 Ambuscade. The size of a modern frigate was brought home to me when I visited Portsmouth in the summer. HMS Iron Duke was in port, and I was astonished to discover this large warship was a frigate.

Destroyers in this period were developed in reaction to the torpedo menace. Here, a bit of Balkan history slips in because the Imperial Russian Navy were one of the first to launch torpedoes at the Ottoman Navy in 1878, sinking a small gunboat. The Royal Navy called their early vessels Torpedo-Boat Destroyers until 1919. The early classes were small ships able to sneak into harbours and launch torpedoes at short range. The development of the 18-inch and then 21-inch torpedoes meant the destroyer could be used with the battlefleets at sea. In theory, attacking at up to 10,000 yards, although in practice, there was little chance of hitting anything at that range.

As the type developed, they got bigger, with the Tribal class at up to 290ft long, setting the standard for future generations of destroyers. Still a lot smaller than modern frigates. The Acasta class was renamed K-Class in 1912 before HMS Ambuscade was launched in January 1913. These ships were 267ft long armed with three 4in guns, one 2pdr gun and two 21in torpedoes. They had a speed of 31 knots. The Royal Navy gave their destroyers a powerful gun armament, which paid off in actions against German destroyers who relied heavily on torpedoes. 

Tactically, the challenge for a destroyer serving with the fleet was to get close enough to the larger enemy ships without being blown out of the water. There were two options. Steer towards the last shell or turn violently when you see the enemy gun flash. German battlecruisers were also well protected against torpedoes, even if you could hit one in battle conditions. The British fired 96 at Jutland and scored six hits. One of those came from HMS Ambuscade. I had thought boarding actions were consigned to the Napoleonic wars, but the author describes a Dover Patrol action when HMS Swift rammed a German ship, and a boarding action commenced.

In conclusion, destroyers made an important contribution to the development of the Royal Navy, but it did not end the era of the big-gun warship as the Germans had hoped. This book has all the technical specifications, lovely colour plates, and plenty of illustrations. All you need for an introduction to the period.

I managed to get this postcard in the Rotary Photo series recently. On the left is George V, and on the right is Admiral Jellicoe.

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