Their Lordships, while recognizing the good work done by your firm in the construction of torpedo vessels, consider it desirable to encourage other firms in undertaking work of this class. It must be understood therefore that Their Lordships
consider themselves entitled to make use of information in their possession respecting the torpedo boat destroyer type as may appear necessary in the public interest.
” (The First Destroyers by David Lyon, Caxton Editions 1996, at pages 19-20)
This excerpt is from a letter of July 27, 1893 from the Director of Naval Construction (DNC) to the specialized torpedo vessel construction firms of Yarrow and Thorneycroft on proposed new construction of Torpedo Boat Destroyers (TBD) in
addition to the prototype destroyers that they were currently building. At the end of the century the torpedo boat became the rage, especially among the opponents of the Royal Navy. Due to the invention and development of the self-propelled torpedo,
lesser navies had the opportunity to build small, cheap warships with the ability to sink expensive battleships. This type threatened the Royal Navy most of all, whose power rested on the large, expensive battleships.

One of the earliest proponents of the torpedo boat was Alfred Yarrow, who started with fast steam launches and then went to spar torpedo boats before going on to torpedo boats carrying the Whitehead self-propelled torpedo. In 1877 Yarrow was
constructing two torpedo boats for Russia but Russia was at war against Turkey and the British government refused to allow Yarrow to sell the boats to Russia. Instead, the Royal Navy agreed to buy the boats but Yarrow would have to pay a penalty
if the Yarrow boats didn’t reach 18-knots, the same requirement imposed on the first torpedo boat ordered for the Royal Navy from Thorneycroft in 1877, which became the
HMS Lightning. Yarrow agreed to the speed clause as long as he received
a bonus for speeds above 18-knots. Since no one in the Admiralty believed this was possible, they agreed. The London Times reported the results in their coverage of the 1878 Naval Review. “
One of the features of the Review was the performance
of two long double-funnel torpedo-boats, built by Yarrow, which have realized the extraordinary speed of 21 knots. The manner in which these malevolent-looking craft rushed up and down the lines and round the ships was the astonishment
of all beholders.
” Malevolent was indeed the adjective to be applied to this new type by the Admiralty. As First Sea Lord, Lord Northbrook stated, “The torpedo would be the most powerful weapon of offence, and would be able to dispose of the
most formidable ships in the service of this or any other country.
What was the answer to this new threat? Secondary guns were put on battleships but there were no fast firing (QF) guns yet developed. Torpedo nets were developed to stop the torpedo or prematurely explode it before it hit the hull of the warship.
However, these nets added weight to the ship and had a huge negative impact on the speed of the ship when they were deployed. However, Sir Nathaniel Barnaby, the Director of Naval Construction, thought he had the answer, the Torpedo Boat
Catcher, as this new type was named. The firm of Laird was contracted to build this new type of vessel, which became
HMS Rattlesnake and was launched in 1886. The Rattlesnake certainly had the armament with one 4inch and six 3-pdr QF
guns and also carried four torpedo tubes on a displacement of 525-tons. However, Barnaby was off in his speed requirements. He stipulated a maximum speed of 18.5-knots, which was too slow for catching the constantly improving torpedo boats.
In tests in April 1887 against British torpedo boats, the
Rattlesnake failed to catch any in any sort of seaway. The new DNC, Sir William White, came up with a new class of Catcher, the Sharpshooter Class of Catcher with a speed of 21-knots
under forced draught. Displacement rose to 735-tons and armament rose to two 4.7-inch QF guns and five torpedo tubes. This class failed as average trials speed was 19.5-knots. The improved
Rattlesnakes of the Alarm Class of 1890 of the
Catcher type were again flops. These were up to 810-tons but could manage only 19.5-knots, except for one, the
HMS Speedy, which hit 20-knots, as she alone used water tube boilers instead of locomotive boilers. Rather admit error in the use of
locomotive boilers, the Admiralty compounded their error in building a final class of Catchers, the five catchers of the
Dryad Class of 1,070-tons but with only a top speed of 19.7-knots under forced draught. Clearly the Catchers couldn’t catch a
cold, much less a torpedo boat.

The only small vessels which now be laid down are the torpedo-gunboats. In battle, and as vedettes and despatch vessels, they are indispensable auxiliaries of the heavy armoured ships. The torpedo vessel has many functions. It should be
capable of acting on the offensive and the defensive. Acting independently, it is a sea-going torpedo-boat, a commerce destroyer, or a blockade runner. In a torpedo-gunboat the characteristics which are essential are - small size, light draught,
high speed - say not less than 22 knots - and a powerful torpedo armament. The torpedo-vessel should be as small as possible, to escape in a certain measure being struck by the fire of hostile cruisers and ironclads. It should be large enough
to go to sea, and to mount an efficient battery of rapid-fire and machine guns of sufficient power to penetrate easily the hulls of attacking torpedo-boats. The torpedo-vessel should have the speed of an enemy, in order to pursue with the
certainty of overhauling.
” (The Naval Annual 1893 by Lord Brassey, at page 57, J.Griffin & Co. Portsmouth 1893) “The British Admiralty has been criticized for its supineness in the matter of torpedo-boats. The compilers believe that a wise
step has been taken in laying down 20 torpedo-boat destroyers. The Halycon class are too slow to deal with the attack of the newest torpedo-boats. They are too large and too costly for the purpose for which they were originally intended.
” (The
Naval Annual 1893
by Lord Brassey, at page 61, J.Griffin & Co. Portsmouth 1893).
In 1892 Alfred Yarrow went to the young 3rd Sea Lord (Controller), Rear Admiral John “Jacky” Fisher to report on what the French were developing torpedo boats of up to 26-knots, while the German yards were achieving 27-knots. The threat
was real. France had 220 torpedo boats, while Russia had 152 boats and Germany 143. Yarrow said he had the answer to the torpedo boat, unlike the failed Catcher type. Fisher asked the DNC to develop a design for a ship of powerful armament
and capable of 27 knots. By May 1892 the DNC had a plan for such a ship. Armament and speed were mandated with monetary penalties for failure to reach them but details were to be left to the builders discretion. Six torpedo-boat builders
submitted bids but only the three most experienced builders, Yarrow, Thorneycroft and Laird were selected for the initial construction of this new type. In June 1892 the Admiralty contracted with Yarrow for two boats of the new type. They were
much smaller but much faster than the Catchers, so what should be called? “
Fisher asked Yarrow what they should be called. ‘That’s your job,’ replied Yarrow. ‘Well,’ said Fisher, ‘we’ll call them Destroyers as they’re meant to destroy the
French boats’, and their original name of Torpedo-Boat Destroyer’- TBD - was in due course abbreviated to ‘Destroyer’ and has so remained.
” (Hard Lying, by Peter Smith, Naval Institute Press 1971 at page 21).

There were six prototype destroyers ordered, two each from three specialized firms. The Admiralty wanted boats able to achieve 27-knots but initially 26-knots was acceptable without a penalty and armament able to destroy foreign torpedo boats.
They didn’t even try to build to these specifications from Royal dockyards, as it was considered that they couldn’t even come close to meeting the requirements. Yarrow of London was first off the mark with the
Havock and Hornet, which
became the world’s first destroyers.
Havock was laid down in July 1892, launched August 12, 1893 and underwent trials on October 28, 1893 with commissioning in July 1894. With a displacement of 240-tons with length of 180-feet, beam of
18.5 feet and draft of 11 feet.
Havock was one fourth the displacement of the later Catchers. Yarrow gave her a turtle-back forecastle and armament was one 12-pdr and two 6-pdr guns and three torpedo tubes. Her mean speed on trials was 26.7-
knots with two locomotive boilers. The
Hornet used eight water tube boilers and had four funnels because of the additional boilers and on March 19. 1894 averaged 27.6-knots over three hours to become the fastest ship in the world. Thorneycroft
of Chiswick on the Thames built the
Daring and Decoy, which were slightly larger than the Yarrow boats and were launched in August 1894. As with Hornet, this pair used water tube boilers. Daring hit a mean speed of 28.65-knots, while Decoy
hit 27.64-knots without forcing the engines. The two Laird Brothers boats were built at Birkenhead and at 195-feet in length and 280-tons displacement were the largest of the six prototypes.
Ferret was launched in December 1893 and Lynx
followed in January 1894. Their machinery spaces were arranged differently with engine rooms between two boiler rooms. Normand boilers were used to compare them with the Yarrow and Thorneycroft boilers.
Ferret hit 28.25-knots and Lynx
27-knots. All of the prototypes were fine tuned for the trials and ran light, without armament. They did not achieve 27-knots in active service. These six were called the
Havock Class or the 26 Knot Class. All six of the first destroyers could be
termed prototypes. They all had one feature in common that the following destroyers did not have, a fixed bow mounted torpedo tube. This mounting proved to be an abject failure. At high speeds these prototype destroyers were liable to overrun
any torpedo launched from the bow tube. The bow tube further cast a permanent spray over the bridge and would be very vulnerable to enemy fire. It further greatly restricted available space in the bow and these first destroyers had little space to
begin with.

In addition six torpedo-boat destroyers of new type have been ordered with a guaranteed speed of 27 knots per hour. The orders have been placed with three private firms of high reputation, and it is anticipated that in speed, armament, and
sea-going capability these vessels will be superior to any yet built. It is proposed to complete and try the first examples of the new type next summer, and subsequently to order fourteen other vessels of the class from private firms during 1893-
” Lord Spencer, Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty explanatory of Navy Estimates 1893-94, February 21, 1893 (The Naval Annual 1893 by Lord Brassey, at page 368, J.Griffin & Co. Portsmouth 1893). So what did Lord Brassey
think of this new type of warship? In the same 1894 Naval Annual in which he bashed the lamentable history of the torpedo-boat catcher, he wrote: “
During the early part of last year there was a considerable agitation in the newspapers with
regard to the deficiencies of the British Navy in torpedo-boats. France was making great strides in torpedo-boat construction. Speeds of 23, 24, and 25 knots were being obtained; even the latter has since been exceeded, and Mr. Normand
hopes shortly to obtain a speed of 30 knots. The Admiralty refused to yield to the outcry for laying down torpedo-boats for the British Navy. The torpedo-boat is the weapon of the weaker naval power; and it was determined to meet the
torpedo-boat construction in other countries by building vessels fast enough to catch, and powerful enough to destroy, foreign torpedo-boats, which yet should not be too large or too costly to admit of providing them in sufficient numbers for
the task which they were intended to perform. To this policy we owe the so-called torpedo-boat destroyer, twenty of which appeared in the naval programme of last year. This valuable class of 220 tons displacement, and with 2400 indicated
horse-power, are estimated to steam 27 knots.
The Naval Annual 1894, by Lord Brassey, J.Griffin & Co. Portsmouth 1894, at page 9.         
The Admiralty was so pleased with the prototype torpedo-boat destroyers that had been laid down that they didnt’t wait for them to reach trials before they ordered larger vessels. On July 27, 1893 the Admiralty sent letters to the established torpedo
vessels builders of Yarrow and Thorneycroft, inviting them to tender offers to build three each of a larger ship than the prototypes building, as six further destroyers were allowed under the 1893-1894 Estimates. The Fortunately the Admiralty found a bag
of money at its feet. The Naval Defence Act of 1889 had been replaced by the Naval Defence Act of 1893. Although Prime Minister Gladstone didn’t want to spend money on the navy, a strong press campaign in favor of the act forced Gladstone  to
cave in March 1893. The clause shown at the start of this article was in this letter, as on July 1 members of the Admiralty had already decided to involve more firms than Yarrow and Thorneycroft. The Admiralty wanted as many firms as possible to build
the torpedo-boat destroyer, so they planned to use the fruit of the two established firms to help the inexperienced firms get a good start. Thorneycroft built the
Ardent, Boxer and Bruiser, while Yarrow built the Charger, Dasher, and Hasty. The
management at Yarrows apparently did not read the letter too closely because when they discovered that their competitors had the Yarrow plans for these initial 27-Knotters, they practically screamed in umbrage and made an intensive search for the
malefactor who had stolen their plans and sold them to their competitors. The Admiralty made it known to Yarrows that they were the malefactor who had committed the heinous deed but didn’t pay Yarrow anything because this event was described in
the tender letter to Yarrow. After the three
27-Knotters that Yarrow built, the firm did not build another destroyer for the Royal Navy for almost a decade. In the end 36 27-Knotters, built by 14 different firms. The offer for tenders letter expressed
generally the characteristics required. It called for a larger and longer warship than the prototypes with four torpedo tubes, a turtle-back bow, and a guaranteed speed of 27-knots, although there would be a light penalty if any came in at a maximum less
than 27-knots. For every quarter knot below 27-knot the penalty was 250 pounds and the penalty increased to 500 pounds for every quarter knot below 26-knots. The ship could be rejected if the top speed was below 25-knots at trials. Speed was
determined at trials and the practice of the builders at the trials was to run the warship light without all of its equipment fitted. They also used more than the operational number of stokers and hand picked coal of the highest quality. In service none of the
27-Knotters could reach 27-knots. The Admiralty was so fired up with TBD construction that they postponed the construction of the 10,000-ton First Class Cruisers, Powerful and Terrible to free funds to build even more TBDs. With the construction of
the cruisers shoved to January 1895, the Admiralty could order 25, instead of 14 TBDs for the current estimates, which would allow the Royal Navy to have 31 one of these new wonder ships by 1894-1895 (six prototypes and these twenty-five
). There was no standard design. Each contractor was free to design the ship as they wished as long as it met the Admiralty requirements. As a result, the ships of the 27-Knot Class were very different from each other in appearance, machinery
and other details. Some contractors built very good ships, while others built ships that were indifferent. By November 7, 1893 the tenders of five of the fourteen firms that were to build
27-Knotters were accepted, while other firms were actively helped
by the Admiralty to improve their designs, apparently including copies of the Yarrow design.

The Thorneycroft design was also sent to the other construction firms but Thorneycroft didn’t go into a conniptions fit like Yarrow. Before the Admiralty letter of July 27, 1893 Thorneycroft had already been active to drum up business beyond the two
prototypes that they were building. On February 27, 1893 Thorneycroft sent a letter to the Admiralty affirming conversations between one of the Thorneycroft partners with Admiral Sir Anthony Hopkins that Thorneycroft was ready, willing and able to
build more of these ships beyond the two prototypes that it was currently building, the
Daring and Decoy. After receiving the Admiralty’s letter of July 27, Thorneycroft sent a letter to the Admiralty on August 18 acknowledging the Admiralty letter and
asking that Thorneycroft receive preference in light of the costly pioneering efforts that went into the prototypes. On September 5, 1893 Thorneycroft sent their tender offer of 36,840 pounds for one TBD or 110,550 pounds for three TBDs. Along with
the letter two sheets of drawings, as well as the full specifications were sent. After a little negotiation on October 12, 1893, the Admiralty accepted an offer for Thorneycroft to build three of the dew design for 105,795 pounds. The first of the
27 Knot Class was HMS Ardent.
HMS Ardent was laid down in December 1893 as yard number 297. She was launched on December 14, 1894 and completed March 25, 1895. Her trials were on December 15, 1894, the day after launching. HMS Ardent hit a maximum speed of 27.84-
knots with 4343 horsepower at trials. Sistership
HMS Boxer hit 29-knots during trials a month later, making her the fastest ship in the world at that time and the fastest of all the 27 Knot Class. Ardent was 201-feet 8-inches in length overall (OA) with a
waterline length (WL) of 201-feet 6-inches and length between perpendicular bulkheads (PP) of 190-feet 8-inches. Beam was 19-feet and draught of 7-feet 3 1/4-inches. Displacement was 245-tons light and 301-tons full load. Two Thorneycroft
watertube boilers fed steam to the reciprocating vertical triple expansion engines (VTE). The ship had the characteristic Thorneycroft sloping stern and double rudders. Armament consisted of a single 12pdr gun on a platform forward on top of the
conning tower, six five 6pdr guns and two 18-inch torpedo tubes.
Ardent was sent to the Mediterranean where she spent her career until she was sold on October 10, 1911. The commander of HMS Ardent wrote about the passage of the ship from
Portsmouth to Malta. “
With wind abeam and on quarter she rolled her gunwales under once or twice ...the heat below gave me a bit of a headache...rolls very quickly and with very little swell aft the screws race and the ship in my cabin feels as if
she was falling to pieces, the vibration is great. No trouble either with engines or boilers on the passage out.
” (The First Destroyers by David Lyon, Caxton Editions 1996, at page 112) While serving in the Mediterranean it was said of Ardent that
while she was hardly comfortable, it was endurable. In April 1901 the bow of Ardent was strengthened by the addition of two internal frames and a longitudinal girder.

(Bulk of History from:
British Destroyers, From Earliest Days to the Second World War by Norman Freeman, Naval Institute Press 2009; The British Destroyer, by Captain T.D. Manning, Putnam & Co, London 1961; The First Destroyers by
David Lyon, Caxton Editions 1996;
Hard Lying, by Peter Smith, Naval Institute Press 1971; The Naval Annual 1893, by Lord Brassey,  J.Griffin & Co. Portsmouth 1893; The Naval Annual 1894, by Lord Brassey, J.Griffin & Co. Portsmouth 1894)
Combrig 1:700 Scale HMS Ardent, 27 Knot Destroyer - This another small kit from Combrig of an early Thorneycroft built destroyer. At $15 from Free Time Hobbies, it is certainly economical, plus it has the added benefit of being able to be
painted in the white and buff Mediterranean Fleet paint scheme. It does not come with photo-etch, so for railing, inclined ladders and anchor chain you’ll need 3rd party brass. The hull is cast on a very thin resin wafer. It is a simple matter to break of
the wafer and then gently sand the waterline to clean it up. Resin casting is sharp and clean with no resin errors. Since it is a small ship, there historically would not be that much detail on the sides. However, with the turtle back bow and the splinter
shielding around the small conning tower, there is certainly enough side detail for interest. The hull itself has a row of portholes at the bow and the stern. A small wale runs the length of the hull at the juncture of the hull side with the deck. And appears
to be painted black in photographs. See box top photograph. The deck detail is plentiful. At the top of the cuttwater is a bracket that has the anchor hawse. The anchor chain ran above deck and out through the above deck hawse, instead of coming
out through hull anchor hawse. The anchor sits on the rear of the turtleback. The two centerline windlasses are the largest features on the turtleback with additional detail in the form of chain locker entrance fittings, circular deck access coamings and
short ventilators. The only built-up area is around the conning tower with curving splinter shields running from the conning tower to the deck edge. In the space behind the conning tower has a couple of lockers, presumably ammunition lockers and
locater holes for the side 6pdr guns and cowl ventilators. There is even more detail in the midships section. This includes low funnel bases for the two funnels and roundtables for the two torpedo mounts. There is also more ammunition lockers and
oval coal scuttle detail. Locater holes are present for 6pdr guns, ventilator cowls, pylorus and searchlight. At the stern the detail includes the pedestal for the aft 6pdr, twin bollards, deck access coamings, and locater holes for navigation equipment for
the aft navigation station and a ventilator cowl.

There are four resin runners for the smaller parts. One runner has the two gun platforms, one for the 12pdr on top of the conning tower and the other for the aft 6pdr. They both have what appears to be splinter shielding with openings for entrance
ladders. This shielding would represent canvas dodgers covering railing since the platforms had railing around them not splinter shields. I believe that I would remove them from the platforms and add photo-etch railing. Another runner has the two
funnels with hollow top, two ships boats, two collapsible boats and six small ventilator cowlings. The boats have thwart detail. The armament is located on a runner. The five 6pdr guns are one piece with a conical pedestal and gun shields. The 12pdr,
which doesn’t have a gun shield that it actually had, appears to have too short of a barrel. I believe the end of the barrel was damaged, as the instructions show a longer barrel. The two single tube torpedo mounts are nice with a nice shape and
reinforcing bands. Also present on this fret are two deck winches and a tubular fitting that goes on the starboard side of the forward funnel base. The last runner has various types of fittings and equipment. A lot of it is navigation equipment, which is
located at the forward and aft control stations. Also included is the aft navigation screen with vision slits, detailed searchlight, boat davits, anchors, and seven medium sized ventilator cowls. There is just one page of instructions, which has two
drawings, a parts laydown and a template showing the length of plastic rods necessary for the masts, yard, boom and steam pipes.
The Combrig 1:700 scale HMS Ardent of 1895 is a nice kit of one of the first 27 Knot Class Torpedo Boat Destroyer built by the established firm of Thorneycroft. It is economical to buy and easy to assemble but would benefit with brass photo-etch

Steve Backer
Huntsville, Alabama