When sail gave way to steam the nomenclature of the types of warships changed. Ships of the line, whose function was to serve as the primary battle platforms of the
world’s navies, became ironclads and then battleships. Frigates, sloops and brigs, whose primary duties were to serve as scouts, messengers and in waters where a
ship of the line was not warranted, became cruisers of various types. However some new types of warships evolved based on a specific mission. 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 t 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
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.
In 1892 Alfred Yarrow went to the young 3rd Sea Lord, Rear Admiral John “Jackie” 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. 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? “F
isher 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 launched in October 1893 and underwent trials on October 28, 1893. With a displacement of 240-tons and length
of 180-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. Nonetheless, these six were called Twenty-Seven Knotters.
The Admiralty was so pleased with the results produced by Yarrow, Thorneycroft and Laird that over the next two years fourteen firms were awarded contracts.
Yarrow discovered that each of the other firms had copies of the Yarrow plans and put out a reward to discover the culprit who had stolen and sold the Yarrow
plans to her competitors. The Admiralty was the culprit and eventually gave Yarrow credit but not compensation. After the initial six prototypes the
Knot Class
boats were ordered with 36 boats coming from 14 different firms. Size, weight and appearance varied from boat to boat as their only commonality was
their 27-knot speed. Later the 27-Knot Class was renamed the
A Class Destroyers. Laird Brothers received contracts to build three of the 27-knotters to follow up
their success with the prototypes
Ferret and Lynx. These were Banshee, Contest and Dragon. All had four funnels and the same dimensions and displacement.

HMS Banshee was laid down in March 1894, launched November 17, 1894 and completed in July 1895. The length was 213-feet overall (oa)(64.92m), 208-feet
between perpendicular bulkheads (pp)(63.4m) with a beam of 19.25-feet (5.87m) and draught of 9.5-feet (2.36m). Displacement was 290-tons (345-tons full load).
These were larger, improved versions of the Laird prototypes and were armed with one 12-pdr and five 6-pdr guns and two 18-inch torpedo tubes. Machinery was
triple expansion engines fueled by steam from Normand boilers, arranged as in
Ferret and Lynx. Heavier scantlings were used to cover the increased hull stress
because of increased length.
Because the boats were so cramped the officers and crewmen were much closer to each other than on the cruisers and battleships of the fleet. The Admiralty
recognized that serving on a destroyer was uncomfortable and crewmen were paid extra “
Hard Lying” money. As completed the A Class was painted in Victorian
livery of a black hull and white upper works. The coal fired
A Class would soon cast soot all over the decks and minimal superstructure aft of the funnels. Banshee
was sent to the Mediterranean. In 1910
Banshee and Bruizer left Malta with full coal bunkers to exercise with the Mediterranean Fleet’s battleships in countering a
torpedo attack. A gale struck the fleet off of Sicily and the battleships started rolling heavily. It was far worse on the destroyers. On the end of her roll, the davit
heads of
Banshee were underwater. Everything lashed down on the deck was torn away. A locker broke from the deck and on its way overboard damaged the dogs
holding down the coal bunker plate. The bunker plate in turn was washed away and sea water poured into the machinery spaces. Lights and electrical circuits in the
engine room went off and the aft boiler room filled with five feet of water. It was believed that the
Banshee was doomed and the battleship HMS Cornwallis stayed
with her in the night to recover survivors when
Banshee went down. However, the commander of the destroyer wouldn’t have it and he and his crew pulled the ship
through without foundering. The chief constructor of the Malta Dockyard considered the
Banshee to have been as close to a loss and survive as any ship he had
ever seen.
HMS Banshee may have escaped the gale but she had only two more years of life. In common with most of the A Class destroyers, she was scrapped in
1912. (Bulk of the history is from two outstanding sources;
British Destroyers From the Earliest Days to the Second World War, by Norman Friedman, Naval
Institute Press 2009, and
Hard Lying, by Peter Smith, Naval Institute Press 1971.)
The Combrig 1:350 Scale HMS Banshee - Thanks to Combrig, you can go back to the birth of the destroyer. Combrig has released two kits of early British
destroyers in 1:350 scale. This one is the
HMS Banshee of the Twenty-Seven Knot Class, latter named the A Class, and HMS Earnest of the follow up Thirty Knot
, later named the B Class, which were slightly larger ships than the A Class ships. All of the parts in the kit are enclosed in plastic bags, which helps them to
prevent damage. The
Banshee pops with detail. The kit comes with a separate lower hull, to cover the hull below the waterline and the upper hull above the water
line. You have the option to build the ship in waterline format or full hull format. The hull is packed with detail with no casting flaws and the casting is very crisp
and clean. A full photo-etch fret is included. This is a superb product.

In profile the hull is dominated by the turtle-back forecastle. Detail on the hull sides include a horizontal strengthening strake at the deck edge, port holes in three
groups (bow, amidship, and stern), tapered stern and vertical strakes on the turtle-back. The deck is crammed with detail and locater holes. On the forecastle you
get the domed turtle back with strengthening strakes, Two twin bollard fittings/bitts, a single bollard and eight locater holes for various fittings and equipment. The
bollards have flared tops. At the aft end of the forecastle is the minimal superstructure with the conning tower with port holes. Two very thin and crisp solid
bulkheads are at deck edge behind the forward superstructure. The long, lean amidships s dominated by the funnel base houses, which have curving edges an
recessed holes for attaching the separate funnels. There are recessed coal scuttles, raised plates and a forest of locater holes for the numerous ventilators and other
fittings. The two torpedo positions, on between the 2nd and 3rd funnels and one aft of the 4th funnel, have raised turntables. The quarterdeck is also loaded with
detail and locater holes for fittings. Here there is a conical base for the aft gun platform, a raised plate for the aft navigation platform, two more twin bollard/bitts
fittings and two open chocks at deck edge. Interestingly, the open navigation platform at the very end of the quarterdeck was used far more frequently to maneuver
the ships than the controls located in the forward superstructure because the open position provided far better vision and line of sight than the cramped conditions
inside the superstructure and restricted vision through the port holes. This is a small model but is packed with detail, coupled with high production standards.
The smaller parts are contained on eight resin runners. One of these has the four funnels, two very large cowled ventilators, two medium cowled ventilators and a
long rectangular deck house. The funnels have top fittings and are hollow at the tops to a sufficient depth. Three of the runners have major armament. One of them
has the torpedo tubes with each tube comprising two parts. There is detailed fittings and banding on the parts. The other runner has a very detailed 12-pdr gun,
which rests atop the forward superstructure on a brass platform and the mounts for the five 6-pdr guns, which have separate barrels and breech blocks. Also on
this runner are two detailed windlasses, speed annunciator, two medium cowled ventilators and search light base. The third runner has the 6-pdr guns with detailed
breech blocks, boat davits, rectangular ventilator fitting, hull access house. Mushroom ventilators, compass fitting and a small rectangular deck structure. Another
runner has two detailed anchors, binnacles, cable reel, tall thin cowled ventilators, binnacle platform bases, more speed annunciators, ship’s wheel post and other
smaller parts. Twenty-five small cowled ventilators in two sizes are on another runner. One runner has three parts, which have two canvas dodgers fitted on either
side of the forward funnel and a dinghy, while the last runner has a single part, a medium sized ship’s boat.

Combrig includes a large brass photo-etch fret in the kit but this is somewhat misleading. The fret with some relief-etching includes parts for Banshee and Earnest,
as the same fret is found in both kits. The fret has recessed lines, which separate the brass parts in to three groups. These are parts specific to
Banshee, parts
specific to
Earnest and the bulk of the fret with parts in common with both ships. Banshee specific brass parts are the forward 12-pdr open grill platform, platform
railing for this position, ship’s boat thwart and rudder/tiller and twelve brackets. The bulk of the common parts comprises railing with open stanchion ends instead
of a lower runner for attachment to the hull. Other brass parts in common are the gun shields and shoulder rests for the 6-pdrs, two navigation shields, triangular
open grid platform, three runs of anchor chain, ten life preservers, rudder, relief-etched access door, two propellers, binnacle platform, ship’s wheels, windlass
tops, propeller shaft struts, cable reel mount, top of breakwater bulkheads, anchor davits and reels, binnacle railing, stern flag bracket, loading davits, vertical ladders
cut for location and a lot of other parts, whose attachment locations I could not ascertain because I did not receive the instructions for the kit. The
Earnest was
released slightly before the
Banshee so it is probable that Combrig sent me the kit before the instructions for the Banshee were ready. I have included photographs
of the instructions for the
Combrig Earnest just to show you how they are organized. Don’t use them for Banshee because there are significant differences
between the two models in parts and attachment locations.
The Combrig 1:350 scale model of HMS Banshee, Twenty-Seven Knot Class Destroyer is nothing less than superb. There are a host of smaller resin and
photo-etch brass parts that go on the turtle-back forecastle hull. Anyone with an interest in the history of the British destroyer will find the
Combrig HMS Banshee
essential in the history of the first destroyers.
Steve Backer