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V and W class destroyer

The V and W class was an amalgam of six similar classes of destroyer built for the Royal Navy under the War Emergency Programme of the First World War and generally treated as one class. For their time they were among the most powerful and advanced ships of their type in the world, and set the trend for future designs. Indeed, the vast majority of post-war destroyer construction, of which Britain built a lion's share for export - were very strikingly similar.

They arrived in time to see service in the First World War. During the interwar period these ships formed the backbone of the Royal Navy's destroyer flotillas until gradually replaced by new construction, by the mid-1930s most had been displaced to the reserve fleet. Most ships survived to make an extensive contribution to the Second World War effort, in the vital role of the convoy escort, freeing up more modern ships for fleet action.

History

The V and W class were the ultimate evolution of British destroyer design in World War I, embodying the improvements of their predecessors as well as new technological advances. Their lineage can be traced to the River or E class of 1902 that had introduced the classic raised forecastle into the Royal Navy. The Tribal class of 1905 introduced oil-firing and the resultant economies in size, consumption and crew. The Anzac class leader of 1915 had introduced a raised shelter deck forwards, allowing two guns to be carried in the classic superfiring (i.e. one gun fires over the top of the one below and in front of it) "A" and "B" positions. The Yarrow Later M class, also of 1915, introduced a three-boiler, two-funnel layout allowing for a more compact hull and giving increased deckspace and the R class introduced geared turbines giving 30,000 shp on two shafts.

Design

The new design, originally known as the Admiralty V class Leader, incorporated all these improvements, and also a more sensible layout of the main armament, the amidships gun between the funnels being removed to the aft shelter deck, superfiring over the gun on the quarterdeck. This introduced the ubiquitous "A", "B", "X", "Y" layout for the main armament. New developments, such as director firing for the main armament, triple torpedo tubes and a heavier armament were introduced either from the outset, or as they became available. Ships with triple tubes became the Admiralty W class and those upgunned with the BL 4.7 in gun became Admiralty Modified W class ships.

Admiralty V class leaders

The Admiralty V class leaders were the initial five V class ships ordered in April 1916 and were designed and built as flotilla leaders. These ships were necessary as the 36 knot speed of the new S class meant that existing flotilla leaders would no longer be able to keep pace with their charges. To speed construction time, these new vessels were based on the three boiler, two funnel machinery of the R class and as they were inevitably larger, a slight decrease in speed was accepted. The fore funnel was tall and narrow and the after one was shorter and wider.

They differed from the later Admiralty and the Thornycroft V classes in that they a larger bridge structure, taller foremast, mainmast mounted further aft to accommodate an enlarged spread of wireless aerials, extra boats abreast the after funnel and the searchlight platform between the torpedo tubes was enlarged to accommodate an extra compass. Vampire trialled triple-tube mountings for her torpedoes and as a result had a total of six tubes.

Ships

Admiralty V class

The 23 vessels comprising the Admiralty V class were ordered in July 1916 as repeats of the Admiralty V class leaders to counter the threat posed by reports of a new class of powerful German destroyers. They omitted the flotilla leader function and as such differed in detail from the leader predecessor.

While all 23 ships were completed with two twin torpedo tubes (Voyager, which was completed with triple tubes, was an Admiralty W class unit ordered in December 1916), in 1921 all Admiralty V class had their forward bank replaced by a triple bank, for a total of five torpedoes; and from 1923 onwards most ships had their aft bank (twin tubes) replaced by a triple bank, for a total of six torpedoes, except in Vimy, Vanoc, Velox, Versatile and Vortigern in which only the forward bank was replaced.

Vanquisher, Vanoc, Velox, Vehement, Venturous, Versatile, Vimiera, Vittoria and Vortigern were built with the ability to be converted into minelayers within 24 hours. For this purpose they would land their torpedo tubes and "Y" gun on the quarterdeck and have screens fitted to protect the mines, of which up to sixty could be carried. They could be distinguished by the permanent mine chutes at the stern.

Ships

Admiralty W class

The Admiralty W class comprised 21 vessels, all ordered in December 1916, although the two ships ordered from Yarrow were cancelled in April 1917 and replaced by the orders for two Yarrow S class (Tomahawk and Torch). The Admiralty W class ships were a follow on from the Admiralty V class, with minimal changes, primarily in that the triple torpedo tube mounting was now ready and all these vessels shipped two of these mountings from new. They also had a taller mainmast.

Ships

Thornycroft V and W class

The Thornycroft V and W class were two V class and two W class specials built by John I. Thornycroft & Company Limited to Admiralty specifications. They were ordered in pairs six months apart, on 30 July 1916 and 9 December 1916, respectively. They could be recognised by a higher freeboard and shorter mainmast than the Admiralty type and the flat-sided funnels typical of Thornycroft. The large boiler room (two units) was aft with the single unit forward, the fore funnel therefore being narrower. This arrangement was transposed in the Thornycroft Modified W class. The V-class ships had twin torpedo tubes and those of the W-class triple units. The second pair had slightly more displacement and a guaranteed (by contract) speed of 36 knots compared with the 35 knots guaranteed for the first pair. Early in their careers the specified anti-aircraft gun, the QF 2 pounder, was replaced by a single QF 12 pdr 20 cwt Mark I weapon, on a platform between the after funnel and the forward torpedo tubes.

All except Viscount, which became a short range escort, were modified to WAIR type fast anti-aircraft escorts. Their conversions were non-standard in that they carried a pair of QF 2 pdr Mark VIII guns on platforms amidships - en echelon in Woolston only - and that Viceroy retained a bank of torpedoes for some time.

Ships

Thornycroft modified W class

The Thornycroft Modified W class were a private design by Thornycroft based on the Thornycroft V and W class to Admiralty specifications. The two ships were ordered in January 1918, at the same time as the first batch (of fourteen vessels ordered, of which only seven completed) of the Admiralty Modified W class. In these two ships, the position of the boiler rooms was reversed, with the two-boiler room forward and the single unit aft. As a result, the funnel arrangements were transposed, with the thick funnel forwards and the narrow funnel aft. In common with other Thornycroft designs, they had characteristic broad, flat-sided funnels. Like the Admiralty modified ships, the Thornycrofts were up-gunned with the BL 4.7 inch Mark I weapon, and they received triple banks of torpedo tubes from the outset. Another feature of recognition was that the QF 2 pdr guns were mounted en echelon amidships, between the funnels.

The completion of Witch was delayed by the end of the war, and she was eventually towed to Devonport and completed there at HM Dockyard. Both were converted to the Short Range Escort type during World War II.

Ships

Admiralty modified W class

The two batches of orders placed in 1918 introduced the new BL 4.7 inch Mark I gun, as well as providing triple torpedo tubes as standard.

Ships

Fourteen vessels were ordered to this revised design in January 1918 (as well as the two Thornycroft ships to a variant design), of which seven were subsequently cancelled.

A further thirty-eight vessels were ordered to this design in April 1918, of which thirty-one were subsequently cancelled and only seven completed.

Conversions for World War II

From 1937 the disposal of elderly V and W class vessels ceased, and most survivors were converted to fast escort vessels. The onset of World War II put a stop to lengthy conversions, but many ships were converted for convoy escort duty.

Long-range escort

The V and W class were designed to support the Grand Fleet in its actions in the North Sea, for which they were required to make fairly short, high speed dashes. Thus, they were unsuitable for the Mid-Ocean Escort Force role to which they found themselves allocated in the Second World War, where speeds over 20 knots were of limited value (as ASDIC rapidly lost efficiency) and endurance was desirable over firepower.

To remedy such shortcomings, a number of V and W class were modified into Long-range escorts to suit them to this sort of warfare. The small, single-unit boiler room was struck and the resulting space divided into fuel tanks (lower) and accommodation (upper). Not only did this both lower fuel consumption and increase bunkerage, but it provided much needed space for ballooning wartime crews. 'A' and 'Y' guns were landed and replaced with a Hedgehog throwing weapon and depth charge stowage and launchers respectively. The torpedo tubes were removed and replaced with a QF 12 pdr anti-aircraft gun and platforms for a pair of 20 mm Oerlikon guns amidships, with a further pair in the bridge wings. Radar Type 271 target indication was added in its distinctive "lantern" dome on the bridge and Radar Type 291 air warning was added at the masthead, with High Frequency Direction Finding (HF/DF) fitted in some ships. The maximum speed of the conversions was a useful around 24½ knots.

Converted long-range escorts were:

  • Vanessa
  • Vanoc
  • Vanquisher
  • Velox
  • Vesper
  • Versatile
  • Vidette
  • Vimy
  • Vivacious
  • Viscount
  • Walker
  • Warwick
  • Watchman
  • Westcott
  • Winchelsea
  • Wrestler
  • Vansittart
  • Venomous
  • Verity
  • Volunteer
  • Wanderer
  • Whitehall

WAIR

The WAIR type conversion supplemented the construction of Hunt and Black Swan class escorts with their emphasis on anti-aircraft capabilities for east coast service (the exact meaning of 'WAIR' has fallen into obscurity, it is often capitalised suggesting an abbreviation or acronym, but it is most likely derived from W-class anti-AIRcraft). The Thornycroft type leader Wallace was also given a WAIR conversion, but this larger ship also received a quadruple QF 2 pdr Mark VII mounting.

Converted ships were cleared to the main deck level, leaving only the funnels and after shelter deckhouse. The armament was replaced with four QF 4 inch L/45 Mark XVI guns in two twin mountings HA/LA Mark XIX, shipped on the fore and aft shelter decks. The armament was controlled by a Mark II(W) rangefinder - director, fitted with Radar Type 285 for target ranging as soon as it became available. A new tower bridge, reminiscent of the Hunt class, was built and the metric Radar Type 286 air warning was added at the foremast head, replaced by Type 291 as it became available. The armament was completed by a pair of quadruple 0.5 inch Vickers machine guns on a platform amidships, although sometimes single QF 2 pdr Mark VIII were carried in lieu. These guns were generally sided, but a number of ships had them arranged en echelon to allow cross-deck fire. These light weapons proved to be generally ineffective and were replaced by the 20 mm Oerlikon gun as it became available, although other ships took priority and the older weapons were carried well into 1942 in some cases. Two racks and throwers for depth charges were carried aft. Although this was mainly for self defence purposes, Viceroy sank U1274 off the east coast of Scotland on April 16 1945.

Ships were allocated new L-series (escort) pennant numbers upon re-commissioning:

  • Valentine (L69)
  • Valorous (L00)
  • Vanity (L38)
  • Vega (L40)
  • Verdun (L93)
  • Vimiera (L29)
  • Vivien (L33)
  • Viceroy (L21)
  • Westminster (L40)
  • Whitley (L23)
  • Winchester (L55)
  • Wolfhound (L?)
  • Wolsey (L02)
  • Woolston (L49)
  • Wryneck (L04)

Short-range escort

The remaining V and W class were not given either of the former conversions as they were either early war losses, had the valuable BL 4.7 inch main gun or had the modified boiler arrangements of the Thornycroft and Admiralty modified designs with the small room aft. This latter feature proved unsuitable for the long-range escort conversion. Thus, these ships were known as Short-range escorts.

The conversion was generally limited to adding more role-specific armaments and new technology as it became available. Additions were made piecemeal, and ships were often lost with only some, or even none, of the following modifications. In common with most elderly destroyers allocated to escort duties in World War II, the after bank of torpedo tubes was removed early in the war and replaced with a single QF 12 pdr A/A gun. They also landed 'Y' gun to receive additional space for depth charge gear and stowage. Generally, two 20 mm Oerlikons were added in the bridge wings and (when available) replaced the old 2 pounder guns amidships, 'A' gun was replaced by a Hedgehog weapon and Radar Type 271 target indication was added on the bridge, with Type 286 or 291 air warning fitted at the masthead as and when available. Walpole, Windsor, Witshed and Wivern received an army-pattern twin 6 pounder semi-automatic gun in 'A' position for east coast anti-E boat work.

The following vessels were short range escorts (one vessel was allocated a new pennant number in the L - escort - series):

  • Vortigern
  • Walpole
  • Windsor (L94)
  • Veteran
  • Whitshed
  • Wild Swan
  • Wishart
  • Witch
  • Witherington
  • Wivern
  • Wolverine

Unmodified escorts

The remainder of the class were unaltered as all (except Worcester) were war losses during 1940 (one vessel was allocated a new pennant number in the L - escort - series):

  • Venetia
  • Wakeful (L91)
  • Wessex
  • Whirlwind
  • Worcester
  • Wren

There remained also the quartet in the Royal Australian Navy - Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and Waterhen - which simply had the aft bank of torpedo tubes replaced by a 12pdr A/A gun, and had 2 or 4 x 20mm A/A and 4 x .5in A/A guns added.

V and W class in fiction

  • HMS Viperous is the name of a fictional V and W class destroyer in the novel The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, the leader of an escort group including Compass Rose, the focus of the first part of the story.
  • HMS Warlock is the name of the leader of a flotilla of eight fictional V and W class destroyers in the 1974 novel The Destroyers by Douglas Reeman.
  • HMS Vagabond is the name of an apparently fictional V and W class destroyer in the 1989 novel The Fighting Spirit by Charles Giddey (Wheeler) published by William Collins. In this book's fictionalised account of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation at least 15 actual V and W class ships are mentioned.
  • HMS Viking and HMS Vectra are two of the escorts of the 14th Aircraft Carrier Squadron in Alistair MacLean's novel HMS Ulysses.

See also

Bibliography

  • V&W Class Destroyers 1917-1945, Antony Preston, Macdonald & Co, 1971, ISBN 0-356-03471-2
  • Destroyers of the Royal Navy, 1893-1981, Maurice Cocker, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-1075-7
  • Royal Navy Destroyers since 1945, Leo Marriot, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-1817-0
  • British and Empire Warships of the Second World War, H T Lenton, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-277-7
  • Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1922-1946, Ed. Robert Gardiner, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 0-87021-913-8
  • Destroyers of World War Two : An International Encyclopedia, M J Whitley, Arms and Armour Press, 1999, ISBN 1-85409-521-8.
  • "V & W Class Destroyers" (Man o' War No. 2), Alan Raven & John Roberts, A&AP 1979, ISBN 0-85368-233-X


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