HMS Foyle was an E type River class torpedo-boat destroyer built in 1903 at the Cammel Laird shipyard. She was launched on February 25th 1903 and commissioned on 1st March 1904 with pendant number N44 (1914) and D20 (September 1915). her triple expansion steam engines developed 7000hp and she could achieve a maximum speed of 25 knots. Foyle was armed with four 12 pounder guns and two 18 inch torpedo tubes.
This was one of the first ocean-going fleet destroyers and as such the speed of this ‘River’ class of vessels was sacrificed to achieve greater seaworthiness. No fewer than 34 of these destroyers were built in 1903–05, and two more by 1909. The previous design of this type of ship with the turtle-back deck forward was replaced by the normal forecastle, raised to improve sea-worthiness and allow the forward gun to be used. This class marked the turning point in the transition of the destroyer, from an enlarged torpedo boat to the fleet escort vessel. Their speed of 25 knots could be maintained in foul weather, whereas the earlier so-called ‘27 and 30 knotters’ never quite reached these speeds in smooth water, and fell far short of them in rough water.
The official account of Royal Navy vessels lost in WW1 states that on 15th March 1917 the bow section of the Foyle was blown off by a German mine in the Dover Straits, killing 27 of the 70 crew on board. However, Admiralty telegrams sent at the time state that she was mined 12 miles SSE of the Breakwater where her bow was blown off and sank immediately. The larger stern section was towed towards Plymouth stern first by two tugs but never reached Devonport as the Foyle foundered 4.8km south east of Rame Head.
Most of the River class destroyers were broken up after WW1. Of the first 10 built, HMS Derwent struck a mine off Le Havre, the turbine-powered HMS Eden sank in a collision with SS France and lies on the seabed in 34m off Fecamp in France, while HMS Itchen was torpedoed by a U-Boat in the North Sea and lies in 97m depth. HMS Boyne was broken up after the war yet her bell was found by a Plymouth diver on the seabed off Rame Head in 1988 and it was put up for auction in 2012.
Diving the Foyle
The location of the wreck was known to anglers in the 1960s but it was first dived in August 1970 by members of Kingston BSAC, the ship was identified by her name stamped on her propellers along with a brass nameplate recovered in 1972. In the 1980’s the conning tower was removed along with the forward 12 pdr gun and the emergency steering position and they were taken to the Charlestown Shipwreck museum. One of the midship guns was also salvaged and the barrel was dumped on the seabed near Fort Bovisand.
The Foyle lies heavily broken up on a seabed made of sand and small stones in 46m depth, with her stern to the north-west, upright but with a list of 30 degrees and the port side buried. The ship was lightly built so the hull has not survived above seabed level and she has suffered from the effects of salvors. The two engines and two boilers stand 2-3m proud of the seabed and a prop shaft leads from one of the engines to the stern. Little remains forward of the boilers as the bow forward of the bridge is missing. The bow gun was recovered, either the port or starboard gun should still be on the wreck and the 12pdr gun is visible on the stern.
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HMS Foyle at sea
A site plan of HMS Foyle (SHIPS Project)
As well as the recovery of smaller objects from the site by divers, larger objects were recovered by salvors in the 1980's. The battle bridge, forward gun mounting and the gun itself were raised from the wreck, brought into Plymouth and loaded onto a truck at Cattedown wharf. The remains of the bridge and the emergency steering helm can still be seen at the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre at Charlestown. A number of her torpedo tubes were also recovered by a local salvor then scrapped.