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.
According to most sources, at 5 a.m. on 15th March 1917 the bow section of the Foyle was blown off by a German mine in the Dover Straits and sank immediately, killing 27 of the 70 crew on board. The larger stern section sank stern first while under tow to Devonport by the tug Illustrious. However, the captain's report of the sinking says that he was patrolling the eastern area of the south Devon coast, three miles east of the Eddystone, when she struck a mine.
Diving the Foyle
The location of the wreck was known to anglers in the 1960's but it was first dived in August 1970 by members of Kingston BSAC. She lies heavily broken up on a sandy seabed at 46m, stern to the north-west, upright but with a list of 30 degrees and the port side buried. The engine and boilers stand 2-3m proud of the seabed. Little remains forward of the boilers as the bow forward of the bridge is missing. The bow gun was recovered (see below) and only one 12pdr gun is visible on the stern section.
The name plate was recovered by divers in September 1972 and was used to confirm the identity of the wreck.
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HMS Foyle at sea
A model of her sister ship, HMS Boyne
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.
Battle bridge and gun loaded on a truck
The emergency steering helm