Tribal-class destroyer (1936)

The Tribal class, or Afridi class, were a class of destroyers built for the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Australian Navy that saw service in World War II. Originally conceived as a failed design for a light fleet cruiser, the Tribals evolved into fast, powerful destroyers, with greater emphasis on guns over torpedoes than previous destroyers, in response to new designs by Japan, Italy, and Germany. The Tribals were well admired by their crews and the public when they were in service due to their power, often becoming symbols of prestige while in service.

As some of the Royal Navy's most modern and powerful escort ships, the Tribal class served with distinction in nearly all theatres of World War II. Only a handful of Royal Navy Tribals survived the war, all of which were subsequently scrapped from hard use, while Commonwealth Tribals continued to serve into the Cold War, serving with distinction in the Korean War. Only one Tribal survives to this day: HMCS Haida, which is now a museum ship in Hamilton Harbour, Ontario, Canada.


Tribal-class destroyer (1936)
Class Ship
Type Destroyer
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
Origin Australia
Country Name Origin Year
Australia 1936
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
France 1944 1944 View
Germany 1943 1943 View
Italy 1943 1943 View
Tunisia 1941 1941 View
Tunisia 1943 1943 View
Norway 1940 1940 View
Norway 1941 1941 View
Norway 1943 1943 View
Malta 1942 1942 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Vickers-Armstrongs View
William Denny and Brothers View
Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company View
Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company View
Alexander Stephen and Sons View
Swan Hunter View
Cockatoo Island Dockyard View
John I. Thornycroft & Company View
Halifax Shipyard View

From 1926, all Royal Navy destroyers had descended from a common lineage based upon the prototypes Amazon and Ambuscade. During the interwar period, advances in armament and machinery meant that by the mid-1930s, these "interwar standard" destroyers were being eclipsed by foreign designs, particularly from Japan, Italy, and Germany. To counteract this trend, the Admiralty decided on a new destroyer type, with an emphasis on gunnery over torpedo warfare. The destroyer was based on 'Design V', a failed design for a small fleet cruiser (another variant of this design evolved into the Dido-class cruiser). This design envisioned a 1,850-ton ship with a speed of 36.25 knots (67.14 km/h; 41.72 mph), an endurance of 5,500 nautical miles (10,200 km; 6,300 mi), and five twin 4.7 inch guns as main armament.

Although the design was rejected for the fleet cruiser role, by August 1935, after no less than eight design proposals, it had evolved to present a destroyer with eight 4.7 inch Quick Firing Mark XII guns, in four twin mountings, with a maximum elevation of 40°, controlled by a low-angle (LA) director and high-angle / low-angle (HA/LA) rangefinder director on the bridge. To provide close in anti-aircraft protection, the design was fitted with a quadruple Mark VII QF 2 pdr "pom pom" mounting, and two quadruple Vickers .50-inch machine guns. These ships introduced the Fuze Keeping Clock High Angle Fire Control Computer, which was used on all subsequent British wartime destroyers. The ships were also armed with a quadruple bank of torpedo tubes. They were considered to be handsome ships, with a clipper bow that provided excellent seakeeping and two raked funnels and masts. They are remembered with great affection to this day.

The Tribals were so much larger and differed so much from other British destroyers in service that the resurrection of the corvette classification was considered for them. This did not go ahead, and by 1939, the Tribals were classified as destroyers, with the corvette designation going to mass-produced anti-submarine escorts such as the Flower class.

Name Pennant Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
Afridi F07 Vickers Armstrongs, Walker 9 June 1936 8 June 1937 3 May 1938 Lost 3 May 1940 to aircraft attack off Namsos, Norway
Ashanti F51 William Denny & Brothers,Dumbarton 23 November 1936 5 November 1937 21 December 1938 Sold for scrapping, 12 April 1949
Bedouin F67 Denny January 1937 21 December 1937 15 March 1939 Lost 15 June 1942 to aircraft attack after being disabled by Italian cruisers Raimondo Montecuccoli and Eugenio di Savoia south of Pantellaria, Mediterranean Sea
Cossack F03 Vickers Armstrongs 9 June 1936 8 June 1937 7 June 1938 Lost 24 October 1941, torpedoed by U-563 west ofGibraltar
Eskimo F75 Vickers Armstrongs 5 August 1936 3 September 1937 30 December 1938 Sold for scrapping, 27 June 1949
Gurkha F20 Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Govan 6 July 1936 7 July 1937 21 October 1938 Lost 9 April 1940, to aircraft attack off Stavanger, Norway
Maori F24 Fairfield 6 July 1936 2 September 1937 2 January 1939 Lost 12 February 1942 to aircraft in Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta
Mashona F59 Vickers Armstrongs 5 August 1936 3 September 1937 28 March 1939 Lost 28 May 1941 to aircraft attack, southwest of Ireland during the Bismarck chase
Matabele F26 Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Company,Greenock 1 October 1936 6 October 1937 25 January 1939 Lost 17 January 1942, torpedoed by U-454 in Barents Sea
Mohawk F31 John I. Thornycroft & Company, Woolston 16 July 1936 15 October 1937 7 September 1938 Lost 16 April 1941, torpedoed by Italian Navigatori-classdestroyer Luca Tarigo
Nubian F36 Thornycroft 10 August 1936 21 December 1937 6 December 1938 Sold for scrapping, 11 June 1949
Punjabi F21 Scotts 1 October 1936 18 December 1937 29 March 1939 Lost 1 May 1942, rammed by King George V in Atlantic
Sikh F82 Alexander Stephen & Sons,Linthouse 24 September 1936 17 December 1937 12 October 1938 Lost 14 September 1942 to shore batteries off Tobruk
Somali F33 Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Wallsend 26 August 1936 24 August 1937 12 December 1938 Lost 20 September 1942, torpedoed by U-703, sank while under tow in Arctic Ocean
Tartar F43 Swan Hunter 26 August 1936 21 October 1937 10 March 1939 Sold for scrapping, 6 January 1948
Zulu F18 Stephen 10 August 1936 23 September 1937 7 September 1938 Lost 14 September 1942 to aircraft off Tobruk
Iroquois
(ex-Athabaskan)
G89/217 Vickers Armstrongs 19 September 1940 23 September 1941 10 December 1942 Sold for scrapping, 1966
Athabaskan (i)
(ex-Iroquois)
G07 Vickers Armstrongs 31 October 1940 18 November 1941 3 February 1943 Lost 29 April 1944, torpedoed by German Elbing-class torpedo boat T-24 north of Ile de Bas
Huron G24/216 Vickers Armstrongs 15 July 1941 25 June 1942 28 July 1943 Sold for scrapping, 1965
Haida G63/215 Vickers Armstrongs 29 September 1941 25 August 1942 18 September 1943 Preserved as museum ship, Hamilton, 1964
Micmac R10/214 Halifax Shipyards,Halifax 20 May 1942 18 September 1943 14 September 1945 Sold for scrapping, 1964
Nootka R96/213 Halifax Shipyards 20 May 1942 26 April 1944 9 August 1946 Sold for scrapping, 1964
Cayuga R04/218 Halifax Shipyards 7 October 1943 28 July 1945 20 October 1947 Sold for scrapping, 1964
Athabaskan (ii) R79/219 Halifax Shipyards 15 May 1944 4 May 1945 12 January 1947 Sold for scrapping, 1969
Arunta I30 Cockatoo Dockyard, Sydney 15 November 1939 30 November 1940 30 April 1942 Sold for scrapping 1969, foundered en route to breakers
Warramunga I44 Cockatoo 10 February 1940 2 February 1942 23 November 1942 Sold for scrapping 1963
Bataan (ex-Kurnai) I91 Cockatoo 18 February 1942 15 January 1944 25 May 1945 Sold for scrapping 1958

As some of the Royal Navy's most modern and powerful escorts, they were widely deployed in World War II, and served with great distinction in nearly all theatres of war. The Tribals were often selected for special tasks and as a result, losses were heavy, with 12 of the 16 Royal Navy Tribals sunk, as well as one Canadian ship. Gurkha has the rare and unfortunate distinction of being the name of two ships that were sunk in World War II: the L-class destroyer Larne was renamed to honour the lost Tribal-class ship, and was herself lost in 1942.

1940

HMS Eskimo showing bow damage, Norway May 1940

Cossack earned fame early on in the war, when on 6 February 1940, commanded by Captain Philip Vian, she pursued and then boarded the German tanker Altmark in neutral Norwegian waters in a daring attack to rescue around 300 British prisoners of war on board. Referred to as the Altmark Incident, this was the last true naval boarding action for the Royal Navy. Gurkha was an early loss, being sunk by German bombers off Stavanger. Afridi was lost soon afterwards to dive bombers while evacuating troops from Namsos.[22] Bedouin, Punjabi, Eskimo and Cossack took part in the Second Battle of Narvik, where Eskimo had her bow blown off.

1941

In May 1941, Somali, Bedouin, and Eskimo, along with the N-class destroyer HMAS Nestor, and Royal Navy cruisers Edinburgh, Manchester, and Birmingham boarded the German weather ship München, retrieving vital Enigma cypher codebooks. In the same month, Zulu, Sikh, Cossack, Maori and Polish ORP "Piorun" (N-class destroyer) were in action against the German battleship Bismarck, with Mashona being sunk by German aircraft during these operations. In the Mediterranean, Mohawk was lost as part of "Force K", torpedoed by the Italian destroyer Luca Tarigo in April, while Cossack, Sikh, Zulu, and Maori took part in Operation Substance, a relief convoy heading to Malta. Cossack was torpedoed by U-563 in October while escorting Convoy HG 74 in the Atlantic, west of Gibraltar, sinking later under tow. Maori and Sikh were amongst the victors at the Battle of Cape Bon in December. Bedouin took part in Operation Archery, a British combined operations raid which diverted German resources to Norway for the rest of the war.

1942

In 1942, Matabele was torpedoed and sunk by U-454 in the Barents Sea and Maori was hit in the engine room by a bomb whilst lying in Grand Harbour, Valletta, in February, catching fire and later blowing up where she lay. Punjabi was rammed and sunk by the battleship King George V in May, whilst performing close escort in thick weather. In June, Bedouin was disabled in action with Regia Marina's cruisers Raimondo Montecuccoli and Eugenio di Savoia during Operation Harpoon. Although later taken in tow by HMS Partridge the tow had to be cast when the Italian cruisers reappeared and, dead in the water, Bedouin was sunk by aircraft attack. In September, the final two Tribals lost in the Battle of the Mediterranean were sunk; Sikh and Zulu during a disastrous raid on Tobruk. Also that month, Somali was torpedoed by U-703 while covering the returning Russian Convoy QP 14. Although taken under tow by Ashanti, she sank four days later after heavy weather broke her back. This was the last Royal Navy Tribal lost during the war.

1943

In 1943, the four remaining British Tribals (Ashanti, Eskimo, Tartar, and Nubian) participated in Operation Retribution to prevent the Afrika Korps from being evacuated to Italy. Tartar, Nubian and Eskimo then covered the Allied invasion of Sicily. After the invasion of Sicily, the four then covered the Allied invasion of Italy at Salerno. Ashanti and Athabaskan then covered Arctic convoy RA 55A, which was involved in the Battle of North Cape, where the German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk.

At the same time, the two active Australian Tribals, Arunta and Warramunga, were attached to the joint Australian-American Task Force 74 and supported a series of landings in New Britain, and deployed to support a series of landings in Operation Cartwheel.

A 1944 Canadian postage stamp showing a Tribal-class destroyer

The Canadian Tribals were also heavily engaged; Athabaskan was hit by German glide bombs while conducting operations in the Bay of Biscay and was put out of action for almost three months, while Haida and Huron escorted the various Arctic convoys.

1944

Eskimo, Ashanti, Athabaskan, Haida, Huron, Nubian, Tartar and later Iroquois saw extensive action in the English Channel before and after Operation Overlord, sinking or damaging a variety of enemy ships.

In April, HMCS Athabaskan and Haida engaged two Elbing-class torpedo boats in the Channel. Athabaskan was sunk by a torpedo from T24, while Haida pursued and forced aground T-27. Afterward, Haida returned and managed to rescue 42 personnel from Athabaskan. One of the under-construction Canadian Tribals was then renamed Athabaskan as a tribute to the lost ship. During the Normandy invasion, Eskimo, Tatar, Ashanti, Haida, and Huron sank, damaged, or drove ashore the Elbing-class torpedo boat T-24, the Narvik-class destroyers Z24 and Z32, and the ex-Dutch destroyer Gerard Callenburgh in a series of battles. Furthermore, Haida and Eskimo also sank the German U-boat U-971 with depth charges and close in gunfire, rescuing 53 survivors. Afterward, Eskimo was involved in a collision with the destroyer HMS Javelin, which kept Eskimo out of action for 5 months.

After the Normandy invasion, Nubian was sent to screen Royal Navy Home Fleet units engaged in the protection of the Russian Convoy JW 59, and carrier-based aerial attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz and elsewhere in Norway. Iroquois and Haida met up with the Free French cruiser Jeanne d'Arc which was sailing from Algiers to Cherbourg carrying members of the French Provisional Government. Iroquois then escorted the liner RMS Queen Mary which was carrying the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the Second Quebec Conference.

1945

Eskimo, Nubian, and Tartar were given some minor tropicalisation refits and were sent east to join the British Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean as the Atlantic war wound down. There, Eskimo, Nubian, and Tartar engaged in escort of the Royal Navy major surface units and shore bombardment. Afterward, Nubian, and Tartar were waiting as backup for Battle of the Malacca Strait, where the Japanese cruiser Haguro was sunk. Eskimo and Nubian were then engaged in anti-shipping patrols, sinking a Japanese merchant ship and a submarine chaser near Sumatra. This was the last Royal Navy surface action against shipping in World War II. In July, Nubian and Tatar prepared for Operation Zipper, the planned British landings in Malaya.

During this period, the Canadian Tribals continued to be engaged; Haida, Huron and Iroquois escorted Russian convoys until May 1945, when Germany surrendered. The Canadian Tribals then engaged in the escort of British warships liberating Norway following the German surrender. Iroquois then joined the British cruisers Dido, Devonshire, and destroyer Savage at Copenhagen and headed to Wilhelmshaven, as escort for the surrendered German cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nürnberg. Following this, the Canadian Tribals then returned to Halifax harbour for tropicalisation refits, which were suspended when the Japanese surrendered, and were sent into reserve.

Class overview
Builders: Vickers Armstrongs

William Denny & Brothers

Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company

Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Company

John I. Thornycroft & Company

Alexander Stephen & Sons

Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson

Halifax Shipyards

Cockatoo Dockyard
Operators: Royal Navy

Royal Canadian Navy

Royal Australian Navy
Preceded by: I class
Succeeded by: J class
In commission: 3 May 1938 – September 1963
Planned: 31
Completed: 27
Cancelled: 4
Lost: 13
Retired: 13
Preserved: 1

General characteristics
Type: Destroyer
Displacement: 1,850 tons (standard),

2,520 tons (full)
Length: 377 ft (115 m) length overall
Beam: 36.5 ft (11.1 m)
Draught: 9 ft (2.7 m)
Propulsion: 3 x Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 Parsons steam turbines on 2 shafts, 44,000 shp
Speed: 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph)
Range: 524 tons oil, 5,700 nautical miles (10,600 km; 6,600 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement: 190 (219 as leader)
Armament: As designed:

8 x 4.7 inch QF Mark XII (L/45) , twin mount CP Mk. XIX

4 x QF 2 pdr, quad mount Mk. VII

8 x Vickers .50 machine gun, quad mount Mk. II

4 x tubes for 21-inch torpedo Mk.IX

1 x rack, 2 x throwers for depth charges


War modifications:

6 x 4.7 inch L/45 QF Mk. XII, 3 x twin mounting CP Mk. XIX

1 x twin QF 4-inch (101.6 mm) Mk. XVI, mounting HA Mk. XIX

4 x QF 2 pdr, quad mount Mk. VII

up to 4 x single and twin 20 mm Oerlikon

1 quad launcher with Mk. IX torpedoes (4 x 21-inch torpedo tubes)

1 x rack, 2 x throwers for DCs


Cayuga, Athabaskan as built:

8 x QF 4-inch (101.6 mm) Mk. XVI, twin mount HA/LA Mk. XIX

6 x QF 40 mm Bofors

1 x twin mount Mk. V

4 x single mount Mk. III

1 quad launcher with Mk. IX torpedoes (4 x 21-inch torpedo tubes)

1 x rack, 2 x throwers for DCs


Canadian DDE modernisation:

2 x 4"/45 Mk XVI twin guns

1 x 3"/50 Mk.33 twin guns

4 x 40mm/56 Bofors guns

1 quad launcher with Mk. IX torpedoes (4 x 21" torpedo tubes)

2 x Squid anti-submarine mortars

End notes