Halcyon Class Minesweepers

Halcyon Class Ships
Article by John Lambert

Trials 1936
Cross Section
Line Drawing
Badges & Mottos
Warship Weeks
1937 Specs



Source: Article in Military Modelling Annual 2, Argus Books Ltd, Kings Langley 1975


Famous class and famous ship – a look at one of the ‘little ships’

John Lambert

HMS Harrier 

THE 21 ships of the 'Halcyon' class were built from 1931 up until 1938, just prior to the start of the Second World War. The first ships were laid down under the 1931 estimates, with others following in small numbers each year. The first seven ships displaced some 815 tons, the next nine 835 tons, and the last five had increased again to 875 tons, which was soon increased by the addition of new equipment as the second world war forced the Royal Navy to increase the potential of all its warships, to cope with the threat of German aircraft as well as the mine. 

These ships built in peacetime conditions, incorporated all the latest refinements and equipment. Five of the class, (Gleaner, Franklin, Gossamer, Jason, and Scott) were built as survey ships, but were rapidly re‑armed and converted on the outbreak of war. They served in all theatres of war, and almost all of the class found themselves serving in Russian Convoys and, as will be seen, they were continually modified as the war progressed. 

HMS Harrier is drawn in the large view, as completed on November 9, 1934. She has a main armament of two 4 inch guns, with a secondary AA armament of a 2 pdr pom‑pom amidships, backed up by four single .303 inch Lewis machine guns. The forward mount was a Mk V gun on a Mk IV mounting, for high angle anti‑aircraft defence, with the gun aft being a low angle 4 inch QF Mk V gun on a CP 11 mounting, the armament used for the World War 1 destroyers of the ‘V' and 'W' class.

[To purchase copies of the plans go to www.lambert-plans.com ]

Looking at the drawing detail, start forward and work aft. The fo'c'sle is a metal deck with steel footstrips, carrying the steam‑driven anchor windlass. The main decking throughout was 'Borneo' whitewood planking, 2 inches thick and 7 inches wide. The decks were edged with teak margins. Moving aft is the steel breakwater, with the forward seamen's mess stove funnel close behind it. Then comes the high angle 4 inch gun. In front of the bridge on the centreline is the watertight hatch giving access to the seamen's and stokers' mess below. On the starboard side is the watertight skylight to the ship's sickbay, whilst to port are the ready‑use ammunition lockers for the 4 inch gun. 

HMS Harrier View from crows nest

On the main deck level is the commanding officer's cabin, pantry, and bathroom. Above these is the signal deck, charthouse and wheelhouse, which also contains the engine room telegraphs. At the top is the open navigating bridge, showing the numerous voice pipes to other compartments as well as the hydraulic depth‑charge release gear. At the highest point is the gunnery rangefinder. Stowed on each side of the bridge are heavy duty general service derricks for storing and ammunitioning ship. 

The pole foremast is situated directly behind the bridge. Both masts and funnel are raked at 11/8 inch per foot. At the foot of the mast and slightly to starboard is the boiler room air intake under which is the fan room. On top of this is a locker for stowage of smoke shell. On the port side a sounding machine is stowed, and the ladder for access to the bridge.

At the base of the funnel are two watertight skylights to the crew's galley, and on each side of the funnel are lumber racks for stowage of wooden shores and collision mats, with lifebelt racks stowed further aft. Further aft again in the deck is a coaling scuttle for the galley fires, the ready‑use food locker and a beef screen. Next is a bandstand for the 2 pdr high angle pom‑pom, which is flanked on each side by a Carley float. Behind these are 15 inch supply fan vents and engine room skylights, followed by the 24 inch searchlight platform, with rope reels stowed on the sides, and nearby are the large 24 and 21 inch diameter ventilators.


HMS Hussar
Hussar with wartime changes including single Oerlikon fore and aft. Forward gun is trained to starboard. Note the scrambling nets attached to the guardrails forward (above pendant number) and on quarterdeck: these were rigged for rescue purposes (MoD).

The wooden decking has vanished from the bridge to the rear of this platform, reverting to a plain metal deck without foot‑strips, but having brown 'linoleum' (Corticene) walkways along each side of the ship, between the various obstacles on the centreline, and the sea boats. These are two 27 ft whalers, and there is also a 25 ft motor boat. Note that the two whalers are staggered, not directly opposite. 

Aft again where the wooden decking resumes are more ready‑use lockers for ammunition, lifebelt racks, and further aft the skylight to the officers' galley, as well as the hatch, down to the after lobby. Then comes the after gun mounting and behind this is the wardroom skylight and wardroom stove funnel, with the ladder down to the sweep deck.

HMS Harrier Halcyon Class Minesweeper

Pre-war elegance – Harrier as built. Note the early type of 25 ft motor boat with canvas canopies, and the dan buoys lashed neatly to the mainmast shrouds (MoD).

On the sweep deck beside the ladder, to port, we have a hatch leading below to the ship's stores. The steam minesweeping winch is then fitted on the centreline with two guide rollers behind it, and astern of the starboard one is a small circular hatch leading down to the steering gear compartment. Towing bollards are fitted at an angle on each side of the rollers. Four kite otter boards for minesweeping are stowed, two on each side, against the splash plates, with Oropesa floats inboard under the minesweeping davits. Only two depth charges are carried, these being in two chutes right aft, near the fairleads on each side, whilst at the centreline right aft are sweep wire fairleads.

Other items stowed in view on the upper deck include dan buoys on the sweep deck and on the main mast. The semaphore apparatus on the bridge, and large flag lockers stowed right aft at the sides of the signal deck. The four Lewis gun positions are situated, one on each side of the bridge, and on each side of the mainmast. Other items include two potato lockers on the port side behind the port whaler, which has a 16 ft sailing dinghy stowed underneath it. The decks are littered with the myriad of small details, hose racks, fire main connections (painted bright red), mushroom vents from fuel tanks, cleats, rope reels, voice pipes, bollards, and so on. The watertight doors were the then new type of pressed recessed design. 

As can be seen the design carried a very useful armament for the size of the ship, and was capable of duties anywhere in the world. Her two oil fired Admiralty three drum boilers and two‑shaft reciprocating engines of 1,770 IHP gave a speed of 16½/17 knots. The last five of the class had geared turbines of 1,750 SHP giving a speed of 17 knots. The ship's company numbered about 80 officers and men, and with the outbreak of war, and the chronic shortage of escort vessels in the Royal Navy the class were soon at work, screening the fleet. 

Warships are constantly improved and modified, and so it was with this class. By September 1939, with the outbreak of war, Harrier had changed somewhat. She now had two high angle 4 inch guns, the after mount being replaced, and she also had two quadruple. 5 inch machine guns mounted, one on each side of the signal deck. 

HMS Harrier - John Lambert
[To purchase copies of the plans go to www.lambert-plans.com ]

The next drawing (assisted by the photograph) shows Harrier in July 1942. The after 4 inch gun has been removed and its place taken by two single 20 mm Oerlikons. The quad .5 machine guns are still mounted on the bridge wings, but a type 271 search radar is mounted on the bridge. 1 have not been able to establish when this was fitted, possibly earlier that same year. Another new piece of equipment is the direction finder frame fitted on a bracket forward of the bridge, as well as depth charge throwers. The single 2 pdr gun aft has been deleted. One item not seen in this view is the huge 'LL' minesweeping reel, fitted on the starboard side at the forward end of the sweep‑deck. Thus she was modified to be able to sweep all the current German mines, both acoustic, magnetic, and the older type of moored mine, for which the class had been built.

HMS Britomart 1944
HMS Britomart, freshly painted in 1944. Note how bow is effectively painted out’ against the sea. The LL sweep drum is covered up (MoD). 

HMS Speedy in 1945, showing wartime changes. Note the later type of 25 ft motor boat with wooden canopies. LL sweep drum is clearly seen aft of fo’c’sle break (MoD).

The photograph of Speedy (J17) shows the fine lines of the class off to good effect. Taken in 1945 we see that she has four twin power‑operated 20mm Oerlikons mounted, two on the bridge wings and two aft. Her steam minesweeping winch is covered by a canvas screen with Carley floats stowed over the framework. Her sister Britomart (J22) is similarly armed, whilst their sister, Hussar (J82) taken in August, 1943, has only single 20 mm Oerlikons fitted, two on the bridge wings and two aft. 

It is very fortunate that these ships were able to accommodate the weight penalties of this additional equipment. This was achieved by deleting the 2 pdr gun and its bandstand, in order to reduce top‑weight. The pole mainmast aft was soon replaced by a short 'spreader'. 

HMS Harrier 1945
Fine view of Harrier 1945, as described in text (MoD).

To return to Harrier, we see her as in February 1945, as leader of 1st Minesweeping Flotilla after her refit at Leith. Her 'LL' reel is plainly visible on the starboard side, and her single 20mm Oerlikons are retained. She has an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) aerial mounted above her covered 271 radar, with additional aids mounted on her mast. Note, too, that her old stove pipe galley funnels have been modified, being run up alongside the funnel, and to the spreader aft.

HMS Salamander March 1943
Salamander, March 1943. Canvas dodgers are laced to guardrails abreast forward gun. Close study of these pictures shows many varied detail changes.

The survey ships of the class were not quite as heavily armed as the remainder of the class, particularly in the early years of the war. But as will be seen the class on their small displacement, was one of the most efficient minesweeping escort vessels built anywhere in the world, having a good antisubmarine and anti‑aircraft defence. Most of the class names were of long standing, being given earlier to old converted torpedo boat destroyers of the 1880s, these being used just before the First World War as minesweeping trials ships. 

Eleven of the class survived the war, thus almost half became war losses. Franklin and Scott reverted to survey ships after the war, being disarmed, and Sharpshooter (to be re‑named Shackleton in 1953) and Seagull were similarly disarmed and converted. I show my old ship HMS Scott as she was after the war, in May 1946, painted white with a buff funnel with her armament removed, and a full complement of boats for survey work.

Last of the line. HMS Scott in 1946 painted in the white hull and buff funnel of the ‘Survey Navy’, and fully refitted as a survey ship. Note chartroom aft and merchant type foremast (MoD).


NOTE; An updated version of this article including revised drawings etc of Harrier by John Lambert appears in Issue 230, May 2006 Marine Modelling International www.marinemodelmagazine.com


To purchase copies of the plans of HMS Harrier go to www.lambert-plans.com



Home | Trials 1936 | Layout | Cross Section | Line Drawing | Badges & Mottos | Warship Weeks | 1937 Specs

This site was last updated 01/17/12