Tribal Class Destroyers

Ship Characteristics

Dimensions Length 377 ft
Beam 36.5 ft
Draft 9 feet
Displacement (standard) 1,970 tons
Displacement (full load) 2,675 tons
Performance Speed (max) 36.5 knots
Speed (cruising) 20 knots
Endurance 3,000 nm @ 20 knots
Armament Guns 6 4.7 inch, 2 4 inch 6 40mm
Torpedoes 4 21 inch


Alarmed at the apparent inferiority of the standard 1,200 ton British destroyer to its Japanese and US rivals, the Tribals represented an attempt to build a heavy destroyer using tonnage under the 1,850 ton allowance included in the London Naval Treaty. After significant design disputes, the ships that finally emerged were armed with four twin 4.7 inch guns in low-angle mountings and two quadruple two pounders for anti-aircraft defense. During construction, one of the quadruple two pounders was replaced by a pair of quadruple 0.5 inch machine run mounts. The ships also carried a single nest of four 21 inch torpedo tubes.

The Royal Navy ordered no less than 16 Tribal class destroyers and the type made an immediate impression when it entered service. It excited immediate interest from the Dominion Navies; Canada announcing an intention to build four of the class and Australia announcing an intention to build seven. India was also reported to be developing intentions to build four destroyers of the class. By the time of the Halifax-Butler Coup, it looked as if the Tribals were set to become the standard destroyer class of the Dominions.

The Halifax-Butler Coup and the Dominion's abrupt dismissal of Halifax's authority effectively cut off the Dominion Navies from their source of design expertise. The RAN already had the first group of three Tribals under construction, and the immediate result of the events of June 1940 was for the remaining four to be suspended. The three ships under construction continued slowly towards launching. There was no doubt that the Royal Australian Navy needed more ships; the question was, what ships? The obvious answer was to revive the four suspended Tribals; only were these the ships the Navy really wanted?

The first three Australian Tribals (HMAS Arunta, Warramunga and Maori) had already been "improved" by replacing X twin 4.7 inch with a twin 4 inch AA. This was an essential change; early war experience had shown that the existing AA battery was deplorable. The quadruple two pounder was too heavy and clumsy to provide close range defense for a destroyer and the quadruple 0.5 machineguns were utterly useless. Adding the twin four inch mount highlighted another problem; it wasn't just the guns that were useless; the fire control system was as well. In effect the impressive-looking Tribals were defenseless against air attack. The Australian Navy looked at the design even in its modified form, and asked, was this really a Good Idea?

One of the reason for the slow construction of the three original ships between 1940 and 1942 was that the basic deficiencies in the design were being addressed. A range of close-range anti-aircraft weapons were evaluated, the Navy eventually settling on the twin 40mm Bofors gun. Three of these were installed on each of the original Tribals, replacing the risible two pounders and machine guns. The twin four inch was retained in X position. The fire control problem was harder to solve; eventually this would be addressed by installing a single American-built Mark 37 director forward.

Class Members

Name Ordered Laid Down Launched Commissioned Fate
Arunta 1938 1939 1940 1942
Warramuga 1938 1940 1942 1942
Maori 1938 1942 1944 1945
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License