HMS Skirmisher was one of two Sentinel-class scout cruisers which served with the Royal Navy. She was completed in 1905 and served throughout the First World War, being scrapped in 1920. She has been the only ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name Skirmisher.
Skirmisher was laid down at Vickers, Sons & Maxim's Barrow-in-Furness shipyard on 29 July 1903 and was launched on 7 February 1905.
Skirmisher was 381 feet (116.13 m) long overall and 360 feet (109.73 m) between perpendiculars, with a beam of 40 feet (12.19 m) and a draught of 14 feet (4.27 m). Displacement was 2,880 long tons (2,930 t). The Sentinel-class differed from the other contemporary Royal Navy scout cruiser classes (the Adventure, Forward and Pathfinder classes) in having a turtleback forecastle and shorter funnels. She was powered by two four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines fed by 12 Vickers-Express boilers, and driving two 3-bladed propellers. The machinery was rated at 17,000 indicated horsepower (13,000 kW) to meet the required speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph).
Skirmisher's main armour protection consisted of an arched protective deck, covering the full length of the ship, which was 1 1⁄2–5⁄8 inch (38–16 mm) thick, while the ship's conning tower was protected by 3 inches (76 mm) of armour. The Scout cruisers were intended to lead and support destroyer flotillas, and their armament was meant to fight destroyers rather than heavier ships. Main gun armament consisted of ten 12-pounder (76 mm) QF guns, arranged three abreast fore-and-aft to give maximum end-on fire for chase engagements and two more guns on each beam. This was supplemented by eight 3-pounder (47 mm) guns. Two 18 inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes were fitted, with a single spare torpedo carried. This armament was considered too light, and an additional two 12-pounder guns were added on the ship's beams soon after commissioning, while the 3-pounder guns were replaced by six 6-pounder (57 mm) guns. She was rearmed again in 1911–12, when the 12-pounder guns were replaced by nine 4 inch guns.
She completed in July 1905 at a cost of about £276,579.
Skirmisher was designed to act as a leader of a destroyer flotilla but like other ships of this type was soon proved to be too slow for the role. As turbine engined destroyers came into service, they were rendered obsolete.
In 1907, Skirmisher commissioned as leader of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla based at Dover, part of the Home Fleet. In May 1909 she became leader of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, moving to the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth in 1910. She was refitted in 1912, and took part in the 1913 Naval Manoeuvres before joining the 7th Destroyer Flotilla, a patrol flotilla equipped with older destroyers, as leader in July 1913. During her early career, her captains included Walter Cowan and William Boyle, both of whom would later rise to the rank of Admiral.
Skirmisher remained leader of the 7th Flotilla, based at Devonport, on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War. Following the outbreak of war, the 7th Flotilla moved to the Humber on the East Coast of Britain. On 15 December 1914, German battlecruisers, supported by the battleships of the main German High Seas Fleet set out on a raid against the coastal towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool. While the British had been warned by radio intercepts that the Germans were likely to carry out some sort of action, and sent out forces from the Grand Fleet to intercept, Admiral George A. Ballard, Admiral of Patrols in overall command of all the patrol flotillas, had, owing to poor weather, ordered the forces under his command to remain in harbor until they received explicit orders to sail. On receiving word of the bombardments, Ballard set out from the Humber in Skirmisher at together with eight torpedo boats. Heavy seas forced Ballard to send the torpedo boats back to port, while he searched up the coast in Skirmisher for the German raiders. Skirmisher failed to find the Germans, who had sailed eastwards well before Ballard reached the bombarded towns.
In May 1915 Skirmisher, still based on the Humber, joined the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron, with duties including patrolling to spot German Zeppelins. By October 1915, the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron had been broken up, and Skirmisher had joined the Mediterranean Fleet. Skirmisher remained part of the Mediterranean Fleet throughout 1916 and into 1917, joining the Aegean Squadron in September that year. On 20 January 1918, the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (formerly the German Goeben) and light cruiser Midilli (formerly Breslau) made a sortie into the Mediterranean from the Dardanelles. The two Turkish ships attacked and sunk the monitors Raglan and M28 in the Battle of Imbros. On hearing of the attack on the monitors, Captain P. W. Dumas, commander of the old pre-dreadnought battleship Agamemnon, in port at the British base of Mudos with Skirmisher, the scout Foresight and the light cruiser Lowestoft, ordered these ships to raise steam in preparation to set out against the enemy force. Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz, commander of the Turkish force ordered Yavuz and Midilli to attack Mudros. Both Turkish ships struck mines, with Midilli soon sinking and Yavuz badly damaged. By the time the British ships had left Mudros harbor, Yavuz was re-entering the Dardanelles, protected against surface attack by shore batteries. Skirmisher remained part of the Aegean Squadron until the end of the war.
Skirmisher had been ordered to return to home waters by May 1919, and was in reserve at Immingham in the Humber by June. On 3 March 1920 she was sold for scrap to Thos W Ward, of Preston.