The Imogen, a steel I-class destroyer, was ordered on 30th October 1935 from Hawthorn Leslie’s Hebburn yard under the 1935 Naval Programme and would be the seventh Royal Navy ship to carry the name. She was laid down on 18th January 1936, launched on 30th December 1936, and completed on 2 June 1937, at a contract price of £256,917. She measured 323.0′ x 33.0′ x 12.5′ and displaced 1370 tons. Her Parson’s geared steam turbines delivered 34000 shp. Her armament consisted of 4 @ 1 – 4.7-inch guns , 2 @ 4 – 0.5-inch machine guns, 2 @ 5 – 21-inch torpedo tubes, 30 @ depth charges, 1 rail and 2 throwers.
She was assigned to the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla of the Mediterranean Fleet and was initially based in Malta. She was then transferred to Gibraltar from where she patrolled Spanish waters enforcing the policies of the Non-Intervention Committee during 1938. She returned to the Mediterranean on 3rd September 1939, but was transferred to the Western Approaches command for convoy escort duties two days later when Italy did not enter the war. Together with the entire 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, the ship was transferred to the Home Fleet in October. Together with her sister ship Ilex, she sank the German submarine U-42 on 13th October after the submarine attempted to sink the steamship Stonepool. In December 1939 she came to the aid of the torpedoed battleship Barham off the Butt of Lewis. With her sister ship Inglefield and the destroyer Escort, Imogen sank U-63 after it had been spotted by the British submarine Rorqual on 25th February 1940.
It was Tuesday, 16th July, 1940. Force ‘C’ was returning from patrol in the North Sea under overall control of the Vice Admiral Commanding, Eighteenth Cruiser Squadron, heading for home base at Scapa Flow. The ships plunged headlong towards their destination at twenty two knots on a course of 330 degrees. It was an impressive sight – four huge cruisers, HMS Southampton, Sussex, Shropshire and Glasgow in single file line ahead, escorted by two groups of destroyers, HMS Cossack, Sikh, Fortune and Fury of 7th Division and HMS Inglefield, Imogen, Zulu and Maori of 8th Division streaming across the firth at top speed. It was 8:40pm on a calm but hazy summer’s evening. In charge on the Imogen’s bridge was Commander Charles Leslie Firth RN. He had a crew of 161 seamen aboard.
Ahead they could see a thick bank of fog which had formed across the firth as the evening cooled. The force commander ordered the destroyers to form lines astern of their divisional leaders and to take up a position two miles ahead of the four cruisers for safety. However as visibility continued to deteriorate the twelve ships were ordered to perform a complex series of manoeuvres which turned them eastwards again and back towards open sea to wait for clearer weather. Over the next two hours two further attempts were made to make for Scapa Flow as breaks appeared in the fog and each time the ships turned and twisted imperfect unison and kept well apart. The third attempt was once again turned back when, about 11.40pm, yet another bank of fog shrouded the fleet.
On this occasion the communications between the ships became confused and Imogen and her crew found themselves apparently alone in the dense fog. They could hear blasts from the horn of two of the cruisers off their starboard bow and felt confident that the full cruiser squadron were well off the right hand side of their ship. A few seconds later a long blast was heard off their port bow and almost immediately the towering bow of HMS Glasgow appeared out of the gloom and smashed into the port side of Imogen by the 5″ gun deck between the funnels. The two ships locked together in a deadly embrace. A fierce sheet of flame shot up the port side of the bridge as two five gallon drums of petrol were ignited by the collision. The flames spread quickly despite the efforts of the crew to extinguish them and soon much of the forepart of the ship was ablaze.
Despite the danger of explosion HMS Glasgow stayed alongside Imogen to offload ten officers and 135 ratings before pulling away from the burning ship some thirty minutes after the initial collision. HMS Glasgow then steamed away leaving the burning hulk to finally sink beneath the waves in the gathering darkness. Seventeen men lost their lives either in the initial collision, the subsequent fire or as the ship sank.
The wreck of the Imogen remains somewhat of a mystery as, as far as we can gather, it has not been found and positively identified. Admiralty reports suggest that the collision occurred off Duncansby Head in approximate position 58° 34’N, 002° 54’W which places her east of Duncansby Head.