HMS Pathfinder (1904)

HMS Pathfinder was the lead ship
Lead ship
The lead ship or class leader is the first of a series or class of ships all constructed according to the same general design. The term is applicable military ships and larger civilian craft.-Overview:...

 of the Pathfinder class
Pathfinder class cruiser
The Pathfinder class was a two ship class of scout cruiser serving with the Royal Navy in World War I, and consisting of the ships HMS Pathfinder and HMS Patrol....

 scout cruiser
Scout cruiser
A scout cruiser was a type of warship of the early 20th Century, which were smaller, faster, more lightly armed and armoured than protected cruisers or light cruisers, but larger than contemporary destroyers...

s, and was the first ship ever to be sunk by a torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

 fired by submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

 (the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 ship USS Housatonic
USS Housatonic (1861)
The first USS Housatonic was a screw sloop-of-war of the United States Navy, named for the Housatonic River of New England which rises in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and flows southward into Connecticut before emptying into Long Island Sound a little east of Bridgeport, Connecticut...

 had been sunk by a spar torpedo
Spar torpedo
A spar torpedo is a weapon consisting of a bomb placed at the end of a long pole, or spar, and attached to a boat. The weapon is used by running the end of the spar into the enemy ship. Spar torpedoes were often equipped with a barbed spear at the end, so it would stick to wooden hulls...

). She was built by Cammell Laird
Cammell Laird
Cammell Laird, one of the most famous names in British shipbuilding during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, came about following the merger of Laird, Son & Co. of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell & Co. of Sheffield at the turn of the twentieth century.- Founding of the business :The Company...

, Birkenhead
Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. It is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool...

, launched
Ship naming and launching
The ceremonies involved in naming and launching naval ships are based in traditions thousands of years old.-Methods of launch:There are three principal methods of conveying a new ship from building site to water, only two of which are called "launching." The oldest, most familiar, and most widely...

 on 16 July 1904, and commissioned
Ship commissioning
Ship commissioning is the act or ceremony of placing a ship in active service, and may be regarded as a particular application of the general concepts and practices of project commissioning. The term is most commonly applied to the placing of a warship in active duty with its country's military...

 on 18 July 1905. She was originally to have been named HMS Fastnet, but was renamed prior to construction.


Not long after completion, two additional 12 pounder guns were added and the 3 pounder gun
3 pounder gun
3 pounder gun, 3 pounder, 3-pdr or QF 3-pdr is an abbreviation typically referring to a gun which fired a projectile weighing approximately 3 pounds...

s were replaced with six 6 pounder guns. In 1911-12 they were rearmed with nine 4 inch guns. Pathfinder spent her early career with the Atlantic Fleet, Channel Fleet
Channel Fleet
The Channel Fleet was the Royal Navy formation of warships that defended the waters of the English Channel from 1690 to 1909.-History:The Channel Fleet dates back at least to 1690 when its role was to defend England against the French threat under the leadership of Edward Russell, 1st Earl of...

 (1906) and then the Home Fleet (1907). At the start of the First World War she was part of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla
A flotilla , or naval flotilla, is a formation of small warships that may be part of a larger fleet. A flotilla is usually composed of a homogeneous group of the same class of warship, such as frigates, destroyers, torpedo boats, submarines, gunboats, or minesweepers...

 based at Rosyth in the Firth of Forth
Firth of Forth
The Firth of Forth is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea, between Fife to the north, and West Lothian, the City of Edinburgh and East Lothian to the south...


Pathfinder was sunk off St. Abbs Head, Berwickshire
Berwickshire or the County of Berwick is a registration county, a committee area of the Scottish Borders Council, and a lieutenancy area of Scotland, on the border with England. The town after which it is named—Berwick-upon-Tweed—was lost by Scotland to England in 1482...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, on Saturday 5 September 1914 by the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

SM U-21 (Germany)
SM U-21 was one of the most famous U-boats to serve in the Imperial German Navy in World War I. She was the first submarine to sink a ship with a self-propelled torpedo. She also sank the British battleships HMS Triumph and HMS Majestic...

, commanded by Leutnant zur See Otto Hersing. Typical of the scout cruisers' poor endurance, she was so short of coal whilst on patrol that she could only manage a speed of 5 knots, making her an easy target. The ship was struck in a magazine
Magazine (artillery)
Magazine is the name for an item or place within which ammunition is stored. It is taken from the Arabic word "makahazin" meaning "warehouse".-Ammunition storage areas:...

, which exploded causing the ship to sink within minutes with the loss of 259 men.


At the beginning of September 1914 Otto Hersing of U-21 ventured to the Firth of Forth
Firth of Forth
The Firth of Forth is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea, between Fife to the north, and West Lothian, the City of Edinburgh and East Lothian to the south...

, home to the major British naval base at Rosyth
Rosyth is a town located on the Firth of Forth, three miles south of the centre of Dunfermline. According to an estimate taken in 2008, the town has a population of 12,790....

. Hersing is known to have penetrated the Firth of Forth as far as the Carlingnose Battery beneath the Forth Rail Bridge. At one point the periscope was spotted and the battery opened fire but without success. Overnight Hersing withdrew from the Forth, patrolling the coast from May Island southwards. From distance, on the morning of 5 September he observed the SSE course of HMS Pathfinder followed by elements of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla. The destroyers altered course back towards May Island at midday while HMS Pathfinder continued her patrol. Hersing spotted Pathfinder on her return journey from periscope depth at 1530. This time he resolved to make an attack. At 1543 Otto Hersing fired a single 19.69” Type G torpedo.

5 September was a sunny afternoon. At 1545 lookouts spotted a torpedo wake heading towards the starboard bow at a range of 2,000 yards. The officer of the watch, Lieutenant-Commander Favell gave orders for the starboard engine to be put astern and the port engine to be set at full ahead while the wheel was fully turned in an attempt to take avoiding action. At 1550 the torpedo detonated beneath the bridge. The cordite charges may have then been ignited, leading to a flash causing a second, massive explosion within the fore section of the ship as the magazine blew up. The fore mast and No 1 funnel collapsed and then toppled over the side. The forensic evidence of the wreck is that everything before the first funnel disintegrated. The majority of the crew below decks in the forward section had neither the time nor the opportunity to escape. Although the explosion was well within sight of land, Captain Martin-Peake knew it was essential to attract attention. He ordered the stern gun to be fired. The king-pin must have been fatally damaged by the explosion because after firing a single round, the gun toppled off its mounting, rolled around the quarter deck, struck the after screen then careered over the stern, taking the gun crew with it. There was no list but there was insufficient time to lower boats. Indeed the remains of a lifeboat davit and rope can still be seen on the wreck. The propeller belonging to the ship’s boat lies on the deck nearby.

Lt (E) Stallybrass recalled that the bulkheads held firm until five minutes after the big explosion:
The bow section sheared off under the strain as the stern heaved up to a sixty degree angle. Then it quietly slipped below the surface.

Eyemouth fishing boats were first on the scene and encountered a field of debris, fuel oil, clothing and body parts. Destroyers HMS Stag and Express had spotted the smoke and headed for the pall of smoke. One of the destroyers had an engine problem when a water inlet was blocked by a leg in a seaboot.

There is significant confusion regarding the numbers of survivors. On 6 September The Times declared that 58 men had been rescued but that four had died of injuries. The fact that it is impossible to determine how many were on board that day, adds to difficulties but research indicates that 268 personnel were onboard plus two civilian canteen assistants. There were just eighteen known survivors:

Captain Francis Martin-Leake
Ernest Stallybrass, Lt (E)
Bath Alan G Lt. Paymaster

Bannister A Stoker,
Brett Wm OS,
Bruce, Stanley ERA,
Fothergill Reg, AB,
Jones, P, Mechanician,
Kevan, S, L./Sig,
Lewis E Stoker,
Marland J Pte RMLI,
Noy, J Stoker,
Pring, wm, Stoker,
Rogers, Wm Boy,
Smyth, Thomas, Staff Surgeon,
Trimming, Alfred Boy,
Mcdermott A L/Stoker,
Marriot, Charles, AB,

Four more men died of injuries or exposure and are buried at Dalmeny in Fife and Warriston near Edinburgh. One unknown Pathfinder sailor is buried at Dunbar overlooking the scene of the sinking.

The explosion was seen by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel...

 (while staying at Northfield House, St. Abbs) who recorded the following in a letter to his father sent on 14 September 1914:

I dare say Julian told you that we actually saw the Pathfinder explosion — a great white cloud with its foot in sea.

The St. Abbs' lifeboat came in with the most appalling accounts of the scene. There was not a piece of wood, they said, big enough to float a man—and over acres the sea was covered with fragments—human and otherwise. They brought back a sailor's cap with half a man's head inside it. The explosion must have been frightful. It is thought to be a German submarine that did it, or, possibly, a torpedo fired from one of the refitted German trawlers, which cruise all round painted with British port letters and flying the British flag.

Despite the events of 5 September having been easily visible from shore, the authorities attempted to cover up the sinking and Pathfinder was reported to have been mined. Admiralty came to an agreement with the Press Bureau which allowed for the censoring of all reports. The Scotsman
The Scotsman
The Scotsman is a British newspaper, published in Edinburgh.As of August 2011 it had an audited circulation of 38,423, down from about 100,000 in the 1980s....

however published an eye-witness account by an Eyemouth fisherman who had assisted in the rescue. The account confirmed rumours that a submarine had been responsible, rather than a mine. However The Scotsman also reported that Pathfinder had been attacked by two U-boats and had accounted for the second one in her death throes. Admiralty intelligence later claimed that cruisers had cornered the U-boat responsible and shelled it to oblivion. The sinking of Pathfinder by a submarine made both sides aware of the potential vulnerability of large ships to attack by submarines.
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