HMS Pathfinder…

On the morning of the 5th September 1914, HMS Pathfinder, along with other vessels of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla were taking part in a routine patrol of the outer firth. The other ships turned back at around lunchtime leaving the Pathfinder to complete its patrol alone. Unfortunately HMS Pathfinder was far from being alone – she was being hunted by the German submarine U21.  What happened at around 15:45pm that day went down in history…

Despite some attempts at a cover up – HMS Pathfinder is recorded as the first ship to be sunk by a self-propelled torpedo. She was also the first Royal Navy ship to be lost to a U-boat.

HMS Pathfinder

HMS Pathfinder

Just after 15:45pm the Captain of U21, Otto Hersing, fired “the first live torpedo in the history of the world”. A statement he was to later repeat in his memoirs. Although the crew of the Pathfinder spotted the torpedo’s wake she couldn’t react quickly enough and the torpedo slammed into the ship just below the bridge. A secondary explosion in the ships magazine tore off the bow (now located over a mile away) and sealed her fate.

HMS Pathfinder sank in just four minutes. Of the estimated 268 crew, there were only 18 survivors. The wreck now sits on a sandy sea-bed in around 68 metres of water and is a designated protected wreck under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. Diving is allowed on a ‘look but don’t touch’ policy which should be adhered to at all times.

The Anniversary Dive.

Diving is an unusual ‘sport’ that can get you involved in all sorts of weird, wonderful and interesting projects; whether it’s collecting samples for the local marine aquarium, researching an unidentified shipwreck or simply taking pictures of some unusual underwater critters. There’s always something to be getting involved with.

Earlier this year we were invited to a diving weekend in Eyemouth which we eagerly signed up for – especially as the Friday was designated as a technical diving day promising a ‘special’ 65m dive for those suitably qualified. Training and build up dives were planned to ensure we were well prepared for what is a very challenging dive.

It was only some time later that we found out what was actually planned. The Pathfinder anniversary dive was being pulled together by a number of the dive boat operators in Eyemouth. Getting this sort of trip organised is a challenge – they were basically relying on having the numbers of suitably trained people committing to the trip and the right weather conditions on the day. It would only take one of these to fall down and the trip wouldn’t go ahead.

The numbers weren’t a problem – our boat had 9 divers on board, leaving enough room for observers and the film crew that were recording the days events. We woke on the 5th Sept 2014 to blazing sunshine. After a hearty cooked breakfast at the Home Arms Bed & Breakfast, we spent the morning arranging our equipment and preparing ourselves mentally for the afternoon. We set off around 1pm to meet a Royal Navy patrol boat that was conducting a remembrance service and laying a wreath at the site of the wreck.

Wreath laying ceremony

Royal Navy wreath laying ceremony

The service was a poignant affair, transmitted over the VHF radio so all the boats in attendance could take part. A wreath was dropped onto the surface above the wreck, and the last post was sounded on the bugle. We were very aware of the significant loss of life that had taken place here and felt very privileged to have taken part in the service.

As I kitted up I was pretty apprehensive about the dive. I’d had an appalling cough for the past 6 weeks and had just finished a course of antibiotics. I was nervous and must’ve checked my kit at least three times before finally climbing in to my rebreather and putting on my mask and fins. What if I had a coughing fit underwater? What if I couldn’t bail out? What if I lost my buddy? I still wasn’t 100% convinced I would be able to dive on the long drive to Scotland – and now the potential things that could go wrong were playing on my mind once again.

Preparing for the dive

Preparing for the dive

I sat breathing on the rebreather for around 5 minutes, part of the pre-dive check to ensure it’s performing normally. I closed my eyes and visualised all of the things that could go wrong – I also visualised how I would handle them, how I had handled them previously during my training without any issues. I knew I could cope with, and had been trained well, for just this sort of diving.

We jumped off the back of the boat into the cold waters of the North Sea and made our way down the shot line that led to the wreck below. It took four minutes for us to reach the top of the wreck in around 60m of water. It was dark on the wreck, which we expected. It was also quite murky due to all the activity going on disturbing the fine layer of silt that had accumulated over the years. Visibility was around 2/3 metres at best. We looked for an edge that would help us orient ourselves, and eventually located the port side. We made our way along observing the life boat davits which were still in position. We also spotted one of the intact torpedo tubes. We finally arrived at the stern of the ship – and agreed to drop down to the deepest part of the wreck to have a look at the propellors. Dropping down we first found the rudder, then the propellors on either side. They were a great sight and are rarely seen on ships of this age due to salvage operations – the protected wreck status has prevented this on the Pathfinder.

We quickly ascended back to the decks, then made our way forward around the starboard side. It wasn’t long before we located the furthest point forward of the wreck which had been badly damaged by the explosion. We also spotted the Union Flag that had been placed on the wreck by another team of divers and then conveniently noticed the line we had originally descended on nearby.  I signalled to my dive buddy that it was time to leave – each of us showing around 40 minutes of decompression to complete on our way back to the surface.

I was glad to be back on the boat and that everyone had managed to complete the dive safely. I also felt very privileged to have taken part in such an interesting dive at a very poignant time. It’s certainly one I’ll remember for a long time to come.

Following the Pathfinder dive we were joined for more typical recreational type diving by the members of both Chester Sub-Aqua Club and Icicle divers. I managed to get another ‘to do’ item ticked off when I was finally able to get a picture of a Wolf Fish after ten years of trying!

Wolf Fish

Wolf Fish

If you’ve not dived Eyemouth before, I’d recommend it to any club looking for a weekend away. Wolf Fish and Octopus are common around this coast, and the visibility is generally 5-10 metres. It offers some of the best scenic diving around, and the Glanmire is a must-visit wreck perfectly situated in 30m of water.

The Home Arms makes a great base, offering bed & breakfast, air fills on site, two fully equipped hard boats and a shuttle service to the nearby harbour to boot.


2 thoughts on “HMS Pathfinder…

  1. As the Grandson of Master at Arms Richard E Magee i had the honor of joining the dive in the morning as a family member the Divers asked me to deliver the eulogy and afterwards presented the Union Flag that had flown on the wreck
    In 2012 I contacted Government departments they should no interest in the anniversary of the sinking I wrote to The First Sea Lord requesting a Royal Naval Ship to honor HMS Pathfinder and her crew, with out any Government support All involved in the commemoration I would personally thank all who took part in making the forgotten memory of HMS Pathfinder get so much coverage at 15-50 hours his Great Grandson Andrew Laid a wreath at The Naval Memorial Chatham where the names of those who lost their lives are Commemorated

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