One hundred years ago this afternoon the first Royal Navy warship to fall victim to a U-boat was sunk in the Firth of Forth.
More than 250 sailors and Royal Marines were killed when HMS Pathfinder was torpedoed within sight of land as she patrolled near May Island.
On the morning of September 5 1914 the cruiser and the vessels of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla carried out a sweep of the outer firth.
But also patrolling these same waters were three German submarines, dispatched to the Forth Estuary with the hope of catching the Royal Navy’s ‘splendid cats’ unaware – Rosyth was home of Beatty’s battle-cruiser force.1
HMS Pathfinder was the lead ship of the Pathfinder-class scout cruisers and was part of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla based at Rosyth in the Firth of Forth. Serving onboard was the grandfather of shipmate John Magee, an Associate member of the Royal Naval Association’s Huntingdon & District Branch. Richard E. Magee was Master at Arms, over 250 sailors were killed during the attach, Richard was one of them.
Today, Friday 5th September 2014, a team of divers have been given permission from the MOD to lay a wreath onboard the war grave, a Union Flag will also be placed above the wreck during a short ceremony to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Three ceremonies took place on Friday: at the Chatham’s Commonwealth War Memorial, Richard Magee’s great grandson, Andrew Grey, laid a wreath at 1550 — the actual time of HMS Pathfinder’s sinking. Andrew said that he was ‘very proud to lay the wreath’, the sinking of HMS Pathfinder was such a significant event during the First World War. MAA Richard Magee would have been just as proud of his family (and of those relatives of the ships company) for their efforts in their campaign to get the anniversary marked in this way.
A photograph was taken with Richard’s medals and the wreath provided by his family.
The second of the ceremonies was to take place onboard HMS Pathfinder at 1550, onboard the support vessels, John Magee (as principle guest) gave the eulogy and spoke of the importance of the anniversary.
The dive team that had placed the wreath onboard the wreck presented the Union Flag (which had also been ‘flown’ as part of the remembrance ceremony) to John Magee. Upon returning to Eyemouth, other families had gathered and interviewed by film crews from ITN, STV and BBC Scotland.
At the same time as the wreath laying ceremony onboard HMS Pathfinder, a third ceremony took place above the wreck site; HMS Example, a P2000 Patrol Boat had sailed from Leith and was positioned over HMS Pathfinder. Captain Chris Smith RN, the Naval Regional Commander for Scotland & Northern Ireland, prepared to conduct a short service of commemoration and pay respects to the 259 personnel killed during the attack.
ITN gave national coverage on news at ten with film of the dive (click here to see the ITN coverage).
For a detailed account of the HMS Pathfinder story, as published on the Royal Navy website, click here.
- Royal Naval News, available from: http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2014/september/05/140905-hms-pathfinder [accessed 5 September 2014 [↩]