Torpedo hits the HMS Pathfinder on 5 Sept 1914

Personal account by Captain Martin-Leake

Read by Richard T

To listen to the audio clip of the letter being read by a student doing work experience at Hertfordshire Archives and Local studies, click play on the bar below the photo on the right

Tuesday 8th September 1914

My dear Mama.

Since my last to you these blighters have caught us with a submarine, with very disastrous results as you will have gathered from the papers, no useful results to themselves however.

It was Saturday afternoon at 3.45, we had sent the TBDs off on various errands and were returning from a sweep out to sea to investigate shipping, etc. I had just left the bridge and was in my after cabin standing by the table when the screws began to stop. I started a bolt to see what it was, but before I got away from the table, she gave a veritable stagger and tremble and everything movable came tumbling down. I got up the ladder pushed the hatch cover up (it had come down), then got the boy (my valet) out, and had a look round.  

Every sort of thing was in the air. Shell room forward seemed still to be going up. The torpedo got us in our forward magazine and evidently sent this up, thereby killing everyone forward. Her upper deck was flush with the water forward and it was only a question of how long she would float. Both our cutters were smashed up, the whaler was whole so all that could be done was to get this boat out and throw all floatable matter over. A badly hurt man was brought after and put on the Q.D. While this was going on she began decidedly to go down by the bows and the 1st lieutenant gave the order for jumping overboard, he judged this very well. Personally I stayed too long and found myself on the after shelter deck with the ship rapidly assuming an upright position. I decided to stand on the searchlight stand and take my chance. This soon went under and self as well, come up again ship still there, had another dive and then got shot right clear. The situation then developed, an oar came along and then a blue jacket. Then another oar and another blue jacket. Looked for ship found her still on her nose (probably on the bottom) she then fell over and disappeared, leaving a mass of wreckage all round, but I regret a very few men amongst it, for at the time they were all asleep on the mess decks and the full explosion must have caught them, for no survivors came from forward. I found one of the sailors with me had a broken leg. This prevented propelling our oars to where more wood was. So I swam away to a more plentiful supply, and met a meat safe, I knocked the end out of this and was busy at the other end when I snuffed out for a time.

On recovery I found myself being well rubbed with rum in a bunk on T.B.26 and she was getting alongside this yacht to deliver me to the tender care of these people who have done every possible thing imaginable for me. I somehow got a cut on the head, getting clear of the ship I expect this evidently bled and accounts for loss of senses. They pumped salt and water into me until I objected. I now have normal temperature nearly healed head and drank beer for lunch and hope in a day or so to hear of a new ship. This outfit is run by Lady Beatty the wife of the Admiral! Commander! 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron. I like her very much and much appreciate her kindness. Sir Alfred Cripp is onboard with another surgeon McNair two top five nurses from Park Lane. I am the only patient here – The “Liberty” another yacht has come and some are in the hospital. You see I have the best that London can produce, it is strange how I am always coming into this. Sorry to have inflicted so much self on you, but there is little else please write to Her Ladyship and thank her also to Cripp he is a very good sort. Mail going – nurse coming, So must close up.

Your affectionate Son,  

M. Leake            


To read the full collection of Captain Martin-Leake’s letters and telegrams reporting his wounding in 1914 during the above battle and his brother’s death in 1907 click on the link below.

This page was added on 13/11/2010.

Comments about this page

  • Hi, nearly there, the letter was written by (Naval) Captain Francis Martin-Leake (not Lieutenant Martin Leake) whilst on board HM Hospital Ship Sheelah,¬†

    By Bill Darbyshire (17/09/2015)
  • Hi, still some corrections to make if possible – HMS Pathfinder was torpedoed on 5th (not 8th) of Sept 1914. The letter is written by (Naval) Captain Francis Martin-Leake – the letter describes some of the events of the sinking. Pathfinder was the first warship ever sunk by a U-Boat¬†

    By Bill Darbyshire (03/09/2015)
  • Frank Hay is correct – the title of this piece should be “HMS Pathfinder – first naval ship sunk by torpedo” could you please update this.

    By Bill Darbyshire (24/06/2015)
  • I’ve made some basic corrections to this. See Frank Hay’s comment for full clarification.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (24/06/2015)
  • Hi Anne. I’m currently recording and posting various of Arthur Martin-Leake’s letters on this site. I was going to reply in full, but I see Frank Hay’s comment below, from 2012, actually addresses in full the errors in this article. Both Frank and Theo were Arthur’s brothers.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (25/02/2015)
  • I wonder if you can clarify if Martin Leake who worked on the Sheelah is connected with the Martin-Leakes who also appear on your website? The former seems to sign himself M. Leake, but that may be an abbreviation. If he is one of the Martin-Leakes, what is his first name? I am asking as I believe there may be a connection with Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who owned Lamer, Wheathampstead, and also features on your website. Thank you.

    By Anne Strathie (24/02/2015)
  • Thank you for placing the very interesting latters of Mrs Martin-Leakes online. I am researching the sinking of HMS Pathfinder, 5th September 1914 which was captained by her son Francis Martin-Leake. Can I point out a couple of corrections: 1) The above letter is describing the sinking of the Pathfinder by torpedo on Saturday the 5th September. Captain Martin-Leake was rescued and is on the Steam Yacht Sheelah (which was owned Lady Beatty and converted to a hospital ship by her) and which was not hit by torpedo. 2) The other letters to Mrs Martin-Leake, in the Word file available on the link above, are mainly from or about Francis but include two concerning the death of another of her other sons, Theodore, who lost his life in a military balloon acident in 1907. The ascent of the ballon was watched by King Edward VII and Prince Fushimi of Japan, hence the two letters. Frank Hay Queensferry History Group

    By Frank Hay (24/06/2012)

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