HMS Pheasant was a steel ‘M’ Class destroyer launched in October 1916 from the yard of Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Glasgow. Her dimensions were 270.0′ x 26.7′ x 8.7′, with a tonnage of 1025dt. She was powered by 3 Brown Curtis turbines developing 25,000shp. Her main armament was 3 @ quick firing 4 inch Mk IV guns, 3 @ single quick firing 2pdr anti-aircraft Mk II guns and 2 @ twin 21 inch torpedo tubes.
Only a few months after her launch and fit out Pheasant was lost with all hands off Orkney. She had been assigned to the 15th Flotilla of the Grand Fleet based in Orkney and was used as a dispatch ship for the first few short months of her career. The reason for the loss west of Hoy on 1st March, 1917 could only be pieced together from the few scraps of evidence available to the court of enquiry. The explosion which sank her was heard by a number of seamen in the Orkney area but, at the time, no-one gave the muted rumble much thought. Aboard HMT Grouse, skippered by Thomas Francis, which was lying at anchor under Rora Head, three men, deckhands Crossland, Milton and McCrae heard the explosion around 06:00am and even saw some smoke but attributed it to the activities of the Fifth Flotilla minesweepers working the channel west of Hoy at the time. Seamen aboard HMT Cairo patrolling in Hoy Sound also heard a faint report but thought nothing of it.
The first real report that something terrible had happened came from the Oropesa. She reported large quantities of oil and some wreckage one mile west of the Old Man of Hoy. She then picked up a lifebelt with the inscription HMS Pheasant – the loss had been discovered. However the ship had gone down very quickly and, despite the many ships that rushed to the area, no survivors were found. Indeed, only one body, midshipman R A Cotter, was discovered. He had drowned. His watch was flooded and stopped at 06:10am giving the approximate time of the sinking.
As no-one on board survived the incident the subsequent inquiry could only speculate about the details. They reviewed safety procedures in place to assess if the loss could have been the result on some kind of self inflicted accident but no evidence of this was uncovered. It therefore appears that Pheasant, under the command of Lieutenant Hubert Griffith RN with a crew of 88 men, had hit a submerged mine probably laid by U-80 (Kapitanleutnant Alfred Von Glasenapp) and sank very quickly before any of the seamen aboard could escape. This fact led to speculation that the mine had caused either the detonation of ammunition in the forward shell room or magazine or perhaps the shells and depth charges (approximately 540 pounds of TNT) which Pheasant carried on her upper deck. In any case, the ship clearly sank almost immediately with the loss of all hands.
The wreck of HMS Pheasant lies in position 58°52.070’N, 003°27.410’W (WGS84) in 82 metres of water. The wreck lies on its side as is well broken particularly from bow to bridge probably as a result of the combination of the mine damage and impact with the seabed as she sank. The wreck is protected under The Military Remains Act 1986.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of the website – Lost in Waters Deep – in the preparation of this article. Link to website – www.lostinwatersdeep.co.uk