WW1 Destroyer Position Confirmed by Maritime Archaeology Project

HMS Pheasant- Multibeam Echosound Image. Copyright ORCA
Multibeam Echosound Image of HMS Pheasant. Copyright: ORCA

First World War Destroyer Position Confirmed by Maritime Archaeology Project in Orkney.

Most people probably do not realise that when they take the ferry from Scrabster bound for Orkney, that they will be passing over a shipwreck from the First World War – a shipwreck that up until now has been shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm that the archaeological maritime survey conducted last month from the decks of the Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia has located the site of the First World War destroyer HMS Pheasant and for the first time the wreck can be viewed through the use of Multibeam Sonar technology. The wreck itself is protected as a designated vessel under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 which means that it can be dived but not entered or disturbed without permission from the Ministry of Defence.

HMS Pheasant was an M class destroyer built by Fairfield Shipyard on the Clyde and launched on 23rd October 1916. At 0.15 on the morning of 1st March 1917 the ship left Stromness to patrol the waters to the west of Orkney. Steaming down the west side of Hoy at full speed she most likely struck a mine off Rora Head close to the Old Man of Hoy that had been laid on the 21st January 1917 by German submarine U 80.

The Trawler HMT Grouse was at anchor under Rora Head due to the heavy sea prevailing at the time and two deck hands on watch reported an explosion and smoke at 06.00 but tragically the skipper was not informed till 08.00 when she proceeded to the area. The Trawler HMT Cairo which was patrolling in the Hoy Sound heard a faint explosion at 06.00 but took it to be gunfire and so remained on station off Stromness. The first reports only started coming in two hours after HMS Pheasant struck the mine when at 08.15 the trawler HMT Oropesa reported finding  ‘’ Large quantities of oil and some wreckage one mile west of Old Man of Hoy.” The crew also picked up a life buoy marked HMS ‘Pheasant’.’

Eighty nine crew were aboard HMS Pheasant when she was lost. Only one body was recovered: that of Midshipman Reginald Campbell Cotter RNR. He was 20 years old and he is buried in the military cemetery at Lyness, Hoy, Orkney.

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Marine Scotland vessel: MV Scotia

This year marks the centenary of the loss of HMS Pheasant and there is an initiative underway to develop a memorial on Hoy, Orkney to commemorate all those who lost their lives aboard. This is being led by Kinlay Francis, Orkney Uncovered and Kevin Heath, SULA Diving.

This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.


Notes

  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia was the work platform for data collection. Data collection involved Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company provided ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment.
  • Historic Environment Scotland provided funding, guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and will provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertook marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.

 

 

 

Marine Archaeology Paper to be Presented at CIFA Conference

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Rysa Little Site. SS085: Bridge Cabin Structure. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute

Mark Littlewood, Geomatics Officer Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, will be presenting his paper – Protecting Accessible Marine Tourism Sites: The Case of Scapa Flow – at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists conference which is being held at Newcastle University on 19th-21st April 2017.

Marks abstract continues….Scapa Flow is one of a number of marine anchorages which possesses a rich palimpsest of twentieth-century shipwrecks. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918, the interned ships of the High Seas Fleet were viewed within the perspective of the military knowledge that they could impart to the Allied powers, a factor that played a key role in the scuttling of the fleet. Following their scuttling the German High Seas Fleet and also the lesser known block ships that protected Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars then became a source of direct revenue as they were then subject to partial or full salvage activities.

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Rysa Little Site SS069: Searchlight Control Platform. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute.

This paper will examine how attitudes to these wrecks have changed over the years; how the development of marine tourism has both benefited the preservation and investigation of these wrecks, but also poses new challenges. More particularly this paper will compare the palimpsest of Scapa Flow to other similar sites around the world that have undergone salvage activities. Are the wrecks of Scapa Flow perceived differently than other massed wreck sites around the world? Are they seen as more accessible and more well-known and are the levels of protection, both present and proposed, for Scapa Flow necessary or adequate?

The paper will go on to highlight the level of further investigation and dissemination required to protect and make accessible such maritime sites and how the experience protecting wreck sites in Scapa Flow could be applied worldwide.

Thanks to Bob Anderson for underwater photography.


German High Seas Fleet Scrap Site Survey in Scapa Flow

sdrThis weekend, to a wintery backdrop, maritime archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and colleagues from SULA Diving continued a high-resolution side scan sonar survey of Scapa Flow.

The project is designed to showcase the significant wreckage of the scrap sites of the German High Seas Fleet and was conducted on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland.

 

mast-and-searchlight-platform
Mast and searchlight platform from an unknown ship

The salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet in the 1920s-40s raised battleships, battlecruisers and destroyers from the seabed scrapping at dockyard sites further south such as Rosyth. Today the remains of these ships and their associated salvage lie on the seabed, continuing to tell the story of the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, and providing an exciting and interesting heritage resource.

 

Analysis of the sonar data will be undertaken to identify what is present on the seabed and from which ships. Archival research and diver ground truthing are assisting in this phase of the project.


A University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Side Scan Sonar course is now enrolling for 18th and 19th March. The course is being held in Shetland. More details available from studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites to be Surveyed

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Scapa Flow: View from Hoy looking across to Stromness

The wrecks of the First World War German High Seas Fleet that lie on the seabed in Scapa Flow, Orkney are renowned as one of most famous wreck diving sites in the world.

These wreck sites also provide marine archaeologists with an unparalleled insight into the construction of warships from this period.

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with  SULA Diving to undertake a Historic Environment Scotland funded project on the salvage sites of the scuttled wrecks of the High Sea Fleet.

The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end ofsites the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, believing the armistice was over, ordered the fleet to be scuttled. This resulted in the sinking of 52 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 45 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a cultural heritage resource that is relatively undocumented. Today, the 7 wrecks that were not salvaged constitute one of the most famous wreck diving sites in the world.

The project is led by Sandra Henry (Marine Archaeologist, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) and Kevin Heath (SULA Diving) on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland and aims to identify the locations of the primary scrap sites and associated secondary sites from the salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet.

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The Seydlitz

The secondary scrap sites were created as the upturned hulls of the major vessels of the High Seas fleet were moved to shallower water off Lyness, Scapa Flow. Personal accounts suggest that the salvors would attempt to tow the vessels across the bar at Ryssa Little, sometimes losing superstructure elements in the process. If the upturned hulls did not make it then the salvors would know that the ships were too deep to make it into Rosyth for final scrapping.

One of the aims of this project will be to investigate this assertion and survey the areas around Ryssa Little for these superstructure elements that were lost during these operations.

Recent marine archaeological surveys have collected small amounts of data in regard to the scrap sites indicating that this resource is far more substantial and intriguing than previously believed. The scrap site assemblages include major components of ship structures such as masts, searchlights, plating, steam pinnaces, funnels and so on. Furthermore, these wreck sites, due to their deconstructed nature, are at high-risk of salvage activity.

This project will provide baseline data for long-term monitoring of the sites. The project data and results will be available to the public through the Scapa Flow Wrecks website (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com), along with various other platforms and exhibitions.


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