Hms Natal: Nigg Bay, Cromarty Firth

Cruiser (20th Century)

Site Name Hms Natal: Nigg Bay, Cromarty Firth

Classification Cruiser (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Invergordon; Firth Of Cromarty; Hms Natal

Canmore ID 101920

Site Number NH76NE 8001

NGR NH 75584 68314

Datum WGS84 - Lat/Long

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Maritime - Highland
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Maritime
  • Former County Not Applicable

Archaeology Notes

NH76NE 8001 7558 6831

N57 41.2633 W4 5.225

NLO: Invergordon [name: NH 708 683]

Nigg Bay [name centred NH 771 721]

Cromarty Firth [name centred NH 69 67].

Formerly entered as Site no. 8427.

For comparable loss of HMS Vanguard (in Scapa Flow, 9 July 1917), see ND39NE 8045.

Quality of fix = EDM

Evidence = Swept by Wire (Two Ship/Boat Drift/Drag Sweep)

Horizontal Datum = OGB

Buoyage =

General water depth = 14

Orientation of keel/wreck = 095/275

Circumstances of Loss Details


The HMS NATAL sank at anchor following an internal explosion. 405 lives were lost. The full story of this loss is told in the book 'They called it an Accident' by A Cecil Hampshire [published in 1961 by William Kimber of London].

Surveying Details


23 December 1920. Two beacons were established on the wreck. The lights are unwatched and unreliable.

24 February 1921. Light buoys are to be laid.

17 May 1926. Salvage operations by blasting have now commenced. The salvage vessel is moored on the north side of the wreck.

3 August 1927. Salvage operations are still in progress.

Report from a letter to the Kings Harbour Master, Invergordon.

6 February 1930. The wreck is to be dispersed to 11 metres.

24 Februrary 1930. The wreck has been sold to Middlesborough Salvage Co. Ltd.

25 July 1932. The Middlesborough Salvage Co. is likely to go into liquidation.

3 February 1937. There is a re-transference of the salvage contract. Report by Director of Navy Contracts, Invergordon.

1947. The site was drift swept in November 1947 and cleared at 0.6 metres, but fouled at 1.2 metres in general depths of 13.4 to 15.5 metres.

Report by HMS SCOTT.

22 June 1956. The wreck is not the property of Admiralty anymore having been sold in 1921 to Stanlee Shipbreaking & Salvage Co. Ltd.

Report by Director of Navy Contracts.

29 July 1970. A survey was carried out by Metal Recoveries (Orkney) Ltd. prior to purchase. Divers reported the wreckage to be completely demolished except for area containing the boilers. A considerable amount of projectiles of all sizes [approx 150 stacked in one small pile] lie intermingled with the wreckage and also on the sea bed around wreck. A large quantity of cordite sticks, approximate size 3/8 x 30 inch, were also found. The stern section lies at the west end of the site. The wreckage covers an area of about 150 x 180 metres. There were no gun turrets or armour plate to be seen. The area of the boilers stands up to about 12.1 metres above the seabed. The site was examined between the 10 - 12 July 1970.

Report by motor salvage vessel SHELIA HOMAN, 14 July 1970.

30 September 1970. The state of the explosives contained within wreck are giving cause for concern to the salvage company. A clearance team is to examine and make recommendations.

5 March 1971. The clearance diving team are to complete an explosive clearance by 5 March 1971. It is also recommended to reduce the wreck to a least depth of 12 metres.

17 May 1971. The wreck is now considered reasonably safe and clear of explosives. It has been offer for sale to Metal Recoveries (Newhaven) Ltd, Robenson Rd, Newhaven.

22 July 1974. Salvage work is in progress. Three buoys have been laid.


14 August 1974. The wreck could not be swept due to the salvage work in progress. The area is surrounded by mooring buoys. The contractor admitted that the wreck is still not clear to 12 metres - the least depth is still about 5.4 to 6 metres. .

3 February 1976. Salvage operations are in progress.

Report by HMS EGERIA, 19 January 1976.

20 May 1976. An extension of the salvage contract has been granted to Metal Recoveries (Orkney) Ltd.

17 March 1978. The salvage contract with Metal Recoveries (Orkney) ltd. has been terminated. The clearance of 12.1 metres has not been achieved. Arrangements are in hand to lower the high points by using Royal Navy divers.

4 May 1978. The Royal Navy demolition operations, using fleet tender BLAKENEY, commenced on 24 April 1978 for a 3 week period.

Source: Cromarty Port, Notice to Mariners 1/78.

23 November 1978. Following salvage work by the clearance diving team between 10 and 31 August 1978, the wreck is now reported to have no high points remaining. A large quantity of cordite, a few shells and small ordnance remain in the bow section. A request has been received for the wreck site to be wire-swept.

4 September 1979. The site was drift swept over period the 5 to the 10 May 1979 using RMAS uplifter. The site swept clear to 12 metres, except for a high point just aft of the amidships in 57 41 16.1N, 004 05 12.5W which fouled at 9.3 metres and cleared at 8.8 metres [depths +/- 0.5 metres].

Report by Acting Queen's Harbour Master, Rosyth, 17 June 1979.

4 September 1979. Further demolition was carried out between 19-29 June 1979.

23 October 1979. A buoy is to be maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board on behalf of the MOD(Navy). It is also reported that the Royal Naval Officer at Invergordon has arranged for a further wire sweep, and is prepared to explore the possibility of clearing the remaining high point.

11 February 1980. A further attempt to obtain a 12 metre clearance is to be made in 1980.

6 January 1981. The responsibility for bouyage it to be taken over by the MOD from 1 April 1981.

2 August 1985. There is the possibility of less water than charted. The side scan sonar [single pass] indicates a high spot of 8 metres below the surface, approximately.

Report by HMS BEAGLE, July 1985.

21 October 1986. Clearance work is confirmed to have been effective. The side scan sonar indicates that only low-lying debris remains.

Report by Andrews Hydrographics Ltd.

5 March 1990. The site was examined on 24-26 January 1990 at 57 41 15.8N, 004 05 13.5W using trisponder multi-line for position fixing. The NGR given is eastings 275586, northings 868318. On a 2-boat drift sweep, the site cleared at 10.9, but fouled at 11.2 metres. The least echosounder depth was 10.9 in general depths of 13.2 to 15 metres. A scour to the depth of 0.9 metre was observed. The side scan sonar indicates a height of 2.05 metres. The vessel is well broken up and scattered. It lies with the keel orientated 090/270 degrees over an area 166 x 60 metres. Divers report that the wreckage is very corroded - breaking when touched - and much of it is buried in the sandy seabed. The wreck is free from kelp and fishing nets, although fishing lines are present. Three 8" projectiles and some human remains were located. Divers confirmed that no part of the wreck stands more than 2 metres high.

Hydrographic Office, 1995.

(Classified as cruiser: date of loss cited as 31 December 1915). HMS Natal: this vessel [suffered an] explosion and sank while anchored at [off] Cromarty.

Registration: London. Built 1905. 13550 tons dispacement. Length: 144m. Beam: 22m.

(Location of loss cited as N57 41.32 W4 5.25).

I G Whittaker 1998.

(Proposed for designation as a Controlled Site under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986). The armoured cruiser HMS Natal was a unit of the 2nd Cruiser squadron. On 30 December 1915, she was lying in Cromarty harbour [the Cromarty Firth] when a fire broke out on board. Within a short time her magazine exploded and she sank almost immediately.

Of her complement of 815 men, the loss of life was heavy, amounting to 421 officers and men.

Information from MOD (Military Maritime Graves consultation) per Mr I Oxley (Historic Scotland), 7 February 2002.

This wreck has been designated a Controlled Site under the Protection of Military Remains ACT (PMRA), 1986.

(Comprehensive list of Controlled Sites in article).

Source: Stuart Bryan in Nautical Archaeology, 2001.3, p. 12.

NMRS, MS/2745.

Length: 505ft 6ins (154.1m)

Beam: 73ft (22.3m)

Displacement: 13,550 tons

Propulsion: two 4-cylinder triple-expansion engines, 2 screws, 23,500 hp, 23 kts

Guns: 6 x 9.2 ins (23.4cm); 4x7.5 ins (19cm) and smaller weapons

Torpedo tubes: 3 x 18ins (46cm)

Armour: (Krupp) up to 6ins (152mm)

Armour: belt 6ins (15cm); deck 0.75-1.5ins (19-38cm)

Complement: 700-850

This armoured cruiser of the Warrior class (close relatives of the Duke of Edinburgh class) was built by Vickers at Barrow. The first Royal Navy ship of the name, she was named after the colony that largely paid for her construction. Coal-fired, but with an emergency oil supply, she may be seen as the last 'conventional' cruiser. She was laid down on 6 January 1904, launched on 30 September 1905 and completed in 1907, being commissioned at Chatham as a unit of the 5th Cruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet on 5 April in that year. In 1910, she was refitted with a lengthened funnel. Jane notes that 'These ships are singularly successful sea boats, and are held by all who have served in them to be the best cruisers ever turned out'.

Throughout her service life, she had a traditional association with service to dignitaries. In April 1908 she was escort to the Royal yacht on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen of Sweden. In 1911 she escorted King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in the P and O liner Medina to India for the Coronation Durbar that year, and in 1912 she was used to return the body of the American ambassador (Mr Whitelaw-Reid) after his death in England. She sustained significant heavy weather damage during the latter voyage.

At the test mobilisation of 1914 she sailed to Rosyth as a unit of the (Chatham-based) 2nd Cruise Squadron. She apparently missed both the battles of Heligoland Bight and Jutland, but blew up off Cromarty on 30 December 1915, sinking almost immediately. The bodies recovered were buried in Rosskeen Parish Churchyard (NH66NE 13.01).

The cause of the sinking was unrecognised for some time, submarine attack, mining and sabotage being all considered possible. Evidence from examination by divers led to the conclusion that the vessel was sunk by the accidental explosion of 'questionable' cordite. An internal explosion in or near the after 9.2in shellroom broke the ship's back over a length of 18ft (5.5m) and tore a hole 24ft (7.3m) across in the hull. Damage was more pronounced on the port side, upon which the ship settled at an angle of about 135 degrees, the starboard bilge keel becoming vertical. The ship was found to lie on a mud bottom at a depth of 8.5 fm (15.5m) aft and 9 fm (16.5m) forward. Reassessment has suggested that the explosion took place in the 3-pdr and small arms magazine rather than in the 9.2in shellroom. This loss may also be understood in conjunction with that of HMS Vanguard (ND39NE 8045) from similar causes through explosion in Scapa Flow on 9 July 1917.

Various attempts at salvage were never brought to fruition and the salvage history of the ship is confused. The wreck was first (1921) bought by the Stanlee Shipbuilding and Salvage Co of Dover, but no action is said to have been taken before ownership passed to the Upnor Shipbuilding Co. This latter company intended to reduce the wreck to 36ft (11mm) below low water; a quantity of coal was recovered before the company folded and work ceased in 1926. In 1930 and 1937 the Middlesborough Salvage Co and the South Stockton Shipbuilding Co, respectively, selectively salvaged non-ferrous metals. These operations left a least depth of 3ft (0.9m); the major operations of the 1970's which have reduced the wreck to 'low-lying debris' arte detailed [HO report, 1995] above.

The location of the loss lies 9.5 km E of Invergordon and in the centre of the Firth to the N of Udale Bay. It is noted as a wreck in a charted depth of 10.9m; the surrounding seabed is noted as mixed sand and mud.

[See Jane for deck layout, armour arrangement, funnel markings and detail differences within class].

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 14 November 2002.

A C Hampshire 1961; H M Le Fleming 1961; [Jane] 2001.

H O Chart no. 1889 (1975, revised 1990).

Plans and photographs of this vessel are held in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

(For online catalogue of negatives, see

Information from Ms G Fabri (NMM), 7 November 2003.

Listed as Designated controlled site under PMRA 1986.

(Area within 100m distance around N57 41.244 W4 5.310).

NMRS, MS/5253.



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