A truly magnificent ship built and launched at Barrow-in-Furness in 1905. The last and finest of the armed cruisers to be built for the Royal Navy Natal displaced 13,500 tons and measured 505 ½ feet overall with a beam of 73 ½ feet.
Her engines drove two propellers developing 23,500 internal horsepower. She was protected with armour plate 6” thick and armed with six 9.2-inch guns, four 7.5-inch guns together with twenty-four 3lb guns, five .303 Maxims and three underwater torpedo tubes.
On 30th December 1915 Natal was lying in the Cromarty Firth with her squadron under the command of Captain Eric Back RN. Shortly after 3.20pm, and without warning, a series of violent explosions tore through the ship. Within 5 short minutes she capsized, a blazing wreck.
390 men, more than half of the ship’s company, 11 women and children and two dockyard workers perished either from the explosions or in the freezing water of the Cromarty Firth. Those bodies which were recovered from the sea were interred in Rosskeen Churchyard, Invergordon.
There was a huge amount of speculation about the loss of the Natal. A mine laying U-boat was thought to be the cause but an underwater inspection revealed massive damage from an internal explosion. Sabotage by German agents was suspected but never proved.
With her hull still visible at low water it was RN practice on entering and leaving Cromarty right up to the Second World War for every warship to sound “Still” and for officers and men to come to attention as they passed the wreck.
A. Cecil Hampshire, They Called it Accident, William Kimber, London, 1961
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[This page last updated 19 September 2009]