Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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Wrecked; Shipwreck Finder for iPhone®

A recent influx in GPS mapping and digital archival app technology has allowed for the dissemination of rich and highly informative platforms for the use of institutions, organisations and social/leisure groups. Indeed, tools have been devised to suit the rather specialised and rather niche pursuit of wreck discovery, tracking and diving etc. Wreckfinder® is a new initiative designed to locate shipwrecks located around the coastal waters of the UK and off of Ireland. With over 10,000 wrecks accounted for, naval enthusiasts are able to determine a particular vessel’s approximate GPS location (in longitude and latitude), size, depth and often the circumstances pertaining to the loss. Whilst using the app, this particular author located the wreck of HMS Natal, and with it, an astonishing and tragic tale of sinking.


The armoured cruiser, HMS Natal, was a seaborne unit of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron which joined on 5 December 1915. She
displaced 13,550 long tons (13,770 t) and 14,500 long tons (14,700 t) when fully loaded. The ship had an overall length of 505 feet 4 inches (154.0 m), a beam of 73 feet 6 inches (22.4 m) and a draught of 27 feet 6 inches (8.4 m). Powered by four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines, driving two shafts, HMS Natal developed a total of 23,650 indicated horsepower (17,640 kW) and gave a maximum speed of 23.3 knots (43.2 km/h; 26.8 mph). By the start of World War One, she was assigned to the Grand Fleet but did not participate in any actual naval engagements. On the 30 December 1915, the ship would suffer disastrous consequences resulting from an internal explosion, causing her to sink with many lives lost, including both service and civilian personnel.


Whilst at anchor in the Cromarty Firth, together with her naval squadron, Captain Eric Back was hosting a party aboard the HMS Natal for the families of his fellow officers including members of his own family, a civilian friend and nurses from the hospital ship, Drina. There were seven women, a civilian male and three children on board at the time of the tragic event. At approximately 15:25, without any warning, a number of explosions occurred through the ship’s stern. The HMS Natal sunk a mere five minutes later resulting in the death of between 390 and 421 people.

Initially believed to be a German U-boat attack or an underwater detonation of a mine, the sinking of HMS Natal is believed to have occurred as a result of explosions in either the rear 9.2-inch shell armoury room or within the 3-pounder and small-arms magazine quarters. The Admiralty court-martial investigating the shipping disaster concluded that the explosion happened because of degradated supplies of cordite present on the ship. Out of her complement of 704 serving seamen, at least 408 officers and seamen were lost to the sea. Up until the 1970s, her upturned hull was still visible above the waterline until she was successfully salvaged in piecemeal fashion and finally detonated to a safe submergible level.

According to Wreckfinder®, her precise location is off of Cromarty, 57 41.244N 04 05.310W 100m exclusion. Although the wreck is designated as a controlled site under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 with a strict exclusion zone surrounding it, sightseeing voyages on boats to the buoy where it is located are still a common feature to the tourist industry in Cromarty.

The Wreckfinder app by AppFuture and Velotec Limited can be accessed online, through iTunes® and through Google Play®accordingly: /   
AppFuture and Velotec Limited, Wreckfinder®application for iTunes® and Google Play®. Copyright © 2013 AppFuture and Velotec Limited.
“Explosion of HMS Natal in 1915” Copyright © 2012 Bridgeman Art Gallery.
mpatson, “Site of HMS Natal” Copyright © 2010 mpatson / Flickr. All Rights Reserved.
All copyrighted material used in this article or cited by this website is the property of their respective owners and in no way accepts any responsibility for an infringement on one of the above.
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