HMS Natal was a Warrior-class armoured cruiser serving with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, and a veteran of several skirmishes with German naval forces in the North Sea. On 30th December 1915 she was moored in the Cromarty Firth off the north coast of Scotland, and a cinema party was being held in the ships Wardroom for family members and nurses from a nearby hospital ship. However, below decks a fire started in a magazine that ignited the cordite charges stored there, resulting in a catastrophic explosion which tore through the ship and caused her to sink in a matter of minutes. Hundreds of crewmembers and civilians perished within full view of other ships in the vicinity, including Natal’s sister ship HMS Achilles. This article includes a series of personal letters written by Captain Francis Martine Leake of Achilles, and watercolours painted around the time that bring this tragic story to life, adding a human element to the loss of this well-revered and battle-proven warship. Together these sources provide a vivid account of the accident and the immediate aftermath of this devastating wartime disaster.
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