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The Invergordon Archive

HMS Queen Elizabeth at Invergordon
The Invergordon Archive
HMS Queen Elizabeth at Invergordon

HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently undergoing sea trials after leaving Rosyth dockyard where she was built. This was a planned visit and must have sparked memories for those who saw aircraft carriers in the Firth on a regular basis after the Second World War.
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Picture added on 14 July 2017 at 13:11
Great to see a Royal Navy ship back in Invergordon, albeit not commissioned but better than nothing.
Added by Eddie Trotter on 30 July 2017
Right on Eddie. I Remember how great the fleet looked in formation at their buoys in the Firth.
Added by Harry O'Neill on 02 August 2017
Yes, great to see an aircraft carrier in the Firth again. For anyone interested worth checking the following link at British Pathe films archive. It shows HM Queen Elizabeth inspecting the fleet on board the aircraft carrier HMS Albion at Invergordon in 1957.
Added by Graeme Askew on 03 August 2017
Hi Harry, yes it was really something to watch as the ships returned to the firth after their exercises. Watching the destroyers approaching their buoys, one got the feeling the Captains on each ship tried to show they could do it faster. Sometimes wondered how the whalers managed to get to the buoys in time and the destroyer stopped without hitting the buoy.
Added by Eddie Trotter on 04 August 2017
Hi Eddie, that reminds me of when the RN reserves used to come in, they had boats a bit smaller than a Frigate. They used to practice coming along-side the middle pier. Some were good at it others took many attempts.
My cousin Roy Daniels and I were in a row boat one time and we shot out from under the pier interfering with one boats attempt, all heck broke loose with horns and whistles. We just kept on rowing..
Added by Harry O'Neill on 04 August 2017
Harry, I think they used minesweepers based in South Queensferry, and it wasn't unusual for one boat to use the one in front of as a brake.
Added by Eddie Trotter on 04 August 2017
I am surprised to see such a large vessel so close inshore. In my day the biggest ship in the RN was HMS Eagle. When the fleet was in port she was always berthed well out into the Firth, nearer to Cromarty than Inverg. I assume to accommodate cruise ships the shipping channels are dredged from time to time?
Added by Bill Geddes on 16 October 2017
The deep channel of the Firth runs from between the north and south Sutors right up the Firth to a point opposite Highland Deephaven (on the site of the old Novar Airfield), a little way past the long pier. The channel is at its deepest at the Sutors, some 25 fathoms, and gradually becomes shallower as it runs west and then south-west. The ends of the piers at Highland Deephaven and Saltburn, the Admiralty Pier and the Service Base are all on the edge of this channel and explains why the Deephaven, Admiralty and Saltburn piers are the lengths they are.

Silting of the channel, particularly at the Queen’s Dock, the Service Base, the Admiralty Pier, and probably the Saltburn Pier, is a problem as a large amount of silt is washed down by the natural flow from the River Conan. This part of the channel is regularly dredged to maintain the right operational depth.

The reason that HMS Queen Elizabeth was berthed at the Service Base was that she would have needed some repairs and inspections as part of her sea trials. The Base would have provided ideal access for such work and provided the necessary security for such an operation. Security at the base while she was docked would have been at maximum and we all know what that means having seen pictures on national TV of the aftermath of terrorist actions recently in London and Manchester. I know that many have views on the lack of access afforded the general public around the west harbour area, but had there not been total security around the whole Port area then HMS Queen Elizabeth would never have come close to the Cromarty Firth.

Bill, you mention that when the fleet was in port HMS Eagle was always berthed well out into the Firth, nearer Cromarty than Invergordon. She would have been anchored in the deep channel and would not have come to the Firth for repairs. In any event I would guess that the Service Base had not been constructed, nor the Saltburn Pier, and the Admiralty Pier may not have had sufficient mooring facilities for such a large vessel at that time.
Added by Malcolm McKean on 20 October 2017
HMS Vanguard is shown alongside the Admiralty pier elsewhere on this site and she was of comparable tonnage to HMS Eagle. I can't remember ever seeing an aircraft carrier at the pier in the 50's altho' several visited the firth (Theseus, Implacable (or was it indefatigable?), the Karel Doorman (Dutch,) its radar interfered with our TV).
Added by Brian McKenzie on 22 October 2017
Brian, I think you are referring to picture #345 which shows HMS Vanguard moored in the Firth.
Added by Malcolm McKean on 22 October 2017
That's right Malcolm, no proper mooring facilities. Besides when the tide went out the ship would have come down on the pier, especially an aircraft carrier. The ships that did come alongside the piers always had pontoons between them and the pier deck, but nothing large enough for The Vanguard.
Added by Harry O'Neill on 22 October 2017
From what I remember the mooring buoy nearest to the dockyard pier was known as the battleship buoy and picture #885 I believe shows the Eagle moored there as did all the bigger naval ships including the Vanguard. It was also fitted out with phone lines etc. to assist communications.
I believe that there were additional mooring dolphins built at the dockyard pier to allow the cruise liners to dock alongside so that is how HMS Queen Elizabeth is able to moor at the dock. Also she has a bigger flat side which would stop her from knocking over the harbour master's office, which HMS Eagle might have done annoying both the harbour master and Paddy.
Added by Eddie Trotter on 23 October 2017
Re the Vanguard and her visit to Invergordon. She visited Invergordon during her trials and tied up at what we called the "Admiralty" or "Dockyard" pier. There was adequate depth of water at low tide to accommodate vessels of that size, although the Capital ships generally used the mooring buoys starting with the one directly South of the Dockyard pier. The Cruisers used the moorings as far up the firth as Roskeen and the smaller fry, Destroyers, Frigates and Minesweepers the other moorings further West. These smaller ships also used what we called the Centre Pier and the Mooring vessels and Water Boats used the outer arm of the RAF pier. The Liberty boats from the ships moored off, worked from the large pontoon connected to the East end of the centre pier, which allowed operation at all states of the tide. The pier and pontoon were thronged with jolly matelots catching the last boats and I can distinctly remember the words of their bawdy ditties, some of which were new to me. The throngs of jolly jack tars were generally well behaved after their night at the Naval Canteen, or having savoured the delights of Invergordon. When the fleet was in port there were long queues at the Picture house, the two phone boxes on the High Street and the bus stop to Dingwall and Inverness. This was at a time when phone calls were limited to three minutes.
The atmosphere was different when any American ships were in port, as the streets were patrolled by beefy thuggish-looking MP's carrying batons the size of baseball bats, who looked as if they were just looking for an excuse to split some heads. The tactic was effective, however and there was generally no trouble ashore. It has to be said that the behaviour of the sailors was generally very good, considering how little the area had to offer by way of entertainment and considering that most of the sailors were just out of their teens.
The Vanguard was a very impressive and business-like ship and looked every inch a formidable warship, although from reports, she did not live up to expectations and had a brief career.
Added by Gordon Legge on 23 October 2017
I remember the Vanguard tied up to the dockyard pier, she may have been open to the public like certain other ships of the fleet.
Added by Eddie Malicki on 24 October 2017
Strange how you can remember the names of RN ships which berthed from time to time. Implacable, Indominatable, Invincable, Barossa, Broadsword, Battleaxe, Corrunna, Vanguard, Eagle, Diamond, Welcome etc. There was no finer sight than viewing the fleet lit up at night from Gordon Terrace. The smaller ships tied up to large bouys all in a row and the capital ships in deeper water beyond the piers.
Added by Bill Geddes on 15 December 2018
HMS Swiftsure and Sheffield come to mind along with the ones Billy mentions. Both were cruisers and very impressive.
Added by Harry O'Neill on 16 December 2018
Does anyone remember the night when there was and estimated 4000 sailors ashore from the NATO fleet and it was snowing. European sailors on one side of the High Street and the US sailors on the other. It stated with one snowball then it was like a horizontal snowstorm. As far as I remember it was all in fun with no arrests.
Added by Eddie Trotter on 24 December 2018
In the latter years of the RN base there was frequent visits from NATO ships,Dutch ,Norwegian,US etc.There was quite a contrast with the behaviour of British matelots..whk seemed intent on putting away as much beer as possible while ashore.It was not unusual to see European sailors strolling out into the country-side and obviously enjoying the scenary..if not exactly picking flowers!!

Added by Bill Geddes on 24 December 2018
Don't recall that Eddie, but there was nothing else for them to do, that's for sure.
Merry xmas to you.
Added by Harry O'Neill on 24 December 2018
Harry, Bill and everyone who has ties to Inverg.
Wish All of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Added by Eddie Trotter on 25 December 2018
Thanks Eddie same to you and to all who support this memory lane!
Added by Bill Geddes on 25 December 2018
This photo reminds me of a brief chat with a young member of staff when I visited the Co-op, he commented on how busy he was as a result of this carrier being in port. I replied with a smile that there was only one ship and if he'd been here when the fleet was in then he'd have known what busy was!
The increased footfall on the High Street was barely noticeable as all those on shore leave were in civvies, not a naval uniform to be seen.
Added by Ronald STEWART on 09 January 2019
Hi Ron, I think the people on the ship were mainly civilians from the builders, the ship probably hadn't been handed over to the Navy so uniforms would not have been mandatory.
Added by Eddie Trotter on 10 January 2019
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The Navy

Angus Martin at Invergordon while on HMS PrinceAngus Martin at InvergordonAngus Martin and the CrewAngus MartinNurse who perished in HMS Natal explosionHMS Albion entering Cromarty FirthHMS Gambia and HMS DuchessAnchorage of the Battle Cruiser Squadron 1928Disposition of the Fleet in October 1927Queen's visit in May 1957