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Invergordon Fuel Depot

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Invergordon fuel depot was located at the naval dockyard and port operated by the Royal Navy at Invergordon, a coastal town which lies adjacent to the sheltered deep waters of the Cromarty Firth.

During World War II, the fuel depot at the port operated in conjunction with the Inchindown fuel depot located underground in the hills to the north of the town, and which formed a massive, bombproof storage facility which would have supplied the fleet if Britain's ports had been blockaded by the enemy.

Invergordon

The town of Invergordon first became a naval base during World War I, when its deep water sea access made it an ideal location for the Royal Navy to establish a refuelling and repair base for the large naval cruisers of the time, with the construction of an Admiralty pier. The port provided one of the largest and safest anchorages in Britain, and was provided with two tanks farms to store and supply fuel to the ships, at Cromlet and Seabank. A hospital was also constructed at the eastern end of the town.

During the economic downturn of 1931, the entire complement of the Atlantic Fleet went on strike when the government attempted to reduce costs by cutting ratings pay. It took the direct intervention of King George V to avert a potential disaster.

During World War II, the naval presence expanded as the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) established Evanton airfield (also known as Novar Airfield) to the west, created to cater for carrier based aircraft. The seaplane base of RAF Alness (also known as RAF Invergordon, was also established to the west, and lay between the two Navy facilities.

On February 15, 1941 a Junkers 88 is reported to have carried out a solo attack on the Seabank tank farm. Approaching from the east at only 40 feet it dropped two 500-pound bombs. The first bomb passed through one tank and into the next. Although it exploded it failed to start a fire, but tons of oil spilled out on to the adjacent railway tracks and nearby station. The second bomb also passed went through another tank, but failed to explode after landing in the oil slick. The aircraft then made a sharp turn to avoid a church steeple, and machine gunned a Sunderland moored in the firth, causing slight damage, before making its escap. The attack had lasted four minutes, and was over before the defences had reacted. Two civilian workmen had been on top of one of the tanks when the attack began, but managed to slide down to safety - one is said to have headed home, while the other sought refuge in the nearest pub. Stories regarding detonation of the bombs conflict, however it is clear that there was no fire. Tank 13 was completely destroyed in the attack though, and there resultant gap remains on the site as as evidence. Only one casualty appears to have been reported - the local bin-man's horse, said to have died as a result of the heavy fuel oil contaminating its hooves.

Although the naval base has been closed in 1956, the proximity of Invergordon to the oilfields of the North Sea oilfields meant that the development of oil rig construction and maintenance facilities allowed the area of the docks to remain productive.

The MoD planned to vacate the Cromlet site in 1989, and with the removal of the tank farm and its ancillaries, the site was cleared and decontaminated over a 24 week period concluding in March 1991. The Cromlet Oil Tank Farm had extended to some 9.2 hectares and contained 13 oil storage tanks each with a capacity of 3,000,000 gallons. [1][2]

Royal Navy fuel depot

The Seabank tank farm continued to serve the fuel depot after the removal of the Cromlet tank farm, and oil tanks which served the fuel depot still remain within the large Seabank tank farm which is still present on the site (2008).

All features, including the pump houses, ditches and earth banks which surrounded the facility were visible on RAF aerial photographs taken in 1946, which showed the area south of the railway.

References

1 Land renewal study, 1989

2 Cromlet Tank Farm handover report March 1991

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