Archaeology Sutor Fortifications
Attribution: unknown or not recorded
fortifications on the North Sutor and South Sutor
Since 2007, during Highland Archaeology Week, Allan Kilpatrick of The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) has led groups round the fortifications on the North Sutor and South Sutor entrances to the Cromarty Firth which were created prior to the 1914-1918 War and added to during the 1939-45 conflict. The pages which follow contain some amateur photographs which may be of interest. [Photos RCHS]
In January 2019 it was announced that Historic Environment Scotland (HES, formerly RCAHMS) has been in discussions with the landowner to reach agreement to allow the public access to parts of the former battery on the South Sutor.
An assessment of the site by HES concluded: “This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the defence of the important naval anchorage of the Cromarty Firth and the naval base at Invergordon during the First and Second World War.
“This is a well-preserved example of a multi-phase coastal artillery battery, preserving rare features from both wars, including fixtures, fittings and camouflage paintwork.
“Occupying a strategically significant location at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, the remains at South Sutor provide a tangible and powerful reminder of some of the defining events of the 20th Century.
“If this monument was to be lost or damaged, it would significantly affect our ability to understand the nature and scale of the efforts made to defend Britain against enemy and naval threats in the First and Second World War, and diminish the association between those who lived and served there during the wars.”
Some of the structures involved are:
2 battery observation posts
1 engine house
2 searchlight emplacements
1 mine-watching observation post
1 large water tank
12 buildings for accommodation, storage and maintenance
while three buildings would be excluded due to being in an unsafe condition and containing high levels of asbestos.
How the site was developed:
The history of the fortifications stems from the early 1900s when the local MP, James Weir, asked Parliament to consider fortifying the two headlands at the entrance to the Cromarty firth, known as the North and South Sutors, in view of the excellent anchorage the firth afforded.
The idea became a reality in 1913 when the Admiralty began construction of the fortifications. As war loomed and naval defences were being increased, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, visited Cromarty and announced that the firth would become a main naval base over Scapa Flow in Orkney. However, this decision was reversed as Scapa Flow was judged to be the better base for blockading German ports, while the Cromarty firth would provide a safe anchorage for the Grand Fleet and Invergordon would be an important oiling station.
Massive gun emplacements were erected on both Soutors but naval chiefs were concerned about protecting the fleet from submarines, particularly as, in October 1914, the village of Jemimaville, near to Cromarty, was accidentally shelled by battle cruisers, injuring a baby and damaging a home, when they mistook a bow-wave in the firth for a U-boat periscope.
In the autumn of 1914 the senior naval officer of the base took the initiative of erecting anti-submarine nets across the entrance of the firth and so, by that time, the anchorage became protected by massive gun sites on both North and South Sutor as well as anti-submarine defences. Lower down on the slopes were searchlights and a 4-inch quick fire battery, around 30-60ft above sea level.
The larger gun sites were reoccupied during the Second World War and a 6-inch battery was completed in November 1939 and searchlights operational by December of that year. The battery remained in use during the war, although the guns were never fired in anger.
In addition to the fortifications the site included buildings to accommodate the considerable number of military personnel associated with defence.
Following WW2 the South Sutor battery was placed on “care and maintenance” before closing in 1956, after which it became a temporary home for a Territorial Army centre.