Reply To: Scapa Flow – keeping the Grand Fleet fed and fuelled

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Malcolm Lewis

    I received a response to my query from Peter Hulme on the Maritime History site (MarHst). I have posted my response to him here too for the benefit of the SNR Forum.
    Thank you Peter for making the pdf available of Jellicoe’s book “The Grand Fleet 1914-16 Its Creation, Development and Work; Admiral Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa 1919”.
    It is a most informative account of the strategy involving the fleet and its bases by the man who was in charge. Regarding my original query about replenishing the Fleet at Scapa it clearly was a problem right from the beginning of the war.
    The Admiralty had decided to base the fleet at Scapa some two years before the outbreak of war but because of Government financial constraints had done nothing to provide any defensive measures or facilities for maintaining ships or their crews. Jellicoe had the task of hurriedly organising a secure anchorage on this remote island subject to constant gales or fog and solely reliant on supplies by sea.
    There was a shortage of colliers for a long period and often warships had to go on patrol short of coal in their bunkers. I can’t find a reference to coal being sent to Thurso by rail although this might well have happened. Jellicoe refers to colliers going to and fro to Cardiff. Of course all the other Naval bases had to be supplied too as well as the merchant fleet and industry.
    Jellicoe comments on the lack of harbour defences at Scapa in 1914. He says “We did our best in the Fleet to give the impression that we had obstructed the entrances…………it may have seemed impossible to the German mind that we should place our Fleet, on which the Empire depended for its very existence, in a position where it was open to submarine or destroyer attack. This view, however, did not relieve the minds of those responsible for the safety of our Fleet from the gravest anxiety whenever the more valuable ships were in undefended harbours”.
    For the sailors serving in the Grand Fleet based at Scapa it was a testing assignment with little entertainment and infrequent leave. The “naval train” from Thurso to London took 24 hours. Married men headed home for a brief family reunion. Younger unmarried men probably headed for the bright lights.
    Goodbye – I’ve got to go
    From dear old Scapa Flow
    I’m heading for Soho.
    Malcolm Lewis