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

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#13549
Anonymous

    I am not quite sure where the problem of small colliers came from. What was more the difficulty was that in order to get the fleet replenished quickly, each capital ship required its own collier on stand by and each collier, on average, carried about twice the amount of coal that was needed after a usual North Sea sortie (roughly 1,000 tons each ship). This was thus somewhat inefficient in terms of carrying capacity and became a source of concern later in the war when tonnage was in shorter supply.
    In the absence of mass coal loading systems at wharves (and nearly 30 dreadnoughts would have required ‘mass’ in every way), colliers, or large barges which would have needed tugs, were the only mechanism for the simultaneous and thus rapid replenishment of the fleet on return to harbour. The ‘down time’after a sortie was always a major concern of the C-in-C, although it is fair to say that the highest concern related to the destroyers, whose endurance at fleet cruising speeds was very limited.

    Northern steam coal was not used by the RN from the nineteenth century because it made so much smoke. In reality, for the coal burning big ships, only the 40 collieries in the portion of the South Wales coal fields produced the semi-bituminous ‘Admiralty steam coal’ with the right balance of volatiles, carbon &c that was fully suited to high speed, long distance naval operations. And even then, the problems of trimming meant that 25% of what they carried was effectively inaccessible (i.e. it could not be got out of the lower reaches of the bunkers fast enough to supply the stoke holds at the cruising speeds required with a submarine threat).