Coal and Oil supplies to the RN in WW1

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1830 – Present Day Coal and Oil supplies to the RN in WW1

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      Who can suggest a good read or paper for this subject? It needs to cover rail transport to ports and mainly coastal usage. What were the major coastal and other shipping companies involved in this process? Much appreciated fellow researchers.


        A fringe area of interest re this topic might be the arrangements for coaling warships at Dover at this time. There existed a system of cables supported on gantries from which were suspended buckets containing bunker coal, this being carried out along the East Breakwater at Dover to ships berthed thereon.
        As I understand it, the coal was fed into the bucket chain directly at the nearest Kent coalmines at Tilmanstone and/or Snowden. There are a number of photographs in existance showing these arrangements, I suggest you contact Dover Museum.


          You could try my Masters thesis on the supply of Scapa Flow, I can email it to you if you want [please contact off-list]. Otherwise:
          EA Pratt British Railways and the Great War: Organisation, Efforts, Difficulties and Achievements 2 vols (London 1921) is excellent (I think anyway) and the following all useful:
          J.A.B. Hamilton Britain’s Railways in World War One, (London 1967)

          WG Jensen ‘The Importance of Energy in the First and Second World Wars’, in The Historical Journal vol 11, No 3 (1968) pp 538-554
          HS Jevons The British Coal Trade (London 1915)


            Amongst manuscript papers currently being catalogued at the Bodleian are several hundred notes written by Lewis Harcourt, the Colonial Secretary between 1910 and 1916 in Asquith’s administration. The notes of interest to this topic were hand-written memoranda by Harcourt from the early part of the First World War, made during discussions at War Cabinet meetings.
            A few days before the declaration of war in August 1914 the Cabinet were surprised to hear that Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, has commandeered £1million worth of coal from the South Wales coal-fields. He had been authorised to buy about £30,000 worth. His decision (good in respect of the Fleet) paralysed industry in South Wales for a week as he also commandeered fleets of railway trucks and motor lorries to ship it all to the naval bases.
            The citation for this is:
            Harcourt Papers: B.5 Miscellaneous Papers of Lewis Harcourt.
            MS.Harcourt 512: Correspondence, memoranda and printed papers on foreign and domestic war-time matters 1914-15
            Access to the catalogue for the Harcourt Papers is at URL:

            These papers provide a fascinating insight into the workings of the War Cabinet in this era, with many asides as to the Admiralty.

            Unfortunately the papers mentioned here are not yet available digitally and will not be available to see (for Bodley Readers with A cards) as hard-copy mss. until July, when cataloguing should be completed.
            The naval content of the Harcourt Papers will be added to the online catalogue of Bodley’s naval collections which is currently in planning and should be available online next year.

            P.V. N

              Dr Warwick Brown’s research on how the Royal Navy’s coal supplies were organized in World War I might well be worth reading.
              His thesis [The Royal Navy’s fuel supplies 1898-1939: the transition from coal to oil, King’s College, London 2003 can be dowloaded (free but requires prior registration) from

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