Friday, January 13, 2012

Coal III.

This is coolbert:

Coal - - conclusion.

Black Gang!!

Here with extracts from the Internet web site: "The Engine Room". That "Black Gang", those men serving in the very interior of the warships of the time, shoveling coal to fed the fires of the boilers as powering the pre-Dreadnought and Dreadnought ships of the line in that period prior to and during the Great War.

Copied more or less with entirety, the eloquence as expressed far exceeding my inadequate and feeble capacity:

"For the coal-burning navies of the world, the management of the fuel below decks and the generating of steam would now revert to the 'Black Gang,' the coal-dust streaked stokers and trimmers who would manage the coal's storage, deliver it from bunker to stokehold and, with well-aimed shovel strokes, spread the fuel over the glowing aggregate in the ship's furnaces. In the lofty firerooms the great boilers loomed over infernally lit rows of furnace doors, an effect completely lost in early flash photos but nicely captured in this magazine illustration. Nor should we neglect mention of the water tenders, who kept an eagle eye on the water gauges of each boiler, feeding in just enough specially processed feedwater to optimize the production of steam while keeping the boiler temperature from reaching dangerous heights . . . The marine steam plant was a cooperative effort, an industrial operation of some complexity; but one that in the end rested on the brawn and brains of the firemen themselves."

A vision of Hades and Hell on earth with good reason referred to as "infernally lit" but absolutely essential to warships of the time!!

"Depending on the need for steam, the stokers were cued by annunciator bells set in the engine room; they were slaves to the signals of Kilroy's Patent Stoking Indicator as surely as the galley slaves had been to the timekeeper's drum. It was hellish, back-breaking work and the stokers, shunned by 'society' on shipboard and ashore, formed their own hard-bitten in-group. With the impressive physiques built up by their profession, they were renowned pugilists. A number became boxing champions in the Royal Navy and the Russian and Austrian fleets, known for their earthy approach . . ."

As with the galley slaves of yore so it was with the stoker. Men of "impressive physiques" more than twice as strong as a modern man pound for pound, persons of that era accustomed to hard physical labor, shoveling coal or chopping and sawing wood a daily backbreaking but necessary chore!!

"Yet without the strong backs and burly muscles of the stokers, none of the fleets of the day could have sailed. And in the hour of need, their efforts were apparent even above decks. At the Battle of Santiago, the flagship USS Brooklyn was described bounding through the billows at unprecedented speed, throwing up a triple bow wave and shooting jets of flame from her stacks. Nor is this the only example of the Black Gang making a signal contribution to military victory."

Black-gang not only feeding the fire but also tending the fire in a carefully measured manner for greatest efficiency, hot burning, maximum steam pressure, etc. Maintain that ships speed was as much an "art form" as a science and engineering task!!

"Refueling the British fleet during WWI was a huge logistical headache. It demanded thousands of trainloads of coal be sent weekly to northernmost Scotland. From there it was transshipped to the Orkneys by barge and collier, where it once again it had to be laboriously bagged, shoveled, and lifted by cargo booms and cranes into the vessels of the Grand Fleet in its anchorage at Scapa Flow. During the lengthy spells of enforced inactivity at the base, coaling fleet perversely became one of the breaks in the monotony. Coal mining was a major sector of the economy in Britain and other industrial countries of the time. In just one mining area, South Wales -- home of Welsh steam coal, or anthracite --, there were 250,000 miners who produced 57 million tons of coal in 1913 . . ."

That hard rock anthracite coal, the most precious and least abundant type of the mineral, highly sought after and in dire supply. Those rated speeds of the pre-Dreadnought and Dreadnought class of warships only possible when fueled on a continual basis by the highest quality of coal, hard rock anthracite [Welsh "anthracite" (actually a hard bituminous coal, rather than a true anthracite.]!!  

No "Black Gang", no miners, no mass assembly line by-the-numbers industrialized operation both military and civilian working at all time with top efficiency and the Grand Fleet or any other fleet of the time just would not sail!!


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