Coal Ship Song (III)
DESCRIPTION: "In the good old cruiser Kent, in the good old cruser Kent, Coaling ship three times a week, Till all our energy's spent. We never was our coaling rig, And very good reason why, We'd be coaling ship again Before we could get them dry."
EARLIEST DATE: 1987 (Tawney-GreyFunnelLines-RoyalNavy)
KEYWORDS: sailor hardtimes work derivative
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond))
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Tawney-GreyFunnelLines-RoyalNavy, p. 20, "Coal Ship Song (III)" (1 text, tune referenced)
cf. "In the Good Old Summertime" (tune)
cf. "The Noble Eighth of December" (subject of the ship Kent)
NOTES [862 words]: This song is right that coaling ship was a slow, difficult, dirty job. Coal was usually loaded in large, heavy sacks; just carrying them was exhausting, and of course it left coal dust everywhere. And once the coal was loaded from the collier, it had to be unbagged and distributed so that it would be available. Little wonder that an officer of the Cornwall, which served with the Kent in the Falklands, wrote sarcastically of the task as they approached Port Stanley, "The ever recurring delight of coaling ship is looked forward to directly anchorage is reached" (Yates, p. 194).
There were two British cruisers named Kent, one for each World War, but because the ship in this song requires coaling, it must have been the First World War ship; the World War II cruiser was an oil-burner.
According to Wragg, p. 184, the Kent was a member of the ten-ship Monmouth class of 1903-1904. These were vessels of 9800 tons, with triple expansion rather than turbine engines, with a top speed of 23 knots. Their main armament was 14 six inch guns (most of them in side mountings that badly restricted their arcs of fire). Although still in service in World War I, I'd regard her as pretty close to obsolete. (Farquharson-Roberts, p. 58, calls Monmouth a "relic... saved from the breaker's yard by the outbreak of the war," meaning that the Kent was also near the end of her useful life).
Indeed, her obsolescence had been shown dramatically on November 11, 1914 at the battle of Coronel, where the class leader Monmouth and the heavier but equally antique Good Hope had been sunk by the German Scharnhorst and Gniesenau under admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee (usually known just as Graf Spee) without doing any significant damage to the Germans (Beekman, pp. 26-29). This left the German vessels free to rampage the southern Pacific, and the south Atlantic, without British interference.
The British response was immediate and, probably, excessive. They sent two battlecruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, to deal with the pesky German heavy cruisers (Farquharson-Roberts, p. 60). One would surely have been enough; the British ships were heavier, better armed, and faster. But the British wanted to make sure they stopped the Germans. The Kent was one of the armored cruisers which joined the squadron, along with her sister ship Cornwall; Carnarvon, another heavy cruiser; and light cruisers Bristol and Glasgow (Yates, p. 191), the latter a survivor of Coronel.
By wild coincidence, Graf Spee's ships approaching the Falklands even as the British force under Admiral Sturdee was coaling after their long trip; the Germans, who had no idea there were substantial British forces in the area, wanted to put the base out of service (Yates, p. 195).
Two German ships, Gniesenau and Nürnberg went to see what was present at Port Stanley on the morning on December 8, 1914. It took some time, after the German ships were spotted, to get the attention of the crew of the battlecruisers -- the coal dust made it hard for them to see signals (Yates, p. 197), but many of the smaller cruisers, including Kent, were ready to go. Kent, in fact, was on guard, and had to retreat before the German force (Yates, p. 199). One of the ships in the harbor, the old pre-dreadnought Canopus was able to open indirect fire -- and scare the Germans into retreating. Most authorities seem to think that this was fatal to the Germans; if they had blocked the harbor entrance, they might have had a chance against Sturdee's heavy fleet, but once they let the British out, they were doomed (Beekman, p. 29, etc)..
Admiral Sturdee, once his fleet was at sea, ordered all his ships to engage in a "General Chase," meaning that they were to go straight after the Germans (Yates, p. 200).
It was the highlight of Kent's war. While the two battle cruisers dealt with Scharnhorst and Gniesenau Kent pursued and sank the Nürnberg (Farquharson-Roberts, pp. 60-61) -- an impressive feat, given that she was supposed to be slower than the German, and not really armed for the task. But the Germans had been away from port for a very long time, and could no longer make their theoretical top speed (Yates, p. 216), and the Kent's crew made extraordinary efforts to catch up. Both cruiser suffered multiple hits, but then the Nürnberg suffered a boiler explosion. and the Kent was able to destroy her (Yates, p. 2017), though she suffered 38 hits and 16 casualties (Yates, p. 218). One of the hits had taken out her wireless antenna, causing some anxiety on the other British ships, since she had sailed far away in pursuit of the Nürnberg (Yates, p. 220).
The Kent wasn't quite done with the German squadron. One cruiser, Dresden, had survived. She fled back into the Pacific, but was found at Juan Fernández Island on March 14, 1915 by Kent and Glasgow. The Germans, unable to fight because they were out of supplies, scuttled the ship (Beekman, p. 32).
For more on Coronel, and especially on the Battle of the Falklands, see the notes to "The Noble Eighth of December." Another song about the events is "Battle of the Falkland Islands." - RBW
Last updated in version 5.1
- Beekman: (no editor listed), Beekman History of the World Wars Library, Warships & Sea Battles of World War I, Beekman House, 1973
- Farquharson-Roberts: Mike Farquharson-Roberts, A History of the Royal Navy: World War I, 2014 (I use the 2017 I. B. Tauris paperback edition)
- Wragg: David Wragg, Royal Navy Handbook 1914-1918, Sutton Publishing, 2006
- Yates: Keith Yates, Graf Spee's Raiders: Challenge to the Royal Navy, 1914-1915, Naval Institute Press, 1985
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