This is the abstract of my contribution to A Military Transformed? Transformation and Innovation in the British Military from 1792 to 1945, a forthcoming book edited by Ross Mahoney, Stuart Mitchell and Michael LoCicero of the University of Birmingham. The chapters are based on papers given at a conference in April 2011. See Ross’s blog, Thoughts in Military History, for more details on the book. He is in the process of adding the abstracts to his blog; they are all tagged ‘transformation.’

Birmingham "On War"

Here is the latest abstract from our forthcoming book.


In 1900, most steamships were powered by coal, but the initial steps towards the use of oil had been taken. The first crossing of the Atlantic by an oil fired merchant ship took place in 1894. Several navies, including the Italian, Dutch, Russian and German ones, were using oil in some surface ships by 1900. Oil was superior to coal as a fuel for ships once the technology had been perfected. Replacing coal with oil allowed the construction of either a smaller ship of the same performance, or a better ship of the same size. The problem for Britain was security of supply; it possessed large coal reserves, but had little oil. Welsh steam coal was particularly suited to use by warships.

The RN observed and experimented until 1904, by when it had solved the technical problems. From then on…

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  1. Martin thanks for the re-blog. I am looking forward to the chapter. Editing will be an interesting process as it is my first time doing this!

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