The transition from coal to oil fuel as the primary energy source for navy ships took place leading up to and during WWI. The last British battleship to primarily use coal power was the Iron Duke class.

Oil-fuelled ships were known for higher temperature and pressure boilers that could produce faster speeds. There was a transition period, though, in which coal was drenched in oil to allow it to burn hotter.

My question is, what was the fastest ship part of a country's navy that primarily used coal as its fuel?

It can have oil too, but mostly relied on coal. It can also be any class, from corvette and frigate to destroyer, cruiser, or battleship.

  • In 1897, the coal-fueled "Turbinia" showed speed of 34.5 knots, which is faster than most destroyers do today. Since this was an experimental ship, not a navy ship, answering your question will be difficult. But certainly the boiler fuel is not a decisive factor for speed.
    – Alex
    Feb 28, 2021 at 1:32
  • Is something like a V-1 torpedo boat with 3 coal boilers and 1 oil acceptable?
    – Schwern
    Feb 28, 2021 at 2:45
  • Well, I mostly specified navy ship because I wanted to make sure it was a crewed ship and not something incredibly small. If it wasn't a military vessel but could still accomodate a crew, then that'd be okay too.
    – Xi-K
    Feb 28, 2021 at 3:01
  • @Schwern Yes, that's fine.
    – Xi-K
    Feb 28, 2021 at 3:30

1 Answer 1


It's likely to be a torpedo boat or destroyer. I did a quick survey of Fighting Ships Of The World..

Note that there is the speed achieved on trials, and the "name plate speed" guaranteed by the builders. Trials are often messed with to achieve higher numbers. For example, Forban reached 31 knots in trials being the first vessel to do so, but had a name plate speed of 29 knots. For this reason I've used name plate speed.

Pure coal

The fastest I could find is a single German torpedo boat of the S138 class. V161 was completed with 2 turbines and 4 coal boilers and could achieve 32 knots. Prior ships of the class used slower vertical triple expansion steam engines. Later ships would use mixed coal and oil boilers (see below).

The British built many "30-knot destroyers", coal fired with triple expansion steam engines rather than turbines. Several were "builder's specials" modified to attempt 33 knots. They did not succeed. HMS Albatros made 31.4 knots HMS Express, 31 knots, and HMS Arab 30.7 knots.

Many of these 30-knot destroyers were built for other navies. Ikazuchi, Akatsuki, and Shirakumo classes made 31 knots in Japanese service.

Mixed coal and oil

For this section, I'm counting ships which carry more coal than oil. This discounts, for example, the Amatsukaze/Isokaze class which could do 34 knots but carried more oil than coal.

Multiple classes could make 32 knots. They all used steam turbines.

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