12: Royal Naval Air Service

This entry was posted by Saturday, 20 November, 2010
Read the rest of this entry »

no images were found

The Royal Flying Corps had wings on the left breast, but the Royal Naval Air Service only had a small pair of wings on the left arm cuff to distinguish them as aircrew. Many of the RNAS personnel had wings made up in the local workshops which they wore as per RFC. These wings were made up at Great Yarmouth RNAS for Chief Petty officer Blackburn who served as both observer and later pilot at the station 1917 – 1918. His war medals were sold at Birmingham in 1998, but not his wings. Research has been done and there was a C.P.O. Blackburn who served on that station. The RNAS pilot wing shown on this site has belonged to Blackburn.

Royal Naval Air Service Pilot Wing

This is a lovely example of a WW1 Royal Naval Air Service pilot badge eagle and fasteners.

RNAS pilots wore their wings ‘officially’ in one of two ways, with an eagle immediately over the rank curl on each sleeve or on the left beast above the pocket line on some types of uniform. Where the wings were sleeve worn, the eagle was required to look to the rear, so this represents a right sleeve badge.

RNAS eagles are distinctive in that they were exclusively supplied with THREE posts and nuts and the backing plate which locked them through the fabric.

In the early part of the 20th century the British Royal Navy used balloons and airships for reconnaissance. After the failure of the Royal Navy’s airship Mayfly in 1911, the naval minister, Winston Churchill, began arguing for the development of military aircraft.

In 1912 the government formed the Royal Flying Corps. The British Navy was given the airships owned by the British Army. It was also given twelve aircraft to be used in conjunction with its ships.

The first flight from a moving ship took place in May 1912. The following year, the first seaplane carrier, Hermes, was commissioned. The Navy also began to build a chain of coastal air stations.

In January 1914 the government established the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Within a few months the RNAS had 217 pilots and 95 aircraft (55 of them seaplanes).

One of the most successful seaplanes purchased by the RNAS was the Curtiss H-16, a craft produced by Glen Hammond Curtiss in the USA.

By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the Royal Flying Corps. The main role of the RNAS was fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air-raids. The leading war ace in the RNAS was Raymond Collishaw with 60 victories.

The RNAS was severely attacked for its failure to prevent the Zeppelin bombing raids. In February 1916 there was a change of policy and the Royal Flying Corps were given responsibility of dealing with Zeppelins once they were over Britain. The RNAS now concentrated on bombing Zeppelins on the ground in Germany.

The RNAS also had fighter squadrons on the Western Front.

Popular aircraft with these pilots included the Bristol Scout, the Sopwith Pup and the Sopwith Camel.

The RNAS had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations when it was decided to merge it with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in April 1918.

Royal Naval Air Service or RNAS was the air arm of the Royal Navy until near the end of the First World War, when it merged with the British Army‘s Royal Flying Corps to form a new service (the first of its kind in the world), the Royal Air Force. The RNAS came under the direction of the Admiralty’s Air Department.

Background

In 1908 the British government had recognised that the use of aircraft for military and naval purposes should be investigated. To this end the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, approved the formation of an “Advisory Committee for Aeronautics” and an “Aerial Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence“. Both committees were composed of politicians, army officers and Royal Navy officers. On 21 July 1908 Captain Reginald Bacon, who was a member of the Aerial Navigation sub-committee, submitted to the First Sea Lord Sir John Fisher that a rigid airship based on the German Zeppelin be designed and constructed by the firm of Vickers. After much discussion on the Committee of Imperial Defence the suggestion was approved on 7 May 1909. The airship, named Mayfly, never flew and broke in half on 24 September 1911. The then First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Wilson, recommended that rigid airship construction be abandoned.

In November 1910 the Royal Aero Club, thanks to one of its members, Francis McClean, offered the Royal Navy two aircraft with which to train its first pilots. The Club also offered its members as instructors and the use of its airfield at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey. The Admiralty accepted and on 6 December the Commander-in-Chief, The Nore promulgated the scheme to the officers under his jurisdiction and requested that applicants be unmarried and able to pay the membership fees of the Royal Aero Club. The airfield became the Naval Flying School, Eastchurch. Two hundred applications were received, and four were accepted: Lieutenant C R Samson, Lieutenant A M Longmore, Lieutenant A Gregory and Captain E L Gerrard, RMLI.

History

After prolonged discussion on the Committee of Imperial Defence the Royal Flying Corps was constituted by Royal Warrant on 13 April 1912. It absorbed the nascent naval air detachment and also the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers. It consisted of two wings with the Military Wing making up the Army element and Naval Wing, under Commander C R Samson. A Central Flying School staffed by officers and men of both the navy and the army was created at Upavon for the pilot training of both wings, and opened on 19 June 1912 under the command of Captain Godfrey Paine, a naval officer. The naval wing, by the terms of its inception was permitted to carry out experimentation at its flying school at Eastchurch. The Royal Flying Corps, although formed of two separate branches, allowed for direct entry to either branch through a joint Special Reserve of Officers, although soon the Navy inducted new entries into the Royal Naval Reserve. In the summer of 1912, in recognition of the air branch’s expansion, Captain Murray Sueter was appointed Director of the newly-formed Air Department at the Admiralty. Sueter’s remit as outlined in September 1912 stated that he was responsible to the Admiralty for “all matters connected with the Naval Air Service.”

In the same month as the Air Department was set up, four naval seaplanes participated in Army Manoeuvres. In 1913 a seaplane base on the Isle of Grain and an airship base at Kingsnorth were approved for construction. The same year provision was made in the naval estimates for eight airfields to be constructed, and for the first time aircraft participated in manoeuvres with the Royal Navy, using the converted cruiser Hermes as a seaplane carrier. On 16 April ten officers of the Navy Service graduated from the Central Flying School.  As of 7 June forty-four officers and one hundred and five men had been trained at the Central Flying School and at Eastchurch, and thirty-five officers and men had been trained in airship work.  Three non-rigid airships built for the army, the Willows, Astra-Torres and the Parseval were taken over by the navy. On 1 July 1914, the Admiralty made the Royal Naval Air Service, forming the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, part of the Military Branch of the Royal Navy.

First World War

By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the RNAS had ninety-three aircraft, six airships, two balloons and seven hundred and twenty-seven personnel. The Navy maintained twelve airship stations around the coast of Britain from Longside, Aberdeenshire in the northeast to Anglesey in the west. On 1 August 1915 the Royal Naval Air Service officially came under the control of the Royal Navy. In addition to seaplanes, carrier borne aircraft, and other aircraft with a legitimate “naval” application the RNAS also maintained several crack fighter squadrons on the Western Front, as well as allocating scarce resources to an independent strategic bombing force at a time when such operations were highly speculative. Inter-service rivalry even affected aircraft procurement. Urgently required Sopwith 1½ Strutter two-seaters had to be transferred from the planned RNAS strategic bombing force to RFC squadrons on the Western Front because the Navy had “cornered” Sopwith production. In fact this situation continued – although most of Sopwith’s products were not specifically naval aircraft. Thus RNAS fighter squadrons obtained Sopwith Pup fighters months before the RFC – and then replaced these first with Sopwith Triplanes and then Camels while the hard-pressed RFC squadrons soldiered on with their obsolescent Pups.

On April 1, 1918 the RNAS was merged with the RFC to form the RAF.

At the time of the merger, the Navy’s air service had 55,066 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations.

The RNAS squadrons were absorbed into the new structure, individual squadrons receiving new squadron numbers by effectively adding 200 to the number so No. 1 Squadron RNAS (a famous fighter squadron) became No. 201 Squadron RAF.

The Royal Navy regained its own air service in 1937, when the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force (covering carrier borne aircraft, but not the seaplanes and maritime reconnaissance aircraft of Coastal Command) was returned to Admiralty control and renamed the Naval Air Branch. In 1952, the service returned to its pre-1937 name of the Fleet Air Arm.

Roles and missions

The main “naval” roles of the RNAS (ignoring for the minute the service’s direct “competition” with the RFC) were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, and attacking enemy coastal territory. The RNAS systematically searched 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2) of the Channel and the North Sea for U-boats. In 1917 alone, they sighted 175 U-boats and attacked 107. Because of the technology of the time the attacks were not very successful in terms of submarines sunk, but the sightings greatly assisted the Navy’s surface fleets in combatting the enemy submarines.

It was the RNAS which provided much of the mobile cover using armoured cars, during the withdrawal from Antwerp to the Yser, in 1914. Later in the war, squadrons of the RNAS were sent to France to directly support the RFC. The RNAS was also at one stage entrusted with the air defence of London. This led to its raids on airship stations in Germany, in places as far from the sea as the manufacturing site at Friedrichshafen.

Before techniques were developed for taking off and landing on ships, the RNAS had to use seaplanes in order to operate at sea. Beginning with experiments on the old cruiser HMS Hermes, special seaplane tenders were developed to support these aircraft. It was from these ships that a raid on Zeppelin bases at Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven was launched on Christmas Day of 1914. This was the first attack by ship-borne aircraft. A chain of coastal air stations was also constructed. This followed with the Tondern Raid, again against Zeppelins, which was the first instance of carrier launched aircraft.


Leave a Reply