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The Anniversary of The Channel Dash - 1942 - and the wider RN Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War

Yokel

LE
I'm reasonably sure it was a Seafire that claimed the last F.A.A. Air To Air Victory of WW-ll.

Quite possibly. Whilst doing a dig on the internet, I came across this:

Britain's top scoring naval fighter of World War II was not what you this it was

As World War II loomed into sight, the Admiralty was desperate for anything approximating a modern fighter aircraft. This need was met by a modified light dive-bomber originally intended for a cancelled RAF requirement. The resulting Fulmar shared the engine and armament with the Spitfire and Hurricane, but there though the similarity ended. With a pathetic flat-out speed of 247mph and a feeble service ceiling of 16,000’ it was far inferior to its contemporaries. More worryingly, it was also 30mph slower than the Luftwaffe’s Heinkel He 111 bombers. Fair to say as a fighter it made an adequate cancelled dive-bomber. So how did it became the top Royal Navy fighter of World War II?

If the Navy had had full control of the Fleet Air Arm prior to 1937, then yes they would have got a better fighter.

During World War II, no aircraft carrier force operated a greater number of types than the Royal Navy. Although partly due to the length of time Britain was involved in the conflict, the Admiralty’s haphazard approach to aviation doctrine and procurement bears a lot of the blame (although nothing can excuse the diabolical Blackburn Firebrand). It is still however something of an anomaly that the Fleet Air Arm’s highest scoring fighter of the war was the relatively slow and staid Fairey Fulmar — with 112 kills (more than double the total achieved by the far more potent Corsair). Despite this, the Fulmar has never really caught the popular imagination. Post-war historians have damned with faint praise by acknowledging that while it was at least capable of taking on torpedo-bombers, the Fulmar’s manoeuvrability was far inferior to Axis dive-bombers. To give some idea of the limited esteem in which it was held at the time, it is perhaps worth reading a verse from 809 Naval Air Squadron’s Fulmar Song (to the tune of ‘Any old iron‘:

‘Any old iron, any old iron,
Any, any, any old iron;
Talk about a treat
Chasing round the Fleet
Any ole Eyetie or Hun you meet!

Weighs six ton,
No rear gun
Damn all to rely on!

You know what you can do
With your Fulmar Two;
Old iron, old iron!’


Fighter Direction is everything

To understand this apparent contradiction, of how such a sluggish machine was the Navy’s best fighter, it is necessary to look at a technology that at the time made the aeroplane look positively middle-aged: radar. The Royal Navy had been at the forefront of developing naval radar, but even so, by 1939 its capabilities were extremely limited. Rather than the top down ‘God’s eye view’ of a modern display, operators would look at a single wiggling line with increases in amplitude indicating a contact. Despite entering the war without a full understanding of what radar could achieve – and after some teething troubles – the Navy soon found ways to make up for the deficiencies of its aircraft. This would allow Fairey’s converted dive-bomber to hold its own in aerial combat through the opening years of the war in a way that belied its poor headline performance. The actions in the Mediterranean to escort convoys to Malta showed time and again the value of Fighter Direction where controllers onboard ship would direct the aircraft to intercept incoming attacks. Often these aircraft would be Fulmars, which were in the front line throughout that period, before being relegated to the role of night fighter. Somewhat ironically, the addition of radar antenna for this role would finally render its performance unequivocally unacceptable. Fighter Direction would give the Fulmar the edge it needed to overcome its shortcomings while engaged in some of the heaviest aerial combat the Royal Navy would face during the Second World War.

The Royal Navy’s inter-war doctrine for the Fleet Air Arm, as described in an Admiralty Memorandum from December 1936, concentrated on the search for enemy shipping, air attack of that shipping, and subsequent observation of the fall of shot for the fleet’s big guns . It was considered that air superiority would be achieved by the immobilisation of the enemy’s carriers no apparent thought being given to air to air combat. The reverse was also true in that it was not considered possible for naval fighters to defend the fleet from air attack, especially when faced with land-based air forces able to deploy heavy bombers . To counter the air threat the Third Sea Lord, Rear Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, decided that the next class of carrier would feature extensive armour plating turning the hangar into a protective enclosure for the air group able to resist a direct hit from 500lb bombs and 4.7” gunfire . The Dido class cruisers optimised for air defence would then provide the defence against air attack , in addition to the Illustrious classes own extensive outfit of sixteen 4.5” guns. That the doctrine was so un-ambitious can in part be laid at the confused status of naval aviation between the wars, it was, until 1938, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force not of the Royal Navy . In fairness to the Admiralty at the same time despite the Imperial Japanese Navy controlling its air arm its doctrine was also confused and poorly regarded by its air officers perhaps indicating the difficulties inherent in developing high level policy for a new form of warfare. The Royal Navy’s use of fighter aircraft would therefore have to develop as lessons were learnt. A memorandum from January 1940 while acknowledging the need to intercept enemy strikes and scouting aircraft as well as escorting the fleets own strikes still showed a degree of indecision over whether they would still require a second crewmember as the Fulmar did, a confusion that had not been resolved three months later . Ultimately this indecision would lead to both single and two seat fighters being produced for the Royal Navy. Where the Royal Navy had a serious disadvantage was in the actual procurement of aircraft where the Admiralty drew up the specifications for them while the Air Ministry then had responsibility for their design and production.


Due to the lack of air officers at the right level the Admiralty had scant expertise in the specification of aircraft which led to it entering the war with several poorly performing aircraft either in service or on the way. These included the Blackburn Roc, a turret equipped fighter which could barely stay airborne at full power; the Fairey Barracuda which provided panoramic views for the Observer but had a tendency not to pull out of dives , and the Blackburn Firebrand which took longer to develop than the war lasted. Consequently, at the outbreak of war the navy found itself back in control of its air arm, but with limited understanding of the capabilities air power brought, no real thought given to air defence of the fleet by aircraft, and a procurement plan that could best be described as flawed. It was from this background that the requirement for the Fulmar would emerge, to some extent explaining the compromises that were accepted.

Though confusion over the use of naval air power was hampering the acquisition of suitable aircraft, by the late 1930s there was at least an acknowledgment that a new fleet fighter would be required. It was a pressing need, as the Skua it would replace was predicted to be obsolete by as soon as 1940. Consequently, it was a requirement that the chosen aircraft be in production by September 1939 which effectively limited the options to something already in production. The Admiralty’s preference was for a two-seat aircraft, due to the difficulties of navigating over the sea and communicating at long range from the carrier. Outright speed was considered less important as there was an assumption that the carrier-borne fighter would only encounter aircraft of other navies which would be similarly restricted. It is perhaps ironic that at the same time the most likely naval opponent was being designed by Mitsubishi in Japan, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a type which faced neither of these restrictions. The design selected for the Royal Navy was a modification of a design submitted to the RAF as a light dive-bomber. This RAF original requirement had been dropped, but prototypes had already been constructed – which allowed a rapid assessment to be made of their suitability. The Fairey P.4/34 bomber (with minor changes) thus became the Fulmar naval fighter (with a secondary reconnaissance role). The first production aircraft was completed in December 1939, effectively running around three months behind the Admiralty’s timeline.. or ahead of schedule compared to most defence projects. The Fulmar shared an engine, the Merlin, and armament, eight 0.303” guns, with the Spitfire and Hurricane. There though the similarity ended. The early Spitfire’s top speed was 364mph at an altitude of 18,500’ , the Fulmar by comparison had a maximum speed of only 247mph at 9,000’ and a service ceiling of 16,000’ (half that of the Spitfire).

It faired similarly poorly against contemporary German fighters and was even 30mph slower than the Heinkel 111 bomber which it would come to face in the Mediterranean. There was however some method to the Admiralty’s madness, an aircraft engine supercharger optimised for power at high level wastes energy lower down in the atmosphere compressing excess air . With torpedo bombers having to drop their weapons near sea-level it would be logical to optimise a naval fighter to attack such targets. Indeed, when requesting a new engine design from Rolls-Royce for their next fighter the admiralty made low level performance a key requirement and later in the war the majority of Seafires were low level variants. The Fulmar specification also called for an endurance of up to six hours which compared favourably to the Spitfire which could realistically manage about an hour. This would allow a standing air patrol to be maintained while minimising the number of times the carrier would have to turn into wind to launch and recover aircraft. It was similarly well equipped with ammunition, contemporary fighters carried around 250 rounds per gun, enough for 15 seconds or so of sustained firing, the Fulmar carried up to 1000 which would allow it to engage far more targets, assuming it could catch them. The Fulmar then was not an outstanding fighter and opinion of it could at best be said to be divided, with those coming to the Fleet Air Arm from around 1941 considering it ‘an absurd lumbering thing of a so-called fighter’ while those who’d endured earlier aircraft found themselves going ‘nearly twice as fast as I had ever flown before’ and in a state of ‘near panic’ .

Perhaps the best judgement was given by renowned naval aviator and test pilot Captain Eric Brown RN who allowed that it at least had ‘innate soundness and competence’. It was the best the Navy would have until at least 1942,
but it would need help if it was to adequately defend the fleet.

The RAF, responsible for the air defence of the UK, led the world in the use of radar for fighter direction, the first exercise in its use taking place in 1936. The Admiralty also developed an interest in the technology and in 1938 HMS Rodney and HMS Sheffield were both fitted with rudimentary sets that could warn of approaching aircraft. Although this would alert the crew to approaching aircraft once conflict broke out it soon became apparent that the planned reliance on the ship’s AA armament as defence against attack was overly optimistic and better use of the information gained would be needed. Due to the general lack of interest in naval air defence the extant ‘doctrine’ essentially relied on the defending aircraft flying a search pattern, which could find them in the wrong place when the enemy approached or waiting above the fleet and then diving down on the attackers with the attendant risk of friendly fire. Alternatively, they could wait on the carrier and take-off in pursuit of the enemy to attack them on their way home, assuming they had the speed advantage to do so.

The first attempts at improving on this uninspired approach took place off the coast of Norway in April 1940 as efforts were made to stem the German invasion. The aircraft carrier Ark Royal was operating in support of the landing forces, although not fitted with radar herself, her escorts Sheffield and Curlew were, and could detect approaching raids around 50 miles away. It was soon realised that this information could be used to direct the Ark’s fighter aircraft to intercept the incoming raids, this initially took a rather crude form worked out on the initiative of the ship’s Air Signals Officer, Lt Cdr Coke. As the Sheffield and Curlew were not fitted with radios capable of talking to the aircraft, the range and bearing of incoming raids had to be passed to the Ark, generally by signal lamp or semaphore due to radio silence being in force. Here Lt Cdr Coke, assisted by his signalman, plotted the positions on a board before relaying the necessary information to the fighter patrol by Morse code. It took around four minutes to pass the position of the enemy to the patrolling Skuas. They would then be left to their own devices to figure out what to do with this information, the process becoming known as the ‘Informative Method’. However, with practice Lt Cdr Coke was able to monitor the position of the Ark’s aircraft as well as the enemy’s and could direct them to their targets. This ‘Directive Method’, gave them a much better chance of executing a successful intercept. The system was however not perfect, there was no filtering process for the information to determine what was high priority, and it took time to develop an efficient way of passing it to the aircraft. Despite Lt Cdr Coke’s best efforts, it was not therefore unheard of for pilots to realise they were being vectored to intercept themselves. Although basic and not always effective, in part due to the lack of height information from the radars, this early Fighter Direction was sufficient to drive a change in the Luftwaffe’s tactics so that they approached above the Skua’s operational ceiling, although this in turn reduced the effectiveness of their bombing. Operations off Norway had shown the effectiveness of Fighter Direction in even an elementary form, some months before the Battle of Britain would showcase its potential to the world. What the navy now needed was to build on this nucleus of experience and introduce better equipment to fully exploit it.


.../Cont.
 
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Yokel

LE
...Cont/

Blood in the Mediterranean

In September 1940, the first of the armoured aircraft carriers, HMS Illustrious, arrived in the Mediterranean. It brought with her the Fulmars of 806 squadron in the type’s debut operational deployment. Illustrious was also the first carrier to be fitted with radar, which eased the job of the Fighter Director. He was now able to take the plot directly from the radar, considerably speeding up the decision-making cycle. It was not all plain sailing however: due to initial trials that had shown how easily a radar transmission could be followed back to its source there was a policy in place that restricted its use to one sweep every hour until contact was made. Although just about tolerable for use in tracking surface contacts, which would be hard pressed to approach undetected with closing speeds of around 30 knots, against air contacts it rendered the system almost irrelevant. It would also be some time before the Fighter Direction officer would have a purpose-built home rather than making space for himself in a corner of the ship’s island.

Despite these initial handicaps the Fulmar was soon proving itself. It was shooting down shadowing aircraft, denying the enemy information on where to send their strike forces, and then breaking up any subsequent raids that did occur. During this initial period of operations against the Italian air force, the aircraft could play to its strength: its endurance. This allowed standing patrols to loiter at altitude, waiting for direction from the carrier. By loitering at 18000 feet, well above their nominal service ceiling, the Fulmars could utilise their dive-bomber heritage to gain a speed advantage by diving down on, typically low-flying, enemy aircraft. Thanks to the relatively lightweight, often wooden, construction of the Italian aircraft, a single firing pass from the Fulmars eight guns was generally sufficient to significantly damage or destroy them altogether. This was fortuitous, as having made their pass, the Fulmar would rapidly run out of speed, leaving it exceptionally vulnerable.

It would have to laboriously climb back up to altitude if it was to repeat the trick. With the arrival of the Luftwaffe’s anti-shipping experts, the Fliegerkorps X, in the January of 1941, the Fulmar faced a more daunting prospect. As well as outperforming the Fleet Air Arm’s fighter the German aircraft were more strongly built than those of Italy and were able to survive attacks that would have downed their Axis partners. The deliberate targeting of Illustrious and her Fulmars that same month saw the Fighter Direction system overwhelmed, leading to extensive damage to the ship that saw her out of the war, for over a year . Despite this setback the value of Fighter Direction had been shown and work was in hand to improve the information flow and better equip the Fighter Director to carry out his role. In the meantime, HMS Formidable with her two Fulmar squadrons joined the Mediterranean fleet via the Red Sea and would continue to disrupt attacks sufficiently to prevent them having a significant effect on allied shipping and the vital convoys to Malta. Work was also being done to enable Fighter Direction from ships other than aircraft carriers, initially to streamline the process for aircraft operating from Ark Royal with Sheffield being fitted with suitable radio equipment to direct aircraft . This would pay dividends when they entered the Mediterranean in June 1940 and ultimately lead the way to Fighter Direction Tenders, essentially Landing Craft with a radar and basic communications fit, that would play a crucial role in the Normandy Landings and other amphibious operations.

Between them Ark Royal and Formidable’s Fulmar squadrons claimed 86 aircraft shot down in the Mediterranean, their most successful day probably being 8 May 1941 when 6 Italian and 8 German aircraft fell to their guns for the loss of 2 Fulmars to enemy fire.

The Fulmar had shown that as a naval fighter her strengths of endurance and firepower, could make up for her disadvantage in outright performance when coupled with an effective method of control.
In fact, the performance of the aircraft was praised by no less than the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean, Admiral Cunningham who singled out their effective work during Operation Substance, a Malta convoy, and noted that ‘It is evident that the enemy hold our Fleet Air Arm fighters in higher esteem than do our own Fulmar pilots’ after an Italian pilot claimed to have been shot down by a Hurricane.

The greatest test Allied Fighter Direction would face in the Mediterranean was probably Operation Pedestal, the all-or-nothing convoy to Malta of 1942. It would also be a swan-song for the Fulmar as a day fighter. With the lessons learnt through 1940 and 1941 the Fighter Directors in the fleet carriers, Indomitable and Victorious had a much-improved working environment with assistants, long and short-range plots, and dedicated communications facilities. The 16 Fulmars on Victorious carried out low level patrols with the new Sea Hurricanes and American supplied Wildcats providing point defence and high-level patrols respectively. The Fulmars gave a good account of themselves despite their age, downing nine enemy aircraft for three loses . However, what is more telling is that prior to the detachment of the carrier escort on the evening of the 12th August, no merchant shipping had been lost to air attack. Worse still with the loss of the Fighter Direction capable Nigeria to a torpedo attack that same evening the supporting RAF fighters from Malta were almost incapable of successfully intercepting enemy forces, despite stretching their endurance beyond what was sensible. Consequently, four vital merchant ships, over a quarter of the convoy, were sunk in subsequent air raids while a fifth, the Ohio, entered Grand Harbour with her decks awash and never sailed again . The two stages of Pedestal illustrate the crucial advantage radar and Fighter Direction gave the Royal Navy as without it the far more capable Spitfires and Beaufighters from Malta achieved far less than even the obsolete Fulmar had in defending the fleet. This lesson was also recognised by the United States Navy, who observing its success had started sending officers to the Royal Navy’s Fighter Direction School run by Lt Cdr Coke.


------

Timing, luck and direction

The Fairey Fulmar then was a modestly performing aircraft that achieved more than could have been reasonably expected of it. Born of a desperate need by the navy to obtain a modern monoplane fighter to equip its carriers, its availability so soon after it was needed was due almost to pure luck, as the requirement for which it had originally been designed was cancelled. It was also fortuitous that despite no official guidance, Ark Royal’s air group started to develop the fundamentals of Fighter Direction at sea in the opening stages of the war. That the Admiralty recognised the advantage Fighter Direction could give them and rolled the capability out to its carriers and cruisers relatively rapidly perhaps belies some of the popular criticism of their lack of air mindedness. Without the ability to intercept incoming raids far from the ships it was defending the Fulmar (or indeed any aircraft) would have fared poorly in its primary role of defending the fleet. Fighter Direction allowed the Fulmar the intelligence needed to overcome its deficiencies, while operating against the almost overwhelming odds prevalent in the Mediterranean during the first half of the war provided it with an opportunity to prove itself that no other Royal Navy fighter would have.
 
Ronnie Hay RM, Later RN flew Corsairs in the Pacific. IIRC 13 victories 4A2A, 9 shared

Canadian Don Shepard was the RN's only ALL Corsair ace
A RCN officer, Lt Robert Gray was a Corsair pilot with the Pacific Fleet and won the last VC of WW2. (Last VC action date, that is - I think it's possible that some earlier VC actions were not promulgated and Gazetted until after the war, as information started to be received from released PoWs. Cyril Jackson for example)
 

Yokel

LE
Back to the Atlantic, and the Swordfish and our escort carriers:

Navy Wings - The Battle of the Atlantic

Over 6 arduous years and often in appalling circumstances, thirty-six Fleet Air Arm Squadrons played a vital role in contributing to the diminution, mastery and then eradication of the German threat. Swordfish, Albacores, Avengers, Martlets and Sea Hurricanes all flew some of the most hazardous missions. Extreme exhibitions of courage in the face of both adversity and enemy action were commonplace.

By February 1942 the UK’s critical lifeline of food, oil and military supplies was in danger of being severed. 30,000 merchant seamen had lost their lives, 100’s of 1000’s of tons of shipping had been sunk and Britain was losing the logistics battle. Failure to maintain this supply line would render us unable to continue the fight in Europe
.
The last week of May in 1942 was the vital watershed after which every Atlantic convoy had air cover. Slowly but surely the tide turned and more and more arms, ammunition, fuel, trucks, tanks, aeroplanes, food and troops were able to cross the Atlantic enabling Britain firstly to feed and defend itself and, ultimately, to take the battle back onto mainland European soil. The RAF fought the Battle of Britain – but, for a prolonged and extremely costly sixty eight months, the Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Allied Forces fought the Battle for Britain.

The unsung heroes who provided the crucial air cover and helped turn the tide of the War were Naval pilots, many of whom joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) at the start of the war, flying the obsolescent Fairey ‘Swordfish’. These flimsy biplanes and their aircrews, with an average age of 21, flew from the pitching decks of merchant ships, in all that the Atlantic could throw at them, including mountainous seas and bitter cold. They patrolled in an area known as the mid-Atlantic gap, the 500 mile wide gap in the middle of the Atlantic, out of range of land based Allied aircraft. Here the U-boats had almost complete freedom to operate; freedom to surface and recharge their batteries and to communicate by radio with their brother wolves, their home bases and their long range Condor bomber aircraft scouting for convoys.

Over 350,000 tons of enemy shipping was sunk by Navy Swordfish aircraft but the statistics on U-boat sinkings only tell half the story. The tactic that made the Swordfish so successful in ensuring the safe passage of convoys was not the number of U-boat kills, but the deterrent effect it had in keeping U-boats submerged.

U-boats had to spend many hours of each day on the surface in order to replenish their batteries. They could travel at quite good speeds and fire their torpedoes very effectively whilst on the surface, but once submerged their weapons and more particularly their diesel engines were almost inoperable. Relying on their electric batteries for power they were restricted to barely three knots and, unless they could surface and recharge their batteries, they were virtually dead in the water and easily detectable by Allied surface units. Patrolling Swordfish were continually in the air from an hour before dawn to an hour after sunset to fully exploit the U-boat’s weakness by keeping it submerged for as long as possible. By so doing, they rendered it ineffective, thereby directly preventing attacks on the convoys. Each Swordfish was armed with eight armour-piercing rockets for attacking U-boats but U-boat Commanders invariably crash dived immediately they saw a Swordfish – doing exactly as the Swordfish crews wanted them to do.

This tactic of defensive Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) was particularly successful from early 1943 onwards, when Swordfish aircraft were flying over 4000 ASW sorties a year, but many of the aircrews did not live to see the fruits of the peace they had helped to win. Their extraordinary bravery in the face of atrocious conditions was little publicised. Very often they crash landed back on deck and maintenance crews worked on exposed flight decks in sub-zero temperatures, handling freezing metal by torch light to get the aircraft repaired and ready to take off again at first light.


The lack of escort carriers and the pressing need to provide air cover for the convoys called for innovative and bold measures. The Fleet Air Arm rose to the challenge. Under Churchill’s direction, RAE Farnborough developed a rocket powered catapult capable of launching a fully armed and fuelled fighter from a merchant ship. These Catapult Armed Merchant (CAM) vessels and Naval Fighter Catapult Ships became vital to the war effort but it was the courageous pilots, both Fleet Air Arm and RAF, who volunteered to undertake the task that turned the tide of the Condor threat.

One pilot, Sub Lieutenant David Wright RNVR described his first launch as terrifying. “It was like sitting on an exploding bomb”. The naval CAM pilots were extraordinarily courageous. They took off knowing that on completion of their mission, their only recovery option was either to bale out or ditch in the sea and rely on being picked up by their mother ship or another ship in the area. The first naval pilot to successfully launch from such a ship, shoot down a Condor and survive his subsequent ditching was Lieutenant Bob Everett RN who was awarded the DSO. Nine German aircraft were shot down by CAM pilots keeping the Condor threat at bay until suitable escort carriers and their aircraft became available. Holding our own in the mid-Atlantic gap in the critical weeks of April and May 1942 was an outstanding feat of airmanship and co-operation between the services.

But the U-boat war did not stop there. Between April 1943 and May 1944, six grain carriers and thirteen tankers were converted to become Merchant Aircraft Carrier Ships (MAC ships). Essentially they were merchant ships with a flight deck capable of operating three or four Swordfish or Martlets, naval fighters used to intercept the heavily armed Focke-Wulf Condors.

Britain’s first escort carrier, HMS Audacity, was a converted banana boat. The legendary naval test pilot, Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC described her as ‘tiny’ and her flight deck as ‘terrifyingly short’. Landing-on was precarious, but constant patrols continued regardless, often in filthy weather, with Audacity’s stern regularly pitching as much as sixty-five feet and the flight deck rolling sixteen degrees. Following the loss of his Commanding Officer, shot down by a Condor, Captain Brown famously worked out that the best tactic to intercept the heavily armed Condor was head-on. Closing at speed on a certain collision course he successfully shot down a Condor, holding on until the last possible second before making his attack. He described being ‘close enough to see the windscreen round the two German pilots shatter’. As debris flew off its nose, he took violent evading action to avoid a collision.


The remarkable success of Swordfish defensive ASW operations, the bravery of the CAM pilots and the introduction of escort carriers and MAC ships, together with the work of the scientists from Bletchley Park in breaking the enigma codes, all played a part in the eventual victory. However, the contribution made by the Fleet Air Arm was substantial and should never be forgotten. The Battle of the Atlantic was one of the most protracted and bitterly fought sea and air campaigns in which the British Empire and her Allies have ever been engaged.

The U-boats very nearly succeeded. Without the protection provided by these carrier based aircraft and the bravery of their young RNVR crews, many convoys would never have reached the British Isles with their vital supplies or Russia with their vital equipment. Churchill himself wrote “The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. If we had lost that we would have lost everything.”


Many Naval Air Squadrons comprised over 95% RNVR pilots. Most of the young ‘A’ men as they were known, who flew in the Battle of the Atlantic are no longer with us, but two gallant Swordfish remain on the military register, serving as a powerful living reminder of their service and sacrifice and the great victory that they helped to win.
The Swordfish is not a pretty aircraft, nor is it fast. It was obsolete even before the war started, yet it was a willing and tireless workhorse and certainly earned the right to be a proud aircraft.
 
Quite possibly. Whilst doing a dig on the internet, I came across this:

Britain's top scoring naval fighter of World War II was not what you this it was

As World War II loomed into sight, the Admiralty was desperate for anything approximating a modern fighter aircraft. This need was met by a modified light dive-bomber originally intended for a cancelled RAF requirement. The resulting Fulmar shared the engine and armament with the Spitfire and Hurricane, but there though the similarity ended. With a pathetic flat-out speed of 247mph and a feeble service ceiling of 16,000’ it was far inferior to its contemporaries. More worryingly, it was also 30mph slower than the Luftwaffe’s Heinkel He 111 bombers. Fair to say as a fighter it made an adequate cancelled dive-bomber. So how did it became the top Royal Navy fighter of World War II?


In context the F14 of its day - the long ranged interceptor - not expected to go toe to to with lightweight fighters.

Whilst far from perfect it at least was credible unlike the ME110 which far from being the long ranged fighter escort found itself in need of escort.

The ME110 did achieve some success as a night fighter.
 

Yokel

LE
As this thread has gone way beyond discussing the events of 12 February 1942 and the 'Channel Dash', I have decided to retitle the thread to reflect the wider coverage of wartime British naval aviation, without which we would have lost the way.

Find, Fix, and Strike!
 

PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
. The Swordfish is not a pretty aircraft, nor is it fast. It was obsolete even before the war started, yet it was a willing and tireless workhorse and certainly earned the right to be a proud aircraft.

the TBM Avenger proved to be a much more effective anti submarine aircraft than the Swordfish, serving long after WWII in the ASW role.

see USS Bogue’s toll of submarines


and an excellent book

Amazon product
 

Yokel

LE
Could the Avenger has been provided to the RN in the same numbers as the Swordfish? I am not even sure it was in operation when the Swordfish started doing ASW patrols from escort carriers and merchant aircraft carriers?

Could it have cope with the small flight deck of a MAC?
 

Mölders 1

Old-Salt
Could the Avenger has been provided to the RN in the same numbers as the Swordfish? I am not even sure it was in operation when the Swordfish started doing ASW patrols from escort carriers and merchant aircraft carriers?

Could it have cope with the small flight deck of a MAC?
No, no it wasn't and no are the answers.


The ever expanding U.S. Naval Air Arm had first call on Avenger production (quite rightly).
 
Could the Avenger has been provided to the RN in the same numbers as the Swordfish? I am not even sure it was in operation when the Swordfish started doing ASW patrols from escort carriers and merchant aircraft carriers?

Could it have cope with the small flight deck of a MAC?

Pointing out flaws in RN / UK Built = bad arguments - Next you will be telling us that the RN werent idiots for not buying 250 P3 Orions in 1936
 
While reading up on the Swordfish came upon this, surely a rare event for a torpedo bomber to be fighter bombing tanks-
Narrative:
Fairey Swordfish Mk 1 K8380 G3-R
was shot down on the 24th May 1940 while bombing a German tank column on the 17 mile section of the Calais to Gravelines road in France. Pilot, Lieutenant, Kenneth Percy Gurr and Observer, Lieutenant, Ronald Carpmael were killed.
812 Squadron, FAA Royal Navy Swordfish aircraft were transferred, May 1940, from HMS Glorious to the RAF Coastal Command to operate from shore based airfields, to take part in support operations of the Dunkirk evacuation.

 
If the Navy had had full control of the Fleet Air Arm prior to 1937, then yes they would have got a better fighter.

During World War II, no aircraft carrier force operated a greater number of types than the Royal Navy. Although partly due to the length of time Britain was involved in the conflict, the Admiralty’s haphazard approach to aviation doctrine and procurement bears a lot of the blame (although nothing can excuse the diabolical Blackburn Firebrand).

Well, you've neatly illustrated the flaw in your own assertion there.
 

Sticky847

Clanker
A RCN officer, Lt Robert Gray was a Corsair pilot with the Pacific Fleet and won the last VC of WW2. (Last VC action date, that is - I think it's possible that some earlier VC actions were not promulgated and Gazetted until after the war, as information started to be received from released PoWs. Cyril Jackson for example)
This is where I admit complete geekiness, I have this t shirt with a design which is not obvious unless you know it’s the aircraft of Lt R H Gray
A RCN officer, Lt Robert Gray was a Corsair pilot with the Pacific Fleet and won the last VC of WW2. (Last VC action date, that is - I think it's possible that some earlier VC actions were not promulgated and Gazetted until after the war, as information started to be received from released PoWs. Cyril Jackson for example)
 

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Yokel

LE
Well, you've neatly illustrated the flaw in your own assertion there.

Not really. If the Fleet Air Arm had been under full naval control between the wars then their would have been air minded Admirals and Staff Officers, tactics would have been developed, and exercises would have shown the value of the naval fighter.

The real irony is that the aircraft carrier was originally developed for air defence during the First World War. When experience showed that seaplanes could not be launched rapidly in response to a threat, converted land planes were launched from platforms built on major warships. This led to experiments in landing aboard a moving ship, and eventually the flush deck.
 
Not really. If the Fleet Air Arm had been under full naval control between the wars then their would have been air minded Admirals and Staff Officers, tactics would have been developed, and exercises would have shown the value of the naval fighter.

I admire your faith in believing that a marginal, supporting element of the RN could have risen to the top and competed for resources against the 'big guns' of the 'traditional' Navy. Just like the submariners (who could at least operate independently of the surface fleet as they didn't require escorts).
 

Yokel

LE
I admire your faith in believing that a marginal, supporting element of the RN could have risen to the top and competed for resources against the 'big guns' of the 'traditional' Navy. Just like the submariners (who could at least operate independently of the surface fleet as they didn't require escorts).

The fact that they still built carriers suggests that the inter war leadership understood that there was a role for them. Ironically it was their belief that the carrier was for offensive operations that imposed the development of doctrine.

Emphasis on defence, particularly against submarines and aircraft would have made a huge difference.
 

PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
Things the RN learnt when it spoke with the experts

RN carriers always had a very small complement of fighters, in large part because they didn't use a deck park, space was always at a premium on British carrier decks.
Why? Well rather curiously, the RN used a huge run down on the rear of the flight deck, and the pilot came up astern of the carrier below the line deck and flew up onto it to do an elegant 3 wheeler. Very proper, very RAF.

E0FVlG8.jpg



The first things the Americans said when they got their hands on Victorious was 'You limeys are nuts!'.
They rather sensibly flew up astern of the carrier above the flight deck line and cut the engine as they came over the stern and dropped onto it - a bit inelegant, but very effective.

Then the USN plated over the round down, built a big canteen under it, (hugely boosting crew morale), and a added a gallery with a dozen AA guns. And with this big extra area of flat deck, the Victorious now had plenty of space for a deck park allowing her to embark an extra squadron of fighters.

ePW1F9_5WCQ28pbShUB_Mc_FWm1xa_SGd241cx8CXfc.jpg


image-asset.jpeg


Such a good and successful idea, her sister ships in build were similarly modified.
HMS Indefatigable, 1944

HMS_Indefatigable_(R10).jpg
 

Yokel

LE
Things the RN learnt when it spoke with the experts

RN carriers always had a very small complement of fighters, in large part because they didn't use a deck park, space was always at a premium on British carrier decks.
Why? Well rather curiously, the RN used a huge run down on the rear of the flight deck, and the pilot came up astern of the carrier below the line deck and flew up onto it to do an elegant 3 wheeler. Very proper, very RAF.

View attachment 552057


The first things the Americans said when they got their hands on Victorious was 'You limeys are nuts!'.
They rather sensibly flew up astern of the carrier above the flight deck line and cut the engine as they came over the stern and dropped onto it - a bit inelegant, but very effective.

Then the USN plated over the round down, built a big canteen under it, (hugely boosting crew morale), and a added a gallery with a dozen AA guns. And with this big extra area of flat deck, the Victorious now had plenty of space for a deck park allowing her to embark an extra squadron of fighters.

View attachment 552059

View attachment 552058

Such a good and successful idea, her sister ships in build were similarly modified.
HMS Indefatigable, 1944

View attachment 552060

'Very proper - very RAF' - until 1937 all the pilots were RAF, and they were trained by the RAF, and therefore RAF flying practices were used. QED!

Instead of commenting that despite this problematic background, the wartime FAA was as innovative as the rest of the RN and made significant contributions in the key theatres the RN was involved in, you chose to simply comment that it was not as good as the Americans.
 

PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
No, no it wasn't and no are the answers.


The ever expanding U.S. Naval Air Arm had first call on Avenger production (quite rightly).


Well, sort of.
The USN was very generous to the FAA in aircraft allocation even as they entered the Pacific War.

Avengers were allocated to the FAA in 1942, even as they were just entering USN service, with the first FAA Squadron standing up at Norfolk NAS on Jan 1, 1943.

As to FAA small carrier Avenger operations?
Nairana, Begum, Shah, Emperor, Empress, Shah, Ruler, Nabob, Trumpeter, Premier, Queen, Tracker, Searcher, Puncher.


As well as Escort Carrier based ASW operations in the Atlantic and Arctic, and anti shipping strikes along the Norwegian coast, shore based FAA Avengers also had a very busy war. As well as conducting ASW operations in the Channel and North Sea, they carried out attacks against German shipping all along the Channel coast. One coming home from an anti shipping patrol even managed to shoot down a V1 buzz bomb!
 

ABNredleg

War Hero
'Very proper - very RAF' - until 1937 all the pilots were RAF, and they were trained by the RAF, and therefore RAF flying practices were used. QED!

Instead of commenting that despite this problematic background, the wartime FAA was as innovative as the rest of the RN and made significant contributions in the key theatres the RN was involved in, you chose to simply comment that it was not as good as the Americans.
One thing the RN taught the USN was how to effectively use radar for fighter control. The USN thought so highly of RN fighter control that when Victorious operated with the Saratoga in 1943, the Americans combined all the fighters on the Victorious and made it a fighter carrier, with 36 Martlets and 24 Wildcats.
 
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