The Evolution of the Aircraft Carrier - up to 1918

Yokel

LE
Yes, I know.

It was more of a reply to @Tyk as he seemed to have missed the point of this thread. Whilst I did intend to discuss the various steps and developments that led to the flush deck carrier we all recognise, the operational success achieved by seaplanes and by aircraft launched from cruisers deserve to be remembered.
 

Tyk

LE
It was more of a reply to @Tyk as he seemed to have missed the point of this thread. Whilst I did intend to discuss the various steps and developments that led to the flush deck carrier we all recognise, the operational success achieved by seaplanes and by aircraft launched from cruisers deserve to be remembered.

It's fair comment, while the Seaplane Tenders proved to be an evolutionary dead end, in Naval aviation terms they were a stepping stone and far from a trivial one. I originally read the thread as carrier specific (takeoff and maybe return to deck), but if we're discussing Naval aviation evolution in more general terms you're correct.
I had forgotten about the experiments with barges for launching standard fighters to intercept airships entirely.
The aircraft carried by cruisers and above that started out as spotting platforms, but evolved and let's face it they're the direct ancestors of the helicopters carried by frigates and destroyers that conduct so much useful work.
 
But they had an interesting operational history, nonetheless. Here is an extract of an unpublished MSS on the Dardanelles campaign which I have been working on:

Aircraft were widely used by both sides to conduct reconnaissance and to report the fall of shot during artillery shoots. The Royal Navy deployed its first aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the sea-plane tender HMS Ben-my-Chree (from June 1915) [1], both for the first time, and kite-balloons from HMS Manica were used on observe the landings on 25 April. There had been high hopes for sea-planes however lack of training, engine unreliability, overall performance and adverse sea conditions countered the hopelessly-optimistic predictions of their effectiveness. The French navy also deployed aircraft, but without radios, they were of limited use.

However, in August 1915 two Royal Naval Air Service Short 184s from Ben-my-Chree successfully sunk two Turkish merchant vessels by air-launched torpedoes – the first, and only successful, air-launched torpedo attacks conducted during the whole war.[2] Working alongside the submarine campaign to clear the Sea of Marmara of shipping, columns of Ottoman troops moving from Constantinople were regularly harried by RNAS aircraft, further disrupting the logistical support to the defending troops.



[1] Gaelic for ‘Woman of my heart’. A former Irish channel steam packet, she was later to serve as the flagship for RN sea-planes operating in the eastern Mediterranean. She was sunk at anchor near the Mediterranean island of Kastellorizo by Turkish artillery firing from nearby Kaş, on 11 January 1917, with no loss of life.
[2] In yet another bizarre twist, one ship – a steam tug – was torpedoed from a sea-plane as it was taxying because of engine problems.
Re Point 1.
we allways thought Ben my chree was manx for kiss my @rse.
( in the late 1980’s the steam packet purchased an exceptionality bad boat, ex Greek island ferry iirc. Which was given that name I seem to remember.
so underpowered and a huge wind catching superstructure that the insurers insisted a tug had to be on hand every time it attempted to enter Heysham.).
The current Ben is a better boat but still crewed by idle mock scousers.
 

Yokel

LE
Until a few moments ago I had forgotten that this is saved under bookmarks:

The Royal Naval Air Service and the Evolution of Naval Aviation in Britain, 1914-1918 by Alexander L. N. Howlett

Page 76

The first of these had been ordered from the Beardmore works, hull No. 519, was a planned conversion of the Conte Rosso, an Italian liner capable of 19 and a half knots that was to become the 14,500 ton HMS Argus, did not however arrive at the Grand Fleet until October 1918. The novel nature of the conversion and design of Argus was complex, and one cannot fault Jellicoe for skepticism regarding the Admiralty’s promises. Third Sea Lord Rear-Admiral F. C. T. Tudor believed Argus would not be completed until October 1917, when in fact the design had not yet been finalized as late as August 1917. Lt. Commander Williamson had been a proponent of the flush deck design, with the funnels and superstructure located to the starboard. Williamson’s revised 1915 proposal was in fact approved by Sueter, who sent Williamson to the DNC, Tennyson D’Eyncourt, who in turn put Williamson in contact with assistant director J. H. Narbeth. Commander Gerard R. A. Holmes, formerly the constructor of Campania, produced a competing design. As built, HMS Argus could carry 20 machines in its 350 ft by 68 ft hanger. Captain H. H. Smith took command of Argus when the ship was finally commissioned on 14 September 1918

Argus was a critical missing component in the naval aviation system that was emerging within the Grand Fleet. It would have been the only carrier capable of safely recovering airplanes, which otherwise had to ditch in the uncertain North Sea and hope to be recovered by an escorting destroyer or friendly seaplane carrier. Argus would also be capable of carrying out torpedo strikes, adding a powerful offensive component to the fleet’s aviation force. One of the many technical hurdles to overcome towards this ideal was the development of a suitable arresting system, for which some small funds had been appropriated by the Admiralty seaplane sub-committee during the summer of 1915. Tests were carried out on the Isle of Grain during 1916 with the result that a wire-arrester system was successfully installed aboard Furious in 1917. An important associated development was the introduction of a compressed air catapult for take-off, of which hydraulic and electric variants were also trailed


Page 98

Another significant outcome of the Committee’s report was the recommendation that fighter aircraft should be adapted for service aboard light cruisers. Wing Captain R. M. Groves, Assistant Secretary of the Air Board under Lord Cowdray, was working with Rear-Admiral Phillimore, then at Rosyth aboard his flagship HMS Repulse, towards the goal of fitting the cruiser Yarmouth with a small flight deck forward. It was from this ship that Flight Sub Lieutenant B. A. Smart successfully took-off and destroyed Zeppelin L23 on the morning of 21 August 1917.

I thought that the Zeppelin splash from hMS Yarmouth had been in late 1916?
 

Yokel

LE
It's fair comment, while the Seaplane Tenders proved to be an evolutionary dead end, in Naval aviation terms they were a stepping stone and far from a trivial one. I originally read the thread as carrier specific (takeoff and maybe return to deck), but if we're discussing Naval aviation evolution in more general terms you're correct.
I had forgotten about the experiments with barges for launching standard fighters to intercept airships entirely.
The aircraft carried by cruisers and above that started out as spotting platforms, but evolved and let's face it they're the direct ancestors of the helicopters carried by frigates and destroyers that conduct so much useful work.

I thought that the towed aircraft lighters had demonstrated that it was possible to use both natural wind and speed to generate airflow to aid take off. Sensibly the Navy was experimenting with all sorts of ways of launching and recovering aircraft.
 

Yokel

LE
This is a photograph of the first landing aboard a moving ship by Sqn Cdr Dunning:

_97154856_edwindunning.jpg



As you can see there are strops hanging from the wings that enable the aircraft to be pulled down by the deck party - a vertical landing of sorts. He would be killed trying to repeat it:

1617638287627.jpeg


Because of the construction of HMS Furious he had to fly around the superstructure to land on, and the wind conditions pushed him overboard. This is what led to the use a second deck for landing and in time a flush deck, but also for a system of arresting the still moving aircraft.

Deck Landing Trials at the Isle of Grain

HMS Furious' initial carrier configuration consisted of a foredeck for aircraft to depart the ship and subsequently ditch in the sea although trials were conducted on landing aircraft on that foredeck. Steaming into the wind the ship's Sopwith Pups could match Furious' speed and then sideslip to above the deck where they could be pulled downwards by hand using leather straps attached to the underside of the aircraft. The first successful landing in this manner happened in August 1917. It was inherently dangerous to the extent that the first pilot to achieve it was killed in a later attempt when his aircraft went over the side. The concept of aircraft landing on ships had however been proven but research into better methods went ahead.

The Admiralty concluded that a second flat deck aft of the superstructure could be fitted to Furious for aircraft to land in a more conventional fashion. In order to test the concept, in 1917, a 200ft dummy deck was constructed on the airfield at RNAS Grain and initial landing trials took place with Pups and 1½ Strutters, some of them fitted with skid undercarriages.

 

Yokel

LE
This was why the aircraft carrier was invented...

Naval Aviation in the Battle of Jutland

The most capable of the Grand Fleet’s air assets actually missed the battle. HMS Campania had been converted from an 1892-built liner. She had actually been retired and sold to a shipbreaker, before being rescued in 1914 by the Royal Navy, which was on the lookout for vessels to convert into armed merchantmen. The RN had begun the conversion when Churchill ordered the four seaplane carriers. Campania, the largest of the conversions, had a large steel hanger built on its after deck, in which up to eleven aircraft of various types could be housed, and a flying-off deck forward. The flying off deck was a neat solution to the problem of launching seaplanes in open sea. The smaller single-seat examples of the relatively light, frail biplanes then in service could take off on a wheeled trolley from a short flight deck more easily and safely than they could from a rough sea, although the larger two-man Short seaplanes still needed to take off from the water when fully loaded. On 12 April 1916 Campania joined the Grand Fleet, and Commander-in-Chief Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was enthusiastic about the possibilities afforded by her floatplanes.

Unfortunately, there was a breakdown in communication when the Fleet left its anchorage, and Campania did not sail. When the captain realised the Fleet had gone, he weighed anchor and proceeded after the warships, but Jellicoe was worried about the vulnerability of a single vessel with little protection, and ordered her back to port.

The Battle Cruiser Force’s commander, Vice-Admiral David Beatty, had the smaller seaplane carrier HMS Engadine with him at Jutland. Engadine, a former cross-Channel ferry, was another of the four seaplane carriers created at Churchill’s behest. Engadine was smaller than Campania, and initially only had a canvas hangar to protect her aircraft, but this was replaced with a permanent structure in 1915. She carried four aircraft – two Short 184 reconnaissance bombers and two Sopwith Baby scouts. Her steam turbines enabled a speed of 21.5 knots, some two knots faster than Campania’s reciprocating engines afforded the larger vessel.

When the cruiser HMS Galatea first reported enemy warships at 2.39pm on 31 May 1916, Beatty quickly decided to send up one of Engadine’s aircraft to get a better view of the forces he might be facing. At 2.47pm, he ordered an aircraft up, though the seaplane carrier’s captain had earlier warned Beatty that conditions were dangerous for seaplane operations. The haze covering the sea made it difficult for the pilot to judge their height when landing. The seaplane carrier halted, and winched Short 184 ‘8359’ over the side, crewed by Flight Commander FJ Rutland (thereafter to be known as ‘Rutland of Jutland’) and Assistant Paymaster GS Trewin RNR. At 3.08 pm, Rutland took off. Just over 20 minutes later, despite thick cloud and mist that forced Rutland to stay below 1,000ft, the Short sighted German light cruisers and destroyers heading North West, and radioed the discovery at 3.31pm, while under heavy fire from the enemy ships.

Twenty one minutes to launch!
 

Yokel

LE
I forgot to posted this key paragraph:

Meanwhile, no fewer than five German naval Zeppelins were in the air trying to locate the British ships. Largely due to poor visibility, none of the airships made contact with either fleet, and they were recalled in the late afternoon. The following morning, more were sent out, and at first light, L-11 located the main British force. By then, the battle was over, but the sighting of the Grand Fleet prevented further sweeps that might have located some of the damaged German vessels attempting to limp home.

It was the need to rapidly get a fighter up which led to launching of aircraft from platforms built on a cruiser's guns - and in time both launch and landing aboard ship.
 

tiv

LE
Campania had more of a take-off ramp than actual flight deck, sloping down to the bow. In order to lengthen it the fore funnel was bifurcated.

From HMS Campania (1914) - Wikipedia

By October 1915 Campania had exercised with the Grand Fleet seven times, but had only flown off aircraft three times as the North Sea was often too rough for her seaplanes to use. Her captain recommended that the flying-off deck be lengthened and given a steeper slope to allow gravity to boost the aircraft's acceleration and the ship was accordingly modified at Cammell Laird between November 1915 and early April 1916. The forward funnel was split into two funnels and the flight deck was extended between them and over the bridge to a length of 245 feet (74.7 m), so that aircraft from both holds could use the flight deck. A canvas windscreen was provided to allow the aircraft to unfold their wings out of the wind, and a kite balloon and all of its supporting equipment were added in the aft hold. Campania now carried seven Short Type 184 torpedo bombers and three or four smaller fighters or scouts; a Type 184 made its first takeoff from the flight deck on 3 June 1916, also using a wheeled trolley. This success prompted the Admiralty to order the world's first aircraft designed for carrier operations, the Fairey Campania. The ship received the first of these aircraft in late 1917 where they joined smaller Sopwith 1½ Strutter scouts.[5] At various times Campania also carried the Sopwith Baby and Sopwith Pup.[6]
 
True - which is why HMS Furious is normally considered to be the first. HMS Argus is credited as the first flattop. However this thread is about the steps that led to a ship with a flush deck.

The seaplane carriers and cruisers that launched Sopwith fighters from platforms were stepping stones - but they also deserve recognition in their own right. The aircraft they launched did reconnaissance, bombed land targets, shot down Zeppelins, and carried out a torpedo attack against an enemy ship as early as 1915.

The perception of what is meant by "aircraft carrier" is subjective. When the cruiser HMS Blake arrived at Mombasa in late 1974, she was equipped with a largish fight deck to operate Sea King ASW helicopters. Several of the accompanying frigates and RFAs also had flight decks. Some amusement was provided by one of the Kenyan newspapers, which reported that several aircraft carriers had arrived at Kilindini harbour.
 

Yokel

LE
The perception of what is meant by "aircraft carrier" is subjective. When the cruiser HMS Blake arrived at Mombasa in late 1974, she was equipped with a largish fight deck to operate Sea King ASW helicopters. Several of the accompanying frigates and RFAs also had flight decks. Some amusement was provided by one of the Kenyan newspapers, which reported that several aircraft carriers had arrived at Kilindini harbour.

I am working on the definition that 'aircraft carrier' means a ship capable to launching and recovering multiple fixed wing aircraft.

The retards writing in one of my local papers labelled an LPD a 'carrier' when she was doing amphibious exercises which involved putting Bootnecks ashore on the Braunton Borrows. There were no aircraft on her deck in the accompanying picture so they had no excuse.
 
I am working on the definition that 'aircraft carrier' means a ship capable to launching and recovering multiple fixed wing aircraft.

The retards writing in one of my local papers labelled an LPD a 'carrier' when she was doing amphibious exercises which involved putting Bootnecks ashore on the Braunton Borrows. There were no aircraft on her deck in the accompanying picture so they had no excuse.

No big turrets though so not a Battleship.
 

Yokel

LE
Whilst searching for something to do with the Zeebrugge raid I found this:

The War In The Air - Naval Warfare

The Royal Navy wanted to equip ships with aircraft that could intercept the Zeppelins, and thus deprive the German Navy of its greatest reconnaissance asset. It was clear that the seaplanes, weighed down and cumbersome because of their floats, could not provide the required performance.

With the Sopwith Pup there was finally available a plane that could climb high enough, and fast enough, to tackle the Zeppelins. In addition it required a very small take off run. In fact, flying into a 20 knot wind the Pup required a meagre six metres (20 feet) to take off.

The navy revived the idea of flying wheeled aircraft off from decks. F. J. Rutland, who had flown the reconnaissance mission at Jutland, flew the first such takeoffs from platforms on the Manxman and Campania. The navy subsequently fitted light cruisers with such takeoff platforms.

The solution was far from ideal as there was still no way to land, and the planes had to either land on shore, or if this was too far away, to ditch into the sea. The Pups were supplied with special airbags to keep them afloat until the ship's crane could lift them back up on deck.

On the 21st of August, 1917 a Sopwith Pup piloted by Second
(sic) Lieutenant B. A. Smart, took off from such a ship, the HMS Yarmouth, which had been escorting a mine-laying force in the Heligoland Bight. Climbing to 7,000 feet he attacked the Zeppelin L23 from above, and shot it down. He subsequently ditched in the sea and was recovered by HMS Prince.

The Royal Navy took an even more advanced approach when it changed the layout of the HMS Furious, then under construction as a light cruiser.

They cleared the forward deck of her intended gun turret, and placed instead a takeoff deck 70 metres long and 15 metres wide. (228 feet by 50 feet.) The deck was connected by a hatchway and crane to a hanger which held four seaplanes and six land planes.

The Squadron Commander on the Furious was E. H. Dunning, and he thought he had a solution to the problem of landing. He knew that if the ship, with its top speed 21 knots, sailed directly into a 19 knot wind, the combined speed would match the Pup's 40 knot landing speed.

On the 2nd of August 1917 he demonstrated how this could be used to land the craft on the takeoff deck. He flew alongside the Furious, and as he lowered his speed he was virtually hovering in relation to the deck. He then side-slipped over the ship. Waiting crewmen grabbed prepared ropes and literally pulled the plane down, while Dunning cut the engine at the same time.

He attempted a second landing five days later, but this time instructed the crew not to grab the ropes until the plane had touched down. Something went wrong (it has been variously reported as the engine stalling, or a tyre bursting) but whatever the cause the plane crashed over the side and into the sea. Dunning was knocked unconscious and drowned before he could be rescued. Further attempts to land using this technique were banned.

As an alternative solution the Navy carried out a further modification to the Furious. Her aft gun was removed, and a second 87 metre (285 foot) deck, intending for landing, was located aft of the funnel. Another important change was the installation of lifts to connect between the hanger and the flight decks.

The landing decks were equipped with arrester gear: cables stretched across the deck which were to be snared by horns projecting from the undercarriage. This technique had been successfully tried on shore, but at sea it was a failure. The hot exhaust from the funnel made the air turbulent and the funnel itself blocked the vital headwind.
 

Yokel

LE
I am unsure if any deck landing actually took place aboard Furious during the Great War, or just attempts. I have found a video of a Sopwith Pup attempting to land on her stern.

 
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