- Stevens, Errol
- Naval Aviation, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Swan II, HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Melbourne I
- December 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
For those familiar with the basic organisation of air forces a typical order is shown below. It should be noted that the RNAS sometimes went straight from Flights to Wing, omitting Squadrons, particularly where the Flights were separated at different stations.
Also the RNAS often used letters such as A, B, C, for Squadrons within Wings, instead of the more normal numbers. Confusion could arise when for example the RNAS, RFC and AFC all had “No 3” Squadrons. After April 1 1918, 200 was added to all RNAS Squadron numbers so that, for example, RNAS No 8 Squadron became RAF No 208 Squadron. Number 201, 202, 206, 208 and 216 Squadron were still active in the RAF in 1995.
The number of aircraft in each unit varied considerably depending on Service, year, type of aircraft, casualties and replacement availability. Brigade was an Army/RFC term.
- 3 or more aircraft – Flight (Normally 4 to 6 aircraft)
- 3 or more Flights – squadron (Normally 12 to 24 aircraft)
- 2 or more Squadrons – Wing (Normally about 3 Squadrons)
- 2 or more Wings – Brigade/Group (Normally about 3 Wings)
RANKS AND UNIFORMS
The rank title of aircrew officers who served in the RNAS can be quite confusing. (See Table 1)
Table 1 – Equivalent Ranks
|RN RAN||RNAS – to 1918 (April)||British & Australian Army
RFC to 1918 (April)
AFC to 1920
RAF April 1918 to 1919
|RAF from 1920
RAAF from 1921
|Sub Lieutenant||Flight Sub Lieutenant||Lieutenant||Flying Officer|
|Lieutenant Commander||Squadron Commander||Major||Squadron Commander|
|Commander||Wing Commander||Lieutenant Colonel||Wing Commander|
|Captain||Wing Captain||Colonel||Group Captain|
In 1914 separate ranks were introduced for aircrew officers such as Flight Lieutenant. However some RNAS officers particularly those who were permanent RN often continued to use their RN rank in letters and reports.
On April 1, 1918 when the RNAS and RFC were amalgamated to form the RAF, the RNAS ranks were given Army/RFC titles until well after the war ended, when a new series of RAF titles based largely on the original RNAS titles came into force. Once more there was a considerable overlap in the use of the changed titles. Thus the original carved wooden grave marker for R.A. LITTLE who was killed in action on May 27, 1918 shows “FLGT COMDR R.A. LITTLE RN”. The plaque alongside it in the Australian War Memorial describes him as a Captain RAF.
RNAS aircrew uniforms were based on their equivalent RN one except that the anchors in the cap badge and the buttons were replaced by an eagle. In addition pilots wore an eagle above the rank curl on the left sleeve. This eagle on the left sleeve was replaced by the Observer’s wings for appropriate aircrew. A single star above the sleeve badge indicated a Flight Commander and two vertical stars indicated a Squadron Commander. Khaki bush jackets were worn extensively overseas, with khaki stripes on the sleeves or epaulettes and the flying badge on the left chest.
DEVELOPMENT AND DEMISE
The first RNAS units went overseas to the Ostend/Dunkirk area in August 1914 originally in support of a Royal Marine brigade. The main air support for the Dardanelles campaign in 1915-1916 was by RNAS aircraft from the islands of TENEDOS and later IMBROS, the seaplane carriers ARK ROYAL and BEN-MY-CHEE, observation balloons from MANILA and HECTOR, and an airship. The RNAS managed to keep almost complete air control of the area until early 1916. Apart from antisubmarine patrols, gunfire spotting , reconnaissance and photography, the RNAS dropped nearly 1,200 bombs with a total weight of just under 30 tons. Figures for the enemy were under 200 bombs dropped with a total weight of about 1½ tons. Part of the reason for the successful evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula must go to the fact that the RNAS kept enemy aircraft from observing the preparations. After the ground forces evacuation the RNAS continued to patrol the Dardanelles and the AEGEAN areas, to the end of WWI. The RNAS were also involved in the German South West and East Africa Campaigns.
Throughout the war the RNAS maintained patrols over the North Sea and home waters and assisted with Home air defence against Zeppelin and bomber attacks. It maintained units in the Dunkirk area which carried out antisubmarine, bombing and reconnaissance missions.
In 1916 after heavy losses, the RFC requested RNAS assistance in the Somme area of the Western Front. No 8 Squadron was hurriedly formed and sent equipped with some French Nieuports but mainly with Sopwith Pups, another outstanding RNAS aircraft which was as good as anything the Germans could produce at the time. By early 1917 the RNAS had another 6 Scout (fighter) squadrons in France attached to the RFC. To achieve this transfer and build up in France the numbers of RNAS aircraft available to assist in Home air defence and patrols were severely limited. This willingness to give priority to France may well have planted a part in the demise of the RNAS.
The responsibilities for Home air defence were vague and confused.
On June 17, 1917 German Gotha bombers made a daylight raid on London, followed by another on July 7 1917. Public outrage called for immediate protection and retaliation bombing on Germany. Panic almost set in amongst the top politicians. Emergency decisions included the temporary transfer of two RFC fighter squadrons from France, and the holding back of an RNAS flight due for Dunkirk. The orders for new bombers were doubled which had no chance of being met. A committee on Air Organisation was set up under the chairmanship of General SMUTS, a South African who was not noted for his knowledge of sea or maritime air power.