- 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)
After very brief hearings the Committee reported back in August 1917 recommending the amalgamation of the RNAS and RFC as soon as possible. This was immediately adopted by the British Government and April 1 1918 was set for the commencement of a new and third service, the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The Admiralty and the Army were against the decision, though the Naval case was not fully supported by the First Lord (Sir E. GEDDES, a politician) and C in C Grand Fleet (Admiral BEATTY, who was later to become First Sea Lord). The First Sea Lord (Admiral Jellicoe) was dismissed on Christmas Eve 1917 and replaced by Admiral WEMYSS, a more politically flexible officer. When the rest of the Admiralty Board threatened to resign they were told it would not change the decision and they withdrew their resignations.
It was, in the end, a political decision to form the RAF which was to have far reaching consequences for the RN, Dominion Navies, Allied merchant seamen and perhaps some bomber aircrews in the early days of WWII. Whilst many are willing to point out that other countries have since followed the British example of an independent air force, few will add that, almost without exception, in those countries the Navy mans and controls its maritime patrol, antisubmarine, and shipborne aircraft.
Between WWI and WWII the RAF went ahead and developed its own air power doctrines and priorities. The emphasis was on land based fighters and strategic bombers. Coastal Command, the antisubmarine force, was not formed until July 14, 1936 under Air Chief Marshal LONGMORE (an ex RNAS Australian). The lesson that only 3 ships were lost in convoys with air escort in 1917-18 had to be relearned but the reactions were slow. In 1941 CHURCHILL stated that top priority was to be given to the provision of aircraft for convoy escort. The first 1,000 RAF bomber raid was made on COLOGNE on the night of May 30/31, 1942 whilst convoys and escorts were still suffering grievous losses because of inadequate air escort. It was not until 1943 when adequate air cover became available for convoys that the U Boat menace was brought under control and the ALLIES really started to win the war. Until then more shipping was being lost than could be replaced by new building efforts and Britain was slowly going downhill from lack of vital imports..
Similarly British carrier borne aircraft had been neglected so that at the outbreak of WWII they were nearly all obsolescent, and unsuitable for the Pacific theatre of war. American carrier borne and maritime patrol aircraft, manned and controlled by the U S Navy were, on the other hand, very suitable and superior to the British air craft so they were extensively used by British forces.
Hopefully before too long commonsense will prevail and Britain and Australia will follow the rest of the world with their Navies manning and having total control of maritime patrol aircraft.