“Sea Eagles Led By Penguins” may be unkind to penguins and also unfair to all those senior naval officers who fought hard to develop British naval aviation in the teeth of venial politicians and the envy of other services. By any measure, British sailors achieved amazing progress in the development of naval aviation and in influencing the wider aviation industry. Many of the first and the key technology developments were the product of serving officers. This book should be widely read because it lays out the inspiring story of how the British naval aviators have bounced back each time they have been let down by the politicians and how they have rallied in the face of significant odds in time of war, performing far beyond any reasonable expectations. Enjoy this well written story and learn from the lessons it sets out. The author is a born story teller and his engaging text is reinforced by two excellent photo plate sections.
NAME: The Disastrous Fall and Triumphant Rise Of The Fleet Air Arm From 1912 To 1945
AUTHOR: Henry ‘Hank’ Adlam
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: 1912, WWI, First World War, Great War, World War One, between wars,WWII, World War Two, Second World War, naval aviation, RNAS, FAA, RN, RAF
DESCRIPTION: “Sea Eagles Led By Penguins” may be unkind to penguins and also unfair to all those senior naval officers who fought hard to develop British naval aviation in the teeth of venial politicians and the envy of other services. By any measure, British sailors achieved amazing progress in the development of naval aviation and in influencing the wider aviation industry. Many of the first and the key technology developments were the product of serving officers. This book should be widely read because it lays out the inspiring story of how the British naval aviators have bounced back each time they have been let down by the politicians and how they have rallied in the face of significant odds in time of war, performing far beyond any reasonable expectations. Enjoy this well written story and learn from the lessons it sets out. The author is a born story teller and his engaging text is reinforced by two excellent photo plate sections.
The origins of British naval are surprisingly vague and little known. British warships carried scientists to the far corners of the Earth in search of new flora and fauna, to map the islands and the continents and trek to the Poles. During these voyages of discovery birds were recorded in sketches and paintings and these visual records influenced the eventual design of aircraft and the developing understanding of the laws of aerodynamics. That age of discoveries began as early as the 16th Century as British sailors set out to establish trading opportunity.
One of the RN’s premier frigate captains upset the French so much that he came to the attention of Napoleon, who dubbed him ‘The Sea Wolf’. Cochrane was a colourful character who was also a businessman and Parliamentarian who fled English creditors to become Commander of the navies of Chile, Peru and Brazil as they rose up against rule from Spain. He also commanded the Greek Navy and returned to the RN to achieve his flag. One of the lesser know concepts developed by this extraordinary sailor was of aerial bombardment and the use of chemical weapons. He could therefore be considered the father of British naval aviation in the early years of the 19th Century.
During the American Civil War, foreign military observers were invited to see the battles between the Union and the Confederacy. Amongst those observers were RN officers and Royal Marines who were able to experience the use of captive balloons as gunnery observation and direction posts. In South Africa, during the Boer Wars, the RN landed guns to be mounted on carriages and used by sailors to support the British Army. These sailors used Army balloons to direct their guns. At sea, captive balloons presented many challenges and in 1903 the RN began a series of extensive trials using man-carrying kites built by the showman and aviation pioneer Cody who had come to Britain as a Wild West Show performer, fallen in love with the country and become a British citizen, setting up shop at the Army’s balloon centre at Farnborough, building kites and developing a powered kite that became the first aeroplane built in Britain to achieve controlled flight in 1908. The RN kite experimenters formed a close relationship with Cody and a keen interest in his powered kite.
In 1909, Admiralty Estimates included the funding of the first RN airship. Mayfly was to prove a considerable failure. However, the RN was to learn much and develop some outstanding lighter-than-air ships that performed well during WWI, and also built the first airship aircraft carrier, able to launch Camel bi-plane fighters.
The author has chosen 1912 to start his story and 1945 to conclude it. There is a logic in selecting these dates, although there will be those who would prefer a different period.
By 1912, the politicians were keen to give all aviation capabilities to the Army and although the Flying Corps and Naval Air Service were expected to represent land and sea-based aviation, the operation was run by the War Office. Fortunately, the RN ignored the situation and continued to train naval officers as pilots. These pioneers were set the task of writing the manuals and setting tactical and strategic objectives for naval aviation. When the RN was given back its aircraft a month before the outbreak of WWI, it was already well prepared to swing into action, successfully dropping the first torpedo from an aircraft to celebrate the return of its aviation.
The Royal Naval Air Service entered the war with integrated aerial weapons systems and began bombing German targets and bringing down Zeppelin rigid airships. It also sank Turkish vessels with torpedoes, one by an aircraft that was still taxiing in the sea. Commercial companies built aircraft for the RNAS where the Army was initially forced to use the less than inspiring products of the Government Aircraft Factory. The RNAS also procured a fleet of rigid, semi-rigid and non-rigid airships that proved highly successful and inspired copies by other nations. Before the RN was again robbed of its aviation, by politicians who wanted to create the RAF in 1918, it had already built the first aircraft carrier to be specifically designed to serve as such and prepared a plan for a mass attack on the German Fleet in port. The plan was not implemented by the new RAF and then the Germans surrendered. The plan was however dusted down in 1940 and used against the Italian Fleet in port, to be later copied by the Japanese in their attack on Pearl Harbour.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the RN fell rapidly behind the US and Japan because the RAF failed to put any effort into naval aviation and the RN could only continue developing its carriers with Ark Royal (III) as a triumph of design and innovation before the outbreak of WWII. The RN also had a class of armoured carriers starting production and won back its aviation in 1937 in time to start correcting the result of the wasted years from 1918.
During WWII, the newly created Fleet Air Arm was to start converting from an all-biplane service to monoplanes and acquiring some excellent naval aircraft from the US. Carriers were built and new classes designed. The escort carrier replaced the CAM and MAC ships to provide an effective low cost carrier to provide convoy escorts and to work in hunter/killer groups with anti-submarine warships. During WWII, the FAA expanded dramatically and took the fight to the enemy. The performance was outstanding and the FAA with its carriers was a major naval force.
The author has ended his review of the Fleet Air Arm in 1945, but the battles and successes have continued since 1945. British naval aviators and the British aircraft industry has continued to innovate and lead in naval aviation with many firsts and the incredible Sea Harrier VSTOL fighter that was critical to liberating the Falkland Islands from the Argentine bandit invaders.