Remarkably little has been written about the Royal Navy’s aviation achievements against the avalanche of books on the RFC and the RAF. Many relating to the RAF in WWI attempt to portray the RAF as starting in 1914 by including the RFC history as though it was already part of the RAF. It is therefore always welcome when a well-researched book on the RNAS is published. In this book, the author looks specifically at the RNAS attacks on German Zeppelin bases in the start of strategic bombing.
NAME: The Flatpack Bombers, The Royal Navy and the Zeppelin Menace
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Ian Gardiner
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, World War One, First World War, Western Front, opening campaigns, reconnaissance, technology, tactics, Home Front, home defence, bombing, airships
DESCRIPTION: Remarkably little has been written about the Royal Navy’s aviation achievements against the avalanche of books on the RFC and the RAF. Many relating to the RAF in WWI attempt to portray the RAF as starting in 1914 by including the RFC history as though it was already part of the RAF. It is therefore always welcome when a well-researched book on the RNAS is published. In this book, the author looks specifically at the RNAS attacks on German Zeppelin bases in the start of strategic bombing.
The Royal Navy spent more on intelligence gathering in respect of the Zeppelin development programme before WWI than it did on heavy naval guns and battleships. Politicians delayed some RN aviation development by forcing naval aviators into the Royal Flying Corps under Army influence, but wisely the RN was given back full control of its aviation assets and aviators a month before the outbreak of WWI and during that month the RN made the first successful drop of a torpedo. From the start of WWI, the RNAS was equipped with real aerial weapons systems, with the ability to drop bombs, depth charges and torpedoes from its aircraft.
The Zeppelin menace certainly introduced the deliberate terror bombing of civilian targets, and it also caused casualties. The real damage was potentially to the enemy morale. For the first time the British Isles came under direct attack that it was initially powerless to counter. Potentially, Zeppelins and the semi-rigid Austrian airships could reach any target within the British Isles and fly in conditions that heavier-than-air machines could not take off and land in. There was little Zeppelin commanders could do about engine noise, other than to cut engines and drift for short periods, but they could hide in cloud and lower an observer in a very small gondola with a telephone to communicate with the crew in the airship.
As fighter aircraft improved in capability, they could reach the Zeppelins and fire on them with rifle calibre machine guns, but this had little effect until the development of incendiary bullets which could ignite the gas bags inside the airship hull. What was much more successful in the early days of WWI was to drop bombs on airships and on their bases. The RNAS was equipped with seaplanes that could be taken close to the enemy home bases in seaplane carriers. The aircraft were then craned into the water, took off and bombed the shore targets, before returning and landing alongside the carrier.
Just before the RNAS naval aviators were again forced into a single organization together with the RFC Army pilots to form the RAF, naval planners had already begun detailed planning to use all available aircraft carriers in an attack fleet to take aircraft close enough to the German High Sea Fleet home port to carry out a strike with bombs and torpedoes. The RAF was not particularly interested in this idea, but the RN’s Fleet Air Arm, again under full RN control, dusted down the plans to carry out the pre-emptive strike against Italian warships in their home port during WWII, inspiring the Japanese to copy the concept with devastating effect on the US Fleet in Hawaii.
The author has covered the raids on Zeppelin bases and the raid on Cuxhaven. The able text is supported by an interesting selection of images in a photo plate section. This is a rewarding read and goes some way to recognizing the immense contribution made by British naval aviators to modern aerial warfare, demonstrating how to employ aerial weapons systems tactically and strategically. The bombing achievements recounted in this book were matched by the RNAS fighter aircraft development. The RNAS had the advantage that it was buying aircraft from commercial manufacturers, several of which had a long tradition of supplying other naval requirements, where the RFC was initially stuck with accepting aircraft fro the Government Aircraft Factory.