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The Royal Navy's Air Service in the Great War

David Hobbs

In a few short years after 1914 the Royal Navy practically invented naval air warfare, not only producing the first effective aircraft carriers, but also pioneering most of the techniques and tactics that made naval air power a reality. By 1918 the RN was so far ahead of other navies that a US Navy observer sent to study the British use of aircraft at sea concluded that ‘any discussion of the subject must first consider their methods’. Indeed, by the time the war ended the RN was training for a carrier-borne attack by torpedo-bombers on the German fleet in its bases – over two decades before the first successful employment of this tactic, against the Italians at Taranto.

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In a few short years after 1914 the Royal Navy practically invented naval air warfare, not only producing the first effective aircraft carriers, but also pioneering most of the techniques and tactics that made naval air power a reality. By 1918 the RN was so far ahead of other navies that a US Navy observer sent to study the British use of aircraft at sea concluded that ‘any discussion of the subject must first consider their methods’. Indeed, by the time the war ended the RN was training for a carrier-borne attack by torpedo-bombers on the German fleet in its bases – over two decades before the first successful employment of this tactic, against the Italians at Taranto. Following two previously well-received histories of British naval aviation, David Hobbs here turns his attention to the operational and technical achievements of the Royal Naval Air Service, both at sea and ashore, from 1914 to 1918. Detailed explanations of operations, the technology that underpinned them and the people who carried them out bring into sharp focus a revolutionary period of development that changed naval warfare forever. Controversially, the RNAS was subsumed into the newly created Royal Air Force in 1918, so as the centenary of its extinction approaches, this book is a timely reminder of its true significance.

ISBN: 9781848323483
Format: Hardback
Author(s): David Hobbs
First Publishment Date: 11 September 2017

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  1. Utterly absorbing read review by Warship World - PB on 29/07/2018

    There is no need to tell any Warship World reader about Commander David Hobbs. He has been contributing to the magazine for many years and has a wealth of knowledge and experience of naval aviation within the Royal Fleet Air Arm and as a commentator on today’s naval aviation scene. For this, his latest work, he has gone back to the very beginnings of British naval aviation and how it was utilised during the Great War.

    Few people today would imagine that in 1914, as Europe started to fall headlong into the military abyss that would become the First World War, the Royal Navy was the world’s leading exponent of aircraft at sea. The first aircraft were flimsy and awkward to fly and those pilots who attempted to tame their aircraft at sea were amongst the best and bravest of them all.

    In this book David Hobbs has focused on the operations undertaken and technical achievements of the Royal Naval Air Service both at sea and ashore. Tactics and operational procedures were devised and tested as naval aviation, still only an infant in 1914, started to come of age. The RNAS was, however, much more than just a collection of planes and pilots. Within less than twelve months of the start of the war the organisation had grown to include balloons, airships, flying boats, seaplanes, armoured cars, ack-ack batteries, armoured trains and even tanks. The service had seen action in the Dardanelles, Adriatic, East Africa, Namibia, Russia and Romania. Whilst the RNAS flourished during the early days of the war, the Royal Flying Corps did not, and regularly used RNAS aircraft to bolster its own forces. This disparity led to resentment and political manoeuvring. For the Royal Navy the period is a bittersweet one as in 1914 the RNAS was the world’s largest aviation force but in 1918 all naval aircraft were subsumed into the fledgling Royal Air Force. The Royal Air Force’s creation led to the wholesale transfer of RNAS aircraft and personnel and the complete failure to secure a role for maritime aviation. David Hobbs' timely book details how the politics of the time dictated the course of naval aviation and to how the Royal Navy would eventually, some twenty years later, finally regain control of its own organic air power wresting it from the control of the Royal Air Force which never really cared much for the maritime environment. This book is an excellent, enthralling and entertaining read and is filled with great detail, photographs and diagrams. Utter absorbing read.

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