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● First fl ights – with varying degrees of success... (Left) Charles Samson – the father of Naval aviation – lifts off from HMS
Hibernia in Weymouth Bay, the fi rst take-off from a ship at sea and (above) sailors survey the twisted, broken fuselage of
HM Airship No.1 – ‘Mayfl y’ – after it was wrecked by a gust of wind while being removed from its shed in Barrow
cavalry – sufc fered particularly and Within two weeks, Harold Rosher
No.1 N Wing’s billets at Hazebrouck, was flying solo. Within six, he had
south of Dunkirk, quickly filled up earned his pilot’s certificate, then
marina Continued from page i
“The recruits of the air w
ere young, some of
heavier-than-air-craft down on land.
with lances and helmets. Samson w headed to Fort Grange in Gosport to
Samson’s steed was the Short
them no more than bo
ys. Their training lasted
even acquired a German steed.e learn the art of naval flying.
Brothers’ S.27 – a powered box kite
only a few months. They put their home lif
But aside from the trophies of war, By the end of November he was
biplane which didn’t look very much behind them, or kept it onl
y as a fortifying
there were also its horrors. “Saw th on patrol off the Northumbrian coast,
Barely a dozen years after its birth,
different from the Wright Flyer. A
memory, and threw themsel
ves with ferv
the most sickening sights on theth then it was to Dover to pummel the
the youthful German Empire was
Gnome 50hp rotary engine pushed –
road – cars being hit and breaking r ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge.
and abandon into the work to be done. Pride in
fervently seizing places in the sun.
for it was mounted behind the pilot –
up the occupants,” Bernard Isaacu The Belgian ports would become
There was New Guinea, Samoa,
the contraption through the skies.
their squadron became a par
t of their religion.
observed outside o Antwerp. Three central to the Imperial Navy’s
the Bismarck Islands, the Marshalls
All through the winter and spring The demands made upon them, whic
h, it might weeks later near w Ypres, he added: U-boat campaign. They were already
in the Pacific. In China, the Germans
of 1912, Samson and his men
reasonably ha
ve been believ
ed, were greater
“Saw the ef“ fects of the most modern the centre of attention for Charles
seized Tsingtao.
experimented. They replaced the
death-dealing guns and the horrible d Samson and his naval aviators.
than human nature can endure, w
ere taken by
But it was in Africa that Germany’s
Short’s wheels with flotation bags.
massacre wrought. Blood and death m Four days before Christmas 1914,
overseas empire was greatest –
They took off from water. They
them as a matter of course; they ful
fi lled them,
is soon got used to, but am puzzled is Samson climbed into a Maurice
landed on water. And, on May 2, and went beyond. Th
ey were n
ot a to know what it all means. to We must Farman Shorthorn ‘pusher’ – the
Namibia, Togoland, Cameroon. And
with the Fleet gathered off Portland
oly compan
y; they had
all be mad.”a propeller pushed rather than pulled
in the east of the ‘dark continent’, the
for a Royal review, Samson became
All this, as the British offi cial the biplane through the skies at an
prize – German East Africa, nearly
the first man to take off from a ship
something of the lightness of the element in whic
historian conceded a decade laterh , impressive 66mph.
one million square kilometres, nearly
under way – HMS Hibernia, making
they moved. Indeed, it would be dif
fi cult to fi nd,
had little do with the war in the airh . It took half an hour for the
twice the size of the Motherland.
10½ knots. the world’s history, an
y body of fi ghters who, f
or But it did demonstrate “the diversity B Shorthorn to climb to 6,000ft,
Like all empires, the German
More was to follow: the first
sheer gaiety and zest, could hold a candle to them.
of business” by the Royal Naval o following the Channel coast. Then,
Reich needed military forces to
message by wireless between
They ha
ve open
ed up a n
Air Service. “They were sailorsA with the engine off, the biplane
safeguard its assets and a fleet to
aircraft and ship, aerial photography,
and adventurers by tradition. a Their glided down 5,000ft, arriving over
safeguard trade.
reconnaissance flights, dropping a
vista for th
eir country an
d for
courage put new heart into desperate c German coastal batteries at Ostend.
Just two months before the
bomb. By the year’s end, the Naval mankind
men and their humanity – the greatest Samson jinked and weaved through
outbreak of war, the Imperial Navy’s
. Their story
, if it could ev
er be fully m
Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, as
and truly written, is the Epic of Y
tradition of the British Navy – added tr searchlights which probed the
presence in East Africa had been
it was now known, boasted nearly
lustre to their courage.”lu December sky, while the anti-aircraft
bolstered by the arrival of manowari
two dozen trained pilots and more
– Sir Walter Raleigh,
offi cial historian
Wherever the armoured cars ranged guns blustered. Eighteen 16lb bombs
na bomba tatu – the man o’war with
than a dozen aircraft. Yet for all the
of the war in th
e air
in northern France and Belgium in the in fell from the Shorthorn, which now
three tubes. History knows her better
innovation, for all the achievements,
late summer of 1914, they put new la turned out to sea and then west. An
as the light cruiser Königsberg.
the Royal Navy – and the UK –
heart into desperate men. In Bruges, h hour or so later, the flier brought
For the first six weeks of the war,
lagged far behind the two Continental
in Cassel, and above all in Lille. in it down on the sands at Dunkirk –
Königsberg struck at commerce in
the myriad of destroyers and cruisers i d fd d i It was a heterogeneous forceI h f the Indian Ocean, sinking a British
Powers. In 1912, spending on military
When the Germans pulled out of the right outside the villa which was his
mustered off Spithead in mid-July which went to war – ten aeroplanes collier and, worse, the obsolete
aviation by Germany and France –
city, Samson’s armoured cars moved quarters. Charles Samson was half
1914 there was a new addition – “a (hurriedly adorned with the Union cruiser – she’d been condemned a
the latter especially – outstripped
in to ‘liberate’ it. Proclamations frozen but he had conducted the first
gaggle of seaplanes” bobbing around Jack), six different models – ten decade before – HMS Pegasus in
Whitehall’s £600,000 investment (of
were posted. The people “cheered night-time bombing raid in history.
off Gilkicker Point. private automobiles and a few Zanzibar harbour.
which the Admiralty accounted for a
themselves hoarse” with cries of Vive He and his men returned. Several
This was the first public display, London buses. It arrived on the Flush with victory, Königsberg
paltry £34,000).
l’Angleterre! French maidens wiped times. The tit-for-tat of trench raids
en masse, of the newly-renamed Continent charged with controlling
the dust off the dirty sailors’ faces by the infantry was played out in the
retired to her lair – the 100 square

Royal Naval Air Service. Its numbers the skies within a 100-mile radius
with damp sponges. “One felt rather skies. Samson and his men bombed
miles of the Rufiji Delta south of Dar
Though it had little money, the
were still small – 52 seaplanes; 39 of Dunkirk.
as I imagined a Roman general used the Germans. The Germans bombed
es Salaam, its myriad of rivulets and
Naval Wing of the Royal Flying
aeroplanes; six airships; 128 officers The war on the ground was fluid.
to feel on being given a triumph,” Samson and his men.
its impenetrable mangrove forest.
Corps possessed men of vision. Men
and 700 men – but its potential was The Germans had been halted on the
Samson observed. On the penultimate day of 1914,
At the mouth of the delta, the Royal
like Samson, yes, but it also needed
there for all to see. Marne and now Allies and Hun alike
The triumph was temporary. Lille seven German aircraft ‘visited’ No.1
Navy began massing superior forces
advocates in the corridors of power.
A seaplane buzzed the Royal Yacht were trying to outflank each other as
would spend most of the war under Wing at Malo-les-Bains, just east of
– but they could go no further for the
Churchill was one – he even learned
Victoria and Albert, while Samson
the Western Front extended its way
the jackboot – like a succession Dunkirk. The men lined up on the
river was too shallow.
to fly; Jacky Fisher – until he retired
and his pioneers dropped smoke
northwards towards the Channel.
of towns and cities in north-west field, two ranks deep,
And so the beast was trapped and
in early 1911 – was another.
bombs as they flew in formation
There was every likelihood the
Europe as the autumn of 1914 turned “Samson goes up and tries to fi ght
its hunter sought a weapon which
The pivotal figure in the first
above the maritime phalanxes.
planes of the day would break down,
to winter. all seven,” an astonished Bernard
might penetrate its lair. It came in
decade of naval aviation, however,
The Fleet had mustered to test
crash land or come down far from
Isaac wrote. “He comes back unhurt.”
the form of two monitors – big guns,
was one Capt Murray Sueter, the head
its ability to mobilise in the event
their base. The pilots would need
Now. No.1 Wing gave chase. Isaac
shallow draught – brought all the
of the fledgling air branch. Sueter of war. It would not demobilise for
rescuing. Cars were the answer.
climbed into a Farman with a comrade
way from Britain.
was brilliant but temperamental – more than four years. The clouds of
Samson added armour plate 1/8in
and headed for Ostend, armed with a
And also brought all the way from
and conceited. He claimed credit conflict were already gathering.
thick to his vehicles, mounted
rifl e and three bombs.
the mother country was No. 4 RNAS
for many innovations which were
machine-guns... and gave birth to the
“We have an awful time,” he
Expeditionary Force, a grand title for
his own – and for a good few which
THE TEST OF WAR armoured car.
It was still the height of the English
recorded. “The Germans have some
a less-than-grand force: a handful of
were not. But just one year after the
Samson was not a man to be
summer when 20-year-old Harold
new anti-aircraft guns. The shells
Short seaplanes – and a handful of
first naval pilots flew, he laid down
passive. Far from simply rescuing
Rosher pitched up at the private
burst so near that it is wonderful we
men to operate them.
principles which would define their
stranded pilots, his cars began to
aerodrome Brooklands in Surrey.
were not cut to pieces.” The weather
The planes set up base on the
role – and that of their successors –
range around the Belgian and French
Rosher had been a sickly child – he
was even more formidable than the
tiny island of Niororo, home to 30
for the coming century.
countryside, hunting the Hun.
suffered acutely from bronchitis and
fl ak.
natives who would gather around the
The task of a naval air force,
Bernard Isaac had spent the summer “Sometimes we were in villages
asthma. He spent his formative years
“It was blowing a gale and coming
contraptions, then jump back startled
Murray Sueter argued, would be to
of 1914 doing what most well-to-do at night where German patrols would
in the healthier climes of India and
back I was nearly thrown out of the
as the engine fired up and kicked up
locate the enemy fleet; to find and
chaps of the day did: playing golf be sleeping,” one officer recalled.
South Africa. But on the day war was
machine,” Isaac continued. “Got clouds of sand on the beach.
destroy enemy submarines; to defend
and tennis. His day job bored him. “When dawn came and they had
declared, he applied for a commission
back safely. Hear ringing in my ears. Unlike the locals, the fliers were
the Fleet from air attack; to defend
Fate would not deny him all the just mounted their horses, we
in the RNAS then headed straight for
Feel very deaf from engine, shell unused to the heat. They paddled
the harbours and port installations
excitement he wanted. would appear round the corner and
Brooklands in Surrey to learn the
shock etc.” around in the water in minimum, if
from air attack. To this end, said
When the German Army invaded the Maxims would open out. The
art of flight with the grandly-titled
Harold Rosher faced his baptism any clothing, tinkering away at the
Sueter, the Navy needed a chain of
Belgium, it followed its masterplan, casualties we suffered were nothing
British and Colonial Aeroplane Co.
of fire on Friday February 5 1915. seaplanes.
‘aeroplane stations’ from Pembroke
named for its author Schlieffen, to compared to those inflicted on the
There was little time for theory.
“All along the coast, the guns By April 25 1915, the expeditionary
to the Cromarty Firth. deliver victory over France.
Within a week, Rosher was airborne.
were firing, nasty vicious flahes, and force was ready. Cdr Eric Nanson
In 1913 the first station – on The Schlieffen Plan might deliver
They were dubbed the Ocean-
The student sat at the front of the
then a puff of smoke as the shrapnel headed out over the Rufiji, over
the Isle of Grain, Medway – victory over France, It definitely going Cavalry, the Motor Bandits and, box-kite trainer, perched on the burst,” he wrote to his father. Ostend the “dense growth of mangroves
opened. More followed at Calshot, brought Britain into the war. Bernard ominously, the Suicide Brigade – the aicraft’s ‘nose’ “with a clean drop was “simply a mass of guns”. Things – a happy hunting ground for
Felixstowe, Yarmouth and Cromarty. Isaac was inspired by the ‘spirit of armour plate offered no protection below”, no harness to hold him in. were slightly better at Zeebrugge. innumerable hippopotami, crocodiles
And that same year appeared the first August’, swept away by the wave of against bullets fired at close-range, Behind sat his teacher – “an awfully Using the clouds as cover, Rosher and mosquitoes”.
‘station at sea’ – HMS Hermes, a patriotic fervour. and what plate there was only went nice fellow” – bawling instructions. swooped down, loosed his bombs Nanson found the German cruiser
seaplane carrier which could launch Isaac volunteered for the Royal 3ft high anyway. The manufacturers, “If you do so and so, you’ll break and then “streaked out to sea”. hiding in the westernmost tributary
and recover aeroplanes at sea. Naval Air Service, was interviewed one officer lamented, “had given your neck,” he imparted. Rosher’s was one of 34 aircraft of the river, smoke billowing from
The ship joined the Fleet for trials. by Charles Samson himself – and more consideration to the protection Manuals provided the would- which struck at the Belgian ports that her three funnels, and marked her
She did not, however, join the Fleet offered a commission as a sub- of the car than to the men who had to be aviator with equally useful tips. day. They would return ten days later on his chart. As he passed over the
for its regular display of naval might lieutentant. Within a month, with fight in them.” “There is on excellent rule to be in another “great raid”, but the days cruiser volleys of rifle and shell fire
in the Solent – but her aircraft did. the scantest of training or immersion The Hun had nothing yet to counter remembered while flying: one is all of striking at the Channel ports were buffeted his aircraft. He was soon out
Between the 40 miles of ships, into naval life, Bernard Isaac was in Samson’s roving bandits. The Uhlans right as long as the engine is going drawing to a close. The Admiralty of range, only for German officers
the dreadnoughts and battle-cruisers, Belgium. – the fabled, and feared, German strong.” had other plans for Samson’s men. and native soldiers hiding in the
Birth of Naval Aviation.indd 2 19/6/09 15:15:59
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