Carrier Evolution II: Post WW I

USN Carrier Evolution II: Post Jutland

Second article in a series by Scot MacDonald. Reprinted with permission: Naval Aviation News, March 1962, pp 9 – 15.

It is impossible to resist the admiral’s claim that he must have complete control of, and confidence in, the aircraft of the battle fleet, whether used in reconnaissance, gunfire or air attack on a hostile fleet. These are his very eyes. Therefore the Admiralty view must prevail in all that is required to secure this result.” Winston S. Churchill.

Though these words were written in 1936 as a private citizen, Winston Churchill earlier, as First Lord of the Admiralty, advocated the development of aviation in the navy while the aeroplane was still young. He was partially responsible for placing the new machines aboard British ships shortly after the first decade of this century. As a result, during World War I Great Britain developed the aircraft carrier and built a small number of them before any other country had a single ship designed for the operation of planes at sea. Heavier-than-air craft had its start in Great Britain four-and-a-half years after Orville Wright launched the world’s first successful aircraft at Kitty Hawk. Mr. Alliott Verdon-Roe completed constructing his plane at Broadside, England. Modelled after a Wright brothers’ aeroplane, it was successfully flown on 8 June 1908. On 2 March 1911, three Royal Navy officers and one Marine officer began taking flying instruction given by a civilian enthusiast. The first of the four to solo was LEUT Charles R. Samson who, in the next ten years, built a distinguished reputation for being a flamboyant man of action.

In 1912, Horace Short produced Britain’s first seaplane (Churchill has been credited with coining this one-word description of the aircraft) and it was successfully flown by Samson. Only months earlier, Samson demonstrated the potentials of naval aviation when in December 1911, he test-launched a Short S.27 biplane from rail platforms on the foredeck of HMS Africa while the warship was at anchor at Chatham. He made a safe landing alongside, using flotation bags strapped to the wheels of his plane. Four months later, in May 1912, the first British flight from a moving ship was effected when LEUT R. Gregory, one of the “original four,” took off from a temporary flight deck of the battleship Hibernia. The ship was steaming in Weymouth Bay at a speed of 10 to 12 knots.

Central Flying School

British Joint Central Flying SchoolBritain’s first step toward carrying aeroplanes to sea was to establish an official air arm. On 13 April 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was constituted by Royal Warrant and, on 19 June, a Central Flying School was opened at Upavon Downs. Both the Corps and the School were planned for the centralisation of aviation activities in the Royal Navy and the “Military.”

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Central Flying School, Upavon Downs, 1913.

Between 1912 and the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Europe became increasingly restless. In October 1912, following the establishment of the Corps, Britain commissioned a number of naval air stations for coast guard duty. One was placed at Cromarty, Scotland, and the remaining three in England, by the Channel coast at Calshot, Yarmouth, and Felixstowe. Two others were already in operation, one at Eastchurch and the other on the Isle of Grain. The sites were selected to form a chain so that planes could fly from one station to the next without requiring an interstop for refuelling.

British naval aviation moved more closely toward the carrier concept when a wheeled launching platform was installed in the cruiser Hermes in June 1913. At first, two seaplanes operated from the ship. Later, she was capable of carrying a third. By October 1914, Hermes had been fitted to handle ten.

Winston Churchill

In the summer months of 1914, Prime Minister Lloyd George appointed Winston Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty.

In a series of sudden decisions, Churchill immediately called out of retirement brilliant Lord Fisher, a cantankerous admiral who advocated great changes in the Royal Navy. He was made First Sea Lord. Almost at the same time, Churchill elevated the bellicose Sir John Jellicoe to command the Home Fleet, bypassing several senior officers en route. Aviation fascinated Churchill. He flew at every opportunity and encouraged the development of aircraft for the Navy’s use. In this respect, he was militant. In the words of Sir Sefton Brancker, then Deputy of Military Aeronautics, “The first sign of Churchill’s policy was his sudden announcement that the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps had become the ‘Royal Naval Air Service’, this without any reason or warning to the War Office.”

His most startling decision was made shortly before war was declared. On his own initiative, Churchill called up full mobilisation of the Navy, risking a veto by the Cabinet and not waiting for a signature from King George V. The entire reserve strength went on active duty; the ranks of naval aviation broadened with other units of the fleet. It was one of the few times in history that a defending nation’s navy was adequately prepared upon the declaration of war.

Events moved swiftly. On 28 June 1914, the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by Serbian students at Sarajevo. On 17 July Churchill concentrated the fleet at Spithead for review and manoeuvres. All available naval aircraft took to the air: 17 seaplanes and two flights of aeroplanes. On 28 July Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia sided with the Serbs and Germany mobilized. On 1 August, the British planes at Eastchurch were tuned up. On 4 August, England declared war on Germany, and Germany declared war on Belgium.

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HMS Ark Royal: 7,800 tons, 107 x 15.5 metres (352 x 51 feet), 4 x 12 pdr guns, four aircraft.

At that time, Great Britain had only one vessel that could even remotely be referred to as an aircraft carrier, the Hermes. Her wartime activity was cut short, however. On the evening of 30 October 1914, she was torpedoed and sunk. Fortunately, most of her crew survived. In short order, an old merchantman was placed in a shipyard and her superstructure converted to carry and launch seaplanes from wheeled trolleys. It was the same type installation used in the Hermes. The merchantman displaced 7800 tons, was slightly longer than 350 feet, and had a speed of about 11 knots. This ship, HMS Ark Royal, was to prove valuable to the Royal Navy in future years. In quick succession, other vessels were converted. The former fast cross-Channel packets, Empress, Engadine, and Riviera, were fitted with hangars for seaplanes and equipped with cranes for hoisting aircraft into and out of water. Later, an Isle of Man packet, Ben-my-Chree, was refitted for seaplane operations. Except for submarine activities, which proved deadly in the early years of the war, the German Navy seemed tenaciously timid. The Kaiser adamantly refused to permit the High Seas Fleet to engage the British, so it hung reluctantly to safe ports. There were, therefore, few demonstrations of German belligerence by surface ships at sea. But in the early months, two engagements are notable, for they eventually affected some future designs of Royal Navy ships.

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In September 1914, the German cruiser Königsberg, attacked and sank the British cruiser Pegasus in port at Zanzibar.

(Ed. note: See Battles/Rufigi for an expanded report that describes one of the earliest Naval Gunfire Support operations, some of the vicissitudes of operating early aircraft designs in tropical climes and contributions by the Australian cruiser, HMAS Pioneer.)

The third German-British naval engagement of WW I has been entered in history books as the Battle of the Falkland Islands. Over on the China Station, Germany had eight cruisers operating in these and nearby waters. When Japan declared war against the Central Powers, the German squadron, commanded by VADM von Spee, sailed for South America, bombarding Papeete and Fanning Island en route. He was joined by two more cruisers at Easter Island and, in company, they proceeded to the coast of Chile. The Admiralty, intent on destroying this enemy force, assembled as many ships as possible off the southeast coast of South America, and even dispatched three from the Grand Fleet to join in the hunt.

Von Spee, still eager for battle, decided to attack the Falkland Islands. It was a fatal decision: the British squadron came upon him unexpectedly and sank all the German ships save one, which managed to escape. These two incidents—the spotting and sinking of the Königsberg and the Battle of the Falkland Islands—led to the later development of gun turret launching experiments in HMS Repulse, and the construction of Lord Fisher’s “Hush! Hush!” ships, Courageous, Glorious, and Furious.

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A Sopwith One-and-a-half Strutter launches from the battlecruiser HMAS Australia‘s turret-mounted platform.

The British turret-launching system was designed and developed in 1917. By early 1918, nine battlecruisers and two light cruisers were equipped to launch seaplanes from systems installed over ships’ gun turrets.

(Ed. note: “Flying-off decks” were mounted in HMAS Australia, Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney‘s aircraft, piloted by F/Lt Sharwood, launched 11 April 1918, intercepted and probably destroyed a German bomber off Heligoland.)

Though developed by the British under the pressures of wartime urgency, the idea was first recorded as early as November 1910 when New York Navy Yard quartermaster joiner E.C. Keithley proposed a design shortly after Ely’s successful take-off from the Birmingham. Keithley’s idea was rejected—too advanced for its time—tossed into Navy files and forgotten. But Fisher’s “Hush! Hush!” ships have fascinated naval architects and historians since they were uncovered. Originally, they were built as cruisers of a sort under the war emergency program.


White elephant light cruisers

Ships of the Royal Navy describes them as white elephants. “In design,” it states, “they suffer from being too strong and too weak. For light cruiser work, they are ludicrously over-gunned, while the absence of armour precludes their being employed as battlecruisers.” Apparently, the First Sea Lord wanted powerfully armed ships of high speed, capable of navigating very shallow waters. Officially described as light cruisers, they were ordered shortly after the sinking of Königsberg. Subsequently, all three were converted into carriers, Courageous and Glorious after the war. Before Furious was commissioned in July 1917, she underwent the first of several conversions and emerged from the shipyard initially as an awkward-looking aircraft carrier.

Britain, in the first months of the war, realized the danger of Zeppelin raids on home shores when the Germans became entrenched in Belgium. A series of air patrols in the Channel was immediately established, costing the Royal Naval Air Service in casualties a number of seaplanes and pilots.

In December 1914, the British planned a raid on Zeppelin bases at Cuxhaven. This time, they tried a new tactic, launching the attack with seaplanes based aboard ships. The converted Engadine, Riviera, and Empress were pressed into service, accompanied by a screen of destroyers and submarines. The mission was not restricted to the bombing of the airship sheds, but broadened to obtain as much information as possible on the strength of the German Navy in the area.

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The December 1914 Cuxhaven raid (Engadine, Riviera and Empress) is considered by many to be the first sea-launched strike on a shore target. Shrouded by poor visibility, the aircraft failed to find their primary target and the results were inconclusive. Others favour the highly successful July 1918 raid on the German Zeppelin base at Tondern by wheeled Camels from Furious that led to the base’s virtual evacuation.

On Christmas morning, the ships converged at a point some 12 miles north of Heligoland. An hour later, seven planes took off. En route, they were attacked ineffectively by two Zeppelins, and, as they neared the enemy’s main naval base, by seaplanes. Three hours after launching, three of the seaplanes returned to their ships, the mission only partly accomplished. The remaining four were forced to ditch. The crews of three were rescued by a friendly submarine; the fourth was captured by a Dutch trawler.

The seaplanes did not succeed in finding the Zeppelin sheds, thus failing that aspect of the mission. But they did bring back valuable information on harbours and the number of German ships in them. The Admiralty was not disappointed.

If any single action gave birth to the concept of aircraft carrier operations, says one noted U.S. naval historian, this raid would qualify. Several similar raids were made in later years of the war, but attention was directed first at the development of seaplanes and then of flying boats. It was not until the last months of the war that Britain fully realized the limitations of seaplane characteristics and the superiority of landplanes. She then began various experiments with true aircraft carrier design.

Meanwhile Turkey refused to remain neutral. Influenced by Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, the country was pro-German. On 29 October 1914, Turkish warships, in company with two German cruisers, opened fire on Odessa, Theodosia and Sevastopol on the coast of the Russian Black Sea. Russia declared war on 2 November, and England and France followed three days later. The Ottoman Front was opened.

Churchill soon conceived a brilliant strategy. Had it been successfully carried out, the war could easily have been ended in 1915. Instead, the campaign ended disastrously, and the war dragged on bloodily until November 1918.

He proposed to concentrate British Forces in the Dardanelles, defeat Turkey, and force the Germans and Austrians to deploy troops and machines to that area. The Balkan states would probably join the Allies. And Russia would make a devastating victory in the east; the Central Powers would crumble. It nearly worked.

Though opposed at home and in France, Churchill ordered the Navy into action. As soon as a force of ships was gathered, including Ark Royal, the British armada headed toward the Dardanelles to force an entrance. In Ark Royal were six two-seater seaplanes and two single-seater land-planes. Of these, only a Short seaplane, equipped with a good engine, was efficient. The rest could barely get high enough for effective spotting and could launch only when waters were calm. On 5 March 1915, a Sopwith seaplane, manned by a pilot and observer, took to the air. The plane was to direct fire on a Turkish fort for the guns of the new superdreadnought, Queen Elizabeth. It climbed torturously to 3000 feet and, as the observer readied to call the shots, the propellor fell off.

The Sopwith plunged to the sea, under furious fire from the fort. Miraculously, both men were saved.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth displaced 32,000 tons, on a 195.3 x 27.6 x 10.3 metres (641 x 90.5 x 34 feet) hull. She carried 950-1300 crew, four twin 38.1 cm (15 inch) guns plus 12 x 15 cm (6 inch) guns and four 21-inch torpedo tubes. HMS Queen Elizabeth was the first ever oil-fired battleship. Her 24 boilers drove her at 24 knots through four turbines. First commissioned in 1915, she paid off in 1948.

More catastrophes followed. The assault force, entering the straits, ran into a minefield and lost three battleships. Action was broken off abruptly by the admiral—although other ships had managed to toss the Turkish and German troops into confusion. Churchill composed a telegram insisting the battle be resumed immediately, but was dissuaded by the Admiralty on the ground that the officer commanding the situation should be allowed to make his own decisions. For the prospect of a shortened war, later events proved this decision was unfortunate.

At war’s end, German General Liman von Sanders, in charge of the Dardanelles during the battle, wrote: “If the orders given at that moment had been carried out, the course of the war would have been changed after the spring of 1915, and Germany and Austria would have been constrained to continue the fight alone.”

The attack on the Ottoman Front next centred on Gallipoli, but this proved a worse disaster. The enemy learned of the next tactic and buttressed their defences. The campaign—doomed to drag on till the following January—was lost.

Samson arrived on the scene, via brisk battles at Dunkirk and Belgium, commanding No. 3 Aeroplane Squadron. Ark Royal moved to the Gulfs of Enos, Smyrna and Xeros, providing effective spotting, and returned to her base at Mudros. Fighting was sporadic, both a success and a failure—about equal measure. The Turks were worthy adversaries.

 

 


Submarine threat

By late June the threat of German submarines in these waters was real, and Ark Royal was retired to the safety of Imbros where she functioned as a depot ship. Barely a week earlier, Ben-my-Chree was added to the force. Reconnaissance and spotting flights were frequent, but the Dardanelles campaign was now a stalemate.

In early August, a major landing was effected by the British at night without opposition. With the enemy forces nearly all routed and running, the general in charge failed to press the attack. In the meantime, reinforcements came up and the battle raged anew, continuing until the British realized the hopelessness of the situation and evacuated, ending the campaign.

Great Britain recognized the deadliness of the German U-boats early in the war. Lusitania was torpedoed 7 May 1915 with 1200 lives lost; 139 Americans were among them. Britain searched for a long-range seaplane that was capable of carrying heavy bombloads. In 1914, Sopwith developed a flying boat he called a Bat, but it was inadequate.

A year later, CMDR J.C. Porte was given command of the Felixstowe naval air station. He took up the problem, started with Curtiss flying boat designs, added improvements, and finally produced an operational craft that weighed between four-and-one-half and six-and-one-half tons. As Porte described them, they “carried sufficient petrol for work far out from land and big enough bombs to damage or destroy a submarine otherwise than by a direct hit.” Called Large Americas, they were operational by the spring of 1917.

Until 1915, vessels converted for aviation at sea were designed as seaplane tenders. This year, a new experiment was tried and proved successful. The Isle of Man packet, Vindex, was refitted to launch landplanes as well as seaplanes. A 64-foot-long deck was mounted on the ship, and a successful flight from it was made on 3 November by a Bristol Scout. The Scout seaplane was equipped with wheels which dropped off as the aircraft took to the air. It made a water landing, taxied alongside the ship, and was hoisted aboard again. Refitted with wheels and refuelled, the plane was once more ready to fly.

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RNAS Bristol Scouts initially had an 80 hp Gnome Lambda rotary engine but later versions were fitted with the more powerful 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape. Later versions also mounted a single Lewis machine gun above the top wing.

Two other experiments were made in attempts to launch aircraft at sea to provide wider range. In the first, British Navy men designed a floating barge upon which seaplanes were towed. Nearing target, the aft compartments of the lighter were flooded, permitting the plane to slide easily into the water and take off. A variation of this was a larger platform from which small landplanes were launched. They enjoyed a brief popularity and operated in the North Sea early in the war. In the closing months of hostilities, a Sopwith Camel was launched in the same area, engaged and downed a Zeppelin. The towed lighter was not refined further and saw comparatively little action.

(Ed. Note: In this 11 August 1918 action, SBLT Stuart Culley, in Sopwith Camel 2F-1 N6812, shot down Zeppelin L 53 after launching from a sled towed by HMS Redoubt. His aircraft hangs in the Imperial War Museum and Culley won a DSO.)

The second experiment made by the British in 1916 tried a new approach toward launching aircraft at sea. On their own initiative, two naval officers made a design that was a departure from the standard envelope-gondola airship. The envelope they used was comparatively small but, they hoped, capable of lifting an FE-2C airplane. Once aloft and sufficient power given the plane, the envelope was to be detached. Bizarre? Perhaps. At any rate, a trial launching was made of the contraption on 21 February. The plane lifted off successfully and was gaining altitude when the envelope detached prematurely. One of the officers was spilled from the plane and the other crashed with it.

Jutland

In mid-1916, the war’s major sea battle was fought, the Battle of Jutland. Earlier in the year, the 20,000-ton Cunarder Campania was converted by the British to carry seaplanes and was assigned to ADML Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet.

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HMS Campania, 18,000 tons, 183 x 19.8 x 2 metres (601 x 65 x 6.5 feet) carried 10 aircraft. She won the blue riband as a Cunard passenger liner. She sank 5 November 1918 after dragging her anchor in the Firth of Forth and colliding with HMS Royal Oak and Revenge.

May approached and nearly ended before the German High Seas Fleet, now under ADML Reinhard Scheer, made a definite move to encounter the Royal Navy. Jellicoe was ready. Advised in advance that a squadron of German battlecruisers had been ordered to Norwegian shores for a show of force, he ordered VADM Sir David Beatty, leading a similar but larger British squadron, to intercept. HMS Engadine, operating with Beatty’s squadron, launched a seaplane for reconnaissance at 1530 on the 31st.

The pilot reported three enemy cruisers and ten destroyers taking a north-westerly course. Fifteen minutes later, the German ships changed course to the south. The pilot tried to flash this signal by searchlight, but his message was not received. One of the ships of the squadron noted the alteration, however, and the ships shifted in time. Thereafter, poor visibility and rough water kept Beatty’s plane on deck. The two squadrons clashed and, even though outnumbered, the German ships under VADM Franz von Hipper, sank two of Beatty’s vessels. Scheer’s High Seas Fleet crested the horizon, and Beatty led his remaining ships on a strategic retreat, north toward Jellicoe.

On the day before, Campania had conducted a series of successful gun-spotting training flights, returned to her Scapa Flow anchorage about five miles from the main fleet, and awaited orders. At 1735, a signal was flashed to all ships of Jellicoe’s fleet to stand by to get under way. At 1900 the order to raise full steam was given and two-and-a-half hours later, Campania was ready. At 2254, the “proceed” signal was flashed—but the Campania did not receive it. Several hours passed before her C.O. realized that the rest of the fleet had gone.
Until 0200 the following morning, Jellicoe assumed his “aircraft carrier” Campania was in company. Thus Jellicoe at Jutland fought without benefit of aerial observation.

Briefly, about 1800 on the 31st, the High Seas Fleet met with the Grand Fleet. Jellicoe made a thrust to cut off Scheer’s retreat, but the German admiral ordered his ships first south and then east. By this manoeuvre, he came up in pursuit along the flank of the British ships, turned again and launched torpedoes, forcing Jellicoe to retreat.

Scheer then ordered Hipper to engage Jellicoe’s attention while the High Seas Fleet manoeuvred for an escape route. Scheer found it by 2100, cutting east across the southerly-moving British ships, and dashed to safety.

At battle’s end, each fleet had lost several ships, but the British suffered more heavily in tonnage—by almost double. In post-battle retrospect, the Battle of Jutland could easily have ended in a triumphant victory for the Allies, had Jellicoe had the advantage of Campania‘s plane to report movements of Scheer’s ships. The German fleet had no seagoing aircraft. This, combined with lessons already learned in previous sea encounters with the enemy—especially in countering U-boats—strengthened more than ever the British Navy’s dedication to the perfecting of the aircraft carrier.


USA enters war

In February 1917, the pacifism of a patient president broke when, on the last day of January, Kaiser Wilhelm notified Woodrow Wilson and the American people that unrestricted submarine warfare would commence the following day. Diplomatic relations were severed on 3 February, but the President decided to wait until the next overt act before asking Congress to declare war. He did not have long to wait. In February and March, several U.S. ships were sunk and in March, the British Secret Service obtained the famous Zimmerman note, detailing German plans against the U.S. The note was deciphered and passed on to the Americans. Wilson sent his war message to the Senate on 2 April and war was declared four days later.

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Failed landing experiments aboard Furious included skid-mounted aircraft and longitudinal wires on the aft deck (left) and a “handraulic” system at the other end. S/CMDR Earnest Dunning lands a Sopwith Pup on the forward deck of HMS Furious in about 31 knots of relative wind (right). He was killed making his third attempt. After waving off his handlers and attempting an overshoot, he stalled and fell over the starboard side.

Advances in British naval aviation were rapid in the closing years of the war. Furious joined the fleet, and experiments on landing aircraft aboard were conducted. The first attempt was successful, though unorthodox; no mechanical arresting gear was used. On 2 August 1917, a Sopwith Pup landed aboard. On deck, handlers grasped hold of lines from the plane’s wingtips as soon as the motor was cut and the plane was skidding to a stop. In the next attempt two days later, a tire burst upon touchdown, the plane rolled over the side, and the pilot was killed.

(Ed. note: This was, in fact, Dunning’s third attempt. He conducted two successful landings on 2 August. There is little evidence that a burst tyre contributed to the crash.)

Further studies were conducted and a primitive arresting arrangement was installed, along with netting to protect the ship’s bridge. Other conversions followed promptly. A cruiser of the Hawkins class was fitted with a flight deck and commissioned the HMS Vindictive. This deck was removed after the war. In 1917, three ships were planned for conversion to carriers, but work was delayed intentionally on two of them. All three figured prominently in Britain’s post-war development.

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HMS Argus (above) converted from a hull laid down as the passenger ship Conte Rosso, commissioned in September 1918, was the world’s first flush deck “true” aircraft carrier. She carried 20 aircraft and could make 21 knots on her 18,000 tons hull. She even survived WW II, seeing action ferrying aircraft to Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt, providing fighter and ASW cover for Operation Harpoon (Malta resupply), an Arctic convoy and a North Africa landing. The Japanese flush deck carrier HIJMS Hosho (below) was the first purpose-built carrier to be commissioned (in December 1922). The temporary island superstructure was removed after sea handling trials in 1923. HMS Hermes was laid down earlier, but modifications while building delayed her commissioning until July 1923.

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The first of these was the Argus, originally designed as the Italian liner Conte Rosso, and is generally considered the first true aircraft carrier. Argus had a flight deck 558 feet long by 60 wide and displaced 18,000 tons. She was the first “island” carrier, her superstructure moved to a tight location on the starboard side of the ship.

Eagle, but was originally laid down as the dreadnought battleship Almirante Cochrane under a contract with Chile. War interrupted completion of the ship, contracts were renegotiated and she was converted to an “island” carrier. She was the only aircraft carrier to have two funnels. HMS Hermes, the second carrier to bear that name, was designed from the keel up to operate as a carrier, the first such (RN) vessel constructed.

Argus was the first completed, but saw no action in the war. Convinced now that the progress of sea power lay in the future of aircraft carriers. Great Britain suspended construction on the Eagle and Hermes until tests were made on the first carrier. The lessons learned were incorporated in the Eagle—and this carrier was further tested. Results from experiments on both her predecessors contributed heavily to the eventual construction of the Hermes.

Armistice, 1918

But at war’s end, the U.S. had no vessel specifically built to carry aircraft to sea. Primarily, U.S. Naval Aviation launched patrol flights from shore bases. During the expansion of military forces. The Navy’s General Board made concrete recommendations in favour of carrier developments. After the Armistice, it listened to exhaustive testimony concerning the role of aviation in the Navy. Acting on the Board’s findings, Congress authorized a small amount of money for conversion of the collier USS Jupiter.

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Collier #3 USS Jupiter (above) became the USN’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1), in 1922.

When the refitting was completed, the ex-collier was renamed USS Langley (CV-1) and commissioned on 20 March 1922 at Norfolk, VA. Surrounded by modern vessels of her day. She appeared to be the strangest-looking ship to join the fleet since the Federal ironclad Monitor squatted heavily in the water during the Civil War. Small and gangling as she was, USS Langley was the first-born of a large fighting family of powerful Navy ships.

[Ed. note: MacDonald fails to mention three relatively important WW I milestones: 1. the first successful torpedo attack on a ship (by a Short 184 flown by F/CMDR C.H. Edmonds RNAS, from HMS Ben-my-Chree, on 12 August 1915 in the Dardanelles campaign); 2. the loss to Turkish artillery of Ben-my-Chree off Castellorizo, in the Dodecanese Islands, 11 January 1917, and 3. the first successful carrier-launched strike by wheeled aircraft (seven Sopwith Camels from HMS Furious) that destroyed two Zeppelins and their shed at Tondern, in Operation F7, 17 July 1918.]

References:

Bishop, C. and C. Chant. Aircraft carriers: The world’s greatest vessels and their aircraft. Silverdale Books: Wigston, 2004.
Preston, A. Aircraft carriers. Bison Books: Greenwich, 1979.


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