For the first six years British naval aviation was firmly in the hands of the Admiralty, but on 1 April 1918 the RNAS and RAF were combined to form the Royal Air Force. By that time, the RNAS had been built up to a strength of 55 000 officers and men, had 2 900 aircraft and 103 airships, and controlled 126 air stations at home and overseas. But in the postwar period the naval element of the RAF was run down and a shadow of its former might. Only when a number of aircraft carriers came into service, the RAF disbanded its naval squadrons in 1923 and formed the 400-series flights, better suited to carrier embarkation. One year later, this small force was styled the Fleet Air Arm of the RAF, and the Fleet Air Arm it has been ever since. HMS Argus seems to have been the first carrier to receive its aircraft. The FAA served in Home Waters, the Mediterranean and on the China Station. In the early twenties the Fairey Flycatcher became its standard fighter, with the Fairey 111F the Hawker Nimrod and the Hawker Osprey following in the thirties. 1936 was an important year, as it saw the arrival of the versatile Fairey Swordfish, and around this time the batsman system was introduced, the Deck Landing Control Officer. In 1939, the modern carrier HMS Ark Royal entered service, to carry Blackburn Skua fighters.
WW II began on a slow note, but with the German invasion of Norway, action picked up. There were sinkings of German warships and U-boats, and during the evacuation at Dunkirk, land-based aircraft from the FAA played a part. Thereafter, their attention turned to the Mediterranean, and many attacks were made against Italian and German shipping. The most notable was the night attack on Taranto on 11 Nov 1940, when twenty Swordfish from HMS Illustrious put half the Italian fleet out of action. FAA aircraft participated in the defence of Greece and Crete, in June 1941 a number of squadrons were involved in the Syrian campaign, and several were attached to the Desert Air Force. From May 1941 Sea Hurricanes and Fulmars operated from catapult-armed merchantmen or CAMships. At the end of 1941 Japan entered the war, and the FAA soon became involved in the defence of Ceylon. The FAA also played its part in further Arctic convoys, and in Nov 1942 participated in Operation Torch. Seven British carriers were employed, including the small Escort carriers or Woolworth carriers, as they were unofficially known.
During Operation Avalanche, 100 fighters from Force V assisted
in the Salerno landings. By April 1944 the Eastern Fleet had
built up sufficient strength and attacked Sabang and other
Japanese targets, flying the US-built Corsairs on these missions.
In August 1944 the FAA took part in Operation Dragoon, the landings
in the south of France, more attacks were made against targets
in Norway, and the last attack by the FAA in this theatre
of war was made shortly before VE-day.
The Korean War started in 1950, and several of the Royal Navy's light fleet carriers took part before the end of hostilities in 1953. Helicopters came into operational use in 1953 and were used against terrorists in Malaya. From then on there was hardly a military encounter in which the FAA was not involved: Operation Musketeer, the joint French/British attack on the Suez Canal area in 1956; protecting Kuwait in 1961; fighting for the Federation of Malaysia until Oct 1966. But the FAA's greatest test was the role it played in the Falklands hostilities in 1982, during which their unwritten credo of: CAN Do! once again carried the day, as it had done so often before during its distinguished history. After his talk, Les showed a Video updating us on the technical advances made in aircraft and carriers, notably helicopters and VTO aircraft, followed by an interesting Q&A session.
Tony Gordon closed the evening by thanking our speaker for a most entertaining and informative presentation.
John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167