During the late war [World War One], the Navy acquired its wings with the formation of the Royal Naval Air Service, which corresponded to the the Royal Flying Corps ashore. But these two separate forces were merged into the Royal Air Force, and for many years a dual control of the aircraft attached to the Royal Navy caused a great deal of muddle and misunderstanding. The aircraft were supplied by the Air Ministry. While they were embarked in H.M. Ships they were under the control of the Navy, but when disembarked they were commanded and administered by the R.A.F. The pilot personnel was 70 per cent Naval, while all the observers were Naval officers and men. In 1939 the Admiralty assumed control of the Fleet Air Arm.
The first of our ships built to carry aircraft was H.M.S. Eagle, which was under construction as a battleship for the Chilean Navy when war was declared in 1914, and was bought by the British Government as she lay on the stocks in 1917. She is of 22,600 tons, but carries only 21 aircraft. The aircraft in this picture is a Fairey Flycatcher.
Three heavy ships, of 22,500 tons each, were converted later into aircraft carriers – Furious, carrying 33 aeroplanes and completed in 1925; Courageous, carrying 48, completed in 1928, and Glorious, carrying 48, completed in 1930.
H.M.S. Hermes was the first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. She is of 10,850 tons, and carries only 15 aeroplanes. But design has advanced rapidly, and the more recent ships – Ark Royal and her successors – have accommodation for 70 aeroplanes.
In this picture a Blackburn Shark torpedo-bomber aircraft is seen taking off from the flight deck of H.M.S. Courageous. The wire stretching across the deck in the foreground is an “arrester” which catches on to a hook under the aircraft as it lands. The Courageous carries aircraft of various types adapted for torpedo-bombing, fighting and spotter-reconnaissance work.
This shows a Fairey III F reconnaissance ‘plane taking off from H.M.S. Courageous. An aeroplane takes off and lands into the wind, the direction of the steam jet seen coming from the bows of the ship indicating to the navigator when the ship is steaming dead into the wind. The aircraft carrier Courageous belongs to what is admitted to be the Navy’s ugliest class of vessels.
The most popular machine in the Fleet Air Arm is the Walrus, an amphibian biplane with the propeller behind the cockpit – a “pusher.” This is essentially a reconnaissance plane, and as it is a very sturdy type of flying-boat it is very seaworthy. It is used chiefly on patrol duty on trade routes, for intercepting ships, spotting submarines and floating mines, and carrying out bombing attacks if necessary.
The Skua is a larger aircraft, a low-winged monoplane, and fighters are usually Gloucester [sic] Gladiators, small biplanes with a very high climbing speed and the utmost manoeuvrability.
Edited from ‘The Royal Navy’, Wm. Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., June 1941, and cigarette cards from 1936 and 1938. Aircraft design advanced so quickly during this period that the Fairey IIIF and Blackburn Shark had been withdrawn from frontline carrier service by the outbreak of war. Curiously, the 1941 book doesn’t admit that Courageous was sunk back in 1939, although it does mention the loss of H.M.S. Hood in May.