Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

although still in an empirical stage, like everything else in this sphere of warlike operations, has reached
a point of progress in advance of anything attained elsewhere.

"Our hearts should go out to-night to those brilliant officers, Commander Samson and his band of
brilliant pioneers, to whose endeavours, to whose enterprise, to whose devotion it is due that in an

incredibly short space of time our naval aeroplane service has been raised to that primacy from which it

must never be cast down.

"It is not only in naval hydroplanes that we must have superiority. The enduring safety of this country
will not be maintained by force of arms unless over the whole sphere of aerial development we are able

to make ourselves the first nation. That will be a task of long duration. Many difficulties have to be

overcome. Other countries have started sooner. The native genius of France, the indomitable

perseverance of Germany, have produced results which we at the present time cannot equal."

So said Mr. Winston Churchill at the Lord Mayor's Banquet held in London in 1913, and I have quoted
his speech because such a statement, made at such a time, clearly shows the attitude of the British

Government toward this new arm of Imperial Defence.

In bygone days the ocean was the great highway which united the various quarters of the Empire, and,
what was even more important from the standpoint of our country's defence, it was a formidable barrier

between Britain and her Continental neighbours,

"Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house."

But the ocean is no longer the only highway, for the age of aerial navigation has arrived, and, as one
writer says: "Every argument which impelled us of old to fight for the dominion of the sea has apparently

been found valid in relation to the supremacy of the air."

From some points of view this race between nations for naval and aerial supremacy may be unfortunate,
but so long as the fighting instinct of man continues in the human race, so long as rivalry exists between

nations, so long must we continue to strengthen our aerial position.

Britain is slow to start on any great venture where great change is effected. Our practice is rather to wait
and see what other nations are doing; and there is something to be said for this method of procedure.

In the art of aviation, and in the construction of air-craft, our French, German, and American rivals were
very efficient pacemakers in the aerial race for supremacy, and during the years 1909-12 we were in

grave peril of being left hopelessly behind. But in 1913 we realized the vital importance to the State of

capturing the first place in aviation, particularly that of aerial supremacy at sea, for the Navy is our first

line of defence. So rapid has been our progress that we are quite the equal of our French and German

rivals in the production of aeroplanes, and in sea-planes we are far ahead of them, both in design and

construction, and the war has proved that we are ahead in the art of flight.

The Naval Air Service before the war had been establishing a chain of air stations round the coast. These
stations are at Calshot, on Southampton Water, the Isle of Grain, off Sheerness, Leven, on the Firth of

Forth, Cromarty, Yarmouth, Blythe, and Cleethorpes.

But what is even more important is the fact that the Government is encouraging sea-plane constructors to

 

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