Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

go ahead as fast as they can in the production of efficient machines. Messrs. Short Brothers, the Sopwith
Aviation Company, and Messrs. Roe are building high-class machines for sea work which can beat

anything turned out abroad. Our newest naval water-planes are fitted with British-built wireless apparatus

of great range of action, and Messrs. Short Brothers are at the present time constructing for the

Admiralty, at their works in the Isle of Sheppey, a fleet of fighting water-planes capable of engaging and

destroying the biggest dirigible air-ships.

In 1913 aeroplanes took a very prominent part in our naval manoeuvres, and the cry of the battleship
captains was: "Give us water-planes. Give us them of great size and power, large enough to carry a gun

and gun crew, and capable of taking twelve-hour cruises at a speed much greater than that of the fastest

dirigible air-ship, and we shall be on the highroad to aerial supremacy at sea."

The Admiralty, acting on this advice, at once began to co-operate with the leading firms of aeroplane
constructors, and at a great rate machines of all sizes and designs have been turned out. There were light

single-seater water-planes able to maintain a speed of over a mile a minute; there were also larger

machines for long-distance flying which could carry two passengers. The machines were so designed that

their wings could be folded back along their bodies, and their wires, struts, and so on packed into the

main parts of the craft, so that they were almost as compact as the body of a bird at rest on its perch, and

they took up comparatively little space on board ship.

A brilliantly executed raid was carried out on Cuxhaven, an important German naval base, by seven
British water-planes, on Christmas Day, 1914. The water-planes were escorted across the North Sea by a

light cruiser and destroyer force, together with submarines. They left the war-ships in the vicinity of

Heligoland and flew over Cuxhaven, discharging bombs on points of military significance, and

apparently doing considerable damage to the docks and shipping. The British ships remained off the

coast for three hours in order to pick up the returning airmen, and during this time they were attacked by

dirigibles and submarines, without, however, suffering damage. Six of the sea-planes returned safely to

the ships, but one was wrecked in Heligoland Bight.

But the present efficient sea-plane is a development of the war. In the early days many of the raids of the
"naval wing" were carried out in land-going aeroplanes. Now the R.N.A.S., which came into being as a

separate service in July, 1914, possess two main types of flying machine, the flying boat and the twin

float, both types being able to rise from and alight upon the sea, just as an aeroplane can leave and return

to the land. Many brilliant raids stand to the credit of the R.N.A.S. The docks at Antwerp, submarine

bases at Ostend, and all Germany's fortified posts on the Belgian coast, have seldom been free from their

attentions. And when, under the stress of public outcry, the Government at last gave its consent to a

measure of "reprisals" it was the R.N.A.S. which opened the campaign with a raid upon the German town

of Mannheim.

As the war continued the duties of the naval pilot increased. He played a great part in the ceaseless hunt
for submarines. You must often have noticed how easily fish can be seen from a bridge which are quite

invisible from the banks of the river. On this principle the submarine can be "spotted" by air-craft, and

not until the long silence upon naval affairs is broken, at the end of the war, shall we know to what extent

we are indebted to naval airmen for that long list of submarines which, in the words of the German

reports, "failed to return" to their bases.

In addition to the "Blimps" of which mention has been made, the Royal Naval Air Service are in charge
of air-ships known as the Coast Patrol type, which work farther out to sea, locating minefields and acting


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