The Fleet Air Arm
A neglected, misunderstood force
Minute from First Lord of Admiralty (Winston Churchill) to First Sea Lord [ADM 1/ 14990]
19 January 1940
Requirement for shore-based naval squadrons
I have been increasingly disquieted about the demand which the Fleet Air Arm involves upon British war-making resources. None the less this estimate [of the Fleet Air Arm’s estimated cost during the first year of the war] is a surprise to me, as I had not conceived how enormous was the charge involved. I have always been a strong advocate of the Fleet Air Arm, in fact I drafted for Sir Thomas Inskip the compromise decision to which he eventually came in 1938. I feel all the more responsible for making sure that the Fleet Air Arm makes a real contribution to the present war in killing and defeating Germans.
2. When some years ago the Fleet Air Arm was being discussed, the speed of carrier-borne and shore-based aircraft was not unequal; but since then the shore-based development has been such as to make it impossible for carrier-borne aircraft to compete with shore-based. This left the Fleet Air Arm the most important duties of reconnaissance in the ocean spaces, of spotting during an action with surface ships, and launching torpedoseaplane attacks upon them. However there are very few surface ships of the enemy, and one can only consider the possible break-out of a German raider or fast battleship as potential targets. Provision must be made for this; but certainly it does not justify anything like this immense expenditure.
3. On the other hand, our Air Force has fallen far behind that of Germany, and under present conditions the Air menace to this Island, its factories, its naval ports and shipping, as well as to the Fleet in harbour, must be considered as the only potentially mortal attack we have to fear and face. I am most anxious therefore to liberate the R.A.F. from all ordinary coastal duties in the narrow waters and the North Sea, and to assume this responsibility for the Fleet Air Arm, which then, and then alone, would have a task proportioned to its cost, and worthy of its quality...
6. If the details of this plan are worked out, I would approach the Air Ministry and offer to relieve them of the whole coastal work in home waters, without adding to the cost to the public. We should make a smaller demand on future deliveries for carrier-borne aircraft and ask in return to be given a supply of fighters or medium bombers, perhaps not at first of the latest type, but good enough for short-range action. We should then take over the whole responsibility as a measure of war emergency, and leave the future spheres of the Department to be settled after the war is over.
27. Notes by Fifth Sea Lord 1 of meeting held on 4 January 1940 [ADM 1/ 10752]
22 January 1940
Future policy for fighters
A copy of the Agenda is attached. A. Long Term Policy: It was agreed that Fleet Air Arm Fighters were required for the following duties:– (1) To destroy enemy shadowers. (2) To intercept enemy striking forces.
(3) To destroy enemy spotters and to protect our own. (4) To escort our own striking forces to their objectives. 2. Functions 1, 2 and 3 could be met by a Single Seater using the homing beacon as a navigational aid. Function 4 was considered to be problematical but apart from this it was agreed that there would be many occasions when fighters would be required to fly over the sea outside beacon range of their parent ship. It was therefore considered to be a sound policy to develop a 2 Seater fighter having navigational facilities, provided this did not entail a serious reduction in performance compared to a Single Seater.
3. It was, however, agreed that the provision for the second member of the Fighter’s crew should be kept to a minimum of essentials. It appeared feasible to keep the additional structural weight down to 400 lbs., making, with the Observer (200 lbs.), a total additional weight of some 600 lbs.
4. It was agreed that the experience of the present war had shown that Fleet Air Arm Fighters must have sufficient speed to cope with German Aircraft of the following types, which were likely to attack the Fleet in the North Sea:–
(1) Shore Based Anti-Ship Bombers . The most modern German antiship bomber in quantity production likely to be encountered is the Junkers 88 with a top speed in level flight of 285 m.p.h.
(2) Long Range Fighters escorting striking forces. The new Messerschmidt [sic] 110 which was likely to be used for this purpose is reputed to have a top speed of 350 m.p.h.
5. It was considered reasonable to suppose that by the time any new Fleet Air Arm Fighter comes into service, which may be a matter of two to three years, the speeds of enemy aircraft which might be encountered will have risen. Speeds of over 300 miles an hour for shore base bombers and 400 miles an hour or more for fighters, were mentioned as being within the realms of possibility.
6. The Director of Air Materiel outlined the tender designs which had been received from various firms to the revised N. 8 (two-seater front gun) specification. These included aircraft with top speeds, as estimated by the firms, of around 380 miles an hour, which compared very favourably with the estimated top speeds of the single seater designs which had also been received; the differences varied between 2 and 25 miles/ hour.
7. It was decided that D.A.M. should discuss the tender designs with the Air Ministry and also the possibility of achieving higher speeds with the two-seaters by fitting them with the Sabre engine (in lieu of Griffon) which certain firms had included in their single seater designs. B. Short Term Policy:
8. (1) Fulmar. D.A.M . stated that the Fulmar was three months behind time, and quantity production would not begin before April, 1940. He was satisfied that it could not be accelerated.
9. It was agreed that this Aircraft with its large endurance, powerful armament and speed of 260– 270 m.p.h. should prove a valuable weapon. It could be used for reconnaissance and for the maintenance of patrols at sea which would give it opportunities of attacking faster aircraft.
10. (2) Spitfires or Hurricanes. The meeting took note of the fact that the Fleet Air Arm was now faced with ‘shore based ’ tasks not previously envisaged , e.g. the defence of Scapa. Moreover, the Fleet Air Arm might be called upon at any time to undertake the responsibility for the Air protection of other Naval Bases, whether at home or abroad.
11. It was agreed that these new tasks made it desirable to reinforce the weapons of the Fleet Air Arm with a number of high speed single-seater Fighters of the most modern types, if practicable. The use of such Fighters would offer the following advantages. (1) They would constitute a mobile Fleet Fighter force suitable for shore-based work which could be moved rapidly to any point required, and enable the Navy to undertake the air defence of its bases overseas, months before such defence was likely to be provided by the Royal Air Force. (2) They could also, if necessary, be used at sea to supplement the Fulmars; the Fulmars carrying out the patrols and these singleseaters being flown off when attack was imminent . Since they would not have W/ T, they could not be directed once air-borne, and they could not navigate. They would, therefore, have to rely on themselves sighting the enemy close to the Fleet for making contacts. Within these limitations, their speed should enable them to force combat on a proportion of attackers, and they would have sufficient petrol for a short pursuit.
12. The problems of using either Spitfires or Hurricanes for this purpose were discussed. The main difficulty was that of the embarkation of these types in Carriers. Without folding wings they could be embarked in the GLORIOUS and FURIOUS, owing to the wide lifts fitted in these Carriers, but they could not be embarked in the later Carriers, which had narrower lifts, unless their wings were made to fold. The Firms concerned were already working on designs for modified wings for this purpose and they hoped to be in a position to report upon the possibilities very shortly. It was expected that it would be at least nine months before Aircraft of these types with folding wings would come into production. It had been contemplated that if the designs of folding wings were successful, some 50 Aircraft might be obtained.
13. The meeting argued that a force of this kind would be valuable to the Fleet Air Arm, and they recommend that the possibilities should be pursued with all despatch.
14. (3) Possible use of Foreign Types. This in practice meant U.S.A. Aircraft. The meeting considered that the types available and the possibilities of obtaining them offered no advantages over the Spitfires or Hurricanes, and that there was nothing to be gained by pursuing this suggestion further.
Ben Jones (2012-12-28). The Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War (Navy Records Society Publications) (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Ashgate. Kindle Edition.
34. Minute by Director of Air Materiel
[ADM 1/ 13488]
8 March 1940
Requirements for two-seater and single-seater fighters
At the meeting held in 5th. Sea Lord’s room on Thursday January 4th, 1940, to consider fighter policy, it was decided to confirm the original two-seater policy . This decision was largely influenced by the apparently small disparity in speed between two-seaters and single-seaters in the skeleton tenders submitted to staff requirements laid out in N.A.D. 924 /39 and N.A.D. 925/ 39. This disparity appeared to vary between 2 and 22 knots. 2. This aspect of the matter has since been more closely examined by the technical departments of the Air Ministry, and the following points emerge (summarised in Appendix I):–
(a) The speed of the revised N. 8/ 39 2 two-seater will be some 35 knots faster than was contemplated in the original specification, but this speed cannot now be further improved upon in a two-seater conforming to F.A.A. limitations. A speed of about 310 knots is expected.
(b) A single-seater design would allow the use of a more powerful engine and the true disparity in speed between single-seater and two-seater is likely to be 30– 35 knots.
(c) The superiority in speed of the two-seater over British bombers coming into service at the same time is thought to be barely adequate for successful pursuit, and there is no reason to believe that German bombers will be slower than our own. Escort fighters will probably be slightly faster than bombers.
(d) There is some reason to believe that the German bombers may use very high altitude blowers (supercharging to about 25,000 ft). If this should prove to be the case, the N. 8/ 39 two-seater’s speed superiority would virtually disappear at high altitudes. (The engine to be used for the N. 8/ 39 is supercharged to 15,000 ft. and above 18,000 ft. the power and speed fall off).
(e) A single-seater as envisaged in (b) would still have a margin of speed over the German bomber envisaged in (d).
3. It appears, therefore, that the improved N. 8/ 39 two-seater may well fall short of the requirement stated by D. of P. on A.M. 2326/ 39 (to deal with enemy shore-based reconnaissance aircraft, bombers and escort fighters).
4. There are three main courses open:–
(a) To develop an alternative power plant for the two-seater, with 25,000 ft. blower. This presents considerable practical difficulty, and the speed requirement would still not be fully met (see 2 (c) overleaf). The possibility is however being looked into.
(b) To reverse the decision to proceed with the two-seater. This would involve the construction of single-seaters only, which would fall short of requirements in navigation and communication facilities. Reversal of the decision would also result in a good deal of delay.
(c) To produce a single-seater simultaneously with the two-seater.
5. D.A.M. proposes that course 4 (c) should be followed and that, subject to discussion with the Air Ministry, a production order should be placed with Blackburns for a single-seater to the Staff Requirements laid out in N.A.D. 925/ 39. 1
6. The Blackburn design for a single -seater was fully discussed at the N. 8/ 39 Tender Design Conference and favourably commented upon. D.A.M.’ s amplifying remarks are contained in A.M. 3381/ 40, minute of 8.1.40., paragraph 9, 10 and 13, but it is now proposed that a production order (as opposed to a small order) should be placed, for aircraft incorporating an orthodox wing form. The experimental wing form would be developed on one or two single aircraft.
Paper by Director of Air Materiel
[ADM 116/ 5348] 20 May 1940
Priority for naval aircraft production
At a short informal meeting with A.M.D.P . (Air Marshal Sir Wilfred Freeman) and C.M.D.P. (Sir Charles Craven) on Friday last, 17th May, D.A.M. was informed that the War
Cabinet had ordered that absolute priority was to be given to the production of certain types of aircraft for the Royal Air Force and that it had been decided to postpone, or even cancel altogether , the production of certain types of aircraft (it was understood heavy bombers in particular) which are as yet a long way off.
2. After a brief review of the types in production for the Fleet Air Arm D.A.M. was given to understand that Messrs. Faireys , who are building the Fulmar and the Albacore, would not be interfered with but that some slackening off in Walrus production at Messrs. Supermarines might be expected on account of the acceleration of Spitfires.
3. This morning the Managing Directors of Messrs. Faireys and of Messrs. Saunders Roe (about to go into production with Walrus for the Fleet Air Arm) telephoned to say that they were being informed by many of their sub-contractors that they would not be able to keep their promises as they had been instructed to give absolute priority to work in connection with certain Royal Air Forces types. In addition, Messrs. Saunders Roe reported that they had been given a contract for Hurricane spares which would interfere with Walrus production.
4. There are so many stages in the construction of an aircraft from the time when the basic raw material is transformed into extrusions, strip or bar, is stamped, cast or forged, and when these extrusions, castings or forgings are machined. In most cases all these operations (many of which are, of course, alternative) are carried out by one or more sub-contractors before they reach the so-called aircraft manufacturer proper. A subcontractor who is machining may be held up by non-delivery of, say, forgings. The forge may be held up through lack of basic raw material. If one of the intermediate sub-contractors is held up he gives over his capacity to some other work and even when the unfinished part arrives the turn has been lost.
5. The above explanation has been gone into in some detail in an attempt to show that it is really quite impossible to forecast the exact repercussions on the planned production of any type of aircraft which is not on the priority list. It can only be said that all the aircraft manufacturers engaged on Fleet Air Arm production will be seriously impeded by the non- arrival of component parts and raw material. It will be appreciated that the non-availability of even one important component is sufficient to hold up production of a complete aircraft and bring the factory to a standstill.
6. It has been learned unofficially that the order of priority issued to the Industry is as follows:–
First Priority and understood to be in the following order-Hurricane, Spitfire, Blenheim, Whitley, Wellington.
Second Priority but before unmentioned types:– Beaufort, Lysander.
7. The Fleet Air Arm will be most seriously affected in respect of the Fulmar which is just commencing production, but which is still held up for a few items, and also as regards the Albacore. As regards the latter there should be a fair stock of completed components – enough possibly for 100 or even 200 aircraft. If this is so, there would be nothing to stop the completion of these airframes always provided that labour is not moved away from the Hayes factory . On the other hand these airframes will be of no value to us without engines and without the equipment. The Taurus engine is required for the Beaufort and the majority of the equipment is common to all types of aircraft. As there is already a grave shortage of equipment it must be regarded as certain that the Fleet Air Arm will go short. 8. In view of the urgency and importance of this matter this paper is referred direct to the 5th Sea Lord, a copy having been sent to Head of A. and D.N.A.D.
Letter from First Lord of Admiralty to Minister of Aircraft Production
ADM 1/ 12575]
26 May 1940
Priority for Fairey Fulmar production
I should very much like to have a word with you in the near future about production of the Fleet Air Arm aircraft generally, but in the meantime I wish to bring to your notice the question of the Fulmars.
2. I am informed that this type is already six months late on the original forecasts given to the Admiralty. At the moment the Navy have no 8-gun fighters in service, the most modern type being the Skua. This has a poor performance by modern standards, has only 4 guns and has been out of production for some time.
3. It is most important that the Fleet should have good fast carrier-borne fighters for their protection, which are capable of driving off shadowing aircraft and engaging shore based bombers, which the Skuas cannot do. Moreover, these fighters, operating from an aircraft carrier, may play a considerable part in the defence of these shores.
4. I fully appreciate the urgent need for accelerating the production of R.A.F. fighters and bombers and we are anxious to help as much as we can by not pressing our requirements unduly. I learn, however, that Fleet Air Arm aircraft do not appear at all in the priority list which has been sent out to the Industry. In such circumstances it seems inevitable that the production of aircraft for the Admiralty will suffer severely.
5. Before your recent decision on priorities, the Fulmar enjoyed the highest priority. I should be glad if you could accord the Fulmar equal priority with the five R.A.F. types which have been given first priority.
6. We could, perhaps, discuss the other types later but I should like to see the Albacore given at least second priority. The Walrus is not so important at the moment.
7. I also feel that it would be highly desirable if arrangements could be made for some direct Admiralty representation on the appropriate Committee in your Department replacing the previous Air Ministry Committee on supply. If you agree, perhaps our two Departments could work out the details in consultation.
8. I am sending copies of this letter to the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for War and Air.
Letter from Minister of Aircraft Production
to First Lord of Admiralty
[ADM 1/ 12575]
27 May 1940
Priority for Fairey Fulmar and Fairey Albacore production
Thank you for your letter of yesterday about Fleet Air Arm production. First as to Fulmar and Albacore priorities . We shall do all we can for you now. And we can do much better once the present crisis is over. But as things stand at present, the indications are that the priority decisions I have already taken do not do enough to meet the hourly need of the R.A.F. in battle . And I may have to put even more effort into two out of the five first priorities at the expense of the rest. Give me a month; and on 1st July ask what you like of me. I should be glad of a word with you to amplify what I say in this letter and convince you that it is the only possible course. If you feel it is necessary, let us ask the Prime Minister to help us to reach the right decision. Secondly, as to Admiralty representation on the Ministry’s Air Supply Board. That body continues to sit at Harrogate as it did before the Ministry took over. I understand that the Admiralty has a representative on it (Captain Slattery), and I hope he will continue to attend as often as you think necessary. The Air and Civil Members for Development and Production ask me to add an invitation to Captain Slattery to call on them at the Ministry at Millbank whenever he would like to see them.
Ben Jones (2012-12-28). The Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War (Navy Records Society Publications) (Kindle Locations 2574-2581). Ashgate. Kindle Edition.
Memorandum from Fifth Sea Lord 1 to Admiralty Board [ADM 1/ 13488]
21 June 1940
Requirements for two-seater and single-seater fighters
Proposal to introduce a Single Seater type for certain special functions Memorandum for the Board, by the Fifth Sea Lord. During recent months, lengthy consideration has been given in the light of war experience to the most suitable type of Fighter Aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm, and the pre-war conclusion has been confirmed that for normal and general functions of Fleet Air Arm Fighters, the two-seater type should be retained in preference to the single-seater alternative.
2. Orders have been placed accordingly for two-seater Fighters to meet the full estimated requirements. A two-seater eight-gun Fighter, the ‘Fulmar’, with a top speed of 260– 280 m.p.h. is now coming into quantity production. This, as a stop gap, was converted out of the Fairey P. 4/ 34 light bomber design, and ordered before the war. The Fulmar will be succeeded by an improved two-seater, N. 5/ 40, 2 with a top speed of up to 360 m.p.h., of which deliveries are expected to begin in about 18 months time.
3. Both the ‘Fulmar’ and its replacement, the N. 5/ 40, are of conventional monoplane design, and their production will be centred in one factory only, that of Messrs. Fairey at Stockport, near Manchester.
4. Experience has, however, also shown that there are occasions on which a single seater, on account of its generally superior performance and notwithstanding its lack of facilities for navigation and wireless communication, can be employed with advantage. Briefly, these occasions primarily arise when ships in harbour or Naval bases require defence against shore based aircraft, for which an interceptor s.s. type operating from the shore, is best. Single sections can also be employed as Mixed Units with two-seaters, in certain circumstances at sea. The defence of Fleet bases is, constitutionally a R.A.F. commitment for which no provision has hitherto been made in the Fleet Air Arm programme. Experience shows, however , that in practice it devolves largely upon the Fleet Air Arm; that it arises at short notice and that it is likely to continue to do so. The advantages of having a force of high performance fighters which can be transported readily in a carrier and which, pending the acquisition of an aerodrome, can be operated from a carrier, needs no elaboration in the light of recent experiences in Norway.
5. For these reasons it is proposed to introduce as soon as possible a limited number of high-performance single-seater Fighters to a design prepared by Messrs. Blackburn with an estimated top speed of up to 390 m.p.h. which might be raised to some 420 m.p.h. at high altitudes with a suitably rated engine. The new design has been approved by the technical experts of the Air Ministry and in order to accelerate deliveries it is proposed to place an order ‘off the drawing board’, i.e. without passing the design through prototypes.
6. From the design aspect, deliveries could begin in 18 months to 2 years but, in view of the desirability at the present time of concentrating on the production of essential types for the R.A.F., it would not be proposed to proceed with construction until, in the opinion of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, this can be done without detriment to other vital requirements. At the present stage, therefore, the effect of the proposed order would be to enable the design work to proceed and production to be planned. In this connection it should be stated that the Ministry of Aircraft Production are most anxious to keep design staffs in being in order that on a return to normality, progress in the construction of aircraft of improved design may be resumed.
7. Under present intentions, the single seater Fighters would be used as alternative equipment to the two seaters in suitable tactical proportions . It is proposed to build up a force of single seaters sufficient to arm 4 Squadrons completely, i.e. 48 I.E. aircraft, plus an equal number of reserves . For this purpose, it is proposed to place an initial order for 100 aircraft of the new type with Messrs. Blackburn, to be built in their factory at Brough where the requisite capacity will be available for the Fleet Air Arm.
8. The cost of 100 aircraft to the new design, with the usual allowance of spare engines, and of operational equipment, is estimated at £ 1 ¼ millions , for which Treasury sanction would be necessary . The Ministry of Aircraft Production would place the order , and the contract would, presumably, include their usual break clause, whereby the order might be cancelled or reduced at 3 months’ notice.
9. In addition to the tactical aspects outlined above, the proposal would have other important benefits to the Fleet Air Arm as follows –
(a) The order would give the Fleet Air Arm a semi-alternative source of supply of Fighter aircraft, against the risk of discontinuance or interruption by enemy action to Messrs. Fairey’s Stockport factory, in which production of Fighters would otherwise be concentrated; semialternative, because a single seater would not be a complete substitute for the standard two seater requirement.
(b) Messrs. Blackburn’s design embodies in the wings several new features which, if successful, would be of great value in improving the performance of all types of Fleet Air Arm aircraft. These features are still experimental and not yet sufficiently proved for adoption in the first production order, for which an orthodox wing design would be specified. It would be proposed, however, that the experimental wing features should be developed in one or two aircraft of the new type, so that if the advantages expected from them were realised they could readily be incorporated in the subsequent quantity production. This aspect of the proposal has been strongly endorsed by the Air Ministry (A. 0227/ 40.) 10. It is important that an early decision should be reached.
Letter from Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet 1 to Secretary of Admiralty
[ADM 1/ 11207]
18 July 1940
Performance of existing aircraft types and possible replacements
Be pleased to place before Their Lordships the following remarks in reply to Admiralty letter 0529/ 40 of 6th July, 1940. 2. The Fleet Air Arm was assigned a limited role before the war and I appreciate that the design of aircraft for its use has in consequence been directed towards developing types best suited for operating from carriers against enemy ships at sea. I realise that aircraft designed for this purpose, and under the restrictions inherent to their employment from carriers, are always likely to be at a disadvantage when faced by modern shore-based types. 3. In the first seven months of the war it
became apparent to members of the Fleet Air Arm that they were having little opportunity to achieve their pre-conceived role which gives rise to a spirit of frustration amongst them. 4. Next came the more active stages of the war during which the Fleet Air Arm in the Home area was fully occupied but very frequently in tasks well beyond their terms of reference and nearly always in the face of enemy aircraft of superior performance. One result of this has been to produce amongst the officers and men, who are rightly conscious of their high standard of training and efficiency, a feeling of exasperation that their efforts should be so handicapped by the necessity of operating in aircraft of such relatively low performance. This is not so much a criticism of the suitability of the aircraft for the particular conditions for which they were designed but rather a consequence of their employment in circumstances which go beyond these particular conditions. But there is no getting away from the fact that the Walrus, the Swordfish and the Skua, which after 10 ½ months of war are still the main aircraft with which the Fleet Air Arm are equipped , are the slowest aircraft of their respective types in the world.
5. Sofaras the war in Home waters is concerned it has to be acknowledged that the occupation of Norway by Germany is a definite restriction on the useful operation of aircraft carriers. This has been met in part by the establishment of an air striking force at Hatston which has now become an integral and essential part of our Naval strategy. Hatston is in fact deputising for a carrier in the area in which the operation of a carrier is likely to be unprofitable. 6. The role filled by the Fleet Air Arm units at Hatston belongs properly to the Royal Air Force; but as they are ill equipped to deliver either of the forms of attack best suited to sea warfare, namely torpedo bombing and dive bombing I do not for one moment suppose that any objection could be raised to the use of the Fleet Air Arm in this manner. 7. Under these circumstances, therefore , I regard it as being of first importance to establish the best striking force at Hatston that can be devised. The Swordfish aircraft now available as Torpedo Bombers are unsuitable as, apart from their slow speed and lack of armament, they have insufficient endurance even when fitted with extra tanks. On the 21st June when six Swordfish attacked the Scharnhorst at a distance of 240 miles
from the aerodrome, one aircraft which returned to Hatston direct had only 7 gallons of petrol remaining. No time was lost on this occasion as the Squadron, after making their landfall on the coast of Norway, found their objective in the expected position, which was at the least distance from Hatston. This shows that there is too small a margin of endurance to provide for similar encounters in which the enemy is not found so readily or if he is further afield. 8. The Skua aircraft have done very valuable dive bombing but they cannot operate further than Bergen. 9. If low performance torpedo bombers are used they must be protected by long range fighters, but at present there are no Fleet Air Arm aircraft at Hatston of this type, except in as much as the Skua can be so described. The Skua, has, however, its own and separate role. 10. Another aspect of the war in Home waters is the facility with which German aircraft detect our ships at sea and having done so they shadow very efficiently and call up the bombers by their homing method. In consequence it becomes almost impossible to bring off a successful coup as the enemy takes early steps to turn his surface forces out of harm’s way, meanwhile our ships are
subjected to a heavy scale of bombing attack. Ability to shoot down the shadowing aircraft would improve matters very considerably and to do this ships fitted with catapults should carry efficient fighter aircraft. These must have long endurance to enable them to return to a land base. The Brewster and Grumman types might meet this requirement if they can be adapted to catapult launching. 11. Comparison of the various types referred to in the two sheets attached to the Admiralty letter suggests that:–
Torpedo bombers. The Douglas T.B.D .1. 1 has some advantage in speed over the Albacore but it is doubtful whether this is sufficient to give it a preference over the type of our own design.
Dive bombers. The Skua although lacking in speed and endurance appears to be in a class by itself, and it is a great pity that it has no modern counterpart . The Albacore, although carrying a larger bomb load, is too vulnerable and slow. It is not clear whether the total bomb load of the Grumman F3, F2 2 and Brewster F2 A-1 3 types is 200 lbs. or whether they can carry a number of 200lb. bombs. If the latter, they would be useful dive bombers under circumstances where accurate navigation was not essential. Fleet Air Arm Swordfish have recently been utilised on such tasks in the north of France.
Fighters. The Fulmar promises to be a good type for operation from a carrier. The American Grumman and Brewster types would be suitable for operating from shore bases from which they could accompany and protect torpedo or dive bombers, relying on the navigation of these latter for their safe return. They would also be useful in H.M. Ships if they can be adapted for catapulting.
12. My recommendations are therefore:–
A.To equip Hatston with the best obtainable striking force which appears to be One Squadron Albacore. One Squadron Skuas. One Squadron Grumman or Brewster fighters. This to be recognised as a definite Home Fleet requirement and to be given priority over the requirements of carriers.
B.To equip catapult ships of the Home Fleet with Grumman or Brewster fighters.
.To utilise in our carriers any Grumman aircraft which can fold until Fulmar aircraft are available.
13. Finally I would like to emphasise that the circumstances of the war in Home waters require aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm to operate in the face of enemy shore based aircraft so it is essential that the personnel so employed should be given the best available types of aircraft. Further, that if the role of an aircraft results in its necessarily having a low relative performance, it is essential to make up for this deficiency by giving these aircraft an efficient escort, starting from the same base of operations. Hence, there is a pressing need for high performance long range fighters which in some degree the American Grumman and Brewster types may be regarded. With reference to paragraph 6 of the Admiralty letter under reply there is no use being complacent over the Fulmar. In fact, it is difficult to accept the statement that the Fulmar’s speed which is given as 230 knots is adequate to attack a J.U. 88 whose speed is 260 knots.
Letter from Secretary of Admiralty1 to Under-Secretary of State Air Ministry
[ADM 205/8] 18 June 1941
Shore-based fighter cover for naval forces
I am commanded by My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to request that you will put before the Air Council the following observations.
2. Very early in the war, it became apparent that our Naval Forces were badly hampered in their operations by lack of fighter protection. Recent events have shown that Naval forces subjected to a high scale of air attack cannot operate without fighter escort unless a disproportionate casualty rate is accepted.
3. Fighters borne in Aircraft Carriers cannot be regarded as a substitute for shore based fighter protection for the following reasons:–
(a) The Fleet’s Aircraft Carriers are intended primarily to provide a means whereby the enemy’s fleet can first be found by air reconnaissance and then fixed by air striking forces. This entails carrying a high proportion of T.S.R. aircraft, leaving only enough room for such fighters as are needed to protect the Fleet against a very moderate scale of air attack.
(b) Even if denuded of T.S.R. aircraft, a Carrier cannot operate a sufficient number of fighters to deal with heavy scales of shore based air attack and is, herself, an extremely vulnerable target compared with an aerodrome.
(c) Carrier borne fighters have a lower performance than those which are shore-based.
(d) There are many occasions when Carriers are not available owing to the heavy demands for their services on such duties as raider hunting, combined operations and transporting R.A.F. aircraft. On these occasions, the Fleet must rely solely on shore-based fighters.
4. The air threat against a fleet at sea from shore based air forces can be classified in zones of proximity to enemy air bases as follows:–
(a) Near – the distance from enemy bases inside which heavy and continuous attacks of all types, escorted by s.s. fighters, may be expected – say up to 150 miles from enemy bases.
(b) Medium – the distance inside which dive bombing may be expected, escorted by long range fighters – say 150 to 400 miles from enemy bases.
(c) Far – distance inside which fairly long range bombing, without fighter escort, may be expected – say 400 to 700 miles.
5. The application of the above classification to the areas in which units of the Fleet are likely to operate is shown in the Appendix, from which it will be seen that fighter protection for the Fleet is required as follows:–
Area in which protection is required
Type of Aircraft required
(a) North Sea, within 50 miles of own coast.
(b) English Channel.
(c) Irish Sea.
(d) Bay of Biscay.
(e) Iceland – Faroes Channel.
(f) Pentland Firth.
(g) Eastern Atlantic.
(h) E. Mediterranean, especially South of Crete.
Long Range, unless aerodromes from Tripoli eastwards are in our possession when Short Range fighters can largely be employed.
(i) Malta Channel.
Note: By Short Range Aircraft is meant s.s. fighters capable of operating up to 100 miles from the Coast.
6. Even with an elaborate system of warning devices it may not be possible to call out shore based fighters in time to prevent attacks. In the Near and Medium Zones therefore continuous protection (i.e. escort) will be needed for operations which are not taking place close to our own bases. For operations close to our bases and in the Far Zone, where the scale of attack will be less, shore-based fighters at short call may be sufficient.
7. Thus, as the Fleet cannot operate in certain areas in the Near and Medium Zones without risk of serious loss unless escorted by fighters, and as the movements of Naval forces cannot be forecast with accuracy far in advance, it is essential that fighter aircraft should be available at any time. They must therefore have the co-operation with Naval forces as their primary task, from which they should not be diverted without the prior consent of the Admiralty.
8. Shore based fighters required for the protection of the Fleet fall naturally into three categories:–
(a) Short range single seater.
(b) Long range two seater.
(c) Composite aircraft carrying a fighter.1
9. Up to now, the operation of single seater fighters has been limited to within say, 40 miles, of the coast. Whilst fully appreciating the difficulties, it is thought that more could be done in the way of provision of R.T. communication between fighters and warships so that the latter could direct fighters on to enemy aircraft and give them a homing course. Also, it is thought that more could be done in the way of providing homing facilities ashore, as used in Aircraft Carriers, and a suitable receiver for the fighter so that homing should provide no difficulty up to 100 miles. It is also possible that the provision of extra tanks, possibly expendable ones, for these fighters might be given a higher order of priority so that fighters could operate for longer periods.
10. As regards two seater fighters, the Beaufighter appears to be about the best for the purpose, although possibly the Mosquito will show some improvement. My Lords understand that no such fighters are yet in production in America, nor even are any yet envisaged. Unless, therefore, other types of aircraft can be modified into some form of long range fighter, it would appear that it will be necessary to rely on British production for the provision of the large quantities of two seater fighters which are necessary for co-operation with the Fleet.
11. Itis realised that two seater fighters can never have the performance of a single seater and that they will always be at a disadvantage when engaged with single seaters. At the same time, it is thought that a two seater has much more than a scarecrow effect and would inevitably act as a deterrent to any bomber. It is, in fact, quite capable of dealing with a Ju.87 or Ju.88. Fighters, when present, even if two seaters, must have a serious effect on the morale of enemy bombers and in any event, will affect their manoeuvres. This was proved during the evacuation from Crete; the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, reporting as follows:–
‘When the Royal Air Force were able to get a few improvised long range fighters into the air, the effect on the enemy was noticeable and a number of attacks were beaten off.’
In the same report, the Commander-in-Chief states:–
‘Our need for long range fighters remains acute, and until they are provided in sufficient numbers, we must continue to expect losses and damage on the present scale when the Fleet is at sea.’
12. As regards the composite aircraft, My Lords consider that the development of this type would provide an extremely satisfactory means of producing fighter protection in the Far Zone. For example, such aircraft would have been of the greatest value during the attacks on the Home Fleet which took place after the sinking of the BISMARCK. My Lords are therefore of the opinion that the carrying of high performance fighters on the back of another aircraft should be developed as a matter of extreme urgency.
13. My Lords are convinced that unless there is an adequate and comprehensive organisation for providing shore based fighter protection for the Fleet, its operations in certain vital areas will be unduly hampered by the risk of incurring losses of the heavier ships, which cannot be accepted because it is not possible to make good such losses in less than two years.
They therefore propose:–
(i) that the Naval and Air Staffs should carry out an immediate joint investigation into the numbers and dispositions of fighters required to provide fighter protection for the areas given in paragraph 5 above.
(ii) that the Air Ministry, in conjunction with the Admiralty, should take all possible steps to increase the range at which single seater fighters can operate away from their shore base. A target figure of not less than 100 miles is proposed.
(iii) that composite aircraft, carrying a fighter, should be produced as a matter of extreme urgency.
Extract from minutes of Chiefs of Staff Committee 278th Meeting on 6 August 1941
[ADM 116/4457] 6 August 1941
Fighter protection for Combined Operations
COMBINED OPERATIONS – FIGHTER PROTECTION.
(C.O.S. (41) 455 and 471).
The COMMITTEE had before them –
(i) A Note by the Director of Combined Operations on the provision of Fighter Protection in areas where amphibious operations appeared desirable (C.O.S. (41) 455).
(ii) A Memorandum by the Chief of Naval Staff on the importance of developing a high performance Floatplane Fighter. (C.O.S. (41) 471).
SIR TOM PHILLIPS said that a certain number of small aircraft carriers were being fitted out as quickly as possible to carry 12–18 aircraft apiece. The first of these carriers had just been completed; the remainder, which were being fitted out in America, would not be ready before early next year.
These small aircraft carriers could be used for combined operations, but they were of course very vulnerable to attack by shore based aircraft.
Continuing, Sir Tom Phillips stressed the importance of having a few squadrons of high performance Floatplane Fighters for use in special cases. A few such squadrons might have made a vital difference in Norway and might in the future prove very useful in the Far East or elsewhere, where they could operate in areas vulnerable to enemy bombers, but out of reach of their short-range fighters. The Naval Staff understood that a design for a Floatplane had, in fact, been cleared, but it was fully appreciated that the development of the high altitude fighter must have priority.
SIR CHARLES PORTAL emphasised the vulnerability of Floatplane Fighters on the water. They were easy to identify and were vulnerable to damage by splinters. The Spitfire, when fitted with floatplanes lost about 40 miles per hour in speed which brought it down to the performance of the Hurricane I, which was not a match for modern short-range fighters. Floatplane fighters would not come into production much before the middle of next year, but he would go into this question again with the Ministry of Aircraft Production to see if any improvement could be made without affecting the development of the high altitude Spitfire.
(a) Took note of the statement by the Vice Chief of Naval Staff on the provision of small aircraft carriers.
(b) Agreed that the provision of high altitude fighters should have priority over Floatplane aircraft.
(c) Took note that the Chief of the Air Staff would, in consultation with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, consider to what extent the development of the Floatplane Fighter could be accelerated without interfering with the high altitude Spitfire.
Letter from Flag Officer Commanding, Force ‘H’1 to Secretary of Admiralty
[ADM 199/847] 9 August 1941
Maintenance and operation of Sea Hurricanes
In view of the absence of spares for the Sea Hurricanes I did not feel justified in ordering their embarkation for operations SUBSTANCE and STYLE.
2. The presence of an unserviceable aircraft on the flying deck which cannot be struck below, which requires some considerable time to dismantle and which cannot be moved during the process of dismantling is obviously inacceptable [sic] during normal active operations.
3. Admittedly the performance of Sea Hurricanes above 12,000 feet is markedly superior to the Fulmar II and a squadron might be employed to advantage in a special operation in which the primary object is the destruction of enemy aircraft.
4. When however the tactical situation is such that the primary object is the defence of the Fleet and/or convoy against air attack coupled with adequate air reconnaissance and the maintenance of an air striking force to deal with surface forces, the presence of Sea Hurricanes is an embarrassment.
5. Subject to the requisite spares being available there appears to be no reason why Sea Hurricanes should not be operated from Aircraft Carriers for the limited purpose set forth in paragraph 3.
142a. Report from Commanding Officer, HMS Ark Royal1 to Flag Officer Commanding Force ‘H’
[ADM 199/847] 31 July 1941
Maintenance and Operation of Sea Hurricanes
Report on Maintenance and Operation of Sea Hurricanes required by Admiralty signals 1311B/20 June, 1941, and 2015B/26 July, 1941, is submitted herewith for onward transmission to Admiralty …
REPORT ON MAINTENANCE AND OPERATION OF SEA HURRICANES
Three Sea Hurricanes were erected in ‘Furious’ and were flown to the Naval Air Station, North Front, Gibraltar, by pilots from ‘Ark Royal’ on 1st July, 1941.
2. While at North Front, pilots flew the Sea Hurricanes to gain experience on type and practiced A.D.D.Ls.
3. On 11th July, 1941, two Sea Hurricanes, the third being unserviceable, flew to ‘Ark Royal’ for deck landing practice, and to operate from the ship during a period of training at sea.
4. One Sea Hurricane hit the barrier while landing on deck and was rendered unserviceable. The mainplanes were removed, using an extractor tool made on board, and the aircraft was struck below to the hangar.
5. Four deck landings were carried out in the other Sea Hurricane and the aircraft was kept on deck, being ranged forward and aft as required, while other aircraft were operated.
6. As it was required to carry out night flying training after dark, the serviceable Sea Hurricane was flown to North Front in the evening when it became unserviceable and was unable to return to the ship the following morning.
7. The unserviceable Sea Hurricane airframe on board was placed on deck for blast trials in a low angle shoot and sustained no damage while in the centre of the deck. In this connection, Swordfish aircraft have been damaged and rendered unserviceable by H.A. firing at various times, on all parts of the deck, including the central position abreast the island.
8. On return to harbour, the unserviceable Sea Hurricane was transferred to the Maintenance Unit and parts taken from it were used to make the other two serviceable.
9. Whenever possible the Sea Hurricanes were flown at North Front, but no further opportunity of embarking them occurred.
10. The Sea Hurricanes have been maintained by personnel taken from the Aircraft Technical Section of Headquarters Squadron who, however, have had no previous experience of Hurricane aircraft.
11. No spares or tools for the maintenance or repair of Hurricanes have been received, but a certain number of items and starting battery trolleys have been obtained from the R.A.F. erecting and maintenance unit which has been at Gibraltar. No technical publications for Hurricanes have been available. Great difficulty has been experienced in maintaining the aircraft serviceable.
12. The Sea Hurricanes were not fitted with Vokes filters which increased the difficulty of their maintenance in the dusty conditions prevailing at North Front.
13. It was found necessary to attach an Air Gunner to the Sea Hurricane Flight, in addition to two Air Mechanics (L), for the maintenance of the R/T equipment.
14. While disembarked, in addition to flying training Sea Hurricanes have been used for R/.D/.F and Fighter interception exercises. On three nights they were maintained at Readiness to intercept enemy bombers which were expected during [the] period of the full moon. For these functions, efficient R/T was essential.
15. When operating fighters under action conditions it should be the aim to maintain fighters on deck ready to fly off at short notice. This cannot be done while other aircraft are landing on because there is insufficient space forward of the barrier. With folding types of aircraft, aircraft ready for flight can be ranged as soon as landing on is completed, and the aircraft just landed can be cleared from the deck almost at the same time, to be re-armed and refuelled in the hangar. If, however, these aircraft could not be folded they would remain on the flight deck for refuelling and re-arming, or, alternatively, refuelling and re-arming would be interrupted while the aircraft were pushed up and down to clear the deck for others to take off or land on.
16. The short operational endurance of the Hurricane and small amount of ammunition carried must result in frequent turns into wind to land on aircraft which have been in combat, greatly aggravating the position in regard to flying off others or maintaining sections standing by to fly off.
17. Finally, in ‘Ark Royal’, without R.D/F in the ship the operation in action of single seater fighter aircraft without beacon receivers would be impracticable, and the advantage of the margin of improvement in performance of the Sea Hurricane over the Fulmar II, at sea level and up to 12,000 feet, is outweighed by this sum of the operational and maintenance disadvantages of the type in this ship.
18. For these reasons, the Sea Hurricanes have not been embarked in ‘Ark Royal’ for operations.
19. In a carrier, with large lifts, properly equipped with R.D/F, with suitable R/T equipment and with proper provision for maintenance, the operation of the Sea Hurricane or similar type should be successful.
Letter from Secretary of Admiralty to Vice Admiral, Naval Air Stations
[ADM 1/13640] 16 September 1941
Breaking up aircraft for spares
In view of the present shortage of spares for Naval aircraft, it is important that all possible steps should be taken locally to ease the situation.
2. Accordingly, Their Lordships desire that before aircraft are taken in hand for major repairs, it should be considered whether such repairs are economically justified. If they are not, it may be preferable to strike the aircraft off charge for reduction to spares. Any recommendations on these lines should be forwarded to the Admiralty for decision.
3. Similarly, it is undesirable that old aircraft should be retained at Naval Air Stations if, under present conditions, it would be uneconomical to repair them. Their Lordships are prepared to consider recommendations for writing off such aircraft with a view to their being broken down for spares.
4. Aircraft struck off charge under the authority delegated by A.F.O.3448/39 should be reduced to spares as soon as possible.
5. Serviceable items obtained by breaking down should be returned to the nearest Naval Store Depot and not retained unless required for immediate use locally. Other items should be dealt with in accordance with A.F.O.3181/41, the necessary return vouchers (Form S.331) being forwarded and articles tallied with their reference numbers. Any outstanding demands for spares for the repair of aircraft approved by the Admiralty to be broken down should be cancelled.
Note by Joint Secretaries, British Joint Staff Mission, Washington1
[CAB 122/142] 19 September 1941
Allocation of Grumman Martlet fighters to the Royal Navy
The attached Memorandum. from Admiral Lyster to Admiral Sir Charles Little, is circulated herewith for consideration at the meeting to be held on TUESDAY, 23RD SEPTEMBER, 1941, prior to submission to the Supply Council.
MEMORANDUM BY THE JOINT STAFF MISSION.
The Strategic Importance of Single Seater Fighters to the Navy.
The pre-war guiding principle of Naval strategy regarding aircraft carriers was to arm them with a striking force of Torpedo-Bomber-Reconnaissance aircraft, and to provide in addition a force of Fighters whose dual role was to protect the ship from enemy bombers and to escort the striking force on its operational sorties. It was the general opinion that navigational facilities would be a sine qua non of such fighter aircraft; hence the insistence on the two-seater fighter. Arrangements have been made in this country to produce all the two seater naval fighters required.
However, in this war aircraft carriers have been required to operate in enclosed waters within striking range of enemy dive-bombers, and often of their shore-based fighter escort. U.S. naval observers have seen for themselves in the Mediterranean that the low speeds of the two-seater fighters hitherto embarked on all aircraft carriers have been insufficient to enable them to deal effectively with attacks pressed home on the mother ship. Our aircraft carriers are often required to operate within range of shore-based aircraft; and it will thus be imperative to arm these carriers with single-seater as well as with two-seater fighters (whether simultaneously or alternatively will depend upon the operations envisaged).
The Martlet the only Naval Single Seater Fighter until 1943.
Owing to a delay of over 9 months in the appearance of the folding wing Martlet, and to increased commitments involved in the new measures to counter the air menace in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Navy have been forced to obtain obsolescent R.A.F. fighter aircraft for use in the few carriers with large lifts. By next spring the first line strength of single-seater fighters necessary to fill carriers to complement will amount to 120 (10 squadrons, say); five squadrons, but no more, can be maintained by the fighters diverted to the Navy by the R.A.F. It is not possible to use R.A.F. fighters for more than five squadrons for the following reasons:
(1) the aircraft will not be available.
(2) non-folding aircraft cannot be used in the remaining single-seater fighter squadrons.
We are faced with the difficulty of providing the remaining five squadrons.
The only British naval single-seater fighter is the Firebrand, a machine which is to be produced ‘off the board’ with deliveries commencing at a very slow rate early next summer. Because of limited capacity, the peak target monthly delivery rate of the Firebrand is only 25, this peak being planned to be attained in October 1942. Allowing for inevitable delays and difficulties encountered in the introduction of a new type of aircraft into service, it is thought that the first operational squadron of Firebrand fighters will only be formed at the outset of 1943. The latter epoch coincides with the time of the proposed formation of new squadrons for the INDEFATIGABLE: six months later new squadrons are required for the IMPLACABLE.
The above statements relating to the Firebrand make it plain that IF THE CARRIERS ILLUSTRIOUS, FORMIDABLE, VICTORIOUS, AND ARK ROYAL ARE NOT TO BE ENTIRELY DEPRIVED OF FIGHTER PROTECTION, IT WILL BE IMPERATIVE TO FORM AT LEAST 5 FIRST LINE MARTLET SQUADRONS AND TO MAINTAIN THEM UNTIL AT LEAST HALF WAY THROUGH 1943. Since losses on these five squadrons and on the two squadrons of training aircraft are budgeted to amount to about 15 a month and since it has been found essential to build up reserve pools of naval aircraft, it is at once obvious that FAILURE OF THE U.S.A. TO DELIVER THE 20 (FOLDING WING) MARTLETS A MONTH ASKED FOR AFTER THE PRESENT ORDER FOR 240 COMPLETES IN AUGUST, 1942, WILL RESULT IN THE EXPOSURE OF FOUR IMPORTANT CARRIERS TO GRAVE RISKS OR IN THE IMMOBILIZATION OF IMPORTANT NAVAL RESOURCES. Owing to the introduction of new type of two-seater fleet fighter, the Firefly, towards the end of 1943, and the previous cessation of production of the Fulmar, the two-seater fighter situation during the last few months of 1942 and the first months of 1943 will probably be very ‘tight’. The arming of the ILLUSTRIOUS, FORMIDABLE, VICTORIOUS, and the ARK ROYAL with two-seaters in lieu of single-seaters does not therefore exist as a possibility.
It will therefore be seen that the release of a continuation order of 20 Martlets a month is a matter of the highest priority towards the Navy war effort …
Letter from Vice Admiral, Naval Air Stations to Secretary of Admiralty
[ADM 1/13522] 21 September 1941
Selection of Hurricanes for conversion to Sea Hurricanes
Be pleased to represent to Their Lordships that the Vice Admiral Naval Air Stations does not consider that the selection of Hurricanes for conversion to Sea Hurricanes has up to the present been altogether satisfactory.
2. Many of those selected have been of the L.P. and N. series, and most of these have had previous service in Royal Air Force Operational Squadrons. One particular case may be quoted; N.2455 has since October 1939 been in two different Royal Air Force Squadrons, took part in the Battle of Britain, and was twice extensively damaged, once by forced landing and once by enemy action, before being converted to Sea Hurricane.
3. All these old aircraft suffer from a multitude of minor defects and the Stations have had to expend many weeks’ work in rendering them fit for allotment to a Squadron, and although after this work had been completed the aircraft can be considered as serviceable, it is thought from consideration of their age and previous history that it is most likely that they will continue to suffer from minor defects during their remaining life.
4. It is further considered that even if they can be maintained serviceable, the effect on morale of allotting aircraft of this type to a new Squadron forming is deplorable. Many of the Pilots joining will be young and enthusiastic officers, joining an Operational Squadron for the first time, and to be given an aircraft which can only be described as a ‘cast off from the Royal Air Force’ causes a considerable damping of their ardour.
5. It is submitted that in future only new Hurricanes or those with a minimum of flying hours should be selected for conversion to Sea Hurricanes.
Minute from Prime Minister1 to Secretary of Chiefs of Staff Committee
[ADM 116/5348] 30 September 1941
Fighters for aircraft carriers
When I visited INDOMITABLE last week, I was astonished to learn that the handful of Hurricanes to be allotted to this vital war unit were only of the lower type Hurricane Ones. I trust it may be arranged that only the finest aeroplanes that can do the work go into all aircraft-carriers. All this year it has been apparent that the power to launch the highest class fighters from aircraft-carriers may reopen to the Fleet great strategic doors which have been closed against them. The aircraft-carrier should have supreme priority in the quality and character of suitable types.
Letter from Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy to Head of British Admiralty Delegation, Washington
[CAB 122/142] 9 October 1941
Supply of Grumman Martlet fighters
Your letter of 24 September, 1941, concerning the allocation of Grumman single seater fighters and the enclosed memorandum by the Joint Staff Mission have been given thorough consideration. We are in complete agreement as to the necessity for providing single seater fighters for aircraft carriers. United States carriers have always been so equipped.
As yet the United States Navy has no folding wing fighters in service. Their production is being delayed by shortages of machine tools and materials due to the high priority given production of other defense materials.
Our own carrier fighter squadrons, which we must maintain in readiness for action, are now operating on a very slender margin insofar as reserve aircraft are concerned. Under present schedules we shall continue to have difficulty until late 1942 in providing operating aircraft plus 33–1/3% spares to care for attrition of all sorts. Any diversions or any heavy losses would place us in a very grave situation.
The 240 folding wing fighters now scheduled for delivery to you will, in the opinion of the Navy Department, suffice for the needs in the near future of the four carriers which you list as requiring them. This number will provide for each carrier 60 aircraft with which to maintain a strength of 12, a total reserve of 400%, which should be ample to provide both for replacements and training. If fixed wing fighters are used for shore training, the need for the folding wing type will be somewhat decreased.
However, as we see it, your problem is greater than stated, since there will eventually arise a need for folding wing fighters for the ships now being converted to carriers, as well as for the INDEFATIGABLE and the IMPLACABLE.
Because of the very slender reserve on which our carrier fighters are now operating, and the relatively ample reserve for immediate needs afforded you by the present schedule, I cannot agree to the diversion of 100 additional folding-wing fighters from the United States Navy to the British Navy proposed to be made during the period November 1941 – March 1942.
Since receipt of your letter, and in the light of our appreciation of both our needs and yours for additional carrier fighters, a study has been made to determine the possibility of increasing the output of folding wing fighters. It appears probable that the output of the Grumman Aircraft Company can be increased, provided that necessary priorities can be obtained for the construction of additional facilities, for the assignment of essential machine tools, and for the allocation of sufficient material. At such time as an increased output is assured, consideration will be given to readjustment of delivery schedules to provide more adequately for the needs of the British Navy.
Our review of this situation has shown conclusively that if conditions arise in which numbers of carriers are operated against active opposition, the total capacity now planned for producing carrier fighters will be inadequate. In addition to such remedial action as we may take, it appears imperative that some part of the large British production of fighters should be devoted continuously to a type suitable for carrier use.
One of the obstacles to increased carrier fighter production is the emphasis and high priority heretofore given to four-engined bomber requirements. The four-engined bomber program is at least partially responsible for recent delays in the production of Grumman fighters, and may have further adverse effect as the program absorbs a larger proportion of the available machine tools, material and equipment.
Letter from Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics to Director-General, British Air Commission, Washington
[AVIA 38/580] 24 October 1941
Supply of Grumman Martlet fighters
As a result of a decision by the Chief of Naval Operations on 17 October 1941, the Bureau of Aeronautics has instructed the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation to expedite delivery of 48 G36-B Martletts on United Kingdom contract, even though such action would involve deferring delivery of F4F-4 airplanes to the U.S. Navy. This company has been requested to deliver one F4F-4 airplane to the U.S. Navy for test purposes at the Naval Air Station, Anacostia. Thereafter, the manufacturer is prepared to make delivery of 48 G36-B Martletts [sic] to the British and has issued his instructions to shop personnel to revise production schedules accordingly.
It is understood from conversations with the representatives of the Grumman Company that there will be no necessity for diversion of any material originally scheduled for U.S. Navy airplanes and that the 48 Martletts [sic] delivered to the British will in all respects fulfil the specifications for that model, including engines furnished by the British to the manufacturer for installation in these airplanes. Every effort is being made to accelerate production in order that the 48 airplanes will be delivered in the shortest possible time. It is estimated that the last airplane will be delivered early in December. The Bureau of Aeronautics is endeavouring to attain even better delivery schedules.
Following the accelerated delivery of the 48 airplanes to the British in accordance with the directive of the Chief of Naval Operations, the Grumman Company will deliver 95 F4F-4 airplanes to the U.S Navy. Thereafter, deliveries will be in the ratio of two (2) to the U.S. Navy and one (1) to the United Kingdom and [sic] Defense Aid contracts until completion of deliveries on those contracts.
From conversations with representatives of the British Air Commission it is understood that you desire that arrangements be made by the U.S. Navy to effect flyaway delivery of these airplanes to the proximity of British aircraft carriers in this country. Confirmation of this detail is requested. The Bureau of Aeronautics is prepared and is planning to furnish the necessary pilots to effect delivery of these airplanes from Bethpage, Long Island to Norfolk, Virginia.
Notes by Rear Admiral, Naval Air Stations1
[ADM 116/4455] 1 December 1941
Naval operations and naval air work, 1939–1941
… PART II DETAILS OF PRACTICAL AIR WORK LEARNT FROM WAR EXPERIENCE…
SECTION 8 – MISCELLANEOUS.
SECTION 8A – CARRIER ORGANISATION.
1. All modern carriers have an Air Intelligence Office on the bridge, which is a new version of the old Air Plotting Office. This is primarily used by observers, and is where they can see all the latest information, draw Syko cards, etc., and receive their orders before taking off. All flying crews visit the A.I.O. at least once daily at sea to read the latest relevant intelligence reports and signals. In some carriers the crews report to the Captain and Commander (F) before and after a flight, and in other carriers to the A.I.O.; but in any case interrogation after a flight is essential, and after an operation both observers and pilots give their account in their own words.
2. The waiting room is also in the island, and is used by crews ‘at short notice’.
3. In most carriers in wartime the Commander (Flying) and Air Staff Officer live on the bridge or A.I.O. day and night, and also squadron observers spend a good deal of time in the A.I.O. so that they can keep in touch with the situation, provide crews at short notice, help to give instructions to their observers, etc. The remainder of the flying crews are usually below decks, but readily available; daily flying programmes are produced, but frequently cannot be adhered to; there is normally sufficient time to warn crews of unexpected flights, but emergencies often occur and there is no excuse for crews not being ready in a very short time; new observers are apt to forget this and suddenly find that they have lost their chart or helmet.
4. Broadcaster is freely used in most carriers for orders regarding ranging, flying on and off, and sometimes for warnings. The general principle is that the squadron commanding officers are told to provide certain aircraft for certain duties at a certain time, and it is left to the individual squadrons to fix the details of aircraft and crews.
5. Under certain conditions, one squadron may act as Duty Squadron for the day, carrying out all the normal patrols, while another squadron stands by as a Striking Force; here again emergencies will alter everything, and often squadrons may have to ‘lend’ each other crews or aircraft.
6. When there is expectation of a Striking Force being required, the aircraft concerned are usually armed with torpedoes or bombs in the hangar, so as to keep the flight deck clear until the actual order to range the Striking Force. Without any such warning carriers have armed, ranged, and flown off a Striking Force of nine to twelve aircraft in an average of eighteen minutes – depending on the individual carrier’s facilities.
7. Speed of operating has again varied with the carrier; with modern ships using a safety barrier aircraft fly on at an average interval of 30 seconds, and in old carriers 40 seconds: flying off is usually done ‘in stream’, the next aircraft being flagged off as the preceding one passes the island. The safety barrier has reduced operating time to a minimum, and also provides an excellent ‘parking ground’ for manoeuvring aircraft before it: there have been comparatively few accidents with the barrier, except with pilots new to it.
8. All landings, both day and night, are now controlled by ‘bats’.
9. Action stations for flying personnel have differed in each carrier; in two ships pilots and observers were detailed as ‘H.A. advisers’ to the directors and gun positions. But the general principles seem to have been to keep all those not required off the upper deck and island, and to keep clear of the hangar, – after the attack on ‘Illustrious’.
10. The Last Minute Notice Board has been used a lot; new observers almost invariably miss this.
11. Various orders for the readiness of aircraft and carrier organisation are laid down in A.C.G.M.
SECTION 8B – SQUADRON ORGANISATION.
1. The squadrons are responsible for providing their own aircraft, crews and armament, for any flight ordered. Each squadron usually has a Duty Officer for the day, to arrange meal hours, range the aircraft, and so on. Crews are as far as possible kept together, the observer, pilot, and air gunner flying in the same aircraft. The senior pilot and the senior observer of each squadron are usually responsible for warning their pilots, observers, and air gunners respectively for any flight.
2. With regard to the responsibilities of officers in a squadron, the orders laid down in A.F.O. on this subject are adhered to; the senior observer is responsible for the observers, air gunners, and all rear cockpit equipment, and the senior pilot for the pilots, engines and airframes. In addition, squadrons follow the usual practice of detailing officers for armament, parachutes, and office duties. All officers are responsible for the maintenance personnel in their own departments.
3. The various maintenance orders laid down by the Admiralty have been slightly amended in individual squadrons according to circumstances; e.g., new inspections added as new equipment is fitted, or additional inspections in tropical climates. Emergency rations should be checked periodically and water bottles always kept in the aircraft; these precautions have saved a number of lives, and on one occasion the crew of a Swordfish which had force landed in the middle of the Mediterranean existed on their emergency rations and a water bottle each in the dinghy for eight days, when they finally drifted ashore.
4. Aldis lamps must be periodically checked for correct alignment.
SECTION 8C – CARRIER OPERATIONS
1. Probable requirements of aircraft during a period at sea are ordered by the Senior Officer before the Fleet puts to sea; striking force objectives, with any particular targets suggested, are ordered by the Senior Officer, but the actual composition and organization of the raid is left to the carrier and the Striking Force Leader.
2. Similarly, reconnaissance and patrols are ordered by the Senior Officer, to cover a certain sector, etc, and he may order the actual number of aircraft – but usually all the details are left for the carrier to arrange.
3. Chiefly owing to our lack of light forces, carriers operating with the Fleet have almost invariably formed a part of the battlefleet, so that they have the protection of the Fleet’s gunfire and A/S screen. (If contact with enemy surface forces is gained the carrier probably acts independently, with a few light ships for protection, but endeavours to keep in V/S touch with the main force.) It is therefore necessary for the carrier to inform Commander-in-Chief of the flying programme; when the carrier hoists the Aeroplane Flag close up, Commander-in-Chief turns the whole Fleet into wind by Blue Pendant – destroyers taking up their new stations ahead – and minor adjustments of course to keep into wind are allowed for by the carrier taking guide of the Fleet as long as the Aeroplane Flag is close up.
4. To assist aircraft in finding the ship on return by night flame floats have sometimes been dropped, but these may be a danger to the Fleet and should in any case have a delay action of 10 to 15 minutes; by day in bad visibility carriers have made smoke, burnt searchlights, or laid an oil track astern of the ship.
5. The system of carrier lights for night operations and the procedures for night decklanding, as laid down in A.F.I. and A.C.G.M., has proved efficient.
6. When aircraft ask for D/F bearings the carrier – being usually D/F guard – asks permission from Commander-in-Chief to pass such bearings; this entails a slight delay, so aircraft must realise that if they do not obtain a reply within a few minutes it does not necessarily mean that they cannot be heard. A.C.G.M. now lay down the principle that once it has been decided to break W/T silence to home an aircraft, no restriction should be made in the number of bearings to be passed out; this should prevent any recurrence of occasions in the past when silence was re-imposed after one or two bearings.
7. Aircraft force landing in the sea should jettison all their bombs; there is then more chance of the aircraft floating and the smoke floats may attract searches; it is reported that on one occasion the green fluorescence from the life-saving waistcoats of the crew in the water was seen at 10 miles from a height of 2,000 feet.
8. Carriers have usually spent long periods at sea – or in places where aircraft cannot be disembarked. In consequence there is little opportunity for training new personnel once they have gone to a first line squadron at sea; in fact a new observer or air gunner may take part in an important operation on his first flight from the ship.
9. Carriers usually drop a smoke float as a departure point for aircraft going on long searches, but this has been by no means an invariable rule, and this emphasises the point of taking a quick departure over a moving datum which is probably steering off the given M.L.A.
SECTION 8D – ARMY CO-OPERATION
1. There have been no reports of any occasion during the present war when naval aircraft have carried out true Army co-operation, i.e., reconnaissance of enemy troop movements, batteries, etc, and spotting for Army gunfire. There have, of course, been many occasions when naval aircraft have carried out raids on shore objectives with the specific object of assisting the Army, and also photographs and reconnaissance reports have often been of incidental value to the military; such occasions have occurred in Norway, France, Libya, and Iraq.
2. At the same time certain observers and squadrons have been and are being given special training in Army co-operation which may be required in the future.
SECTION 8E – AIRMANSHIP
1. The value of good co-operation between the members of an aircraft crew – whatever the operation – cannot be too highly stressed. Experience has shown that the best results are produced not necessarily by the most efficient observer (or pilot or air gunner) but by the most efficient crew with good teamwork.
2. An adequate sense of responsibility is sometimes lacking in newly trained personnel – responsibility towards the man’s own gear, his aircraft, the other members of his crew, and the job in hand.
3. Observers have occasionally been careless about attaching the safety pendant to their harness in flight, in spite of the usual emphasis on this point. One observer was thrown out of his aircraft by violent avoiding action against enemy fighters over Calais and such a possibility is always present in any operation.
4. A general complaint from sea about newly trained personnel is that they are apt to have confused minds on what is required of naval aircraft operations, and are unable to take a general view; in other words, they cannot see the wood for the trees. For instance, they sometimes regard navigation as a different ‘subject’ from reconnaissance, instead of simply a means to an end; or if sent out on a photographic flight they might fail to report an enemy ship sighted ‘because their duty was photographic and not reconnaissance’. This criticism is understandable and almost inevitable so long as personnel are sent from their training course to operational work under the usually strange surroundings of a ship at sea, and it is only overcome by experience.
Minute from First Lord of Admiralty to Prime Minister
[AVIA 46/136] 6 December 1941
Supply of Grumman Martlet fighters
FIGHTER AIRCRAFT FOR THE FLEET AIR ARM.
I am increasingly anxious as regards the prospective situation of shipborne fighter aircraft.
I attach a chart on which graphs show how the aircraft available fail to meet the requirements. It will be seen from the graphs that up to the end of 1942 the situation is apparently satisfactory, but I would point out that this apparently satisfactory position is due to the use of the obsolescent Fulmar in the first line squadrons aided by the supply of 260 Hurricane ‘Ones’ from the Royal Air Force, which have been converted for use in Carriers, and by the prospective supply of 200 Spitfires, which you yourself were instrumental in obtaining for us from the Royal Air Force subsequent to your visit to H.M.S. INDOMITABLE.
It was hoped that with the supply of Martlets from the United States of America commencing at the rate of 20 per month, as it should have done from October, 1940, we could have kept our heads above water until the new fleet fighters, Firebrand and Firefly, came into effective production.
Owing to the failure of the U.S.A. to keep their promise, the situation deteriorates to a marked degree after the end of 1942. We wish to increase the number of Auxiliary Carriers by a total of 15 in 1942, and are considering a further 15 in 1943 and 1944. This will accentuate our difficulty, because although at present the idea of using these Carriers for anti-submarine purposes is predominant, it may well be that Germany will push out her air-raiders to an extent which will require Auxiliary Carriers to be equipped with fighters in addition to anti-submarine craft. This is quite feasible as it will be recalled that lately the United States have laid particular emphasis on the fact they have produced an aircraft which is capable of a range of 8,000 miles and I cannot think that Germany will be far behind the United States in their production of aircraft which will raid our convoys at very great distances.
It is clear, therefore, that unless drastic steps are taken to increase the production of fleet fighters, we are likely to be in a nasty hole from the beginning of 1943 onwards.
Although we have use of a number of Hurricanes, and in prospect of a number of Spitfires, it must emphasised that these are not really suitable aircraft for operating from Carriers for the following reasons:–
(a) They cannot be used in the small lifts of VICTORIOUS, ILLUSTRIOUS and FORMIDABLE.
(b) Although they can be used in the Carriers fitted with large lifts, they occupy so much more space than a folding aircraft that a drastic reduction in the small number of aircraft which can be carried by any one Carrier is dictated.
(c) Their small endurance requires a Carrier to be turned into the wind so often in order to relieve fighter patrols that the consequent reduction of speed of advance of the ships from which it may be operating is quite unacceptable under certain circumstances.
(d) The R.A.F. aircraft cannot carry the equipment in the way of radio sets and homing beacons, which we have found necessary, for successful operations from Carriers.
The Royal Navy is already accused by the Royal Air Force of taking up more than its fair share of aircraft productive capacity of the country, and it is obvious that production in this country can only be increased at the expense of R.A.F. aircraft of which we know there is at present a shortage.
The American folding fleet fighter is the ideal aircraft for the job, but here again the productive capacity of the United States is barely sufficient to meet the requirements of their own Navy, which is much behind in modern aircraft owing to the fact that Congress has not allowed them to change their aircraft more than once every five years.
During Admiral Lyster’s visit to the United States it was emphasised to him by Col. Knox, Admiral Stark and other high officials in the U.S. Navy and elsewhere, that in order to meet the requirements of both the Royal Navy and the United States Navy means must be found:–
(a) to increase the present rate of production of naval aircraft and
(b) to increase the productive capacity for naval aircraft.
As far as (a) is concerned, steps have been taken to increase the output of the Grumman factory from 60 to 75 fighters per month. Of this the Royal Navy will be receiving aircraft at the rate of 25 per month from April, 1942. This is only a target figure and experience has shown that target figures are never reached and we shall be lucky if we get 75% of the target.
It was emphasised to Admiral Lyster that in order to increase the productive capacity in the United States of America for naval aircraft, it would be necessary to curtail, to a limited extent, the four-engined bomber programme, which it was pointed out was at the present not only overshadowing the aircraft industry, but even the production of tanks and merchant vessels in that machine tools to the extent of 60,000 had been diverted from tank and merchant ship production to meet the requirements of the heavy bomber programme. To what extent the statement was justified, Admiral Lyster was not able to find out in the short time at his disposal, but had to accept the statement as coming from high naval authorities mentioned above.
The argument has been put forward that if the heavy bomber programme were reduced by a delivery rate of say 20 aircraft per month, the production of naval fighters would materially increase. This as a generalisation is obvious, but in practice this would not help at all, as the bomber programme is, like everything else, behindhand. In order to increase American production of naval aircraft, the first essential is, therefore, to make the extra space available for the manufacture of this type. The next essential is that the necessary materials are provided at a high priority. It is suggested that a plant be selected with the smallest heavy bomber target output and that this be made available for the production of naval type aircraft with the materials already allotted to it for bomber construction. I believe a suitable plant would be the Vega plant at Burbaok or the Ryan plant at San Diego. The conversion of either of these plants would entail about a 10% cut in the target output of 500 bombers per month and should be capable of supplying a large number of naval aircraft sufficient to cover our needs. The paper reduction of the heavy bomber programme will not assist us unless we are given a larger manufacturing capacity than that at present offered by Grummans.
As you will see in the attached paraphrase of Opnav’s despatch of the 1st December from Colonel Knox to Mr. Harriman, the United States wish for a statement from the British Government as to the priority of production of heavy bombers and naval aircraft; I could not answer that without a direction from you. There is no doubt as to our need, and I should be glad if you do not wish the heavy bomber programme to interfere with the production of naval aircraft. Only in this way shall we be able to meet our commitments …
Extract from minutes of War Cabinet Defence Committee (Supply) (41) 15th Meeting on 9 December 1941
[AVIA 46/136] 9 December 1941
Supply of Grumman Martlet fighters
THE AIRCRAFT PROGRAMME.
FIGHTERS FOR THE F.A.A.
Admiral Lyster said that he did not think the Grumman factory was big enough for the purpose. During his recent visit to America, Colonel Knox, Admiral Stark and others in authority had emphasised to him that the heavy-bomber programme was overshadowing other types of production, particularly of naval aircraft, tanks and merchant vessels. 60,000 machine tools had been diverted from tank and merchant ship production to meet the requirements of the heavy bomber programme. This was the fundamental obstacle to adequate production of naval aircraft and this was the reason why the Admiralty proposed that two specific factories should be transferred to naval aircraft production and given the highest priority.
Sir Archibald Sinclair said that other authorities in America expressed opposite views. He thought it would be wrong for us to interfere in what was fundamentally an American Inter-Service controversy.
The Prime Minister said that it was essential that the aircraft to equip and maintain our armoured aircraft carriers must have priority over everything else. Aircraft for auxiliary carriers were not of the same degree of importance. If this division were made, he did not think there would be much impingement on other programmes and he did not propose to enter into the merits of the question of getting specific factories put on to [this] work in America …
Mr. Alexander said that, in accordance with the Prime Minister’s request, the Admiralty had split their total requirement between what was needed to fit out and maintain the armoured aircraft carriers and what was needed to fit out and maintain the auxiliary carriers. The figures for initial equipment were 225 for the former and 186 for the latter.
(a) Agreed that the highest priority should be accorded to the production of the fighter aircraft necessary to equip and maintain the armoured carriers of the Royal Navy, i.e. an initial equipment of 225 aircraft and a monthly wastage of 20%.
Minute by Fifth Sea Lord1
[ADM 1/11971] 27 December 1941
Requirements for Aircraft Carriers
I do not think we have yet learnt the lesson now being driven home to us by bitter experience, which is, that the dominating factor in naval warfare is no longer the big gun but the air striking force whether shore based or carrier borne.
2. I see no reason why a fleet of carriers only escorted by cruisers and destroyers should not be able to deal effectively with what is usually termed a ‘well balanced’ fleet.
3. I think we would be well advised to divert a great deal of our manpower, factory space and material from the production of heavy ships, big guns and armour into the production of carriers, aircraft and torpedoes as quickly as can be – particularly if we hope to compete with the Japanese fleet in the Indian Ocean on anything like equal terms. If we do not provide our fleet with ample aircraft both for offense and defence we are liable to get a caning.
4. I do not see why the ships need a speed of more than 25 knots which is ample for operating aircraft. The Battlefleet must keep with the carriers of present.
5. They should have a minimum deck of 500ft × 80ft not more than 20000 tons, very well subdivided and fitted with A.T.O.G.
6. They will need HA/LA guns and close range weapons but their principal A.A. defence must be the fighters.
7. I am of the opinion that what we need is a large number of carriers of reasonable speed and medium size so as to provide a great striking force with ample fighters to cover the striking force and to defend the fleet and to enable the risk to be spread.
8. I suggest that this is a subject of sufficiently high policy to be discussed by the Board at a very early date.
Message from British Air Commission, Washington to Ministry of Aircraft Production
[CAB 122/142] 30 December 1941
American aircraft to be supplied under Third Lend-Lease Act
C.N.R. from Smeeton.
Following types have been included in proposed Fleet Air Arm Appropriations under third Lend-Lease.
Single Seat Fighter
My opinion is that (A) will make a useful single seater now that the armament has been increased to six half inch with four hundred rounds per gun. Folds in a similar way to Chesapeake, height being 16 feet and one half inch when folded. There is a good chance of reducing this by remoulding wing tip or making it quickly detachable. I strongly recommend that we do not reject this aircraft on account of critical folded height. Delivery prospects in late 1942 are fairly promising.
(B) Is the successor to the Martlet and will be very late in production. We should not expect it before May 1943.
(C) Does not at present fit into the Fleet Air Arm as a type, but promises to be a high performance dive bomber two seater, with diving brakes. Has alternate half inch of [sic] 20 mm fixed gun installation one in each wing. At present, investigations in progress to modify design to take U.S. MK. XIII torpedo, British torpedo will be too long for this aircraft. Folded width 22′ 7″, folded height 16′ 10″. Small deliveries might be expected in late 1942. I consider it might be useful aircraft in auxiliary carriers. In view of folded height and width it appears unsuitable for armoured carriers.