The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA)
Photographic and Source Information
The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is one of the five fighting arms of the Royal Navy and is responsible for the delivery of naval air power both from land and at sea. The Fleet Air Arm operates the F-35 Lightning II in a Maritime Strike Role, the AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin in both Commando and Anti-Submarine roles, and the BAE Hawk in an aggressor role.
The Fleet Air Arm today is a predominantly rotary force, with helicopters undertaking roles once performed by biplanes such as the Fairey Swordfish.
The Fleet Air Arm was formed in 1924 as an organisational unit of the Royal Air Force, which was then operating the aircraft embarked on RN ships—the Royal Naval Air Service having been merged with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps in 1918 to form the Royal Air Force—and did not come under the direct control of the Admiralty until mid 1939. During the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm operated aircraft on ships as well as land-based aircraft that defended the Royal Navy's shore establishments and facilities.
1942 February: Lt Eugene Esmonde won Victoria Cross for actions undertaken during Channel Dash.
1944 January: First operational use of helicopter, the Sikorsky R4.
1945 August: Lt Robert Hampton Gray won posthumous Victoria Cross for single-handedly sinking Japanese destroyer.
1948: HMS Vengeance, a light fleet aircraft carrier carried out cold weather trials in the Arctic. Commercial helicopters were embarked.
1949: Sea Vampire jet propelled aircraft trials carried out on HMS Implacable and HMS Warrior.
Atlantic 1939-45, English Channel 1939-45, North Sea 1939-45, Biscay 1940-45, Norway 1940-45, Libya 1940-45, Mediterranean 1940-45, Narvik 1940, Dunkirk 1940, Battle of Britain 1940, Calabria 1940, Taranto 1940, Spartivento 1940, Malta Convoys 1941-42, Matapan 1941, Crete 1941, Bismarck 1941, Arctic 1941-45, Malaya 1942-45, Diego Suarez 1942, North Africa 1942-43, Sicily 1943, Salerno 1943, Aegean 1944, Normandy 1944, Sabang 1944, South France 1944, Burma 1944-45, Palembang 1945, Okinawa 1945, Japan 1945.
Beginnings Royal Naval Air Service
British naval flying started in 1909, with the construction of an airship for naval duties. In 1911 the Royal Navy graduated its first aeroplane pilots at the Royal Aero Club flying ground at RAF Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey under the tutelage of pioneer aviator George Bertram Cockburn. In May 1912, naval and army aviation were combined to become the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The Naval Wing of the RFC lasted until July 1914 when the Royal Navy reformed its air branch, under the Air Department of the Admiralty, naming it the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). By the outbreak of the First World War, in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the remaining RFC. The roles of the RNAS were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air raids, along with deployment along the Western Front. In April 1918 the RNAS, which at this time had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations, merged with the RFC to form the Royal Air Force.
Fleet Air Arm
On 1 April 1924, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force was formed, encompassing those RAF units that normally embarked on aircraft carriers and fighting ships. The year was significant for British naval aviation as only weeks before the founding of the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Navy had commissioned HMS Hermes, the world's first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. Over the following months RAF Fleet Air Arm Fairey IIID reconnaissance biplanes operated off Hermes, conducting flying trials.
On 24 May 1939 the Fleet Air Arm was returned to Admiralty control under the "Inskip Award" (named after the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence overseeing the British re-armament programme) and renamed the Air Branch of the Royal Navy. At the onset of the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of 20 squadrons with only 232 frontline aircraft, and 191 additional trainers.
During the early 1940’s Britain was at war. Many battles took place both at sea and in the air, the most significant of these being the naval Battle of Taranto. The Royal Navy launched the first all aircraft naval attack in history, flying a small number of aircraft from a carrier in the Mediterranean and attacking the Italian fleet in the harbour at Taranto. The effect of the British carrier on the Italian warships foreshadowed the end of the ‘Big Gun’ ship and the rise of naval air power.
By the end of the war the strength of the Fleet Air Arm was 59 aircraft carriers, 3700 aircraft, 72000 officers and men and 56 air stations all over the world. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the capital ship and its aircraft were now strike weapons in their own right.
An elephant pulling a Supermarine Walrus aircraft into position at a Fleet Air Arm station in India (c. June 1944)
During the war, the FAA operated fighters, torpedo bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Following the Dunkirk evacuation and the commencement of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force soon found itself critically short of fighter pilots. In the summer of 1940, the RAF had just over 800 fighter pilots and as personnel shortages worsened; the RAF turned to the Admiralty to ask for help from the Fleet Air Arm. Fleet Air Arm crews under RAF Fighter Command were either seconded individually to RAF fighter squadrons or entire as with 804 and 808 Naval Air Squadrons. The former provided dockyard defence during the Battle of Britain with Sea Gladiators.
In British home waters and out into the Atlantic Ocean, operations against Axis shipping and submarines in support of the RN were mounted by RAF Coastal Command with large patrol bombers, flying boats and land-based fighter-bombers. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the capital ship of the RN and its aircraft were now its principal offensive weapons. The top scoring fighter ace with 17 victories was Commander Stanley Orr, the Royal Marine ace was Ronald Cuthbert Hay with 13 victories. A number of Royal Marines were FAA pilots during the war.
Notable Fleet Air Arm operations during the war included the Battle of Taranto, the sinking of the Bismarck, the attempt to prevent the Channel Dash, Operation Tungsten against the Tirpitz and Operation Meridian against oil plants in Sumatra.
The Few of the Few
'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.' Winston Churchill's words immediately conjure up images of plucky RAF chaps running to their Spitfires to go and give 'Jerry' a damn good thrashing. However, it is frequently overlooked that 56 Fleet Air Arm pilots also took part in the Battle of Britain with four becoming fighter 'aces'. Although rarely acknowledged, three Naval pilots also flew with the famous 242 Squadron commanded by the legendary Douglas Bader.
The young Naval aviators who took part in the Battle of Britain between July and October 1940 saw some of the fiercest fighting of the battle. 23 Naval pilots served with twelve RAF Fighter Command Squadrons, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes, and a further 33 served with 804 and 808, the two Fleet Air Arm Battle of Britain Squadrons who operated under Fighter Command, providing Dockyard defence.
The first Naval fighter ace in the battle was Sub Lieutenant Francis Dawson-Paul who flew Spitfires with 64 Squadron. He was followed by Sub Lieutenant Arthur Blake from 19 Squadron, who also flew Spitfires, and then Sub Lieutenants 'Dickie' Cork and 'Jimmy' Gardner from Douglas Bader's 242 Squadron. Cork was awarded the DFC for his actions.
The two Fleet Air Arm squadrons flew Gloster Sea Gladiators, Grumman Martlets and Fairey Fulmars, normally only seen in carriers. 804 Naval Air Squadron, based at Hatston, consisted of 22 pilots flying Sea Gladiators and Martlets whilst the 11 pilots of 808 Squadron, based at Wick, were equipped with Fulmars.
Amongst these pilots were five Petty Officers earning themselves the Battle of Britain Clasp. Petty Officers TJ Mahoney, FLShaw and WEJ Stockwell flew with 804 Naval Air Squadron and Petty Officers, RE Dubber and DE Taylor flew with 808 Naval Air Squadron. Royal Marine pilots were also represented in these squadrons; Captain AE Marsh RM and Lieutenant AJ Wright RM flew with 804 and Lieutenant RC Hay RM with 808.
Seven Naval pilots were killed and two wounded during the Battle of Britain and whilst all 56 Naval aviators are listed on the Battle of Britain memorial in London, the contribution made by the Royal Navy is rarely recognised. In the iconic films 'Battle of Britain' and 'Reach for the Sky', despite Douglas Bader having three Naval Officers in his Squadron, including his wingman 'Dickie Cork', no reference is made to them. In the eyes of the world the Battle of Britain is, and always will be, an RAFvictory and the contribution and sacrifice of the 'Few' is something that is indisputable. However, the Royal Navy, and those with an interest in Naval aviation history, should never forget the bravery of the few within the 'Few' who fought in Naval uniform.
FAA squadrons NAS Aircraft type Ship Dates Notes 801 Seafire L.III Implacable May 1945 onwards Part of 8th Carrier Air Group. The squadron joined the British Pacific Fleet in May 1945 as part of the 8th Carrier Air Group escorting strikes on Truk and targets around Japan till after VJ day. 812 Barracuda II Vengeance July 1945 onwards At sea on VJ Day en route to Taiwan, as part of Task Group (TG) 111.2, 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron, diverted to Hong Kong arriving 29 August. 814 Barracuda II Venerable June 1945 onwards 15th Carrier Air Group, saw no action 820 Avenger I Indefatigable Embarked November 1944 with 849 squadron, and took part With No 2 Strike Wing for attacks on oil refineries at Palembang, Sumatra and Sakashima Gunto islands;
from June 1945 with 7th Carrier Air Group for strikes around Tokyo
827 Barracuda II Colossus Embarked for BPF January 1945 Operated in the Indian Ocean from June 1945 until VJ-Day (BPF service unclear) 828 Barracuda I, II & III
Implacable From June 1945 Part of 8th Carrier Air Group, involved in attacks on Truk and Japan 837 Barracuda II Glory Embarked April 1945 Part of 16th Carrier Air Group but saw no action before VJ-Day; covered Japanese surrender at Rabaul 848 Avenger I Formidable April 1945 onwards Participated in strikes against Sakishima Gunto Island airfields and shore targets and on Formosa; in early June 1945 joined the 2nd Carrier Air Group for strikes on Japan in July 849 Avenger I & II Victorious December 1944 onwards Part of No 2 Naval Strike Wing for raids on Pangkalan Brandon and Palembang oil refineries, Sumatra in January 1945; strikes on the Sakashima Gunto islands and Formosa, strikes in July 1945 Japan, near Tokyo, where an 849 aircraft scored the first bomb hit on the carrier Kaiyo 854 Avenger I, II & III Illustrious December 1944 onwards Participated in strikes on Belawan Deli and Palembang; then took part in attacks on the Sakishima Gunto Islands; in July 1945 joined 3rd Carrier Air Group and saw no further action 857 Avenger I & II Indomitable November 1944 onwards Joined in attacks on Belawan Deli, Pangkalan Brandan and Palembang in December 1944 and January 1945; later 2 months continuous attacks on Sakishima Gunto islands and Formosa; no further action before VJ-Day, but subsequently combatted Japanese suicide boats on 31 August and 1 September 1945 near Hong Kong 880 Seafire L.III Implacable Embarked March 1945 Escorted attacks on Truk island in June 1945; at end June merged into the new 8th Carrier Air Group; joined attacks in Japan 885 Hellcat I & II Ruler Embarked December 1944 Provided fighter cover for the Fleet; aircraft re-equipped June 1945, but saw no more action before VJ-Day 887 Seafire F.III & L.III Indefatigable Embarked November 1944 Took part in attack on oil refineries at Palembang, Sumatra in January 1945; strikes on the Sakashima Gunto islands; strikes around Tokyo just before VJ-Day 888 Hellcat Indefatigable Until January 1945 Operations over Sumatra, then remained in Ceylon when BPF departed 894 Seafire L.III Indefatigable Embarked November 1944 Took part in operations against Palembang oil refineries in Sumatra, January 1945; in March and April 1945 attacked targets in the Sakishima Gunto islands, and then attacked the Japanese mainland just prior to VJ-Day. 899 Seafire L.III Seafire pool Chaser February 1945 Operational Training squadron, was on HMS Arbiter on VJ-Day 1770 Firefly Indefatigable Embarked HMS Indefatigable November 1944 the squadron embarked on HMS Indefatigable for the Far East, where it took part in the attack on the oil refineries at Palembang, Sumatra in January 1945. It subsequently was involved in strikes on the Sakashima Gunto islands, and against Formosa. 1771 Firefly Implacable March to September 1945 Re-embarked as part of the 8th Carrier Air Group to take part in the attacks on Truk in June 1945, and subsequently attacks on the Japanese mainland. 1772 Firefly Indefatigable July 1945 onwards till V-J Day Strikes against the Japanese mainland. 1790 Firefly NF Vindex From August 1945 Not in operational area before VJ-Day 1830 Corsair Illustrious December 1943 Part of 5th Naval Fighter Wing, sailing in January 1944 to Ceylon for the Eastern Fleet. March 1944 sweeps were made over the Bay of Bengal, in April 1944 enemy shore installations were attacked at Sabang, and in May 1944 operation were carried out at Sourabaya.une 1944 was spent attacking the Andaman islands, and in July operations were carried out at Sabang. Then, in August 1944 the ship sailed for Durban to refit, the squadron disembarking at Wingfield where it was stationed till October 1944, having increased to 18 aircraft. In December 1944 and January 1945 the squadron took part in the attacks on Palembang oil refineries in Sumatra, after which the ship joined the British Pacific Fleet. March and April 1945 was spent with operations attacking the Sakishima Gunto islands, but after the ship was damaged by a Japanese Kamikaze it returned with 1830 squadron to the UK. Squadron disbanded July 1945. 1831 Corsair Glory June 1945 No Action. 1833 Corsair Illustrious March 1944 In March 1944 sweeps were made over the Bay of Bengal, in April 1944 enemy shore installations were attacked at Sabang, and in May 1944 operation were carried out at Sourabaya. June 1944 was spent attacking the Andaman islands, and in July operations were carried out at Sabang. Then, in August 1944 the ship sailed for Durban to refit, the squadron disembarking at Wingfield where it was stationed till October 1944, having increased to 18 aircraft. In December 1944 and January 1945 the squadron took part in the attacks on Palembang oil refineries in Sumatra, after which the ship joined the British Pacific Fleet. March and April 1945 was spent with operations attacking the Sakishima Gunto islands, but after the ship was damaged by a Japanese Kamikaze it returned to the UK with 1833 squadron aircrew without their aircraft and where they disbanded in July 1945. 1834 Corsair Victorious August 1944 The squadron took part in a series of attacks on Sumatra, including on the Palembang oil refineries in Sumatra in January 1945. Subsequently, the ship joined the British Pacific Fleet and commenced attacks on the Sakishima Gunto islands between March and May 1945. In June 1945 the squadron joined the 1st Carrier Air Group at Schofields, and embarked on HMS Victorious for a series of attacks on the Japanese mainland in the Tokyo area. 1836 Corsair Victorious July 1944 until V-J Day In July 1944 the squadron attacked oil storage facilities and airfields at Sabang, Sumatra. Operation continued in the area until January 1945 with the attacks on oil installations at Palembang, Sumatra. It subsequently was involved in strikes on the Sakashima Gunto islands, and then joined the 1st Carrier Air Group. The squadron re-embarking on HMS Victorious later in the month for strikes in July 1945 against the Japanese mainland near Tokyo until VJ-Day. 1839 Hellcat Indomitable July 1944 to June 1945 In July 1944 the squadron embarked on HMS Indomitable, providing cover during attacks on Sumatra. In December 1944 and January 1945 the squadron took part in the strikes on the Palembang, Sumatran oil refineries, and with the ship joined the British Pacific Fleet to attack the Sakishima Gunto islands. On 24 January 1945 Sub Lt RF Mackie RNZN of 1839 sqdn flying Hellcat JV141 ""116/W"" shot down a Japanese Ki44 aircraft at Palembang. In April 1945 the squadron absorbed 1840 squadron, and subsequently the 5th Naval Fighter Wing disbanded into the 11th Carrier Air Group in June 1945. In early August the squadron embarked on HMS Indomitable but saw no action before VJ-Day. 1840 Hellcat Speaker December 1944 The squadron joined the 3rd Naval Fighter Wing at Eglington, and subsequently in December 1944 embarked on HMS Speaker for the Pacific, where it provided fighter coverage of the British Pacific Fleet train, but was absorbed into 1839 squadrons and disbanded in April 1945. 1841 Corsair Formidable December 1944 Embarked on HMS Speaker for the Pacific, where it provided fighter coverage of the British Pacific Fleet train, but was absorbed into 1839 squadrons and disbanded in April 1945. 1842 Corsair Formidable September 1944 In March 1945 the squadron re-equipped with Corsair IV. In April and May 1945 the squadron took part in operations against the Sakishimo Gunto islands, and in June the 6th Naval Fighter Wing merged into the 2nd Carrier Air Group. Shortly before VJ-Day the squadron was involved in attacks against the Japanese mainland near Tokyo, two aircraft being lost but the aircrew rescued by a US submarine. 1844 Hellcat Indomitable October 1944 From October till December 1944 was spent ashore at China Bay, the squadron then re-embarked on HMS Indomitable for strikes on oil installations at Belawan Deli in Sumatra, and in January 1945 airfields and shore targets were attacked at Pangkalan Brandan as well as the oil refineries at Palembang. The ship then sailed for Australia and the squadron disembarked at Nowra where it was re-equipped with 18 Hellcat IIs. On re-embarking the squadron then took part in attacks on the Sakishima Gunto islands, and on Formosa. Further operations planned for August 1945 were cancelled due to VJ-Day. 1846 Corsair Colossus September 1944 September 1944 the squadron joined the 6th Naval Fighter Wing, sailing with HMS Formidable for the Far East, detachments disembarking at North Front, Gibraltar, Dekheila and Colombo till January 1945, embarking again on HMS Formidable in the middle of the month and arriving at Puttalam in February 1945. In March 1945 the squadron re-equipped with Corsair IV. In April and May 1945 the squadron took part in operations against the Sakishimo Gunto islands, and in June the 6th Naval Fighter Wing merged into the 2nd Carrier Air Group. Shortly before VJ-Day the squadron was involved in attacks against the Japanese mainland near Tokyo, two aircraft being lost but the aircrew rescued by a US submarine. The ship then withdrew to Australia. The squadron disembarked temporarily to Ponam just after VJ-Day, re-embarking for Nowra the following day and onwards to the UK in HMS Victorious. 1850 Corsair Vengeance July 1945 Onwards At sea on VJ Day en route to Taiwan, as part of Task Group (TG) 111.2, 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron, diverted to Hong Kong arriving 29 August. 1851 Corsair Venerable March 1945 Part of 15th Carrier Air Group, no action.
The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II
- Boyne, Walter J. (2003). The Influence of Air Power Upon History. Pelican Publishing. ISBN 9781455606337.
- Bradbeer, Thomas G. (2014). Battle For Air Supremacy Over The Somme: 1 June-30 November 1916. Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN 9781782896036.
- Darling, Kev (2009). Fleet Air Arm Carrier War: The History of British Naval Aviation. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Aviation. ISBN 978-1-84415-903-1.
- Hackett, James, ed. (3 February 2010). The Military Balance 2010. London: Routledge for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. ISBN 978-1-85743-557-3.
- Manning, Charles, ed. (2000). Fly Navy: The View from the Cockpit 1945–2000. Barnsley: Leo Cooper. ISBN 085052-732-5. Roskill, Stephen Wentworth (1969). Documents Relating to the Naval Air Service: 1908–1918. I. London: Navy Records Society.
- Sturtivant, Ray; Ballance, Theo (1994). The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. Kent, UK: Air Britain. ISBN 0-85130-223-8.
Magazine References: +
- Airfix Magazines (English) - http://www.airfix.com/
- Avions (French) - http://www.aerostories.org/~aerobiblio/rubrique10.html
- FlyPast (English) - http://www.flypast.com/
- Flugzeug Publikations GmbH (German) - http://vdmedien.com/flugzeug-publikations-gmbh-hersteller_verlag-vdm-heinz-nickel-33.html
- Flugzeug Classic (German) - http://www.flugzeugclassic.de/
- Klassiker (German) - http://shop.flugrevue.de/abo/klassiker-der-luftfahrt
- Le Fana de L'Aviation (French) - http://boutique.editions-lariviere.fr/site/abonnement-le-fana-de-l-aviation-626-4-6.html
- Le Fana de L'Aviation (French) - http://www.pdfmagazines.org/tags/Le+Fana+De+L+Aviation/
- Osprey (English) - http://www.ospreypublishing.com/
- Revi Magazines (Czech) - http://www.revi.cz/
Web References: +
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleet_Air_Arm
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