Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Running Away to the Air, 8: Planes for Ships. A Dialogue

I start with an apology. This is a response to an argument that ChrisM put forward in an email. I'll cite below, but there is a pretty severe power imbalance between a correspondent and a Big Giant Blog Writer. On the other hand, I've got long-mouldering Evidence to put out there. So there's that.

So. You say you want to grow up to be First Sea Lord.

I'm listening. I certainly don't want to be the nay-sayer. It's a colourful title that comes with a peerage, a nice pension, and the prospect of interlocking directorates in profitable publicly-traded corporations. What's not to like? A young naval officer should aim for the title. (Unless he is a doctor, accountant, or instructor. Or an engineer? I'm not sure about the last. Have we decided whether they're supposed to aspire to be Engineer Vice-Admiral, First Sea Lord, or both. Will we change our minds?)

And you did such a splendid job of picking your parents, too! Famous, influential at court, an uncle who is an admiral himself, carefully edited out of your Wikipedia biography to avoid clouding the issues. But there's one small roadblock and one huge. The first roadblock is that you've decided against the gunnery specialisation. You've been at Dartmouth long enough to see the numbers that every young man crunches. Your chances are better in Gunnery. That being said, we all know that it is a small roadblock, because if you are good at a valuable specialisation, you will quite likely advance against a weaker set of competitors. Deciding that you are stronger than, say, your Torpedo rivals is harder, although not so much now that they've been handed electrics.  If you are doing your fellows' homework, as opposed to the reverse, you have as good a chance as any other young man who has an uncle for an admiral. We'll strike that last part if you go for the Torpedo branch.

 Oh? Aviation? Hmm. Well, I can see that. You came of age during the war. You were bred up on the romance of the knights of the air, especially the ones who come in navy blue: BowhillCollishaw, DicksonBell-Davies, Longmore.

But here's the big roadblock. Fancy their fame? Too bad. You see, you were born in 1903. The war to end all wars ended before you were ready to end all wars yourself. Those knights of the air? You will never be one of them. Combat piloting is a young man's game, and there is almost exactly zero chance of a shooting war while you are young enough to fly the fleet planes of your generation. You will lust to get into a Nightjar,

and beat up fields or harbours or flight decks or launch rails, or whatever we end up using, on one of these

You'll be the "old man" of a squadron of these

 and you could lead your young men into battle in it. I do not think that likely, however. There will be another war. This peace is a weeping wound on the international body politic, but the nature of the wound will be to require a long half-healing before we are ready for war again. I will say twenty years, less two months, of course, so that the young men and horses can finish the harvest. As long as I am letting the past be the guide to my predictions, I will guess that the next war will go one year longer than the last, because men are getting madder in these latter days. In September of 1938, you will be 35 and a commander. In September of 1944, you will be a captain, looking for your flag. I hope for your sake that you will win your way through the mean trench fighting of postwar retrenchment to three more promotions, but I do not give you long odds.

So that's my cautionary. I'll leave it to this historian of the next century who has just popped by in his Collingwoodian time machine to give you some more solid retrospective insight.

Further ChrisM:

. . . .
The FAA was crippled throughout the 1920's and 1930's by their subordination to the RAF. . .  Air-mindedness could not sufficiently penetrate the upper levels of the RN because of the malformed nature of the RAF. First off, because of the Balfour committee 25% of all carrier aviators were straight up RAF, so the number of experienced naval aviator officers was only 75% of what it 'should' have been, and like baby turtles trying to get off a beach, you need a lot of fresh young midshipmen to make a few admirals- the attrition rate is high for all types, but especially so among pilots in the 1930's. For the remainder, the pilots were 'dual hatted' in both the RAF and the RN, with separate ranks, promotion boards, and everything. While they were technically independent and you could be an Admiral and a flight lieutenant, according to Swinton, _Carrier Glorious_ the two boards generally tried to keep your two ranks +/- 1.
Imagine you are an ambitious officer, determined to have your flag. Your choice is either to go do flight school, and now have to deal with twice as many promotion boards, or go do anything else and only have one to deal with. Of course most of them chose the easier path, which is why Reg Henderson stands out so strongly in the 1930's. . .  Yes, he basically ran the FAA as his own fiefdom for almost a decade, until he died, but one reason that happened was that the RN had a weak bench of aviation people.  And Henderson (I believe) saw that this was an unsustainable course. More RN officers needed to understand aviation in order to really integrate it into the fleet. So they had to take back total control of the FAA. Hence the emphasis on how flying off a carrier was so very different from land based operations, that led to the Inskip Award and the pure RN pipeline, while also convincing the RN that they needed to build their airplanes differently, and that no more land conversions would work.
So if the end result was such terrible airplanes, then I must think that Henderson screwed up, right? Actually, I think that he was exactly correct [Discussion of the sinking of Glorious follows].
Compare that with the ambitious (and experienced mid- and late career guys) like Bull Halsey, Aubrey Fitch, R.K. Turner, John McCain Sr., who all went through Naval Aviator pilot school and left with a much stronger understanding of how the stuff worked and we can see that the RN's biggest problem with the dual-hatting formula was simply that they weren't producing enough understanding of naval aviation in their brass, and that needed to get fixed, fast. Hence I think that on balance Henderson made the right decision. . . 

This is what has been referred to as the cultural argument of historic causation. It's, uhm, pretty hard to handle. We know that there are some kinds of cultural arguments that are not on the table. Once upon a time, the people who counted people and made arguments from culture to practice counted Jews in finance. Without getting into the merits of their "studies," I will just jump to the executive summary: claims like "Jews become bankers because Jews love money" actually have a double meaning that does not come out through syntax. At one level, this claim translates as "Don't look at the number of well-connected political/banking/courtier families. At another, it yields "It's okay to borrow money from Jews and not pay them back.") We can identify the people who are likely to say this (WASPs) and offer well-worn theoretical constructs that explain these rhetorical strategies, citing either ideological inversion or social-signalling, or both.

Having headed up a discussion of cultural sociology with a claim that we now recognise as window-dressing for anti-semitism has one tiny disadvantage as a rhetorical strategy. Cultural sociologists do not relish being called anti-semites. Or bigots in general. That is why the scholar has to be very careful in dealing with these claims. Someone who brings up "the spirit of Protestantism [Calvinism]" is not to be accused of anti-Catholic prejudice until after much beard stroking and academic self-strangulation. As a general rule, even if you are instinctively hostile to the claim that culture informs praxis, the mode of argument is sufficiently well-established as to demand an empirical approach to refutation.

So. Could there an ideological claim embedded in ChrisM's interpretation of the interwar culture of the Royal and United States Navy? A very plausible argument can be made. The armed services of the United Sates and the United Kingdom draw from what is normally seen as a unitary, fixed pool of money. They must make convincing arguments that they deserve the money more than their rival services if they are to get it at all. If one  blames everything bad that ever happened to the Fleet Air Arm on the Royal Air Force, the Admiralty has made a case for money that might otherwise go to the RAF. If you can point to the Pacific War and  say that "We meant to do that," you can present yourself as a wise custodian of the nation's future investment in aviation. Notice that the opposite claims can, and have been made. The Admiralty can be presented as the anchor dragging back the RAF's attempts to develop the FAA, while the United States Navy can be presented as having underfunded (naval) aviation in favour of battleships. History becomes a toolbox of tropes to be ransacked for arguments of use in the moment. 

I think that the fellow in charge of chiseling out Sargon of Akkad's annals might have pointed this out. 

So how do we address this? With facts. My a priori suspicion is that what we think we know about the interwar FAA is entirely ideologically constructed. I offer this observation because very strong claims are made about its interwar history on the basis of no facts whatsoever. It suffices to leap into the conversation with the sinking of Courageous and near-sinking of Ark Royal, or perhaps of the decision to strike the Skuas below on air attack warning at some point in 1939, or, best of all, the shenanigans around the sinking of HMS Glorious. FAA's ASW capability, and move on.

So: I promised facts. The first, absolutely key point that needs to be made is that promotion prospects in the interwar Royal Navy were not a hermetic mystery. The Royal Navy appointed officers to be promoted. As in any pyramidal rank structure, a certain proportion of each annual class washed out at each successive bottleneck, while others were promoted. Young officers could look at the promotion lists and determine their prospects, and even use those lists to guide them in their selection of specialisations. The talk of the corps was that Gunnery was their best bet, but everyone knew it, and the institution tried very hard to fix this. Coming off the fiasco that was the Fisher Scheme, one might expect that it would try very hard indeed to prevent this from happening with aviation.

Did they succeed? Here's a checkable database of officers still in active service, or recalled to active service, in 1939--45. To narrow the field, and because this database does not reliably look at the things that interest me,* I will look at the cohort born between 1900 and 1905 inclusive and compare broad groups. I will divide the groups into All Other Branches, Engineering, Fleet Air Arm and Omitted (Medical, Instruction and Paymaster). I will also accept that given that I lack time to double check the work, I have made mistakes, one of which I have caught myself, with more presumably remaining to be caught, and cannot make fine-grain statistical claims. 

For All Other Branches, 139 retired or died with terminal rank of Commander or less, 58 Captain, and 40 Admirals.

For the Fleet Air Arm, 21 , 8, 4.(1)

For the Engineering Branch, 11, 6, 4.

here is no evidence that opting for aviation reduced an officer of the 1900--1905 cohort's chances of reaching Captain. Depending on how much faith you want to put in my counting, it reduces, but certainly does not eliminate your chances of reaching flag rank.

Now let us look at the four FAA admirals in more detail. Wikidump!

Caspar John was promoted midshipman on 15 January 1921, and posted successively to  Centurion in the Mediterranean Iron Duke, in April 1922, and destroyer HMS Spear. He was promoted to sub-lieutenant on 30 January 1924. He gained first class certificates in gunnery and torpedo in his qualifying exams, then applied to train as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. Promoted to lieutenant on 30 August 1925, he gained 'his wings' in 1926 and was posted to RAF Leuchars in Scotland. In December 1926 he joined HMS Hermes for flying duties on the China station during the conflict between the communists and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist armies.[6] On returning from China. He was posted to the aircraft carrrier HMS Furious in the Atlantic Fleet in April 1930, HMS Malaya in January 1931 and  HMS Exeter iin December 1931, was promoted lieutenant commander on 30 August 1933, joined Renown in October 1933, aircraft carrier HMS Courageous as Staff Officer (Operations) in August 1934, spent much of 1936 based in the western desert outside Alexandria. Commander, 31 December 1936.Appointed to the Admiralty's naval air division, then cruiser HMS York in June 1939. Promoted to captain on 30 June 1941, he became Director-General of Naval Aircraft Production at the Ministry of Aircraft Production in Summer 1941 and then naval air attaché at the British embassy in Washington D.C. March 1943, He was given command of the aircraft-carrier HMS Pretoria Castle in August 1944 and of the brand-new light carrier HMS Ocean in June 1945.[12]    

Admiral Bingley's career is much less well-served by biographers, but his service records are online. (Prewar promotion years: 1923, 1926; 1927, 1935, 1939.) He entered in 1923, passed the 1929 observers' course to enter the FAA, served on Argus, Furious and Courageous in the 1930s, was Tovey's Staff Officer (Operations) at the outbreak of war and followed him to the Home Fleet until becoming CO of CVE Slinger in 1943, then Biter, then Mobile Naval Air Base IV, a late war organisation that was formed at Norfollk and eventually moved to Manus Anchorage in the Admiralty Islands. It was only in the postwar era that Bingley was able to reach the Admiralty and play around in procurement. His career peaked at CinC, Portsmouth, and he retired in 1960.

Admiral Torlesse is similarly ill-served online. An observer, like Bingley, he was born in 1903 and entered the Fleet Air Arm in 1927. He was promoted in 1931, 1935 and 1939, and was executive officer of HMS Suffolk on the outbreak of war. He was soon given to Bell-Davies as a chief of staff, reached the Admiralty in 1942, and was another lucky recipient of Kaiser's best, CVE HMS Hunter, in 1944, retiring in 1954 after being in charge of the fleet in Korea and also something-or-other to do with Churchill's nuclear tests.

Rear-Admiral Matthew Sausse Slattery (1902-1990) has somewhat incomplete service records and a not terribly helpful obituary in the Catholic Herald. Rounding out the top four, however, we know that he was an FAA pilot, the first notice of this at the unithistories research tool being his appointment as Flight Commander on Glorious in 1931. The author of the Wikipedia biography of Captain Henry Fancourt says that Slattery, like Fancourt, was a graduate of the No. 1 Naval Flying Training Course, however. As with his flag-rank No. 1 Course colleagues, his promotion record in the 1930s was commendably rapid: 1931, 1934, 1938. He is listed with an unspecified Amiralty appointment from November of 1938, and was Director of Air Materiel from January of 1939, he was given a "bungee-boss" shot at sea command as Captain of cruiser Cleopatra in 1941 before returning to the Admiralty in 1943. Given the brevity of his sea experience, it is perhaps not a surprise that he retired in 1948. Given what he was doing, it is hardly surprising that he was soon to be found in the boardrooms of Short Brothers and BOAC. 

From these biographies it might be suspected that there was not that much that the 1900--1905 cohort could do to influence aircraft procurement decisions. Although that first impression will turn out to be wrong, it might be as well to turn to the men who were in that position: the Rear-Admirals/Vice-Admirals Aircraft Carriers.

The Aircraft Carrier flag rank was created to replace the earlier Vice-Admiral Aircraft, a rank more appropriate for the 1920s, when the question of whether aircraft carriers would be the main modality of naval aviation was still open, with other options in play. This position had been held by Richard Phillimore (1864--1940)  until he was promoted to be CinC Plymouth, although the appointment is not even mentioned in his Wikipedia biography and I think may have been held by his former flag captain during the Tonden Raid, but that's what I get for not keeping better notes. I am on stronger grounds in listing the consecutive peacetime holders of the Aircraft Carrier flag: Reggie Henderson (1932); Noel Laurence (1936); Guy Royle (1937); and Lionel Wells (1939). Wells is a bit of an unperson due to the whole Glorious thing: Laurence's biography focusses on his piratical exploits as a submarine commander in the Baltic, while Royle was a gunnery man, like Henderson. Royle was Fifth Sea Lord (aviation) during the war, while Laurence faded away into the Ministry of Aircraft Production. 

This list suggests that air men were rushed through the service, but this is not quite correct.  Looking a little further down the seniority list, one gets to the Captain of Glorious in 1938, the marvelously named Lumley Lyster, b. 1888, who was made Rear Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, Mediterranean in 1940, where he carried out the Taranto attack and then commanded air operations during Pedestal in 1942.  Finally, Philip Vian (b. 1889), who did not command a carrier in peacetime (although he was Wells' flag captain for a while) was Admiral, Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific Fleet in 1945 under Bruce Fraser (b. 1888), who had commanded Glorious in 1936. 

Chris alerts us to the difference between the British and American cases. From 1927 on, prospective commanders of American aircraft carriers had to qualify as naval aviators, either as observers (100 hours in the log books) or as pilots (200 hours, or basic training through first solo flight --from a land field, of course.) Famous names of the United States Navy such as Ernest King (b. 1878), William Halsey (b. 1882), John McCain (1884), John Henry Towers (1885), Marc Mitscher (1887) and Frank Fletcher (b. 1885) passed through the Naval Aviators' training programme in Pensacola, Florida, if they had not already qualified as pilots, during the 1920s and 1930s,  and went on to command carriers in peacetime, and carrier fleets in wartime. 

Now, I have already admitted to an antipathy to "cultural claims." I could characterise them in other, and more theoretically friendly ways, but the core argument here is that King, Halsey and McCain were more "air-minded" than Henderson, Laurence, Wells and Royle because the former had had to take some kind of flight training before they were allowed to command aircraft carriers.  I am not even sure how to go about testing this claim.

 I do, however, have eyes, and can therefore see what is different between the two cases. The American admiralty is significantly older than the British. Ernest King, professional head of the United States Navy in 1945, was only a year younger than Dudley Pound, his approximate British opposite number in 1939! Vian and Fraser were younger than Marc Mitscher. The reason for that, of course, is that the Royal Navy aggressively pressed retirement on the senior flag ranks. Even James Somerville, the man who pioneered fast carrier operations (because there was no-one else commanding a fast carrier task force at war in 1940, is why I say that) was retired in 1938, only to unretire a year later.

So, by and large, it seems clear that if you are an ambitious young man who wants to make a career in naval aviation in the 1920s, and you are somehow given a choice between the British and American fleets (perhaps you're an alien infiltrator?), you want to pick the British fleet. A question mark obviously  hangs over the transition from captain to flag rank, but at least the Admiralty isn't a-waft in old man smell.

I know, I know: I should be writing for Slate!  But consider: the key argument has always been that the Fleet Air Arm was "too small" compared with the USN air arm. But the reason for that is precisely to keep promotion channels open. The RAF, forced for various reasons that I could go into, but, obviously, given the length of this post already, makes all of its pilots and most of its aircrew officers. Lacking anything like a career track for them all, it has created a "Short-Service Commission." No-one in the official world likes the short-service commission system. Ostensibly, the Air Ministry mutters that a bit of air force training will make up for the five-year handicap that discharged SSC officers have handed their contemporaries in the career sweepstakes. In reality, officialdom understands that youth are given to Special Snowflake syndrome, and that most SSC candidates think that they will be the lucky ones to transition from the SSC track to the permanent officer track. 

And people actually cared about the Special Snowflakes back then! So, so sweet and naive. Anyway, the point is that the RAF was taking care of bulking up the flying arm with Short Service Commissions, and that meant that the Navy didn't have to do it. (Until it did, in 1939.) FAA enrollees were on the career track. There did not have to be, I am saying, more officers than would fit onto the career track. Nor, indeed, did there have to be fewer.

At this point I could trouble you the results of many, many eyeglazing sessions with the London Gazette investigating the actual career tracks of the Fleet Air Arm in the aggregate. Unfortunately, I am still looking for the right club with which to beat that data into something approaching sense. Instead, I think I have got a single moment at which I can capture a compelling picture of the Fleet Air Arm: the 1936 Coronation Review. 

For the review, 109 FAA fixed-wheel aircraft will do a mass flypast, plus another 11 reserve aircraft. They will come from Courageous, Furious and Glorious, which will supply a total of 11 squadrons. 800, 801, 802, 810, 811, 812, 820, 821, 822, 823 and 825 squadrons. It will be led by Rear Admiral N. F. Laurence, Rear-Admiral Commanding Aircraft Carriers, in his personal Blackburn Shark. Since it is being piloted by an RAF officer, with an FAA man holding down the observer's spot, the omens are cloudy as to whether or not Laurence is getting more or less airmindedness from the experience than, say, Fletcher or Halsey. Captain Bruce Fraser, on the other hand, will not, as his activities will be confined to keeping his ship neat and tidy, will get less. Messy deck accidents will not be allowed to disrupt the Review, which is intended to present an ideal picture of Britain's awesome naval power, and to which end the Fleet Air Arm has been able to find an even division of pilots. Sixty naval and sixty air force pilots will fly over, or be available to fly over the fleet this fine day. At least, in Nimrods, Ospreys and Sharks. The Aeroplane is a little vague about the accompanying composite flight of catapult-launched aircraft.(2)

There you go: numbers. It is a snapshot of a moment, but at least grounds for comparison with history.navy.mil's authoritative list of all individuals "designated as naval aviators (trained)" in the United States Navy through 1939:

1911 to 1919 2,834
1920 82
1921 72
1922 106
1923 25
1924 32
1925 35
1926 35
1927 123
1928 140
1929 66
1930 348
1931 321
1932 168
1933 138
1934 35
1935 100
1936 212
1937 527
1938 543
1939 450

Notice that at various times this can include everything from dirigible crews to machinists. while I imagine that  things had settled down a bit at the woolly edges of the margin, another take will see that the United States Navy had 14 squadrons capable of being embarked on aircraft carriers in 1935. (You can also see that the USN did not own many aircraft with less trouble than toting up the numbers from Swanborough and Thetford. Another will note that, until 1936, all regular naval aviation officer trainees were Annapolis graduates. 

But what about learning about carrier aviation? The coronation review is one thing. Mussolini running amok in the Mediterranean is another. A few weeks after the review, Fraser will be one of Laurence's captains for what A. El Barlow, The Aeroplane's correspondent coyly characterises as a summer cruise of the Mediterranean. Remember how Caspar John is spending the year on a wind blown airstrip west of Cairo? Yeah, it's about that.(3.)
They have planes on ships now? Get out of town!
The point of this exercise is to forceably remind the Italians that the Royal Navy will blow their shit up if they start something. Now, normally, the Admiralty wants to make the opposite point, that it can't blow anything up without tons more money, but now we've got the whole diplomacy thing going on, and the Navy has gone so far as to let a press correspondent onto one of their boats. They will even let him take pictures. Later in the summer, Barlow will master the art of the "flight deck full of planes" picture angle. I'll let that hang here, because I am not digging them out right now. It is more important to notice that at this point Barlow is still trying to say things with words, and is allowed to give a fair picture of deck operations from the vantage point of the flagship, Courageous:

8:40--11:30 Courageous lands on its aircraft complement: 8 Nimrods, 2 Ospreys, 9 Sharks, 9 Baffins.
11:30--12:30 2 Nimrods launched, 2 Sharks, 2 Nimrods landed.
12:30--12:45 9 Baffins launched.
14:00 9 Baffins landed, 6 floatplanes land alongside, are brought on board with winches to bring inferred aircraft strength to 34.

3 more Baffins, 1 Nimrod, 1 Osprey landed on later to bring complement to 39, but something is omitted, because aircraft complement has reached 48 by the time Courageous docks at Gibraltar.
7:00--7:45 5 aircraft of 821 Sq, 9 aircraft of 820 Sq ranged and flown off, followed by 800 and 810 Squadron.

Yes, I know that this is not peak Pacific war scale flying operations, It is also peacetime, 1936, and spring in the Western Approaches, and the point here is that people are getting experience in flying fighters and bombers from aircraft carriers. Barlow will be allowed to fly in a full-squadron strength Shark antishipping strike exercise in place of an air observer and will tell us just how difficult the job actually is.  

So what, specifically, might one learn from all of this? Matthew Slattery is not aboard Courageous this year. He got his first command, the "W"-class destroyer Winchelsea in 1935, and is commanding Sussex, in the Mediterranean Fleet, this year. He will, however, be at the Admiralty in 1938 and 1939, and it is time to come around to the question of the single-seat fighter. The Nimrod and Osprey will be declared obsolete at the end of 1939. If I read the entrails correctly, they are to be replaced by the Skua and Roc. When this choice was made, in the 1935--7 timeframe, the single-seat naval fighter was clearly on the outs, and so was the fighter-reconnaissance type. S.9/36, a naval specification for a three-seat spotter-fighter, underlined the new thinking. Multi-role and all-angle engagement was in, fighter-level performance was out.

Now, whoever was behind this specification (I suspect Henderson), there is more sense to it than is sometimes allowed. All three of the major driving innovations in fighter performance in 1936 were pushing aircraft towards much longer takeoff runs. Monoplanes got more performance mainly through higher wing-loadings; superchargers increased performance at altitude at the expense of takeoff output; and fixed airscrews were increasingly being given aerofoil sections that compromised between takeoff and level flight performance. Landing flaps, two-speed superchargers and constant speed airscrews would change all of this, but they could not come until they came. 

But maybe there was a conceptual problem, too. Certainly someone at the Admiralty thought so. In March of 1938, Gloster Aircraft received a rush order for a modified version of its Gladiator fighter. I say "rush" because there was not even a staff requirement. In spite of the short notice, the Gloster works were able to put in at least the bare minimum of naval equipment (an inflatable dinghy in a wing compartment and some waterproofing) and deliver the first 38 Gladiator IIs straight off the assembly line as the new "Sea Gladiator." The first aircraft were delivered in the last month of 1938. Unfortunately, the contract was for fewer than 100 planes, and over a third had been struck off charge by the outbreak of war. Sea Gladiators were embarked on British carriers for combat operations over Norway until the supply rant out; but run out, it did.

So what now? Leo McKinstry tells us that someone at the Admiralty was desperate for a single-engined fighter in the fall of 1939, and had his eye on the Spitfire. Unfortunately, he cites another splatbook, not always the most reliable of sources. Fortunately, he has also found a letter in the Vickers archives from Alexander Dunbar to Sir Charles Craven, with a much more substantial charge of historical information. At some point in November, 1939, a runway at Eastleigh Aerodrome was laid out to the dimensions of an aircraft carrier flight deck. Out of the sky, all dramatic-like, a liaison aircraft appears, lands.

Out steps one Captain Matthew Sausse Slattery, RN. He has come to fly a Spitfire from the enclosure, which he duly does. At the end, he tells Dunbar that the Royal Navy is keen on the Spitfire as its next new fighter. They will need folding wings, as the aircraft will not fit the lifts on the new carriers. Craven will tell Dunbar to go ahead. The Seafire will not, as it happens, beat the Sea Hurricane into service. The first Sea Hurricane will be delivered in March of 1941, and it will be a few months more before it goes to sea on a carrier. We can probably blame Beaverbrook and his production push for this, as most of the delayed aircraft projects of the Battle of Britain are blamed. 

The point here? Let's leave the reconnaissance-fighter out of the conversation for the moment. I think that the argument for putting a backseater on a plane specifically intended to operate out of visual and radar range of its carrier is pretty clear. For almost the whole of the 1930s, the Fleet Air Arm has managed to operate a single-seat fighter and a two-seat fighter at the same time.  They were seen as complementary, not contesting specifications. If the directing intelligences of the Fleet Air Arm moved away from this in the mid-30s, as the case certainly seems to be, they moved away from both the single seat fleet defence fighter and the two-seat reconnaissance fighter. 

And here is where the cultural argument can be made. At the very moment that an officer trained up under the dual-control arrangement, a graduate of the famous No.1 Flying Training Course is in a position to influence procurement choices, he orders the Seafire. 

If I were to be pressed on the question of what the actual difference between the USN's air branch and the FAA is, I would argue it is that people keep comparing 09/39 to 12/41. But the thesis that Air Ministry-Admiralty dual control of the Fleet Air Arm somehow impaired the Fleet Air Arm culturally does not, it strikes me, hold under investigation of the facts of the case.

1. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John (1903--1984); 2. Admiral Alexander Noel Campbell Bingley (1905--1972); 3. Rear Admiral Arthur David Torlese (1903-1995); Rear Admiral Matthew Sausse Slattery (1902--1990); Captains; Henry Fancourt; Cyril William Byas; Horace Bayliss; Donald George MacIntyre; Henry Beale; Cyril Tidd; James Robertson; Lionel Ede; Robert Ellis; Lieutenants-through-Commanders; Edward Own Unwin; Douglas William McKendrick; Charles Albert Kinglsey-Rowe; Robert Kilroy Weshart; Frederick Godfrey Jennings@; Thomas Sturges Jackson; George H. Craven-Philips@; Anthony Colhurst; Henry Helder Caddy; James Brian Berkeley; Edmund Baker; Kenneth Beard; Ronald John Benny; J. M. Southwell, Vernon Smythe; Benjamin Rogers-Tillstone; Lewellyn George Richardson.

2. The Aeroplane, 26 May, 1936.
The Aeroplane, June 6, 1936; John James, The Paladins, uses the Air Force List to reconstruct the flying strength of the carriers of the Mediterranean Fleet in 1936. Although he does not draw the conclusion, it looks like the Admiralty had stocked the fleet with enough manpower to deliver full-deck strikes, entailing significantly overcrowding the carriers. Not to be all smug and snarky, but I will take this occasion to point out that this is why you train air force pilots to land on carriers in the first place. So you can blow more stuff up. 

But, hey, I'm sure that the American approach of restricting the number of bombs the Navy chooses to drop to the number of pilots the Navy chooses to train works for something. Like, say, inflating the defence budget.

*Specifically, I do not think that I can reliably pick out non-FAA specialisations.
@Jennings transferred from the RAF to the FAA in 1939; Craven-Philips is a double count in the data, as he joined the FAA without giving up his (E) branch specialisation. 


  1. Tangentially, our old mate Friedeberger (in a minor variant spelling/typo) turns out to be a submariner and also a Londoner. also did a lot of staffwork.

    http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersF2.html and do an in-page find.

  2. Heh. Chris tells me that buried in the post above is the "grudging acknowledgment" that he is right about crucial issues. Actually, he goes on, "grudging acknowledgment" is the best phrase that he can think of for characterising this blog. Burn!

    So what I'm saying is that ChrisM has an argument that I will leave to him to present in his time and his chosen venue.

    That being said, there are "Points of interest!" to be made.

    Fairey Fulmar/North American P-51 Mustang (empty weight, takeoff weight, maximum takeoff weight): 7015lb/7,635lb; 9672/9200lb; 10,200/12,100.

    The Fulmar is a very large aircraft by the standards of Merlin-powered single-engined fighters, but not particularly heavy. It needs a little more room to carry dense fuel, as does the P-51, and a lot of room for a separate observer's "office" so that he can do paper work.

    The P-51 is, by way of comparison, only slightly larger than the average SS, SE Merlin fighter, the difference being for various reasons.

    Vmax: Fulmar/P-51: 272 mph at 7,250 ft; 437 mph at 25,000 ft.

    Part of the issue is the inherent difficulty of comparing maximum speeds in aircraft with superchargers set for such different heights. The P.4/34 had a reported top speed of 283mph at 15,000 feet with a 1050hp Merlin II, and a two-stage Merlin 30 would have pushed it higher at 25,000ft. But what would a O.8/38 have done there?

    Most of the difference comes from the P-51's thrust-to-drag ratio being so much higher than that of the Fulmar, largely because of the parasitic drag of the observer's cabin, which had to be there, because the O.8/38 was a fighter-reconnaissance aircraft replacing the Hawker Osprey. It was not a fleet defence fighter to replace the Fleet Air Arm's robust tradition of single-seat fighters. As Chris rightly points out, that role was abandoned in the mid-30s. Cf. Defiant, Bf110, Airacuda. It was a dark age that came to an end for the FAA with the Sea Gladiator order.

    Here is are photo comparisons of the Fairey P.4/34 and of the Fairey Battle

    and of the P.4/34 prototype on the ground at the RAeS Garden Party. The glasshouse is long, but not yet differentiated into two spaces. http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1938/1938%20-%201310.html?search=fairey%20p.4/34

    Two-seat fighters are built because the backseater is needed. The Defiant and Roc, for example, carried someone to operate their cramped turrets. Turret gunners cannot work as observer/navigators (allowing the Roc to replace the Osprey or the Defiant to slot in as a Bristol Fighter replacement. The Fulmar's backseater had the room, at the expense of performance, because of the reconnaissance mission.

  3. Sorry, I meant the grudging acknowledgement stuff as a (mildly-funny) joke. I'm sorry that it didn't come across well in text.

    I might just need to open up my own blog at some point, if I'm to continue to have opinions. I must say that I very much reading yours.

  4. I was just acknowledging the zing!