- Issacs, Keith, AFC, ARAeS, Group Captain, RAAF (Retd)
- Naval Aviation
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Encounter I, HMAS Huon I, HMAS Yarra I, HMAS Una, HMAS Swan I, HMAS Pioneer, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Parramatta I, HMAS Melbourne I
- December 1972 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
It was during this year, 1917, that the Australian mail steamer Nairana, of 3,000 tons, was taken over by the Royal Navy and commissioned in September as the light carrier, HMS Nairana. This ship was an improvement on nine aircraft carriers already in service. ‘The general layout was similar to that of the Vindex, . . .’ wrote Lieutenant- Commander P.K. Kemp in Fleet Air Arm, ‘. . . with an after hangar for seaplanes and a forward one for aeroplanes. But in these ships the fore hangar under the flight deck was fitted with a ‘sliding roof” . . . so that fighters could be brought up on deck direct from their hangar below.’ It was the start of the lift principle, adopted nowadays in the carriers of every nation. In 1917 Nairana carried four Short 184 seaplanes and four Beardmore SB3D fighters, and a year later she was equipped with two Sopwith Baby and five Fairey Campania seaplanes. One interesting Australian War Memorial photograph shows a Campania seaplane being taken in tow by HMAS Australia; the Campania aircraft, incidentally, derived its name from the seaplane carrier HMS Campania, from which it was specifically designed to operate. An interesting account of Nairana, which was originally laid down for the Bass Strait run, is given by Williams and Serle:
‘Flying the flag of Rear-Admiral T.W. Kemp, CBE, the Nairana was instrumental in the capture of Archangel in August 1918, engaging the 6-inch batteries at the mouth of the river with her guns and seaplanes, and anchoring off the city after destroying the Bolshevist ports. By means of bombs and gunfire from a seaplane sent up from her decks, she destroyed an armed vessel in which the Bolshevik Chancellor of the Exchequer was escaping with the Bolshevik Treasury on board. Until October 1918 she patrolled the northern coast of Russia, engaging the enemy with guns. Nairana was later reconstructed at Devonport and handed back to her owners. She was totally wrecked at Port Melbourne in 1951.’
As related, 1917 also saw the unsuccessful search in Australian waters for the German raider Wolf by aircraft of the Central Flying School working with HMAS Encounter and other naval units. One outcome of the incursions into the Pacific by German raiders was a request from the Australian Naval Board for seaplanes and Royal Naval Air Service members to be attached to the cruisers Brisbane and Encounter for scouting work. When this was refused a further request was made to the Admiralty for the loan of a seaplane carrier of the Riviera type, but the reply stated this was ‘not possible in the circumstances’. Some thought was also given to the purchasing of seaplanes from America, but nothing eventuated.
The year 1917 also saw a further step in the plan to establish naval aviation in Australia. In June, Captain H.L. Cochrane, 2nd Naval Member, raised a minute on the subject of the ‘Formation of a Royal Australian Naval Air Service’ in which he suggested that the Navy should obtain the services of a ‘competent, capable and experienced aviator from the United Kingdom familiar with seaplane work and management of an Air Station to undertake the formation and conduct of the RANAS.’ As a result of subsequent inquiries made by the Australian Naval Representative in London, Commander C.R. Samson showed interest in the proposal, but officers of this rank could not be spared to proceed to Australia. In the event the loan of an adviser was requested, and Wing Commander O.H.K. Maguire arrived in Australia in May 1918.
That year Australian destroyers serving in the Mediterranean on Adriatic antisubmarine patrol were equipped with observation balloons. The balloons were flown from the decks of the destroyers, and the observers would search for shadows indicating possible submarines. They would then direct an attack towards the suspected target by a ‘killer’ destroyer which usually accompanied the searching ship. The balloon-carrying destroyers included HMA Ships Huon, Yarra and Parramatta, and one of the balloons on the latter ship was named Madge. In June 1918 an Italian Macchi M3 flying-boat flew urgent diplomatic papers to another destroyer operating in the Adriatic, HMAS Swan. Swan also rescued two British aviators whose seaplane had crashed between Port Said and Mudros in October 1918; they had been in the water for 36 hours, holding on to the floats of the seaplane, and when picked up were almost exhausted.