- Issacs, Keith, AFC, ARAeS, Group Captain, RAAF (Retd)
- Naval Aviation
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Adelaide I, HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Melbourne I
- December 1973 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The acquisition of a fighter aircraft became almost an obsession with Dumaresq and his enthusiasm soon reaped its reward. As from August Sydney spent three months undergoing a refit at Chatham – it was at this time that she acquired the tripod mast which, in later years, was positioned at Bradley’s Head, Sydney Harbour, as a memorial to the ship that sank the Emden in the Royal Australian Navy’s first sea battle. But, more importantly, Sydney was also fitted with an aircraft launching platform, immediately behind and partly over the forward 6-inch gun turret. And much to the satisfaction of Dumaresq, who supervised the installation, it was the first revolving platform to be installed in a warship.
Meanwhile, in June 1917 Flight Commander F.J. Rutland – whose Short 184 seaplane, 8359, from the carrier HMS Engadine was the sole aircraft to participate in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916 and earned for its pilot the sobriquet ‘Rutland of Jutland’ – had flown a Sopwith Pup for the first time from a fixed platform on the light cruiser HMS Yarmouth. Soon afterwards Flight Sub-Lieutenant B.A. Smart, on 21 August, used Yarmouth’s diminutive Pup to shoot down the Goliath Zeppelin L.23. As a result of these successful flights, Dumaresq was appointed to supervise similar trials with a battle cruiser. The ship chosen was HMS Repulse, the flagship of Rear-Admiral R.F. Phillimore, who was later appointed the first Rear-Admiral for Air in January 1918. A sloped platform of 2-inch deals, supported on steel angle bars, was constructed on ‘B’ turret, and on 1 October 1917 Rutland flew off a Pup while the turret was trained 42° on the starboard bow into a ‘felt’ wind of 31½ miles per hour. The platform was then transferred to the after turret, and Rutland made a second flight on the 9th with the 15- inch gun turret trained on a forward bearing.
After these trials Dumaresq obtained a decision that light cruisers and battle cruisers should carry fighting aircraft, provided that they did not interfere with the ship’s gun armament. The battle-cruiser technique of swinging a turret and its platform into wind, to save the ship from changing course, could not be duplicated on the smaller 6-inch gun turrets of light cruisers, and consequently the revolving platform was evolved. On 30 November, while Sydney was steaming back to her war station at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, she called at Rosyth where her aircraft launching platform was inspected ‘with a view to framing proposals for flying arrangements in other light cruisers.’ But Dumaresq was still at loose ends for he had a specially equipped warship for operating aircraft, but no aircraft. This ludicrous situation was unacceptable to the impatient Dumaresq and, on arrival at Scapa Flow, he made arrangements to borrow the Sopwith Pup which was operating from a fixed platform on the light cruiser HMS Dublin. A trial flight was made from Sydney on 8 December 1917 when the Pup was launched from the platform in the fixed position; this was the first time on record that an aircraft had actually taken off from an Australian warship. Another ‘first’ occurred nine days later when the Pup flew off the platform turned into wind – the very first time any aircraft had been launched from such a platform in the revolved position. These two experimental launchings were the only occasions that a Sopwith Pup operated from an Australian light cruiser. Early in 1918 Sydney took aboard her own Sopwith Camel, as did Melbourne later in the year.
Another Sopwith Pup, however, operated with the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy. In December 1917 HMAS Australia was stationed at Rosyth as flagship of the British Second Battle Cruiser Squadron, and the Australian Official History recorded that ‘Australia was apparently used for experiments with aeroplanes; the first appears to have occurred on the 18th of December 1917 when – apparently for the first time on record – a machine was launched from the deck by Flight Lieutenant Fox (Captain F.M. Fox).’ The words ‘apparently’ and ‘appears’ bear emphasising, because in a preceding sentence Jose had stated that on 12 December Australia ‘ . . . came into collision with HMS Repulse and sustained damages which kept her in dock for nearly three weeks.’ Again Jose does not mention the aircraft type, nor does the ship’s log refer to this historic occasion. Nevertheless at least two members of Australia’s crew have independently testified that Flight Sub-Lieutenant Fox flew a Sopwith Pup off the quarter deck of Australia while she was at anchor late in 1917 – presumably this is the flight Jose refers to on 18 December. Hearsay has it that this Pup was obtained on loan from Donibristle aerodrome by Rear-Admiral A.C. Leveson of Australia.