- Stevens, Errol
- Naval Aviation, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Swan II, HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Melbourne I
- December 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
[Ed:Permission to reproduce this article in part or as a whole must be obtained from the Society.]
A very neglected area of Australian Naval history is the contribution made by Australians who served in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) during World War I. There is no known record of all Australians in the RNAS but so far research has turned up nearly 100 names. Many distinguished themselves during the war. whilst others who survived the conflict became well known in later occupations. It was the pilots, particularly the fighter pilots, whose achievements were better recorded and rewarded with decorations who were easier to trace whilst the other aircrew and maintainers – the vast majority – have tended to fade into oblivion.
Later parts of these articles will give more details of the lives and careers of selected individuals, but to briefly mention a few:
- R.A. LITTLE DSO,* DSC,* C de G. – Top scoring Australian ace of any conflict with 47 victories.
- R.S. DALLAS DSO, DSC,* C de G – Second highest Australian ace with at least 32 victories.
- S.J. GOBLE CBE, DSO, DSC, C de G – Later Air Vice Marshal RAAF who acted as Chief of Air Staff for three periods.
- H.J.L. HINKLER AFC, DSM – The famous “Bert” of trail blazing flying exploits post WWI.
- R.F. MINFIE DSC** – Achieved 21 victories before being taken Prisoner of War
- B.C. BELL DSO, DSC, C de G – Commanded a squadron which accounted for 321 enemy aircraft.
- L.G.A. HOOKE – Airship pilot. Later knighted and became Chairman of Amalgamated Wireless of Australia.
- A.M. LONGMORE and D.C.S. EVILL – Both later knighted and became Air Chief Marshals RAF
The above gentlemen are not listed in any order of merit or fame.
The criteria for allocating victories or kills varied between Services, countries, years and sources. The Guinness History of Air Warfare gives R.S. DALLAS 51 victories. though most other sources consider this too high.
A common misconception is to regard the RNAS as a type of early Fleet Air Arm. It was a complete air force in its own right with scouts (fighters), for reconnaissance, bombers, seaplanes, balloons, air ships, and even for a period, armoured car squadrons, armoured trains and anti-aircraft batteries. At the outbreak of WWI in August 1914, the RNAS had a strength of nearly 100 aircraft and over 700 personnel.
By March 1918 its strength was about 3,000 aircraft and 55.000 personnel. Overseas it had 16 squadrons or equivalents in France, 4 in the Aegean area and 4 in Italy.
In 1912 the British Government established a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) with a naval and army wing. With different interests and priorities the two Services tended to go their own way and on July 1, 1914, the naval wing became the RNAS and the army wing the RFC. Largely because at that period the Navy was more technically orientated and had a more flexible supply and support organisation, the RNAS usually obtained better aircraft and aero engines, particularly French types, than the RFC. The French were ahead of the British in aircraft and engines in the early days of the war, and the RNAS had easier access to overseas and private firms such as Sopwith. The RFC were more restricted and tied much more to the aircraft produced by the Royal Aircraft Factory, later known as the Royal Aircraft Establishment.
In marked contrast to WWII, the only American designed and built aircraft to be used operationally in WWI were some seaplanes.
The only Dominion to have a military flying organisation in 1914 was Australia.
The Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was based in Point Cook. Victoria, under Army control. It had only two flying instructors and five training aircraft. Obviously there were very few vacancies for those wishing to fly military aircraft, so many Australians made their own way to England to join the RNAS or RFC. This was not discouraged by the Australian Government and because of the success of the earlier Australian pilots, the British Government applied to recruit direct for the RFC in Australia. Whilst direct recruiting was not approved, a compromise was reached whereby 100 Australian Army volunteers transferred to the RFC for pilot training in 1916.