60 Pages

PART I: 1939: The Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy

Given that the Fleet Air Arm was taken under full naval control on 24 May 1939 and the Second World War broke out only a few months later, there was little opportunity to put right many of the deficiencies which resulted from the period of dual control and a lack of investment. Planning papers from as early as March 1939 are presented to give a wider understanding of the preparations which were taking place. There was much discussion over the need to maintain aircraft production which was primarily focused on Fairey Aviation’s factories at Hayes for Swordfish and later Albacore Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance (TSR) aircraft and Stockport for two-seater Fulmar fighters. In addition, Supermarine’s factory at Woolston was responsible for production of the Walrus amphibian [6]. An estimate was put forward in May regarding aircraft production during the first year of a war if it began between July 1939 and April 1940 [13]. For first line squadrons the Admiralty wanted to maintain four months’ reserves at an estimated wastage rate of 20 per cent per month and made its case by comparing this with levels of RAF reserves [12]. In the event delays in the development of the Albacore saw the initial order for this aircraft replaced in October 1939 by a further order for 400 Swordfish to be produced by Blackburn Aircraft Ltd [19]. The proportion of TSR and fighter aircraft required in Fleet Carriers was envisaged at two to one, but the Admiralty kept this under review in the light of the types of operations to be mounted and the nature of the enemy’s forces [1]. As far as aircraft carriers were concerned, Captain Larcom, the Director of the Naval Air Division, forecast the distribution of these ships around the world in 1942 and put forward alternative proposals on the basis of a war in Europe or one in the Far East [3]. In the short term the completion of the new Fleet Carriers Illustrious and Victorious, and therefore the formation of their squadrons, would be delayed by some months [2]. Such forecasts were important because the number of carriers and their aircraft complements formed the basis for estimates of the quantity and location of shore facilities required.