Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fleet Air Arm Museum

Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton

The Fleet Air Arm Museum ( located near the Royal Navy Air Station in Yeovilton, Somerset is a splendid place to explore Britain's proud naval aviation history.

Sopwith Pup (Replica), FAA Museum
The Royal Navy Air Arm was first launched with Air ship No. 1 in 1909.  The first plane launched from a ship (the battleship Africa equipped with a downward sloping ramp) took place in 1912.  The Ark royal was launched in 1914 as the world's first aircraft carrier.  During the First World War Naval aircraft performed reconnaissance missions and also bombed German submarine pens in occupied Belgium (see earlier post "The Millionaire's Unit"...  The Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the only major sea battle in history featuring dreadnought battleships (see earlier post USS Texas... At the conclusion of World War I in 1918, Britain was the only nation on earth with aircraft carriers.

Short S27, FAA Museum
The importance of aviation in warfare was increasingly recognized during the inter-war years.  Other nations such as Imperial Japan and the United States began developing carrier fleets.  Billy Mitchell in the US championed the power of naval aviation over the hidebound advocates of surface battleships.

Battle of Taranto
November 11, 1940
The extreme vulnerability of surface ships to naval aviation was exposed early on in World War II.  On November 11, 1940 a Royal Navy carrier group launched an attack on the Italian fleet at anchorage in Taranto.  "In less than an hour the British rendered half the Italian battle fleet hors de combat for about six month and shifted the balance of power in the Mediterranean."  (Source: At Dawn We Slept, Gordon W. Prange, 1981,  The Japanese would make a careful study of the battle of Taranto as it became a blueprint for their own Pearl harbor attack plans.

Supermarine Seafire, FAA Museum
On May 26th 1941 the Royal Navy's Fairey Swordfish biplane's launched the torpedoes that crippled the Bismarck allowing the Prince of Wales and other surface ships to sink her the following day.  On December 10, 1941 The Prince of Wales and the Repulse were both sunk by Japanese Type 1 "Betty" torpedo bombers operating out of occupied Indochina.  Coming three days after the devastating attack on the American fleet at anchor at Pearl Harbor, the era of the surface battleship was over.

Commander K. and RN Corsair KD-431, 1944  FAA Museum
Aircraft carriers became the dominate ships of World War II.  They were needed to provide vital air support for amphibious invasions such as D-Day and Iwo Jima.  Lighter carriers were used to provide escort for the merchant shipping (see earlier post SS Jeremiah O'Brien... that was ferrying troops, supplies and Lend Lease in the face of U-boat attacks.  Naval air was  absolutely critical to winning the battle of the Atlantic.

Ark Royal IV, FAA Museum
After World War II Aircraft carriers were used in support of the United Nations efforts on behalf of the Republic of Korea.  American carriers were used extensively during the Vietnam war.  British carriers were essential to Britain's victory over Argentina in the Falklands war of 1982.

Hawker Hunter T8M 1958, FAA Museum
The introduction of of jet aircraft increased the power of aircraft carriers to fulfil their mission of "projecting power ashore".  The American F-4 Phantom, a Cold War workhorse, was adapted for use  by the Royal Navy on their carriers.

RN F-4 "Phantom", FAA Museum
The Fleet Air Arm Museum features an "Aircraft Carrier Experience" that requires about 40 minutes and gives the visitor a real appreciation for life on board these awesome ships.  The larger nuclear-powered US Navy carriers are floating cities with over 5,000 crew members on board -- rumors that some even feature their own McDonald's on board are, however, false.

RN Carrier Pilots in the briefing room, FAA Museum
A certain pall hangs now over the Fleet Air Arm Museum as they note the fact that the last Royal Navy aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 2011.  The relative carrier strength of the Royal Navy has, therefore, gone from total in 1918 to zero in 2013.  Two 60,000-ton Queen Elizabeth Class carriers are on order but delivery is not anticipated until about 2016.  Still worse, the new carriers may lack aircraft as well.  The British, meanwhile, have an understanding with the French government and Navy that they could "borrow a carrier" if they get into a scrape over the Falklands or elsewhere in the world (See link with an excellent quote from historian Andrew Roberts...  What could possibly go wrong, indeed!

Stonehenge (Just a few miles from Yeovilton)
Commander Kelly Concludes
"Si vis pacem, para vellum," ("If you want peace, prepare for war") wrote Flavius Vegetius around 375 AD.  Britain would do well to heed the old Roman's advice rather than relying solely on the rocks of nearby Stonehenge to protect her island's freedom and preserve the peace.

Special thanks to Toby Pierson for driving us out to the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

1 comment:

Gerald said...

War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.