From "Birmingham" to "Pennsylvania"

“... One cannot for a moment think that landing a biplane in a quiet harbor and its take-off from a large and awkward platform has something to do with a truly marine aviation. Only possible naval the airplane will launch from the side of the ship with an auxiliary mechanism and land on the water at the side of the ship as close to it as possible ... ”Such a categorical opinion was expressed in 1912 on the pages of the authoritative English magazine“ Airplane ”at that time about the pilot’s desperate attempt to take off by plane inclined platform, built on board the British battleship "Africa". After this statement, only 5 years passed and in the same Great Britain appeared the world's first aircraft carrier, which became the forerunner of the most formidable and universal weapons World Ocean.

Carriers that are by far the largest surface warships capable of performing many combat missions. This and fighter cover compounds, and the attack on land and sea targets, and the destruction of submarines. The displacement of modern nuclear aircraft carriers is about 100 thousand tons, the length exceeds 300 meters, and in their hangars can accommodate more than a hundred aircraft. These unique ships appeared less than a hundred years ago - during the First World War. Although story their emergence began with balloons and balloons hoisted above cruisers. These aeronautical vehicles, capable of reaching 6-kilometer altitude and flying hundreds of kilometers, almost immediately became interested in the military, since they could become an ideal means of conducting reconnaissance, significantly increasing the observation range.

Meanwhile, along with the improvement of military aeronautics, aviation was developing at a rapid pace. And since airplanes were much more advanced combat and reconnaissance means compared to aerostats, the question of creating floating bases for airplanes also became quite natural. The main problem was that it was necessary to build a special platform for take-off aircraft.


The first successful attempt to take off from the ship of the airplane and its landing back on board was carried out by the Americans. Although at first the idea of ​​sharing the ship and the aircraft in the United States Marine Department did not arouse interest. It arose only after the first real successes of aviation.

In 1908, Glen Curtiss, the American aircraft designer, designed and built his first aircraft. Two years later, in May 1910, Curtiss gained national fame by covering the distance of 230 kilometers (from Albany to New York) in 2 hours 50 minutes. Apparently, this fact could not go unnoticed, and in September of the same year, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Material Supply Washington Irving Chambers was ordered to “collect information on the progress of aeronautics in terms of the suitability of these devices for the needs of the fleet.”

And soon it became known that the shipping company Hamburg - America, together with the newspaper “World”, intends to acquire the aircraft so that it flies from the platform installed on one of its liners.

Learning of this, Chambers went to the aviation exhibition, where the famous Wright brothers, who made the first airplane flight in the world in 1903, conducted demonstration flights. Chambers was determined to convince one of them, Wilber, to take off from the deck of the ship. However, Wright refused to do so. And then Eugene Eli, one of the pilots who worked for Curtiss, volunteered to participate in the experiment.

For these tests, the US Navy was allocated a light cruiser "Birmingham", on the nose of which they installed a wooden platform with a downward slope. It was decided to take off while the ship was going against the wind at a speed of 10 knots, which should have significantly reduced the takeoff run. 14 November 1910 of the year 15 hours 16 minutes local time in Chesapeake Bay occurred the world's first takeoff of an aircraft from a ship. Thus, it was proved that a plane can take off from a ship, but this was not enough. It was necessary to ensure that after takeoff and the execution of the task he was able to return to board. Indeed, otherwise the aircraft carrier could be removed from the coastal base by no more than the range of its aircraft.

And therefore it was decided to conduct a new test. It occurred in the bay of San Francisco on the armored cruiser "Pennsylvania". 18 January 1911, Eli took off from San Francisco airfield 19 kilometers from the fleet, and then landed his plane on the cruiser deck. And at the end of the same year, Eli died in a plane crash. No other awards, except the letter of thanks of the Minister of the Navy, he did not have. His merits in the creation of aircraft carriers received official recognition only a quarter of a century later, when he was posthumously awarded the cross For Distinction.

And yet, despite the rather successful experiments conducted by Eugene Eli, it was obvious that bulky wooden platforms significantly reduced the combat qualities of the ship, and therefore, fundamentally different ways of launching the aircraft were required.

November 5 The first in the history of the American fleet was made from a catapult installed on the armored cruiser North Carolina, and six months later on the same cruiser a more advanced catapult was installed on high racks above the stern gun turret. Using this device, 1915 July 11 th pilot Chevalier for the first time catapulted from a marching ship. Similar catapults were mounted on two more armored cruisers, but after the United States entered the First World War in April 1916, the armament on artillery ships was dismantled.

United Kingdom

The Wright brothers still offered their aircraft to the British government in 1907, but the military department and the conservative Admiralty at the time rejected this proposal. However, when two amateur enthusiasts, Francis McClean and George Kokburn, offered to train naval officers to control the aircraft at their own expense, and also to provide two aircraft for this, the Admiralty announced the recruitment of volunteers. Of the more than two hundred applicants, only 4 people were selected, including Navy Lieutenant Charles Samson. It was he who in January 1912, for the first time in the history of the British fleet, took to the air from an inclined platform installed on the nose of the battleship Africa.

Only after that the Imperial Defense Committee began to study issues related to both military and naval aviation. As a result, a separate branch of troops was created, later called the Royal Flight Corps (KLK). It consisted of both army and independent naval aviation. The commander of the sea wing of the KLK was appointed Charles Samson. At the end of the 1912, for carrying out experiments with ship-based aircraft, he was assigned the armored cruiser Hermes, where a very original system was used to take off the hydroplanes, the plane mounted on the trolley, accelerated on the deck under the action of its own propeller and only after takeoff This trolley was separated from the aircraft. Later, the trolley with the help of shock absorbers began to slow down at the edge of the deck, and the plane, smoothly slipping from it, continued to fly.

The experiments conducted on the Hermes were so successful that the Admiralty decided to acquire an unfinished tanker and re-equip it as an aircraft carrier designed for 10 seaplanes.

After the start of the First World War, British naval aviation was reorganized and renamed the Royal Maritime Air Service (IWAC). In the course of the hostilities, it became obvious that for successful joint operations with ships of the fleet at a sufficient distance from the coast, the seaplanes clearly did not have enough flight range, and therefore the question of creating a carrier ship of aircraft arose with new force. For these purposes, the Admiralty requisitioned three high-speed ferries and the liner Campania. A flight deck of length 36,6 m was installed on the liner tank, and by 1916, Campania underwent a modernization, which allowed to increase the length of this deck to 61 m. The liner developed speed over 20 knots and had excellent seaworthiness, which made it more suitable for operations in squadron than ferries provided for the same purpose. However, in a short time, the Royal Navy also acquired 3 ferries, which were converted into aircraft carriers; in addition, German trophy cargo ships were also converted into aircraft.

19 February 1915 began the Dardanelles operation, the purpose of which was to seize the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits and capture the capital of Turkey, which was to force the latter out of the war on the side of Germany. To this end, in August of the same year, the Ben-Mai-Sri hydro-avian carrier arrived in the Aegean Sea, carrying two torpedo-carrying seaplanes. 12 August on one of them was held the world's first attack of a torpedo-carrying aircraft of a sea-based Turkish transport, stranded after an attack by a British submarine. And in 5 days, both torpedo bombs attacked the enemy ships. As a result, another Turkish transport was sunk. And although naval aviation demonstrated clear success, the Dardanelles operation itself ended in a complete failure of the Allied forces. As a result, the then Minister of War Winston Churchill was forced to resign, and the North Sea became the main area of ​​hostilities for the IACW.

31 May 1916 was the largest naval operation of the First World War. In this battle, later called by the British of Jutland, and Skagerrak by the Germans, naval aviation was used for the first time. But at the same time, the subsequent naval history simply did not have such a large-scale operation, where the air forces would play a more insignificant role.

This operation began on May 31, when the squadron commander at 14.45 ordered the plane's Engandaine aircraft to be flown into the air. After another 45 minutes, his pilot, Frederick Rutland, managed to find a German squadron and send a radio message about this to Engadine. But during the further pursuit of the enemy ships, there was a rupture of the aircraft’s gas line and Rutland had to turn back. This, in fact, ended the participation of British aviation in the Skagerrak battle.

Nevertheless, the command of the English fleet did not intend to abandon attempts to equip artillery ships with reconnaissance aircraft. By that time, it became quite obvious that in combat conditions, compared with seaplanes, airplanes with a wheeled chassis have indisputable advantages, and above all in the fact that they are completely independent of the excitement of the sea. Among the proponents of the use of such aircraft was Frederick Rutland, nicknamed after that memorable battle by Rutland of Jutland. After the successful take-off of his plane from the Manxman deck, the British came close to building an aircraft carrier capable of operating as part of a squadron intended for wheeled aircraft.

The first British aircraft carrier was the battle cruiser Furyoz, completed as a “partial” aircraft carrier and the 4 of July 1917 of the year entered service. From its board many successful starts were carried out, but the question of landing was not resolved. One of the officers of the ship, the squadron commander Dunning, tried to find a way out of this situation. He took off from his side on a fighter and, passing along the side, landed on the nasal take-off deck. After 5 days, Dunning decided to repeat this experience, but when landing, his plane, unable to restrain himself on the deck, fell right under the bow of the cruiser. Dunning died, and such experiments by the Admiralty were banned.

From "Birmingham" to "Pennsylvania"

And yet, by March of 1918, Furyaz was undergoing a second upgrade. A second landing pad was installed, and under it - another hangar on 6 aircraft. Initially, sandbags and steel cables, not stretched across, but along the deck of the ship, were used for braking the aircraft during landing. Small hooks mounted on the chassis of the aircraft, sliding along these ropes, braked the plane. In total, during the years of the First World War, the Royal Navy of Britain included 19 aircraft carriers and aircraft carriers, by the spring of 1918, it numbered more than 3 000 aircraft, and the richest combat experience of British sea pilots was invaluable.


In 1909, a brochure called Military Aviation was published in France. Its author, inventor Klement Ader, described in his work a description of an aircraft carrier with a continuous landing deck, cruising speed, as well as hangars, elevators and aircraft workshops. But the idea expressed by him could not be feasible in practice, since the level of development of aviation at that time simply did not allow it.

However, a year earlier, in the same place, in France, a special commission consisting of 30 officers arrived in the Le Mans region (a city in northwestern France) to observe the flights of the notorious Wilber Wright. And in 1910, another commission was created to study the possibilities of airships for the needs of the fleet. So, this commission recommended the command to pay attention not only to airships, but also to airplanes, and also proposed to create an air force of the Navy. The command, agreeing with these recommendations, immediately began to act actively. Soon, the French fleet purchased the first aircraft, a seaplane designed by Maurice Farman, and 7 officers were assigned to train the flights. Thus, in the creation of naval aviation, France is quite significantly ahead of both the United States and Great Britain.

In March, the French cruiser Fudr 1912 was equipped with the world's first naval aviation hangar, and in the 1913, as a ship-base of seaplanes, already participated in maneuvers of the Republican fleet in the Mediterranean. During World War I, Fudr was used as a carrier of seaplanes and in assisting Montenegro in the Adriatic, and in defending the Suez Canal, and during the Dardanelles operation. In the 1915 year, in addition to Fudra, another French hydroavian carrier took over - a converted Campinas airliner, which could carry on board 10 seaplanes stationed in two hangars. In the same year, two more paddle steamers, converted into air transport, were reconstructed. During the war years, the number of French naval aviation was 1 264 aircraft and 34 airship.

And although the further development of aircraft carriers in France was somewhat slowed down due to the end of World War I, the problem of building aircraft carriers with a solid flight deck continued to be studied by specialists.


In the first decade of the 20th century, Japanese naval aviation also made its first steps. At the beginning of 1912, three Japanese lieutenants were sent to France to learn how to operate the aircraft, and two more to the United States, to the Glen Curtiss flight school. At the same time, the Japanese fleet acquired the 4 seaplane, and already on November 2 of the same year, the Japanese pilots made their first flights at Yokosuka naval base.

In 1914, the Wakamiya Maru transport was re-equipped into the base carrying the 4 seaplane, which first took part in hostilities in the fall of 1914, during the siege of Qingdao's German base. The Wakami Maru seaplanes conducted successful reconnaissance flights and even managed to sink the minelayer, although all of their encounters with German aircraft were futile. All the growing interest of the Japanese fleet in naval aviation led to the fact that numerous specialists began to arrive in Japan from both England and France, as well as new aircraft models. The Japanese also carried out constant experiments with the planes taking off from the platforms installed on the towers of the main caliber.

The national shipbuilding program, adopted in 1918, provided for the mandatory construction of two aircraft carriers, and as a result, Japan became the owner of the first aircraft carrier of special construction.


In 1910, the first real aircraft carrier project appeared in Russia, intended for basing airplanes with wheeled landing gear. It all started with the fact that in the spring of 1909, the captain of the corps of mechanical engineers of the fleet LM. At a meeting of the St. Petersburg naval circle, Matsievich made a report “On the state of aviation technology and the possibility of using airplanes in the navy”, then the same considerations were expressed by him in a memo submitted to the Chief of the General Staff. A few months later, the proposal to build an aircraft carrier was also presented in the memorandum of lieutenant colonel M.M. Konokotina, where it was claimed that “initially it can be confined to one of the old ships, for example, Admiral Lazarev.”

In a converted form, the Admiral Lazarev was supposed to be an “air raid of the 1 squadron of offshore reconnaissance aircraft” with a flight deck without superstructures and chimneys, and under it was an open hangar on 10 aircraft fed by two aerial lifters. This project received approval from the Navy Department, but the matter did not move further.

The unusually rapid development of aircraft technology led to the fact that already after 3 — 4, the first seaplanes appeared capable of conducting reconnaissance from sea aerodromes, which could be placed almost everywhere. And in this case, the advantages of stationary points of basing reconnaissance aircraft over aircraft carriers were obvious. And the conditions of the Baltic and Black Seas, to a certain extent, made it possible to manage with land aviation and coast-based hydro-aviation. And yet, in connection with the development of new operational plans of the Russian fleet 1910 — 1912, associated with the impending war, the further development of naval aviation was continued.

After the death of the 2nd Pacific Squadron in the Tsushima Battle, made up of the most combat-capable ships of the Baltic Fleet, St. Petersburg turned out to be almost defenseless. And despite the fairly successful implementation of the shipbuilding program, the number of the Russian fleet was less than the German one. Therefore, to protect the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, the section from Nargen Island to the Porkkala-Udd Peninsula had to be blocked by minefields and they needed to be installed before the enemy forces arrived. And in order to detect the enemy going to the Gulf of Finland, observation posts were required to be advanced to the west of this line. In this regard, the head of the 1-th operational department of the Marine General Staff Captain II rank A.V. Kolchak proposed the use of aviation for reconnaissance, and on August 6, 1912, in the rowing port of St. Petersburg, opened the Experimental Aviation Station, where pilots were trained.

In the same 1912, the successful development of naval aviation also took place on the Black Sea - the first squadron was formed there, a hydroairdrome with four hangars was equipped, aircraft workshops, meteorological stations and a photo lab started to work.

And yet the declaration of war caught naval aviation in its infancy. The air force units began their operations only in the Baltic and Black seas, and as for the Pacific, they were supposed to be deployed there not earlier than 1915.

Since the outbreak of hostilities, the Baltic naval aviation conducted reconnaissance and also attempted to intercept enemy aircraft. To solve the tasks of operational support of the naval forces of the base aviation was not enough, aircraft carriers needed to cover the formations were needed, while the aircraft carriers could carry out reconnaissance where the base aviation was powerless due to the inadequate range of the aircraft. On the Black Sea until October 1914, there was no fighting. This made it possible to complete the operational deployment of air units, train personnel and develop some combat tactics. It has also been proven that airplanes can be successfully used to search for mines and detect submarines.

In the 1917 year, the passenger ship “Romania” was re-equipped into the hydro-cruiser designed for the 4 aircraft, which also actively participated in the hostilities until the end of the war.

Aviation began to play an important role as a means of not only intelligence, but also attack. Russian hydrochillers participated in almost all major operations. Nevertheless, the capabilities of aircraft carriers during the First World War were not fully evaluated. It was believed that aircraft carriers could not act independently, since they could not defend themselves from attacks by submarines, surface ships, or enemy aviation. And such views dominated the fleets for at least two decades after the end of the First World War. Only the Second World War was able to dispel this error ...
1 comment
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    30 October 2011 20: 12
    I remember Russia could become a "pioneer" in the use of carrier-based aircraft in those years