Royal Naval Air Service

From The Dreadnought Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Naval Service
Board of Admiralty
Royal Navy
Royal Naval Reserve
Royal Fleet Reserve
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Women's Royal Naval Service
Auxiliary Patrol
Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Marine Forces
Royal Marine Light Infantry
Royal Marine Artillery
Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Naval Air Service (R.N.A.S.) was the constituent division of the Royal Navy responsible for aircraft, airships and for projecting air power within the scope of naval operations. Originally founded as the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.) in 1912, it encompassed previous small-scale experimentation with heavier and lighter-than-air craft and expanded upon it. From its official inception as the R.N.A.S. in July, 1914, the Air Service outgrew its R.F.C. origins and opened its own flying schools, built its own aircraft and commenced a large non-rigid and rigid airship programme during the course of the First World War. Thanks to Admiralty initiative, the R.N.A.S. was ceaselessly active from its earliest days until amalgamation with the Military Wing of the R.F.C. to form the Royal Air Force, in April, 1918.

From the outset the R.N.A.S. created controversy and became a political pawn between those who wanted a unified air service (many fliers and politicians) and the Admiralty which had unilaterally assumed control of the Naval Wing of the R.F.C. These political battles increased in ferocity throughout the critical years of the war and resulted in the 1917 decision to create a unified Royal Air Force which was instituted on 1st April, 1918. The decision, while praiseworthy in many ways, strangled British Naval Aviation development for a generation and allowed the United States Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy to gain a qualitative and quantitative lead.

The R.N.A.S. was entrusted with lighter-than-air development in Britain and oversaw the creation of a rigid and non-rigid airship force for operating over the ocean which produced well-over 200 airships by the end of the war. With heavier-than-air aircraft the R.N.A.S. helped pioneer the use of aircraft at sea, conducting the first take-offs from warships and eventually in 1917 the first landings on vessels and the first carrier air strikes upon an enemy. The aircraft carrier as recognisable today was a creation of the Royal Navy.

Quite apart from sea-going aeronautical matters planes of the R.N.A.S. were active in all theatres of operations in the First World War, fighting on the Western Front, in the Middle East and the East Coast of Africa. An armoured car detachment operated in the Middle East and in Belgium. At home the R.N.A.S. was the first body entrusted with the aerial defence of London from the Zeppelin threat with both aircraft and anti-aircraft guns. At the amalgamation of this diverse body into the Royal Air Force in 1918, the R.N.A.S. had nearly 3,000 land and sea planes, 200 airships and over 50,000 officers and ratings.


The responsible branch at the Admiralty was the Air Department, instituted in September, 1912, under a Director of the Air Department.


At the outbreak of war on 4 August, 1914, the Royal Naval Air Service had six airships, of which two were operational; two balloons; and either ninety-three or ninety-five heavier-than-air aircraft. On 15 August, the service had 727 personnel.[1]

On 1 April, 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service had 2,949 heavier-than-air aircraft; 55,165 personnel; 111 airships and possibly as many as 200 balloons.[1]

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Layman. p. 206.


  • Layman, R D (1996). Naval Aviation in the First World War: Its Impact and Influence. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557506175.
  • Till, Geoffrey (1979). Air Power and the Royal Navy, 1914-1945: A Historical Survey. London: Jane's Publishing Company Limited. ISBN 0354012045.