ADF-SERIALS
Australian & New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials & History

RNAS and RAF Aircraft carried on Royal Australian Navy Ships 1917-1919

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  Introductory notes:

1.    During the last two years of World War 1, three RAN ships, the battle-cruiser HMAS AUSTRALIA and the light cruisers HMAS MELBOURNE and HMAS SYDNEY, worked as units of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet in the North Sea.  All three ships carried aircraft at various times.  HMAS AUSTRALIA had extendible 30 ft (9.144 metres) flying off decks fitted over ‘P’ and ‘Q’ turrets and could generally carry one fighter, typically a Sopwith Pup or Sopwith 2F.1 Camel, and one reconnaissance aircraft, a Sopwith 1 Strutter modified as a ‘Ship Strutter’.  The two cruisers were fitted with a revolving flying off deck mounted behind but extending partly over ‘A’ turret and usually carried a fighter, either a Sopwith Pup or a Sopwith 2F.1 Camel.

2.    HMAS SYDNEY, under the command of a very aviation-minded captain, Captain J.S Dumaresq, RN, was a pioneer in the launching of land aircraft from revolving flying off decks on cruisers.  These decks measured about 16 ft (4.9 metres) from the aircraft wheels to the leading edge so wind over the deck was vital for safe launching.  A revolving platform could be turned to provide wind over the deck without the ship turning out of line.

3.    The aircraft carried were not permanently allocated to the ship but were loaned for varying, usually short, periods from a nearby air station.  Until 31 March 1918 they were operated by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and from 1 April 1918, when the Royal Air Force was formed from the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the RNAS by the RAF.  Pilots appear to have been appointed to the respective ships as they flew various different aircraft.

4.    The only other RAN ship recorded as carrying an aircraft was the cruiser HMAS BRISBANE which embarked a Sopwith Baby floatplane in the Indian Ocean for a short period in 1917 to assist in the hunt for the German commerce raider WOLF.

5.    Records of movements of aircraft to and from ships are sparse and, where not noted in available log books or aircrew log books, are taken from surviving weekly returns from ships and air stations.  These dates are recorded below with the abbreviation w/e for week ending.  The abbreviation ‘@’ indicates a last known date of allocation.

6.    The aircraft were removed from the RAN ships in early 1919 before they returned to Australia.  The Sopwith 2F.1 was withdrawn from service in 1919 and this ended the era of revolving flying off decks on cruisers.  During 1920, Commodore J.S. Dumaresq, RN, by now RAN Fleet Commander, persuaded the Naval Board that HMAS AUSTRALIA and HMAS MELBOURNE could each usefully carry an Avro 504 seaplane from the AFC.  For a variety of reasons this trial failed and the RAN ships then carried no aircraft until after the arrival of six Fairey IIIDs in late 1921.  Details of these later aircraft will be found elsewhere on this site.

 
     
 

Image Gallery Link Coming Soon

 
     
 
Aircraft Serial Aircraft.Type Ship Aircraft History
9931 Sopwith Pup HMAS SYDNEY 11/12/17 – @19/1/18

8/12/17 First launch of an aircraft from a forward mounted rotating flying off deck on a cruiser. 
Launch was from a fixed position and the ship turned into wind.
17/12/17 Second launch of an aircraft from a forward rotating flying off deck on a cruiser. 
For this launch the deck was turned into wind.

9932 Sopwith Pup HMAS SYDNEY 7/12/17 - @ 17/12/17
A5985 Sopwith 1 Strutter HMAS AUSTRALIA 3/18
4/4/18 Launched from flying off deck mounted on ‘Q’ turret (Flt Cdr F.M. Fox RAF) (identity of aircraft not confirmed)(believed to be the first launch of a 1 Strutter from a turret platform)
A6968 Sopwith 1 Strutter HMAS AUSTRALIA 8/18 – 10/18
F7562 Sopwith 1 Strutter HMAS AUSTRALIA 11/18 – 1/19
N1014 Sopwith Baby Floatplane HMAS Brisbane 4/17 (probably a short visit for trials purposes)
5/5/17 - 15/5/17
Embarked from HMS Raven II and made six flights during the search for German raider WOLF. (Flt Cdr A.W. Clemson DSC, RNAS)

Highlight for album: Sopwith Baby Floatplane

N5606 Sopwith 1 Strutter HMAS AUSTRALIA w/e 15/2/18 – w/e 21/2/18
N5644 Sopwith 1 Strutter HMAS AUSTRALIA w/e 16/3/18 – 3/18
7/3/18 Experimental flight from flying off ramp -mounted on ‘Q’ turret (Flt Cdr D.G. Donald, RNAS)
Note: There are a number of photos in print of this aircraft carrying the serial “5644”, i.e. with the “N” deleted, when launched from HMAS AUSTRALIA.  This was not an uncommon practice in early years before people had fully adjusted to alphabetical prefixes. The actual “5644’ was an F.E.2a operated by the RFC.
N6431 Sopwith Pup HMAS SYDNEY By 12/17 – w/e 22/12/17
N6446 Sopwith Pup HMAS SYDNEY 12/17  - @1/18
3/1/18 Flight from HMAS SYDNEY to Donibristle (Flt Sub Lt A.C. Sharwood, RNAS)
    HMAS AUSTRALIA w/e 22/12/17 - 1/18
N6449 Sopwith Pup HMAS SYDNEY 11/17
N6603 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE w/e 21/11/18 – 12/18, w/e 23/1/19 - @30/1/19

11/18 Launch
1/19 Launch

N6629 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY w/e 15/2/18 - @22/2/18

2/18 Launch

N6631 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY w/e 15/2/18

2/18 Launch

N6635 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY By 27/2/18 – @23/5/18
27/2/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Donibristle (Flt Sub Lt A.C Sharwood RNAS) (Probably the first launch of a Sopwith Camel from a fo’csle mounted rotating flying off deck on a cruiser.)
16/3/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Donibristle (Flt Sub Lt A.C Sharwood RNAS)
20/3/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Donibristle (Flt Sub Lt A.C Sharwood RNAS)
26/3/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Donibristle (Flt Sub Lt A.C Sharwood RNAS) but landed at Turnhouse
4/4/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Donibristle (Flt Sub Lt A.C Sharwood RNAS)
N6638 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY w/e 21/11/18 – w/e 16/1/19
w/e 23/1/19 - @30/1/19
? ? HMAS MELBOURNE w/e 16/1/19 – w/e 23/1/19
N6756 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE 16/4/18 – @ 1/6/18
9/5/18 HMAS MELBOURNE to Turnhouse (Flt Lt Gibson)
18/5/18 HMAS MELBOURNE to Donibristle (Flt Lt Gibson)
1/6/18 10:00 Launched from HMAS MELBOURNE in the Heligoland Bight against three German seaplanes (2 two-seaters and 1 single-seater). 
Pilot did not see the seaplanes after the launch. 
Acft was ditched near HMS Centaur at 1122 and pilot picked up by HMS Osiris. 
Aircraft was recovered.
N6783 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY w/e 16/5/18 – 1/6/18
18/5/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Turnhouse (Flt Lt Sharwood, RAF)
29/5/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Turnhouse (Flt Lt Sharwood)
1/6/18 09:55 Launched from HMAS SYDNEY in the HeligolandBight against three German seaplanes (2 two-seaters and 1 single seater.) Sharwood believed he shot down the single-seater, which shuddered and then went into a spin after he fired, but was not credited with a victory. 
N6783 ditched close to the Harwich Force and Sharwood was picked up by HMS Sharpshooter. 
Aircraft was later recovered by HMS Canterbury but deleted w/e 18/7/18. 
(This appears to be the first occasion on record in WW1 when an aircraft launched from a ship engaged a German aircraft although Flt Sub Lt B.A. Smart, RNAS, flying a Sopwith Pup from the cruiser HMS YARMOUTH shot down Zeppelin L23 on 21 August 1917).
N6785 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE w/e 23/5/18 – deleted w/e 20/6/18
N6786 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS AUSTRALIA w/e 31/10/18 – w/e 21/11/18
N6789 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY By 5/18 – 6/18
N6790 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS AUSTRALIA w/e 15/8/18 – w/e 31/10/18
N6794 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE w/e 17/10/18 – w/e 24/10/18
N6797 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY 19/5/18 – w/e 23/5/18
N6798 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY 19/5/18 – w/e 23/5/18
N6820 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE /18
N6820 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY /18
N6821 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE w/e 15/8/18 – w/e 29/8/18; w/e 19/9/18 – w/e 17/10/18
N6822 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE /18
? ? HMAS AUSTRALIA /18
? ? HMAS SYDNEY 7/18 – w/e 21/11/18
31/7/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Scapa Flow (Flt Lt Sharwood RAF)
13/8/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Smoogroo (a small airfield in the Orkney Is)‘in formation’ (Flt Lt Sharwood RAF)
19/8/18 HMAS SYDNEY to Smoogroo (Flt Lt Sharwood RAF)
N6826 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS AUSTRALIA /18
N6828 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS AUSTRALIA w/e 28/11/18 – @30/1/19
N6838 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY /18
N6968 Sopwith 1 Strutter HMAS AUSTRALIA Unconfirmed allocation
N7101 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS SYDNEY w/e 3/10/18 – w/e 17/10/18
N7104 Sopwith 2F1 Camel HMAS MELBOURNE w/e 24/10/18 – w/e 14/11/18
 
     

The author of this page is Joe Barr

Sources:  “Sopwith – The Man and His Aircraft” by Bruce Robertson (Air Review Ltd, Letchworth 1970); “Seagulls Cruisers and Catapults” by Ray Jones (PelorusPublications, Hobart, 1989); “Royal Navy Shipboard Aircraft Developments 1912 – 1931” by Dick Cronin (Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, Tonbridge, 1990); “Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units 1911-1919” by Ray Sturtivant and Gordon Page (Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, Tonbridge 1992); “The Camel File” by Ray Sturtivant & Gordon Page (Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, Tonbridge, 1993); “The Sopwith Pup” by J.M. Bruce, Gordon Page & Ray Sturtivant (Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, Tonbridge, 2002);

Emails: Brendan Cowan, Martin Edwards, Kimberley Dunstan.

Updated 29th March 2016

 

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