NAVAL AVIATION AND A UNITED AIR SERVICE
By Captain T. T. Craven, U. S. Navy
The prime factor in the problem of lessening the likelihood of wars is the democratization of governments, assisted through improvement in communications and transportation, and the community of world-wide commercial and industrial interests. Allied with this important factor is another dealing with the terrific expense of modern warfare and the serious interference with business incidental to the mobilization of national resources. A third deterrent is the augmented frightfulness of conflict and the stupendous physical damages wrought through the application of modern arms.
The important influence of each of these factors is well understood, and though to-day we find man willing to admit that wars are to be less frequent in the future than has been the case in the past, statesmen retain the view that the likelihood of resort to arms remains of more than mere contingent interest.
If the recurrence of war is conceded as a possibility, protection of the persons and of the interests of citizens remains a most important and also unavoidable public business of a commonwealth. All world powers retain disinclination to jeopardize national safety while anxiously considering the possibilities of reduction of armament and diligently seeking a means for diminishing the expenses of insurance against the ravages of invasion, for those who have had experience in battle are in accord that future conflicts will be far more destructive to life and to property than any which have taken place in the past.
In our study of the subject of national defense, we will find it clearly set forth that countries with far-flung overseas possessions and wide commercial interests have never rested secure behind immobile coastal fortifications, and that now, far easier than ever before, business paralysis and national bankruptcy may be precipitated by agents never sighted from the shores of the state assailed. Historically it can be shown that, when outlying territory and the overseas commerce of a nation have not been afforded adequate naval protection, such interests in time have passed automatically into the hands of other countries better appreciating the value of naval power.
While it is entirely reasonable to presume that through the continued progress of science our present ideas of sea warfare and of sea strategy may be completely revolutionized, and that ultimately the influences of aeronautics upon the destiny of nations may become far-reaching, there is no replacement at present for sea power, which continues to supply the sole means for protecting outlying possessions and for ensuring the security of waterborne trade. Questions as to types of vessels and of arms best adapted for naval purposes and concerning the tactical employment of ships have supplied topics for discussion for hundreds of years, but from the earliest times, large, powerful units have constituted the backbone of naval strength, and as yet no substitute has appeared for the capital ship, the infantry of the sea, as the nucleus around which to construct the fleet. It is short-sighted, however, to base ideas of a naval war upon conceptions of what may be but a single and a remote phase of the conflict, such as a classic fleet engagement between battleships, without proper consideration of the tedious though important operations of maintaining forces in the theaters of activity, efforts which, perhaps, have led up to the conflict between the major units or had an exceedingly important bearing upon the issues of the campaign. The variety and numbers of fighting units necessary are dependent upon the strength of the enemy, the composition of his forces, and the circumstances in which the antagonists are placed.
To measure the power of a navy by the strength of its battleships alone is heresy. Furthermore, the investment of the thirty odd million dollars necessary for the commissioning of a single battle unit is an insurance proposition which does not to-day appeal particularly to the tax-payers anywhere in the world. Everywhere the desire exists to find a substitute for huge and expensive naval hulls which are far too valuable to risk upon the coasts of the enemy, and all seek the means to augment the effectiveness of naval force through other agents.
Generally speaking, naval force must have eyes to discover the foe; tentacles capable of searching out and cutting arteries of communication, of crushing his outer members, of holding him, and of applying the pressure that assists in the strangulation of his main body. Battle cruisers, light cruisers, destroyer leaders, destroyers, submarines, mine layers, aircraft carriers, and aircraft are indispensable. They are the arms and the eyes of the fleet and are just as requisite for the conduct of operations afloat as are artillery, tanks, chemical warfare service, aircraft, and other auxiliaries as assistants to the infantry arm in present-day land warfare.
Bases near the scene of conflict are requisite. Such positions furnish indispensable links in the chain of naval defenses which must be suspended from these centers. Assailing an aggressive adversary scientifically prepared for war, without having bases from which to project one's effort, would court disaster. It should be borne in mind, however, that though the present has given stupendous force to the great variety of military arms, mere position, without mobility and the power to act aggressively, is almost valueless. A base does not constitute strength, it simply affords a point from which strength may be applied. Unless offensive acts which seriously affect the enemy can be projected from a base, and it is used to further these operations, such a point may become a serious source of anxiety instead of an asset to the home land in the event of war.
Aviation is now a powerful supplement to sea power, through which the might of the mobile naval arm may be greatly increased. This supplement is potent in that it furnishes a means for obtaining information, now a detail of supreme importance, and it is also an agent for applying violence to the territory of the foe. A fleet no longer may withdraw from the seas and safely await its opportunity to strike, for aviation nullifies the security formerly supplied by sheltering harbors protected by coastal fortifications in which the side choosing the defensive could formerly seek refuge. Aviation vastly augments the difficulties and the hazards of conducting naval operations upon the coast of an enemy supplied with an aeronautical arm. Consequently, it is a strong weapon of naval defense as well as of offense.
The adaptation of aviation to naval work along these lines was begun during the first years of the recent struggle, but did not, by any means, reach the advanced stage attained by military aeronautics, and the suppression of the submarine has been considered as the major effort of the naval sky-men during the World's War. In the historical narratives now appearing, we see the importance which the naval leaders attached to the control of the air, and from these articles we are beginning to get direct evidence of other important results accomplished by naval aeronautics. From them also we glean opinions based on proved experience concerning the organization of the naval aviation arm, and the way in which it may be applied. It has been clearly demonstrated that aviation is an indispensable adjunct to the navy, but in our research we will discover that, while past achievements are wonderfully suggestive as to the possibilities of the future, there remains a tremendous field yet open for development and experimentation in flying operations over water. Indeed, one may say that even the type of machines best adapted for distant overseas work from ships as bases remains undecided, and that the naval flier is still basing his tactical plans upon the perfect performance of apparatus as yet undesigned. It is probable that this condition will continue to obtain for some time, and the best that can be done immediately is to provide the means permitting the widest investigation and experimentation in the development of naval flying equipment and accessories. It is needless to state that it is important to attack the uncertainties of experimentation and design directly. Those responsible for carrying on tactical operations alone can judge of military requirements rightly, and the designer must work closely and progressively with the operator, and, in order to be able to supply his demands, be familiar with the peculiar conditions in which the latter is employed.
The sailor has always had a technique of his own which, to the landsman, has been somewhat of a mystery oftentimes engulfed in sea sickness, and the navy alone is competent to work out a solution to the problem now in hand. The situation, however, is complicated because of the wide exercise of imagination on the part of many individuals who, keenly interested in flying and familiar with the performance of aviation over land, display ignorance of the sea and of naval requirements. Frequently items are printed regarding aviation which carry naval construction and naval engineering far beyond the development of the arts as they may be practiced at the present time.
Publicity is the most powerful lever man has at his disposal for directing progress. Sustaining the interest of the public by means of publicity is essential, but care should be taken that statements set forth should not be exaggerated. Exaggerated statements that may momentarily strongly appeal to the popular imagination have really little lasting influence, and are not soundly beneficial. Extravagant claims unfulfilled always breed public distrust.
There has been much discussion in the press concerning the basic organization for naval aeronautics, of grave importance to those concerned with that arm and to the people who have regard for public interests, for upon this vital point depends the speed, the economy, and the efficiency of future progress.
During the recent war with an actively aggressive enemy within easy flying range, the air forces of Great Britain were merged into a single organization, and British naval aviation, as such, disappeared. The amalgamation, devised to relieve a peculiar situation, was advocated by the strong army flying corps whose existing organization would be only slightly disturbed by joining the forces. It was endorsed by the press and by politicians, and was effected despite the objections of the naval contingent. At the time, it seemed to those who were interested particularly in the naval aspect, that coordination became difficult, and that an indiscretion had been committed, though it was imperative to meet directly the conditions that the enemy had imposed upon England and her allies. The opinion of opponents of the measure was based on the idea that circumstances might well be entirely different in future conflicts, particularly where adversaries were far distant from one another, and that it must seem evident that anything that might diminish the coordinated flexibility of organization, and the mobility so essential for the far-reaching naval machine, was fundamentally undesirable.
For a nation the home territory of which is not immediately exposed to dangers of invasion but nevertheless having- wide-flung national interests at stake, the issue is of peculiar importance, and it is of particular interest now for us again to view the situation in Great Britain, as suggestion has been made that we organize our defenses along British lines.
An important historical lesson which cannot fail to impress itself upon the minds of all students is the effect of tradition and of service ties upon service thought. In reading, one notes the many failures of amphibious enterprises, undertaken jointly by troops and sailors, due directly to mutual misunderstandings. One cannot fail to observe how frequently a sacrifice of public interest has been made at the altar of personal prestige. Despite the difficulty of coordinating the work and interest of the army and the navy, and though the importance of concentrating human effort, and of eliminating confusion in the conduct of present-day warlike operations is vastly enhanced by the speed with which tremendous force may be exerted, England has assumed the task of coordinating three separate arms.
The Air Service and the British Fleet are together working for the solution of the problems made common to both, and the presence of airplane carriers, special ships arranged particularly for the conveyance of aircraft, has facilitated this task. We know that every effort is being made to ensure harmony in the work of the two organizations embarked in a single ship; nevertheless, rumor has it that all is not plain sailing, and it is evident that the old problem of overcoming human friction continues to be the one giving gravest concern. It remains to be seen how satisfactorily the arrangements advocated by the Admiralty will work out.
The following extract from the statement of the First Lord, explanatory of the Navy Estimates, 1920-1921, indicates the present opinion of British naval authorities:
So far as can be foreseen, naval requirements will be met by the proposal ultimately to form a naval wing under the Air Ministry, with a personnel specially trained for naval work.
To assist in the development of this naval wing, it is proposed to detail officers volunteering for air work to the Air Service for training and for subsequent service in the naval wing. Such officers as are specially fitted for work in the higher ranks of the Air Service will, by arrangement with the Air Ministry, be permitted to continue in the Air Force, but the majority of officers after their term of service in the Air Force will return to the Naval Service and continue their naval duties. Thus in the course of a few years there will be a body of naval officers who will have had experience in the Air Service, who will be equipped with knowledge regarding air matters, and who will be able to keep the navy as a whole fully up to date in regard to air strategy and air tactics in relation to sea power.
This would seem to be a compromise essential and desirable in view of the principles underlying the organization of the Royal Air Force.
Wide complications have been introduced because through the medium of the air, military and naval forces to-day are brought into much closer contact than ever before, and at times their operations must overlap. In coastal operations particularly there is possibility of misunderstanding which may lead to inadvertence in a national emergency.
In the effort to avoid conflict of authority and confusion in matters of coast defense, the Admiralty have represented to the Air Council that in their opinion:
- The operations of all aircraft flown from H. M. ships and vessels with whatever object in view, that is to say, not only reconnaissance and artillery observation machines, but also machines which are carrying out operations in the air for offensive and defensive purposes; and
- All operations carried out by aircraft not flown from ships, but which are being carried out in connection with the command of the sea, that is to say, operations for oversea reconnaissance and for the attack of enemy ships and vessels—should be under naval control. Dual control would be unworkable. In all matters relating to the command of the sea the Admiralty are and remain the responsible authority.
The propriety of these arrangements must be evident to those who concede to the navy domination in overseas activities.
When the day comes, and perhaps it may, that supremacy in the air controls, then all air forces should and must be united. For the present the strongest argument that may be advanced in favor of a united air service is that such an organization centralizes authority and ensures for aviation strong backing and support, without which progress may be slow in the development of the art now that the artificial stimulation incident to war has been removed. An allied argument is that though such a plan would take away from the army and the navy the aeronautical branches rightly belonging to them, in the past, the army and the navy have been loath to accept aeronautics. In considering the broad question as to the advisability of a combined air force, too much stress cannot be laid upon the conviction that while perhaps those who are or have been interested in the army aeronautical branch may consider the occasion timely for an amalgamation, the navy holds a contrary opinion, which is shared by our highest military authorities. Vast experience in practically every phase of army aeronautics has been obtained, and the value of the land reconnaissance machine, scout, fighter, and bomber clearly demonstrated under war conditions. Desperate competition for air supremacy on the Western front in Europe was responsible for the rapid development of army aviation, but no such field of activity was open to naval aviation, and little real war experience was obtained with fleet spotting and reconnaissance machines, torpedo planes, or aircraft operating with the fleet and flown from the decks of ships.
The landsman cannot appreciate the difficulties confronting the sailor in the application of his arms, or the fact that in using weapons the sailor has a task entirely different from that given his brother on shore. The failure to understand this fundamental is to a considerable degree responsible for the views which we hear expressed frequently with regard to the desirability of a United Air Service. It is not appreciated possibly that a flier accustomed to work with the army and over the land, unfamiliar with the tactical employment of ships and with the sea, would be of as little assistance in carrying on naval work as would be a soldier, untrained in naval matters, on board a surface or subsurface vessel in time of action.
A gun installed on land, on a steady platform, which does not move, which cannot sink, and which may be concealed and strongly protected, is far simpler to operate effectively than is a similar weapon conveyed in a ship. According to an old French saying, "One gun on the land is worth ten guns on the sea." The problem of ordnance and of gunnery, as it is presented to the two services, to some degree exemplifies many other difficulties inherently belonging respectively to the army and to the navy.
The assailing of land bases by the navy has always been fraught with many complications. Such is destined forever to remain the case. Every weapon which the navy can use in such operations can be better employed by its opponents from the shore. This will be true of the flying sailor in the future as it has been true in the past of mariners who did not fly.
The aviation service which the navy desires now, and which it must have, is an arm which will assist it to defeat the enemy at sea. This is its paramount present-day essential. In so far as this detail is concerned, and regardless of future developments, the matter is purely a naval one which the navy alone can handle.
The development of the land plane and of aviation tactics over the land in conjunction with troops has progressed far beyond the uncertain stage of experimentation. In the combined service which has been developed in England, the preponderance of experience, of skill and technical talent, and of numbers, rests with the branch composed of those who have won their laurels in connection with overland operations. The development of naval aviation has been slow for two reasons: first, because Great Britain has two services in the same ship occupied with a common problem. It is not difficult to understand why progress has been impeded as a result of this arrangement. A second obstacle has been that incidental to the attempt to compromise and to adapt land types, an attempt has been made to improvise machines for ship's use rather than to attack directly the problem of obtaining suitable apparatus for overseas work. There are certain characteristics which must be embodied in machines to be used from ships, which may be enumerated as follows:
(a) Flotation, which provides reasonable safety for the pilot and for the machine.
Unless flotation is supplied which insures reasonable safety, the development of the tactics, the materials, or the general knowledge of aviation for naval purposes will not proceed, for the commander-in-chief and the commanding officers of vessels employing aircraft will not wish to hazard unduly aviation personnel in conducting exercises, in time of peace, necessary for studying and developing the tactical employment of this arm. Interest in the application of aviation in so far as the navy is concerned cannot be obtained unless this characteristic is given to naval plans. An effort to compromise the land type of plane by fitting it with flotation for work over water is a valuable experiment but so far it has been insufficient for naval requirements.
A second quality essential for naval planes is:
(b) Ruggedness and dependability, capable of being taken down and assembled easily and quickly and when taken down, capable of compact stowage.
The inconvenience incidental to carrying and attempting to operate planes from the decks or turrets of ships adds one more mental burden to the great load already carried in times of peace by the captain of a naval unit. The present types of planes when conveyed on decks or turrets are very much in the way and one cannot expect to find airplanes in general use on shipboard until machines have appeared which can be taken down easily and stowed inboard out of the weather and in a fashion which does not interfere with ship activities. Features which embody ruggedness and permit the quick taking down and assembly of planes are of far greater importance to the navy than to the army.
A third attribute to be incorporated in a naval plane is:
(c) Ability to fly from a vessel, either directly or assisted, and to land on the deck of a ship or in the water.
In order that planes may be carried in different types of vessel, it is essential that they may get away from the deck of the ship with a very short run or that they may be projected into the air from a machine such as a catapult. It is self-evident that a naval plane must be fitted to land on a deck or on the water. The land flier is not concerned with these details.
A fourth essential attribute for a naval plane for ship's use is:
(d) Low landing speed.
It can be readily seen that the closer the speed of the plane approaches the speed of the plane carrier—the ship upon which she desires to land—the easier a landing becomes upon the deck of such a vessel. A plane with an excessively high landing speed cannot land upon the deck of a carrier with any degree of safety. The importance of low landing speed is supreme for planes to be conveyed in ships of the carrier type.
It is evident that these four characteristics cannot be secured without sacrifice, to some degree, of the high performances now given to the plane of purely a land type, but the navy must accept this penalty in the aviation arm as it does in the application of all weapons conveyed in surface and subsurface vessels.
Having determined the four characteristics enumerated as essentials, we then have a fifth which must be included in order that the machine carried by a ship may serve a useful end. The plane must be:
(e) Capable of conveying and of usefully applying military power.
This implies good vision, maneuverability, speed, and climb, also ability to carry and to utilize an armament of guns, bombs, or torpedoes.
If one considers the five characteristics enumerated above and has knowledge of the conditions of the art as it exists to-day, it becomes evident that the solution of the naval problem has been retarded by the processes of standardization, that have inadvertently developed in the past, of types of planes for the two services.
The proposition to combine the production of machines for the army and the navy therefore is seen to be illogical and could only result in further delaying the naval unit in its effort to acquire the apparatus which will permit aviation definitely to take the place belonging to it in naval affairs.
In all scientific research, centralization is fatal, and in chemistry, biology, and physics, the advancement of human knowledge has come from the independent and competitive efforts of men scattered all over the world, yet working on the same problem. In this way, false deductions are disproved and useful suggestions are carried further and confirmed. In aviation, experimentation and development, if centralized, would in the course of time become controlled by the strongest influence in the central organization, which would produce a series of official designs incorporating the virtues and prejudices of the bureaucracy. The highly developed automobile has come directly from the competitive efforts of countless minds engaged in scientifically investigating and solving the many problems involved in its production. The aviation art is comparable to the automobile industry in the transition stage and requires the widest investigation and development.
Military and naval aviation are for the grim but definite purpose of waging war. Civil aviation has an entirely different end. To military, naval, and civil aviation are presented concrete and entirely different problems, each susceptible of independent solution.
The creation of an independent and united service, necessitating a new branch of the government carrying a great and uneconomical overhead, does not supply an organization fitted for the work now in hand. With the establishment of a means through which development of military and naval aeronautics may be insured directly through agencies belonging to these services, and civil interests cared for and promoted by other methods, all good reasons for the building up of a united air service disappear.
A sailor must be skeptical as to the success of ventures undertaken far from home bases by a united air service or by other services where naval interests are paramount but control divided. That doubts exist in England with regard to the success of the British plan is evident from the statement made by Admiral Jellicoe in his book, "The Crisis of the Naval War."
On page 256 of that publication we read the following:
In the matter of organization we must be certain that adequate means are taken to ensure that the different arms which must cooperate in war are trained to work together under peace conditions. A modern fleet consists of different types—battleships, battle-cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Before I relinquished the command of the Grand Fleet, large sea-going submarines of high speed, vessels of the K class, had been built to accompany the surface vessels to sea. It is very essential that senior officers should have every opportunity of studying tactical schemes in which various classes of ships and kinds of weapons are employed. In considering the future of the navy it is impossible to ignore aircraft. There are many important problems which the navy and the air service ought to work out together. A fleet without aircraft will be a fleet without eyes, and aircraft will, moreover, be necessary, not only for reconnaissance work, but for gun-spotting, as well as, possibly, for submarine hunting. Air power is regarded by many officers of wide practical experience as an essential complement to sea power, whatever future the airship and aeroplane may have for independent action. A captain who is going to fight his ship successfully must have practiced in time of peace with all the weapons he will employ in action, and he must have absolute control over all the elements constituting the fighting power of his ship. In a larger sense, the same may be said of an admiral in command of a fleet; divided control may mean disaster. The advent of aircraft has introduced new and, at present, only partially explored problems into naval warfare, and officers commanding naval forces will require frequent opportunities of studying them. They must be worked out with naval vessels and aircraft acting in close association. With the air service under separate control, financially as well as in an executive and administrative sense, is it certain that the Admiralty will be able to obtain machines and the personnel in the necessary numbers to carry out all the experimental and training work that is essential for efficiency in action? Is it also beyond doubt that unity of command at sea, which is essential to victory, will be preserved? In view of all the possibilities which the future holds now that the airship and aeroplane have arrived, it is well that there should be no doubt on such matters, for inefficiency might in conceivable circumstances spell defeat.
The following extract from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's final report, while not touching directly upon the basic organization of the air service, indicates the importance of close cooperation between aviation and land troops:
It should never be forgotten, however, that weapons of this character are incapable of effective independent action. They do not in themselves possess the power to obtain a decision, their real function being to assist the infantry to get to grips with their opponents. To place in them a reliance out of proportion to their real utility; to imagine, for example, that tanks and airplanes can take the place of infantry and artillery, would be to do a disservice to those who have the future of these new weapons most at heart by robbing them of the power to use them to their best effect.
Every mechanical device so far produced is dependent for its most effective use upon the closest possible association with other arms, and in particular with infantry and artillery. Airplanes must rely upon infantry to prevent the enemy from overrunning their airdromes, and, despite their increasing range and versatility of action, are clearly incapable in themselves of bringing about a decision. Tanks require the closest artillery support to enable them to reach their objectives without falling victims to the enemy's artillery, and are dependent upon the infantry to hold the position they have won.
As an instance of the interdependence of artillery and tanks, we may take the actions fought east of Amiens on August 8, 1918, and following days. A very large number of tanks were employed in these operations, and they carried out their tasks in the most brilliant manner. Yet a scrutiny of the artillery ammunition returns for this period discloses the fact that in no action of similar dimensions had the expenditure of ammunition been so great.
Immense as the influence of mechanical devices may be, they cannot decide a campaign. Their true role is that of assisting the infantryman, which they have done in a most admirable manner. They cannot replace him. Only by the rifle and bayonet of the infantryman can the decisive victory be won.
On January 12 of last year General Pershing expressed himself as follows, regarding a united air service:
Military forces can never be efficiently trained nor operated without an air force.
An air force, acting independently, can of its own account, neither win a war at the present time, nor, so far as we can tell, at any time in the future.
An air force by itself cannot obtain a decision against forces on the ground.
A military air force is an essential combat branch and should form an integral part of the army.
If success is to be expected, the military air force must be controlled in the same way, understand the same discipline and act in accordance with the army command under precisely the same condition as other combat arms.
An air force, as well as all other branches of the military organization must fully understand its exact functions in working with other branches, must know the needs of other branches, be in full sympathy with them, think in the same military atmosphere, and have the same esprit de corps in order that effective battle control may be established.
No such force can realize the above conditions unless it be an integral part of the command not only during battle but also during the entire period of doctrinal training.
To realize these conditions the different arms of the service must live together and train together.
An air force should be established as a separate arm of the service, coordinate with the infantry, cavalry and artillery.
An air force should not be established as a combatant force distinct from the army and navy.
In view of the definite opinions publicly expressed by leaders in the great struggle of the recent past, it is obvious that advocates of a united air service, if acquainted with actual conditions and requirements, are basing their arguments in favor of such an organization on other than military grounds.
Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske, U. S. Navy.—Captain Craven's article seems so moderate, complete, convincing and sound, that no way of discussing it occurs to me, except that of paraphrasing what he says. I cannot forego the opportunity, however, of declaring my admiration for it.