Fairey Campania - United Kingdom, 1917
Detailing the development and operational history of the Fairey Campania Carrierborne Reconnaissance and Patrol Aircraft.
Entry last updated on 7/17/2012; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Fairey Campania was the first purposely built carrier aircraft in the world.
The British became big proponents and pioneers of naval aviation during World War 1. War had broken out in Europe during the summer of 1914 to which old alliances and treaties came into play, pitting colonial powerhouse against colonial powerhouse. The British eventually declared war on the German Empire and became a part of the Triple Entente alongside France and Russia to combat the likes of the Central Powers made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. As in any wartime economy, business began a rapid climb and technology raced to offer solutions to the problems of war. The World War eventually produced chemical warfare, the flamethrower, the fighter aircraft, the bomber aircraft and the aircraft carrier among other notably deadly developments. Before the advent of the aircraft carrier, however, there was the "seaplane tender" - vessels usually converted from existing hulls to service floatplane aircraft at sea. This involved the aircraft being lowered onto the water for take-off by crane and being collected upon its return in similar fashion. While the method proved sound up to a point, it made the host ship quite vulnerable during the process - which eventually led to the development of purpose-built aircraft carriers themselves.
The first Royal Navy seaplane tender became the experimental HMS Hermes of 1913 and this was based on an existing cruiser type naval warship dating back to 1898. The vessel was lost to an enemy torpedo in October of 1914. It was not until the commissioning of the HMS Ark Royal in December of that year that the Royal Navy claimed their first "true" aircraft carrier. From then on, the Royal Navy offered up a steady stream of vessels being converted to service different aircraft types and ultimately provided for a long range "reach" against enemies in whatever region they were called to.
In the early phases of the war, the seaplane tenders HMS Engadine (1911), HMS Empress (1914) and HMS Rivera were used in battle with their small fleet of seaplane aircraft. The first naval aviation raid was recorded on December 25th, 1914 when Royal Navy aircraft bombed a Zeppelin hold outside of Cuxhaven. The HMS Engadine also took part in the later Battle of Jutland near Denmark. The HMS Vindex was responsible for the first-ever launching of a land-based fighter when a Bristol Scout C biplane was sent forward from her deck. A Short Type 184 biplane seaplane bomber from the HMS Ben-My-Chree (a former passenger ferry) took part in the first-ever successful torpedo run from an aircraft. In 1914, the Royal Navy acquired the Campania, an aged ocean liner that was converted into a seaplane tender and served in this fashion until 1916.
In 1916, the Royal Navy revised the HMS Campania to include a 200 foot flight deck to which a purpose-built naval aircraft for patrol and reconnaissance was ordered. This fell to the Fairey concern which was founded in 1915 and, to this point, had been largely involved in contract production of various aircraft types. Fairey responded with the F.16 prototype which was a two-seat, single-engine biplane aircraft powered by a Rolls-Royce Eagle IV engine of 250 horsepower. Construction was traditional with a strong wood understructure with canvas skin covering. The undercarriage was made up of a pair of floatplanes for water take-off and landings but a jettisonable wheeled dolly was devised to be used for deck take-offs from equipped ships. Defense was via a 7.7mm Lewis machine gun in a flexible ring mount in the rear cockpit while a bomb load of up to 6 x 116lb bombs could be carried. The F.16 was followed by the F.17 prototype with its Rolls-Royce Eagle V engine of 275 horsepower. These two aircraft were utilized in limited operational service prior to the type seeing acceptance with the Royal Navy. The definitive production mark, therefore, became the F.22 with its Sunbeam Maori II engine of 260 horsepower. 170 of the type were on order and production would be split between Fairey, Barclay Curie and Company and Frederick Sage and Company/Sunbeam Motor Car Company.
As the HMS Campania was completed, she received her new Fairey aircraft to which the name of "Campania" became associated with the type. From then on, the "Fairey Campania" went on to stock the HMS Nairana and HMS Pegasus in turn (though the HMS Campania was the only vessel of the three to be finished with a flight deck - the others left to operate their aircraft by winch as normal). The Royal Air Force also stocked the aircraft type through No. 240, 241 and 253 Squadrons.
Fairey Campanias were utilized as spotting aircraft throughout the rest of the war which ended in November of 1918 with the Armistice. In the years following, the British used the Fairey Campania to identify naval mines along the English coast while its service career was rather nondescript. Some British Fairey Campanias also served in the war against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution though, by August of 1919, the aircraft had met its technological end and was formally retired from service. The HMS Campania herself was lost in November of 1918 to a storm in the Fifth of Forth, bringing an end to her career as well.
Despite the 170 Fairey Campanias on order, only 62 were completed in all and 42 of these were available at the time of the Armistice.