Documents relating to the Royal Naval Air Service, Volume I, 1908-1918

Vol 113 (1969), Capt. S.W. Roskill

The documents in this large volume describes the earliest beginnings of naval aviation when the potential of airpower became apparent to both military and naval men. The documents are largely from the National Archives, with a small minority from personal collections in repositories such as Kings College London and the National Maritime Museum.

During the years after 1906 technical development was very rapid. The new machines had to be weighed against the possibilities afforded by naval airships. From May 1912 air service was the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps. Eleven months after the outbreak of the First World War the Admiralty turned it into the Royal Naval Air Service.

Though the role of the aeroplane in naval operations in the First World War was limited, technical development continued. Successful flights from warships made it certain that the aircraft would replace the seaplane as the principal heavier-than-air craft. A majority of the First World War documents record the administrative battle for the control of the Naval Air Service. On 1 April 1918 the Naval Air Service was, after eighteen months of heated debate, amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force.

The naval units of the RAF came to be called the ‘Fleet Air Arm’ from 1924. In 1937 the government announced that full administrative control of the Fleet Air Arm was to return to the Admiralty. A second volume of documents for this period is in active preparation.

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About Stephen Roskill

Stephen Roskill was born on 1 August 1903, the son of a senior barrister, and joined the Royal Navy in 1917 at the Royal Naval College, Osbourne, and then Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. He specialised as a gunnery officer, securing the prized appointment as gunnery officer on the Mediterranean Fleet flagship, HMS Warspite, in 1936. He then served in the Admiralty, 1939-41, and as executive officer of HMNZS Leander 1941-44. He ended the war on the staff of the British Admiralty Delegation in Washington DC as chief staff officer for administration and weapons, acting as the senior British officer at the Bikini Atomic tests in 1946. He served as Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, 1946-48, before retiring due to increasing deafness.

In 1948 he was appointed by the Cabinet Office Historical Section to write the Official History of the Royal Navy in World War II. His three volume work, The War At Sea, was published between 1954 and 1961. In 1961 he was elected a senior research fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, where he was instrumental in establishing the Churchill Archives Centre. He was a visiting lecturer at various universities, including being Lees Knowles lecturer at Cambridge in 1960, the US Naval Academy in 1965, and Richmond Lecturer at Cambridge in 1967.

His published works include
• HMS Warspite: the story of a famous battleship (1957).
• The Secret Capture (1959).
• The War At Sea three volumes (H.M.S.O. 1954-61)
• The Navy At War, 1939-45 (1960).
• The Strategy of Sea Power. Its development and application (1962)
• A Merchant Fleet At War. Alfred Holt & Co. (1962)
• The Art of Leadership (1964).
• Naval Policy Between the Wars, Volume I: The period of Anglo-American antagonism 1919-29 (1968).
• Naval Policy Between the Wars, Volume II: The period of reluctant rearmament, 1930-39 (1976).
• Documents relating to the Naval Air Service (Navy Records Society, 1969).
• Hankey: Man of Secrets, Volume I (1877-1918) (Collins, 1970).
• Hankey Man of Secrets Volume II (1919-31) (Collins 1972).
• Hankey Man of Secrets, Volume III (1931-1963) (Collins 1974).
• Churchill and the Admirals (1977).
• Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty: the last naval hero: an intimate biography (1980).
See also
• Corelli Barnett in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (O.U.P. 2004).
• Barry Gough Historical Dreadnoughts (Seaforth, 2010).